There are many aspects that differentiate humans from one another. Beauty, outward appearance, wealth, health, nationality, race, native language, and knowledge are all examples of characteristics that differentiate us from one another. These differences may even allow us to lose or excessively develop our self-esteem, even though our characteristics may be out of our control. Despite these differences, what we have in common is that we are all humans who seek one purpose: to find success in our lives. To reach success and happiness in life is the common goal of all of us. We each strive hard to become satisfied with our lives. Reaching perfection and completion is the unquestionable desire of mankind.1 However; this leads us to the question: What can be defined as success and how can one be considered successful? Certainly we each may have a different translation for the word success. But why should there be so many different translations for success? The concept of success can be defined through our personal view towards life. It is this view that can show us our path to success.
We are probably tired of constantly hearing the phrases: “the view towards life”, “belief”, and “the telescope in which we can see the world”. From the first days of our lives, in those days that we were merely a child our mother, father, and those around us would define our beliefs. We would have the same belief as our families and friends. It was this environment that would determine our Christian view, Muslim view, materialistic view, or other views. For some, even when years pass and the person begins to know him/herself better, they would still follow their previous beliefs without any research. Others feel no necessity for having faith in any belief, and therefore leave all beliefs. They spend their valuable time, which is in fact very important to them, on works that can earn them a comfortable and luxurious life. A third group however cannot feel indifferent about belief and would therefore spend part of their time and life on researching about faith and belief so they can choose the faith best for them. In fact this is where the real question lies: When a person can spend his life investigating and discovering new secrets of technology to improve his and other peoples’ comfort and satisfaction in life, why then should he spend time on researching about faith and belief? What benefit does our belief hold for us? Other than dry debates on theories and certain limitations in life, does it have any other reality? Truly out of the thousands of problems I face daily, which problem can my belief solve? What will I lose if I do not research about my belief and faith? ….
These are the questions we freely and logically seek to discuss on.
1- My True Identity
Let us begin with this question: In the days, weeks, months, and years that pass how frequently have we thought about ourselves in relation the path that we are striving for. In other words, during the years we have passed in life, how many times have we thought about our true identity? At times when man thinks about himself on the works he has done throughout his life, or on an accomplishment he has just reached after working very hard to reach it, he may find himself running in a circle, constantly repeating only one cycle. We too may be following his example and may have fell within the trap of a spinner, “we work, we eat, and we play so we can live; so the purpose of our daily lives is to work, eat, and enjoy. Sometimes when we review and see the scenery of our lives, it is like the same movie being played over and over for every single day of our lives. Sometimes we even get tired and constantly ask ourselves, does life have any other result other than exhaustion and repeat? Why do we constantly circulate one path? Why do our days and nights look old? Really, who am I? What do I do? Where am I headed to?
1-1- Unique existence
If we pay close attention to the different species around us, we will realize that their life has a predefined pattern. They live based on their instinct. When a flower is planted, it will continue its own natural growth process until it blooms and shows its beauty to the world around it. A wolf is a predator from birth, regardless of any possible training from the outside world. We, as humans, have a number of needs which are based on our instincts. A baby is acquainted to the mother’s breast instinctively and feels the need for food when hungry. The desire of coupling with opposite gender is another example of instinct. Such needs are not optional to have; we have them no matter what. Our instincts drive us toward these needs.
However, the question that lies here is ‘does living merely to satisfy our instinct desires suffice our entire needs?’ Are those who live a luxurious life necessarily happy? Do they not think of anything else in life? If we sit down with such people, we can realize that they feel something is missing in their lives. Could we too find ourselves in the same situation in that we do not recognize our true needs, and have unknown needs just like these people? Perhaps recognition of our true needs can solve and fill in the empty gaps in our lives.
1-2- A Free Knowledge and Unlimited Desire
Perhaps the desire to seek knowledge and truth is one of our obvious characteristics. This need is not limited to any time or place. When we think about our past, we ask ourselves: Where have I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Mankind is anxious to receive an answer to these questions.
Moreover, in addition to the natural needs of species we have additional needs that cannot be easily satisfied. Our natural desires are not the only factors that determine who we are and how we should live, because our needs may vary depending on our position in life. For example, there are times when the doctor prescribes a daily diet for us in which we are required to limit certain foods we once were able to eat. Another example can be a reduction in our sexual desires over time; this and many other similar deficiencies can occur within us as we age. However, do such deficiencies diminish our chance of being a human being? No, for certainly behind the curtains of life, there are stable desires of life we long for.
One unending desire for man is to live forever, and therefore death for us is very unpleasant, though unavoidable. We do not only care for ourselves and families, but also the situation of other people around the world matter to us. Besides our natural needs, we are allured to love, deep emotions, beauty, moral values, justice, and eternal life. Therefore, our desires are not limited to our living environment.
1-3- Knowledge and Faith, a Major Difference
Therefore, there are two major needs within us that we cannot ignore. The first is the need for seeking knowledge, which has no end; as a proof technology is improving and progressing daily. The second characteristic is the need for perfection. Some professionals define this need as faith2. These two are the needs that differentiate us from animals. If we were to live in great comfort and leisure, but lack factors like beauty, love, and justice, this would not be a satisfactory life for us. Similarly, if our life was going to end forever after death then all the enjoyment of this life would be worthless. It would be impossible to satisfy all our needs because of its short-term existence. It would be just like a person who is thirsty but not hungry and has no water to drink, but instead is provided with variety of foods! Water is what he wants, not food, so it does not suffice.
Nevertheless, do we really go after all of our needs? Let’s analyze our daily deeds and see if we can find any answer to the questions mentioned. Our daily actions are categorized into two groups based upon our needs:
1-4- Seeking enjoyment, an important issue
Enjoyment is indeed a part of our lives; eating a favorite food, wearing nice and proper clothing, sleeping well, having sexual activity, and etc are all in this category. To seek enjoyment is a natural instinct in our lives. Its purpose is to serve the primary needs, like hunger, and continuation of life.
Performing such enjoyments is inevitable in our lives. But, are we so limited that if we perform these simple and natural needs we would free of any further desire? Sometimes we can see that some people care for nothing but their own enjoyment and entertainment. They are willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to reach their fun. You may sometimes think that if such people keep living in their own style, they become internally a monster, who cares for no one but himself. Such people may easily put all of their focus in life to get to their entertainment, hoping to enjoy it forever. But we do know that, by experience, pleasure is reduced over time after a number of repetitions.
Could we be in the same boat? If we sometimes feel unsatisfied of ourselves; or if we fail to please ourselves from our lives no matter what we do, perhaps we are unfamiliar with the purpose of our existence and our actual needs. Isn’t there any other type of pleasure? Are all pleasures so short lasting with the arrival of death?
1-5- Objective, a critical matter
There is another type of activity, which we practice in our daily lives and that is known as “planned tasks”3. Such activities mainly serve our long-term objectives. In other words, someone would recognize an objective in future in the first place; then he vows to reach that goal and begins his mission toward it. The motivation to move forward is the bound between the person and the goal despite all the difficulties of achieving the objective. He might not experience any pleasure at the beginning; however, when he fully succeeds through it, the pleasure he receives is inexpressible.
We “plan” for our goal because we are humans. In fact, it is the role of planned tasks, which give meaning to our lives. It is our “plans” that help us to get closer to perfection. Furthermore, other creatures are limited to follow their natural instinct and choose short-term objectives. They cannot choose what they are. This way of living is the reality of their existence and that is the way their lives go on. But our life is truly different than theirs. If we want to reach our real identity, there would be no way except “to choose a goal and a destination to follow”. It is we that determine who we are and what are we created for? The more we dig into this issue, the more we are going to find out about our real identity. Our instinct and natural needs are definitely not all we need, but in the meantime we need to have them in order to continue with our lives. If we do not choose a real objective in life and merely seek short pleasures instead, then have we sustained our soul, which is looking for eternal existence?
1-6- Towards which target?
Each person in this world has a goal and strives hard to reach that goal. How would I therefore, find out the best and most suitable goal through these various goals in order to find my reality? What criteria do others have in selecting a goal? Why do people choose different paths in the life?
Looking precisely, we realize that the reason people have different motives and tendencies, is due to the different criteria they each hold. In fact one’s personal view towards him/herself, towards the world he/she is living in, and towards his/her faith are decisive factors that shape that person’s criteria and values. In other words, his goal in life is determined through the scope he is seeing the world.
In order to follow the path we have set our goals on, it is necessary to first recognize our capabilities and different aspects in our lives. This recognition will require us to research about existence and creation, so we can gain a better sense in our origin and destination. We should understand our position in the world. Is existence only that which we are able to see and feel, or is it broader than these senses? Could a reality exist that we are unaware of?
These are the fundamental questions that each school of thought has a different answer for. Most of the theories and answers in the different schools of thoughts given to these fundamental questions have some sort of contradictions within themselves. Nevertheless, in order to strive to reach that level of human perfection and completion, we must search about our goal. Obviously it is out of our ability to experience all these different paths to select the best one. Therefore, now that our possibilities for experiencing the different paths are limited, we should do a thorough research in discovering the true path, and set our goal in accordance to that path. Our thought and belief determines our goal and the path in life. Therefore firstly we need to select the best belief and thought.
But how can we detect the best thought? Can anyone force me to think like him/her? Does belief restrict me to follow a narrow and inflexible structure?
1-7- Belief: a Combination of Love and Wisdom
Each person must seek his/her own belief, and no school of thought can impose its thought on us. Submitting to a belief and school of thought is from the inner heart, not through force or compulsion.
The belief one submits to, must have two important characteristics: First it should satisfy one’s wisdom and heart by having a reasonable, logical, and firm and persistent view towards the universe and existence. Next, that view should attract us and give us the motivation for reaching our goals. This creates a wisdom-love relationship that we can program our lives upon. Having done this, we will begin to feel the pleasure and satisfaction of strong faith and belief.
Therefore, what differentiate people from each other is their beliefs. It is my thought that creates my identity. Am I truly human or am I just an alien with human face?
This leads us to the next question. If I neglect all the benefits of freely choosing a belief, does that only prevent me from having a better life; or has it deprived me of my own authority on choosing my belief, so others would decide for me? Are we like a person who is advised to learn swimming, and though he knows the advantages of swimming, he makes sure he avoids any contact with the sea; or are we like the person who is in the middle of a deep ocean, who must swim otherwise, he will be drowned or thrown around by the huge waves? Which situation do we find ourselves in the life?
2- Belief and Act
Many situations have occurred in our lives in which we have regretted our actions and have asked ourselves: “Why have I done such an act?” Sometimes, we are able to find the answer, but many times the question remains unanswered and we cannot be certain. Considering the fact that none of our acts are done aimlessly, then why can we not mention a motive? How can we not know the purpose of our acts?
2-1- Different acts, the same target
Each act we perform consists of a set of movements done one after another. For example, consider a simple act like eating. Such an act that seems so simple is actually a complex set of movements and interactions of our members. Namely hands, mouth, digestive system, and etc… all begin working in a specific order. 4
Looking more precisely, we see that although these movements are in relation with each other, they are independent. For instance, the movement of hand and mouth are separate. So, what connected these independent movements into one unit? Certainly, their goal, to satisfy hunger, has connected these movements into a complex system. In fact, all of our movements in performing an act are similar to that of an architect, a painter, an engineer and an electrician who work independently, but need to unite when a structure is to be built. Because they have the same goal, they need to work in a specific order to achieve their goal. It is obvious that without a common goal, they would never be able to organize their work.
It is based on this understanding that all the acts we perform in our lives have specific target and goal, otherwise without a specific order, it would never be accomplished. Therefore, first a goal and target is set. Then we determine the proper movements and acts. Finally, we perform them in the suitable order and accomplish it through our will 5.
2-2- Who decides for me?
The important question is, ‘am I the one deciding what to do and what not to do in reaching this goal?’ Perhaps the reason we cannot recognize our aim and purpose when we do something is that we have not decided our goal, rather someone else has exerted an aim and goal for us. That outside force has attracted us towards the act, either consciously or unconsciously. However, the critical point is that all these small acts and aims are what specify the whole path and destiny of our lives. Now after 10 years, 20 years, and 50 years where are we really standing? What have we gained during this period? Are we satisfied with our lives or will we feel decremented and regretful? The answers depend on the purpose of all these small activities we do.
But what are the criteria? What should we do to rule our own lives and destiny? On what basis may we discover the best and most favorable path towards our goal through the thousands of available paths?
2-3- How am I?
There are times that when a person looks toward his/her surroundings, he/she will come across the different lifestyles and may encounter with people who seem completely bewildered. It is as if those bewildered persons have lost their path and as a result do not follow any specific destination or purpose. Although each of their tasks may have its own aim, their lives as a whole however, do not have a definite aim or result. To be more precise, the aims of such a person are constantly changing and many times turn out opposite of one another. Their aims change daily because they quickly become tired of one aim and decide to select another one. Life for them does not offer anything but exhaustion and distress. What is more terrifying is that these people will begin to feel a sense of futility towards life, and would therefore view their own life and existence meaningless.
A second group of people we may encounter with will have a different view towards life. They are people who live life to the fullest and view life as a ladder to their success. By selecting a clear path in life, they set goals and strive hard to reach them. As a result they perform their daily tasks based on the goals they have set; they leave those tasks that do not have anything to do with their ultimate goal. Their tasks follow a definite routine and do not include acts without specific considerations. Though the goal different people choose differ from one another, all of them usually have two common goals: One is to satisfy their needs in the life, whereas the other to reach prosperity6. Such people set their activities and behavior under certain regulations and structures to attain the two main goals. Certainly, the basis of all these regulations is our belief and ideology.
The decision to do an act or to leave it derives from our view toward the outside world, our understanding of truth, and our understanding of prosperity.
Each person who does not live aimlessly tries to reach certain goals, however each may choose a goal differently. Some may choose their goal themselves because they know what they are following in their lives. They fulfill their destiny willingly through their own decisions. Others however have allowed a certain group other than themselves to choose their belief and way of thinking. They allow that group to impose their way of thinking on them. These people are blindly following the belief of the group who had freely chosen its belief. They act like automobiles just waiting for the driver to come and drive it to any destination he wishes. Truly, if a person understands that his/her freedom is in the hands of another person, he would be disgusted to even think of such a situation. The case would be similar to that of a servant in the service of other’s desires.
Now honestly which of these two groups do we belong to? Who specifies our goal and way of living? Is it us who decide our goal or have we surrendered to the publicities and inspirations of others? Are we following others blindly? Who really defines our criteria and belief?
Each action has a purpose behind it, and the set of actions put together to form our way of life. To be more precise, in each moment of our life we need to define our destination. Therefore, choosing our belief consciously is an inevitable must and should be the basis of our decisions and acts. Even if we do not intend for it, our actions are attributed to a specific belief set by the thinkers and scholars. We are similar to the person who is in the unending ocean of life, and it is his beliefs that teach him how to swim and choose the way to the land. If he does not select his beliefs freely, the waves of other beliefs would take him in any direction they want; or may cause him to wander around in the stormy ocean of the life so that he finally drowns. So let us find ourselves, and select the best belief and way in our life willingly.
Our Belief, Community and Social life
In fact this need (the need for belief in life) has always been a need in human life from the beginning of creation, and does not only belong to the present society of humans. However, there has been a change during the past centuries, which is the increasing tendency of humans to accept a belief based on love and satisfaction. In the present day, we can feel such need more than any other time.
The primary humans united much easier due to their strong reliance and bonds to their tribes, communities, or races. But what about the humans of today? By the formation of the cities and the complication of the human societies, man needs legal references to specify his rights, positions, relations, and responsibilities in the social life: a reference to state the responsibility of people towards each other, and to tell them how to live to continue their social life. Today we need a cause to connect us to other human beings and unite all as a single body. Of course satisfying this need is not simple at all. Man himself has different unknown and unclear aspects, which cause the human society to be more complicated and unknown. On the other hand, the different scientific progresses have made the bonds between humanity weak, and as a result have strengthened individuality.
Thus if our life is our social existence and we have to live together, definitely we need a cause to unite us, connect us together, and most importantly specify our way of social life. One of the best causes which might help us in this respect is a belief which is based on deep logic and understanding. Unlike the various differences among different people, such a belief may define a common and single goal for all because it is based on the human principles. This belief can be the criteria for good and bad, lawful and unlawful. Beside this we can get close to the facts beyond our personal benefits by paying attention to the issue of beliefs.
Based on the points mentioned about the important role of belief in our lives, which is an irreplaceable fact in our lives, your friends at Roshd have selected the subject of belief to accompany you. With this topic, we hope that we may together select the best way in life and choose the most beautiful goal together.
With such an idea in mind we turned to the belief-based structure of Islam. We decided to investigate it and if we found it a belief that encompasses all aspects, to accept and select it.
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