It is inconceivable for a book with such a grandiose goal such as Quran to be lacking a stated purpose for its followers. However, due to an overtly religious image ascribed to it, the stated purpose for humankind is usually stated as ‘to worship Allah’. This conveys the idea that we were born for the purpose of filling up masjids and praying as much as possible for a God who demands prostrations. Islamic scholars would deny this of course and justifiably so since even in Traditional jurisprudence, ‘worship’ has a far wider connotation but this is the reality of the mindset on the ground. Muslims view ‘ibadah’ (worship) as the religious, ritualistic side of Islam. One can discern this from their language. Often times we hear people say ‘its time to do some worship as one is getting on in years’.
I do not believe this is our purpose as per the Quran. It is not that ritualistic worship has no place in the Quranic project but rather it is the means through which we attain a particular state of being. That state of being then propels us into the project itself – which is to bring peace into the world.
The clear, unequivocal statement of Quran is that Allah did not create us except to worship Him (51/56). This verse of Quran has suffered the fate of many other verses which is to be quoted out of context. Even worse, this verse starts with an ‘and’ (as in ‘AND I have not created except ..’) which shows a direct link to the previous verse but when it is quoted, the ‘and’ is usually dropped. I find such treatment of Quran (by believers no less!) to be deplorable. If one reads from 51/52, it speaks about the coming of the messenger. 51/53-54 speaks about a negative response to the message and 51/55 speaks about fertilising or vivifying the message for it benefits the believers. Then we come to 51/56 which connects directly to the passage so far. Therefore, it is very evidenced that the ‘worship’ mentioned is about following the messenger and vivifying the message. This is what it means to ‘worship’ Allah – to follow the totality of the message for that is what we are created to do.
However, this doesn’t mean that we are to become carbon copies of one another. Not at all. Quran acknowledges our individuality and sees us as bricks within a structure. Indeed, those who fight in Allah’s way (to uphold truth and justice for all mankind, not for some jihadist power trip!) are seen as a well structured wall (61/4). Furthermore we are told that each of us have an expression which Allah himself turns us to (2/148) and so we are to strive towards the good. This again shows our individuality is an intricate part of the Quranic project. We do not need to become zombies or lose our indigenous cultures in order to become islamic at all.
The question may now arise – what unites us then if we are allowed to be individualistic? People do seek unity in a religion after all, if not uniformity itself. Once again, we can find our seemingly divergent purposes come together in a single purpose by simplying looking at the context of 2/148 which was quoted above. If we read from 2/142-152, we would see that the divergent goals 2/148 mentions is under the auspices of ‘masjid al-haram’. It should be said here that I do not believe this refers to the mosque in Makkah but rather a space in which God’s laws are submitted to (the literal meaning of the term ‘masjid’) and this space is sanctified by God (the literal meaning of the word ‘haram’).
Therefore what unites us should be the struggle to build a space where we can adhere to Allah’s laws and thereby attain sanctity.
Perhaps an example of this would help elucidate my proposition above. Let us take a more outlandish example. What if a person’s talent was in arts and crafts? It wouldn’t mean that he or she would be outside the Quranic spectrum of purpose. Rather, he or she could channel those energies into spurring people on towards the Quranic goal of a sanctified space. Many artists and craftsmen do that even now, inspire people towards the good with their works.
Quran is a text which allows humankind to achieve self-actualisation without losing their personal identity. It really is the simple matter of reading it holistically and living your life within the parameters of a set of rules as well with an overarching goal.