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General Discussions / Why are we here?
« on: April 08, 2018, 12:20:58 PM »
أعوذ بالله من الشيطان الرجيم

بسم االله الرحمن الرحیم

Why are we here?

[7:24-25] He said; go down as enemies of one another. And the land/earth will be your abode and sustenance for a while.   He said; in it you will live and in it you will die and from it you will come out.

The purpose of our lives and our existence on earth is the most fundamental question that the human mind has struggled with since the dawn of history. It is the essential quest of all spiritual paths and religious traditions. This article examines what the Quran has to say about this question - reading the relevant Quranic passages as simple narratives, attempting to take the  explicit, evident, obvious information from them. And to avoid speculative post analysis of Quranic verses to reach conclusions that contradict or diverge from the simple message we can glean from them. And accept the Quranic narrative, even when there are differences between it and the narrative that Islamic tradition has handed down to us.

The main passages that narrate how we came to be on this earth, and the purpose of our lives here are 2:30-39, 7:10-25, 20:115-127. But first let us review a few verses that establish some background on our existence before our presence on this earth.

1. As humans, we existed, and took a covenant with God, before our life here on earth …

[7:172] And when your Lord gathered from the children of Adam, to bear witness for themselves; Am I not your Lord? They said yes indeed, we bear witness, lest you say on the Day of Resurrection; we were unaware of this.

[33:72] We indeed offered the secretariat to the skies and the land and the mountains but they turned it down and were afraid to accept it, however, the human being accepted it. Indeed, he was most unjust, ignorant.

These verses refer to events that happened before our life on the earth, where we took a covenant with God, and also accepted responsibility for the burdens we would bear in the life to come on the earth. We may not grasp the full import of these verses, but the least that we can take away from them, is that we did exist even before we came here to the earth, and that our journey to the earth was our own making. For the sake of our own salvation, we should trust God and His word, even as we do not remember the details of the events as they transpired before we came here.

2. We have experienced death once,  before we entered this life.

[40:11] They say, our Lord, You have given us two deaths and two lives, we now confess our sins, is there any way out?    

[2:28] How can you have no faith in God, the One who resurrected you from death, then He puts you to death, and subsequently He gives you life, then to Him you will return.

God tells us clearly in these verses that we did experience death once, before we came to this world, and the death we encounter at the end of this life, is a second death.[1] The fact that this is not what we heard taught by Islamic tradition should not be an excuse not to accept it. 2:28 is an important precursor to the passage 2:30-39, which sheds light on why God resurrected us from our first death, as we will study below.

3. Our fall from paradise.

We can read the passages in the Quran that record our transition from paradise to this earth in Appendix A. The observations we can make from this reading are ...

(a) Our life on earth is a consequence of the original sin.

[2:36] But Satan caused them to slip from it, and caused them to depart the state they were in. We said, “Go down, some of you enemies of one another. And you will have residence on earth, and enjoyment for a while.”

The logical connection between the sin of Adam of eating from the tree, and being sent down to the earth is very self-evident in the verse. A simple reading of the verse provides no justification for a claim that there is no connection between the two, and they have just been mentioned together sequentially for no reason whatsoever. The same is true in 7:22-24 and 20:121-123, where our eviction to the earth follows the action of eating from the tree, and God’s expressed disapproval of it. They are not disconnected events, but the latter is a consequence of the former. Our life on earth is a consequence of the original sin.

The causal relationship between Adam’s sin and our existence on earth is not in dispute, even from the traditional viewpoint. That is clearly the event that led to our eviction from paradise.

(b) We were all participants in the original sin.

[7:11] And indeed, We created all of you, then We designed all of you, We then said to the angels to honor Adam, they immediately honored him except Iblees who was not one of the honorers.

It is interesting that in 7:11, the creation and design of “all of you” (i.e., each of us) is followed by the command to the angels to honor[2] Adam. Essentially the word ‘Adam’ switched for all of humanity in the verse. This means that we were also present, when the command to the angels to honor Adam was given. The recurring references in second person plural in the verses [e.g., اهْبِطُو (“go down you all”) in 2:36,38] also makes this evident. The references to Adam in these passages can therefore be understood as applying to all of humanity. Some may argue that the plural is used in a restricted reference to Adam/wife and Iblis only.[3] But the context of the verses - e.g., 2:38, 7:25, 20:123-127 - which contain the instructions for all of humanity, makes it clear that the usage of plural does refer to all of humanity. Further, the fact that we live on this earth confirms it is referring to us too - Adam/wife were not the only ones consigned to live on earth.

Further, this is not even a far-fetched or ground breaking idea. Traditional commentators have also espoused it. For example,
  • The Study Quran[4] (footnote 36, p. 24) says, “The interpretation most in keeping with the Quranic text understands the addresses to be Adam and Eve and all their progeny, sometimes including Iblis and his progeny, with Adam and Eve representing humanity as a whole”.
  • Muhammad Ali’s translation[5] (footnote 52 to v. 31, p. 18) says, “Adam, therefore, though it may also be the name of a particular man stands for man generally”.

So when we see this event, with the word ‘Adam’ describing “man generally” or “humanity as a whole”, it makes us participants in the original sin. Each of us (“all of you”) were created/designed before the event (7:11), and sent to the earth along with Adam after the event (2:36,38; 7:24-25; 20:123), establishing our presence during the event too. Another reason is that no soul bears the burden of another (6:164).  If only Adam/wife were participants in the original sin, we should not have been here, since God would not make us bear the burden for what only they did.

But this does beg the question - why does the God describe Adam/wife as the principal actors in the original sin, although we can infer that the description includes us and we were present when the event happened? One reason may be that Adam was here first, and fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent down - he followed God’s guidance, repented to God and was forgiven by God for his transgression. We are still here and have not yet returned to God. Adam is described here as the example for us to follow. In any event, following God’s guideline in 3:7, even if we do not have all the answers, we should simply accept what is clear/evident, and eschew speculation on what may be ambiguous/allegorical.

4. Our primary purpose in this life is to worship God.

[2:38-29] We said, go down from here all of you. Then when you all receive guidance from Me, whoever follows My guidance has nothing to fear nor will he grieve.  As for those who are unfaithful and rejected Our proofs, they are dwellers of Hell. They will abide therein eternally.

[51:56] I did not create the jinns and the humans except to worship Me.

Now that we are here, this is the most important thing for us to remember - we are here to worship God by commemorating Him alone, and following His guidance. These will be successful ones, who spend eternity in peace with God, in the life to come. This statement of purpose elicits the question - why does God need our worship? The truth is God does not need our worship. To God belongs everything in the skies and the land, and God does not need our worship, nor our faith nor our obedience. Rather, we are in need of worshipping Him and obeying Him and being faithful to Him (35:15, 27:40, 4:131, 31:12, 47:38, 57:24, 64:6).


In summary, putting together what we learned in the sections above, the Quran describes our existence prior to our coming to this earth. We will not remember the details, but God gives us just enough detail for us to know that we were participants in an act of disobedience against God. We made a covenant with God, to obey Him, and not to listen to satan, who is our avowed enemy. Satan is condemned to an end of misery, and misery seeks company. Satan is out to entice us towards an eternity of pain and suffering, and entrap as many of us as possible. Our act of transgression the first time, resulted in our first death, in paradise. And this life on earth is our resurrection from the first death (2:28). It is our second chance - to seek God, to worship God, to commemorate God, to obey God, to reconnect with God, and become close to God. Those of us who blow this second chance too will rue it on the Day of Resurrection. Those who repented and followed God’s guidance when it came to them, God will accept their repentance, forgive them and guide them, just like He forgave Adam. These will be the ones whom “God has blessed” (1:7), and we should constantly pray to be included among them.


[1] The verses above describe the experience of the unrighteous, as they reflect back on the day of Resurrection, and how they blew their second chance too. And a reminder to those seek to reject faith in God. The Quran also teaches us that the righteous only go through the first death, and do not experience the second death, even though their departure would appear like death from our perspective (44:56, 2:154).
[2] The word ا ْس ُجُدوا also refers to physical prostration to God, for example during the contact prayer. Here, as an act between two creations, it takes the nuanced meaning of ‘honor’ or ‘pay respect to’.
[3] Some may have difficulty accepting the idea we were also participants in the original sin, since they believe that paradise was on earth. And that after the original sin, Adam and wife simply strolled out of an earthly garden onto other earthly landscapes. In that case, we were not yet born, so they see no way for us to have been present at the time. Others may interpret the fall from paradise as the migration of a humanoid population out of an earthly garden, believing that this reconciles the Quranic account with evolution (see Appendix B). I see the pursuit of the question on whether paradise was on earth an extraneous tangent to the quest of understanding why we are here. Following the simple chronology in the narration, paradise and earth are explicitly described as separate places (e.g., 2:35 vs. 2:38, 7:19 vs. 7:24-25). The former was their dwelling place before the original sin. The latter was their new abode, after the original sin. Regardless of whether “go down” really means “go down”, this is direct evidence that they were separate places, and “the land/earth will be your abode” meant that paradise was not on this land/earth to begin with.
[4] The Study Quran, Harper Collins Publishers, First Edition, 2015
[5] Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore, Inc. U.S.A., Second Revised Edition, Reprint 1995

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