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Humanity’s Three Fundamental Questions

In previous articles, we emphasized that the search for meaning and the need for meaning are among the most fundamental and profound human needs that concern one’s existence. When something has meaning, a person listens attentively; when something is meaningful, they invest effort; and as long as life is deemed meaningful, one finds it worth living. If there is a purpose and meaning to devote one’s entire lifetime to, something to pursue and follow, then everything in life becomes more beautiful; one can endure all the hardships of life. On the other hand, if life is perceived as empty, pointless, and absurd, even in the most enjoyable and cheerful moments, inner distress continues to haunt a person.

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As previously touched upon briefly, unless satisfactory and reasonable answers are found to the questions of where and how humans come to this world, why they come, and where they will go thereafter, the meaning of life cannot be found. The answers to these questions are also the answers to questions like who am I and what kind of world I live in. A person who does not confront these questions and cannot find their answers is condemned to either drown in the vortex of meaninglessness or to consume oneself in pursuit of false meanings, even in the most delightful moments of life.

In the modern world, life is lived very loudly, very fast, and in a great hurry, which is why perhaps we cannot think about these vital questions about existence or simply do not want to contemplate them because we have placed pleasure and entertainment at the center of our lives. There are so many factors in the world we live in that thicken the veil of heedlessness and distance us from our existential purpose! Nevertheless, avoiding these questions does not make us happier or more peaceful. We think we escape from the hunter by burying our heads in the sand like an ostrich, but we are only deceiving ourselves. Do we not see that our deep spiritual crises, insurmountable psychological problems, and moral decay that shames humanity itself are the greatest signs of this? Do we not see that something is constantly slipping away from our humanity day by day?

Let us return to the questions mentioned above. The first one was about where or how a human comes to this world. Setting aside the detailed explanations given in the Qur’an on this subject with its unique style, is it possible for us to answer this question on our own? Besides the explanation of the creation of the universe through the convergence of coincidences, do we have another explanation that we can substitute for the truth of creation? Apart from the feasibility and reasonability of this explanation, can any meaning be found in such a tale of existence? If our arrival in the world did not begin with a purpose and meaning, how can we make life meaningful and fill it with something worthwhile? Even if this were hypothetically possible, how worthwhile can a life be that is produced by material causes and accidents, resulting in nothingness and void? In this case, what is it that makes a person and life valuable? Does not this path lead to absurdity and nothingness, as existentialists and nihilists claim? It might be beneficial to look at the current human problems, which we cannot cope with, from this perspective as well.

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Let us move on to the second question, which is why a person came to this world, in other words, whether there is a purpose of creation. A person who does not believe in Allah and does not heed the words of the holy books and prophets sent by Him cannot find the answer to this question. In a place where there is no purpose, there can be no talk of meaning. For a person who does not have a grand goal to which they will be devoted throughout their life and which they will pursue, the inevitable path is to surrender to their desires, to become a slave to their desires and passions. The Qur’an helps us here as well, guiding us on our way and determining our direction. The Qur’an informs us that we are not left without guidance, that we were sent to this world to know our Lord and to worship Him. It teaches us how a person should worship their Lord, how they should relate to other people and beings, and how they should live their lives. A person who establishes a relationship with Allah as a servant and seeks refuge in the guidance of the Qur’an can make their life meaningful from start to finish.

Thirdly, the question is where a person is going. Many can manage to remain indifferent to the first two questions, but they cannot help but think about the cold face of death and what comes after death. Because death makes everything bitter. The thought of losing all the pleasures of the world, which are excessively valued and firmly attached, is unbearable. In the face of the reality of death, everything becomes meaningless. What is the point of struggling for the sake of things like property, possessions, children, status, and fame, which are highly valued and clung to, when they will be lost one day? Even if they manage to cling to them, can the meaning of a life devoted to things that are temporary, transient, and marked with the seal of nothingness be substantial? In this case, what will the miserable human find consolation in? If death means nothingness and void, and if humans are gradually moving toward it, how can life not turn into torture? It turns into torture. However, with heedlessness, indulgence, and intoxication, a person can somehow close their eyes to death.

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As with the first two questions, the answer to the third question has also been communicated to us by our Lord. Man is going to an eternal realm along with death. This is such a realm that it is built based on a person’s actions in this world. Therefore, a person realizes that nothing will leave them when they die, and they can take something with them. Words and deeds, attitudes and behaviors, and even every second of their life take on a different meaning. Knowing that all the blessings, pleasures, and delights of the world are just samples, and that there is a possibility of reaching the originals, changes everything.

As Bediüzzaman Said Nursi puts it, the best answer to these three difficult and tremendously important questions that have occupied all minds so far has been given by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Therefore, life finds its true meaning with Islam. It can easily be said that if Allah exists, everything related to life and everything about life is meaningful. Through the guidance of the Qur’an, a person can understand their place and position in this vast universe. By believing in Allah and trusting in Him, they know they are not alone, not abandoned; they deeply feel that they live under the mercy, protection, and compassion of the Lord. Through their attachment and connection to Allah, they are freed from negative emotions that consume a person, such as worthlessness, complexes, fear, anxiety, and meaninglessness. A person who knows that existence stands with the Sustainer of Allah, that His dominion and manifestations continue every moment, believes that everything, even if they cannot understand the wisdom behind them, are in their right places and that nothing absurd exists in His realm. Knowing that even tiny creatures that live their lives in a single day or even in an hour are created with a purpose and wisdom, a person, as the master of creation, knows that their life cannot be empty and meaningless. Therefore, they strive to make the most of every moment with patience, feeling, understanding, and awareness.

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It is much more difficult to give meaning to a life without faith and to live it peacefully. Being a guest of a planet that is like a grain of sand among vast celestial bodies in the void of space itself frightens a person. How can a life be meaningful and peaceful without faith in a world where deaths, disappearances, and disasters are abundant? Can a life, which hypothetically adds meaning to itself through temporary worldly pleasures, be constantly, genuinely, and satisfyingly meaningful? What can the meaning of a brief, mortal life be for a poor human being who cannot keep hold of their most valuable possessions, cannot even control their own body, and has even their loved ones leaving them one by one between birth and death?

In this five-part article series on the meaning of life, I may have extended the subject excessively and gone into repetitions. The reason I can move a bit freely on this issue is that the speed and chaos of modern life have led to the forgetting of the meaning of life and, consequently, to the emergence of a multitude of problems. As can be understood from the explanations made so far, the perspective that religions, especially Islam, present to us about existence, humanity, and Allah is the only way to live life meaningfully and in line with a purpose. When we put Allah at the center, foundation, and goal of life, life, existence, and the cycle of existence and non-existence will find their true meaning.

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Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.

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