Life, The Universe and Everything – Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat

Shaykh Abdurrahim Reasat discusses how the burning questions of the soul and the satisfactory answers to them are predicated on the existence of a Creator.


It took Deep Thought, a super-computer built by hyper-intelligent beings, seven and a half million years to arrive at the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything – and the answer was … forty-two. Upon hearing this, Arthur Dent, the protagonist of the novels titled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is thoroughly disappointed. He then embarks on journey to find the Ultimate Question to make sense of the answer.

Despite the humor of this plot twist (forgive me), two important points can be inferred:

    1. The burning question present in the soul of every human being: “What is the purpose of my existence?”
    2. The inability to reach a satisfactory answer without recourse to the being who created Life, the Universe and Everything.

The Souls Yearns for Answers

To the atheist, such as the author of the above work, we are nothing more than an unlikely result of an extremely improbable sequence of explosions, chemical reactions and mutations. To this mind, seeking purpose, direction, and meaning in life is akin to going fishing in the Sahara Desert: an exercise in futility.

Despite this, the same question gnaws at this type of person too. The amusements and distractions of life busy the mind, but the soul still yearns to find its place in existence. For some, this is a yearning which drives them to find their purpose in life, and for others it is an uncomfortable sensation to be numbed.

There Is an Instruction Manual

Unsurprisingly, the best place to look for the answer is in the instruction manual. Allah, out of His pure generosity, did not leave us to figure things out on our own after creating us. Rather, He sent us books and Messengers with answers and solutions to what we find ourselves in. The Qurʾan addresses the purpose of creating humanity on multiple levels – but the explicit reasons are given in three verses. Each of them is a facet of one unified purpose.

Before looking at these verses, it is important to understand that Allah is perfect, and far beyond needing or benefiting from us or anything we do. This is clearly expressed in the hadith narrated by Abu Dharr al Ghifari in which the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, quoted Allah saying, “My servants, you cannot cause Me any harm, nor can you benefit Me in any way!” (Muslim). Why create all this then? In order for Him to manifest His kindness and mercy upon us.

The first of the three verses can be found in Sura Hud: “Had your Loving Lord willed He would have made humanity one nation [united in faith; but He chose to give them a free will, so they disagreed with each other,] and they continue to disagree – save those who your Loving Lord was kind and merciful to. For that great, lofty purpose did He create them…” (11:118-119)

Khalifa of Allah

The first of these two verse alludes to what can be seen as a secondary reason for our creation: a test. Had Allah willed, He could have created humanity stripped of free will, compelled by their very nature to obey and worship Him as the angels do. In fact, the angels actually considered their lack of free will something which made them fitter for the role of the Khalifa of Allah (Vicegerent) on earth, who would do His bidding, and manifest His commands.

So, if we were created to be the recipients of the kindness of the most generous being in existence, why were we not created in Paradise, instead of being sent to earth first?

The reason for this is that they were guaranteed to obey. But a being with a free will, an ego, desires, and physical and social motives to disobey would likely end up committing the worst of deeds – not the best. Allah simply replied that He knew what they did not, before actually showing them that there are many things they did not know (2:30-33).

The consequence of having a free will, and the option to embrace divine guidance or reject it meant that humanity disagreed with each other – most of them choosing other than what is in the ultimate benefit due to the worst kind of myopia.

Others, however, chose divine guidance as their ship, and consequently remained afloat, benefiting in this life with the protection and care of Allah, and ultimately in the afterlife with unending, indescribable pleasure which neither slackens, nor does it lose its charm. All this is a manifestation of His mercy and kindness, without which they would not have made this choice.

The Ultimate Manifestation of Mercy

According to some of the greatest exegetes of the Qurʾan, including Mujahid, Qatada and Al Dahhak, the next verse tells us that this ultimate manifestation of mercy and kindness is the very reason Allah created us. To express this, the verse employs the use of the demonstrative pronoun ذلك – usually used to refer to something far – in a metaphorical sense to show high, tremendous, and remarkable it actually is.

So, if we were created to be the recipients of the kindness of the most generous being in existence, why were we not created in Paradise, instead of being sent to earth first?

There are many answers to this – all of which highlight the supreme wisdom of Allah. What serves our purpose here is the fact that the good – at the very least deserve to be rewarded for their choices and deeds, and those who are wicked deserve punishment for their deeds. Allah could forgive the latter group and give the former more than what they deserve; all of this would be a manifestation of mercy.

Therefore, it is necessary to show what each individual is deserving of. Some, like the atheist, will chose to disobey and turn completely away. others will bend over backwards to obey. And between the two extremes will be many others inclining one way or the other.

All this is known to Allah. But to display His justice we have been placed on earth to manifest these choices and deeds so none can say in the afterlife that someone was sent to the wrong place.

Worship as a Test of Will

The means to showing which stations of Paradise or Hell people should be in is simple: a test – which, we can now see, is a secondary purpose of creation.

The test is simple: belief in Allah and all which He commands one to believe in, and worship. The word for worship in Arabic,ʿibada, has an implied sense of being abject, abased and humbled before Allah. Once one is firmly in this state the “sweetness” of faith takes hold of a person, and he would hate to leave it just as someone would have to be thrown in Hell (Bukhari).

The reason being is that at this stage one is in tune with his purpose in life, which is clearly expressed by the second explicit verse in Sura al Dhariyat: “And I have not created Jinnkind and Mankind for any reason but to worship Me.” (51:56)

Performing one’s prayers, giving charity, being truthful, and other such deeds are all representations of one’s submission to the command of Allah.

This worship is not restricted to prayer, Hajj, fasting, etc. Rather, is it a tailor made test suited to each individual. Performing one’s prayers, giving charity, being truthful, and other such deeds are all representations of one’s submission to the command of Allah, yet the matter does not end there.

Following the way of the Messengers – which is the best possible approach in all matters – leads one to becoming beloved to Allah; the highest of goals, and one of the signs of success in the test.

Attaining Deep Humility

Persevering in worshiping Allah despite being in difficult situations is precisely why Allah chose Adam and his children for the role of Khalifa, and not the angels. This voluntary worship through thick and thin – with all the stumbling and apologizing that humans are prone to – is greater in the sight of Allah than the worship of those who have no choice.

It is the charity of the poor given to those needier than them. It is kindness shown to those who have wronged one. It is the forgiveness one chooses for those who have oppressed him. It is the resistance of someone against his miserliness when spending on others. It is the seemingly irrational trust on has in Allah when everyone and everything leads others to conclude otherwise. It is the gratitude one feels when seeing that others have less than one. It is the patience which one fortifies himself with when the difficulties of life rain down on one. In short – it is the divinely sanctioned, prophetic response to what one is tried with.

One may ask, “How does one attain this deep, humbled state before Allah?” The answer is given to us the third verse which explicitly answers the question we first started with. In Sura al Talaq, Allah says, “It is Allah who perfectly created seven unimaginable skies, and of the earth an equal number of layers – His rule is absolute throughout – so that you realize that Allah can do anything whatsoever, and that Allah has full knowledge of every single matter.” (65:12)

This verse is an invitation to know something of Allah’s greatness through His creation. The word khalq in Arabic means “to be created according to a specific plan.” Therefore all of existence has been perfectly created in the way it should be according to His knowledge and wisdom. Neither we, nor anything else in the rest of the universe, are the products of an extremely improbable sequence of explosions, chemical reactions and mutations.

The Cosmos Invites Reflection

Realizing that Allah made everything with no help, no raw materials, and no failed attempts, gives one certainty in the fact that He is capable of anything. The entire cosmos in an invitation to reflect and realize this, as well as a challenge to find imperfections of design within it – if, that is, one can understand it fully in the first place (67:3-4).

Seeing the complexity of the the earth and its movements harmoniously synchronized with the merging of the day into night, and night into day, reveals that the Creator must also know everything in order to be able to create such an amazing system perfect for your needs (57:6)

The light of the sun, the flight of birds, the growing of seeds into plants, the descent of rain, the burning of fire, the pollinating winds, the creation of life through mere procreation. They all point to His perfection, knowledge and power.

The universe itself is a sign to make one realize his abjectness before Allah, which in turn spurs him to worship His Loving Lord knowing that He has created all this for him. This turns the burning question in his soul into a response to the divine command. All this so Allah can manifest His kindness onto His servants.

The Answer Through Human Eyes

Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ataʾillah, the great saint and scholar of Alexandria, put it quite succinctly: “He has made serving Him obligatory on you – but in reality He has only made it obligatory for you to enter His Garden.”

There is a certain degree of overlap between the implications of the verse from Sura al Talaq and that from Sura al Ḍhariyat. The former leads one to knowledge of Allah, and His attributes; whilst the latter was interpreted by Mujahid, the student of ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbbas in Qurʾanic exegesis, to mean “for any reason but to know me.” This would then be the embodiment of ihsan, or worshiping Allah as though one sees him, as alluded to in the famous Jibril hadith in Sahih Muslim.

What is interesting is that following the Qurʾanic sequence of these verses gives us the answer we were looking for from Allah’s perspective. And working backwards, it gives the same answer seen from human eyes.

So the answer, then, is considerably more profound and satisfying than “forty-two.”

Photo by Ali Arif Soydaş on Unsplash

Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. He moved to Damascus in 2007 to study and sit at the feet of some of the most erudite scholars of our time, such as Shaykh Adnan Darwish, Shaykh Abdurrahman Arjan, Shaykh Hussain Darwish and Shaykh Muhammad Darwish.

In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies in Fiqh, Usul al Fiqh, Theology, Hadith Methodology and Commentary, Shama’il, and Logic with teachers such as Dr Ashraf Muneeb, Dr Salah Abu’l Hajj, Dr Hamza al-Bakri, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, Dr Mansur Abu Zina amongst others. He was also given two licences of mastery in the science of Qur’anic recital by Shakh Samir Jabr and Shaykh Yahya Qandil.

His true passion, however, arose in the presence of Shaykh Ali Hani, considered by many to be one of the foremost tafsir scholars of our time who provided him with the keys to the vast knowledge of the Quran. With Shaykh Ali, he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Qur’anic Sciences, Tafsir, Arabic Grammar, and Rhetoric.

When he finally left Jordan for the UK in 2014, Shaykh Ali gave him his distinct blessing and still recommends students in the UK to seek out Shaykh Abdul Rahim for Quranic studies. Since his return he has trained as a therapist and has helped a number of people overcome emotional and psychosomatic issues. He is a keen promoter of emotional and mental health.

Coffee, Worship and the Meaning of Life

If I ever shied away from coffee for worldly reasons, I embraced it for spiritual reasons, never realizing that it would point me to the meaning of life.

“The first time that you drink coffee because of caffeine, it’s slightly euphoric.”said Shaykh Yahya Rhodus.  I distinctly remembered the first time I drank coffee. I’d never liked the taste before, and, for some reason, was always proud that I was a tea-drinker rather than a coffee drinker.

I distinctly remember the pre-dawn atmosphere during last year’s SeekersRetreat. We stumbled to the hall alongside immense pine trees that blended with the darkness of the lake, lapping away in the cool blue darkness. The hall was emulating both physical and spiritual light to the whole campsite. It was a feeling I could never describe properly, with so many other Muslims reciting the Wird al-Latif with Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, chaplain at the University of Toronto.  It was like getting light beamed straight to my heart.

Light or not, I was still exhausted. Having a history of succumbing to physical upheaval at instances of disturbed sleep patterns, changed day scheduled, and diet changes, I wasn’t feeling my best physically, was feeling exhausted and sick physically and was afraid that I’d have to sit out on a session or two for fear of falling asleep during class, displaying atrocious adab and thereby slamming more than a few metaphysical doors against myself.

My only solution was coffee. Hesitantly, I approached the percolator, poured myself a cup, drowned it in sugar and cream, and braced myself for the impact.

meaning of life

To my surprise, it wasn’t bad. Not only that, it was like my body was getting poured with energy. My drowsiness and the accompanying dull headache began to slowly fade away. Not only that, but another rigorous day of classes seemed actually possible.

Back then, I didn’t know what markahah was, but this was my first taste of it.

Worship, Coffee, and the Meaning of Life

“The smallest of things have great meaning.” Shaykh Faraz Rabbani introduced the seminar, held at the new location of SeekersHub Toronto.

That explained a lot, as I was wondering about the connection between coffee and the meaning of life. After the retreat ended and my first semester of college had begun, I’d grown used to the many uses of coffee in an academic setting: as a wake-me-up before early classes, an appetite suppressant during the later ones, as a treat after exams.

But then I began my internship and went from purchasing my coffee from the campus’s Tim Hortons, to getting it from a non-profit affordable café in one of the sketchier, downtown parts of a Canadian city close to my new office.

I still didn’t really know good coffee from bad, but all of a sudden, removed from the company of generally well-to-do, educated people on campus, and instead forced to stand in a line with the poverty-stricken, the homeless, the fragments of broken families, not to mention a fair few drug dealers and gang members, made me think.

Was it really about coffee? What about the world around me, and the pain that flowed through it? Was there any way to connect them?

And most importantly, what was I supposed to do about it?

Coffee: A Spiritual Ritual

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus began the seminar speaking first a little bit about the origins of coffee in Yemen, and how it spread through the regions to become a part of spiritual tradition. For example, there would be duaas composed, to be recited while preparing coffee. These duaas would include prayers for not just the ones who had grown the coffee, the ones who would drink the coffee, and the ones living in Yemen, but extended to include all the Muslims throughout time. This way, a mundane and everyday task-making coffee-became a spiritual connection to Allah, His Messenger, and all of humanity.

Coffee was used as a substance to help with worship, when people’s aspirations were low. Coffee was considered a blessing, he continued, because it was served to the people who would wake up a couple hours before Fajr to pray Tahajjud, causing Imam al-Haddad to say that Shaitaan would run away when the coffee cups started to jingle in the morning, because it meant that the people would be energized by it and not as easy to tempt.

It was the quality that these people had, that made something as simple as coffee, into a spiritual experience. By taking something seemingly mundane casual, and linking it to prayers and worship, it made the action all the more meaningful, on a wordly and spiritual level.

For me, things were slowly beginning to make sense.

Coffee and Politics

The next session was given by Sidi Abdul Rahman Malik, currently a journalist with the BBC and Global Programs Director for SeekersHub.

“A lot of us are searching for markahah, the euphoric, sprightliness that we get from coffee.”

While tea was a strong part of his home life growing up, it was coffee that was considered something to have when outside of the house, during an outing or get-together. This made drinking coffee an occasion rather than a casual thing, something attributed to gathering and spending time with others.

This was part of the reason, he said, that coffee was banned in the 15th century in the Arabian Peninsula, and again in Cairo during the Mamluk dynasty, because it encouraged people to engage with each other, share ideas, and converse actively, thereby creating a potential for political rebellion.

meaning of life

So coffee had come from a simple drink to fuel for revolution.

Coffee, Consumerism, and a Believer’s Ethical Concern

But how did coffee connect to the meaning of life?

The seminar turned serious as Shaykh Faraz gave us a reality check.

“Who is selling us the coffee? What conditions do they harvest it? How much are the workers paid? Who cares? A believer cares!”

He went on to remind us that much of the modern consumer culture was creating a massive effect of horror and pain around the world.

Many of us choose to turn a blind eye at the companies using our desire for a constant stream of new clothing, exotic foods, and the latest technology gadgets, profiting off the blood, sweat, and tears of the grossly underpaid workers procured to service them. Not only that, but multinational companies often destroy poorer countries’ industries that are run at the local level. He gave the example of Nestle, which destroyed Pakistan’s milk industry. Using their multi-billion dollar funds, they were able to invest in advertising, as well as offer their products at a much lower cost than the locals did. When they had monopolized the industry and ousted the local farmers and shopkeepers, they raised their prices much higher—and left a country dependent on outsourcing its dairy from Nestle.

This is only one of countless parts of their lives that a believer needs to be careful about. From sweatshop clothing producers to smartphone-and-tablet factories, we need to look beyond these seemingly everyday choices, and make an effort to seek Allah in them.

“Our ethical concern isn’t just because we’re a bunch of hippies. Buy things that you know are pleasing to Allah.”

Even if it made things a little more complicated and expensive, that could be solved by simply training the self to desire less.

“Make those choices meaningful, you’ll find meaning in it.”

In essence, meaning is what we all are searching for. Consumerism is just us getting sidetracked.

From the Mundane to the Experiential

Shaykh Yahya’s second session tied everything together perfectly.

“Make the mundane spiritual, you will have a constant experience with the Divine.”

He referenced Imam Ghazali’s book The Beginning of Guidance, which outlines how to live one’s life as productively as possible, fulfilling all one’s obligations to the Creator and creation. The book contains a vast amount of duaas, for things as seemingly mundane as putting on clothes in the morning. When these duaas are repeated on a constant basis, he explained, they begin to have an immense effect of the heart in terms of connecting with the Divine. This runs counter-intuitively to our desires, as many of our egos dislike regulation and routine, and want to jump to the next interesting thing.

Again, it’s in connecting with the mundane, that you can begin to connect with the Creator.

Coffee, Clothing, Custom…and God

Whereas I can now say that I do have a better understanding of what coffee is (and also now cannot remember the last time I got it from Tim Hortons’), I now know that that’s not the point.

In everything, there is an opportunity to connect with Allah. While people look for some sort of a “spiritual buzz,” as the only sign of a strong connection, that can be misleading. The meaning is much, much deeper.

Tomorrow, next week, and next year, I hope that everything will have a deeper meaning. Not just coffee, but my entire life.

meaning of life

Now when I cradle a cup of coffee in my hands, I will remember to pray for the ones who grew it, the ones who harvested it, and the ones who prepared it. When I seek refuge in its warmth, I will remember the ones on the street with no shelter, and pray for them too. When unintelligible shouting meets my ears, when homeless teens look at me sideways from hollowed eyes, when refugee newcomers ask me if I can speak their language, when another drug deal or robbery happens a few feet away from me…

…maybe I will be able to dig deeper, and go from witnessing the mundane to witnessing the One.

Cover photo by Maria Keays. Fire photo by Mark K. Street photo by Daniel Lobo.

Resources for Seekers

Why are we not in Heaven or Hell Already?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Salam alaykum,
Since Allah knows who will go in Heaven and who will go in Hell why He is putting us on Earth? Why not just throw us all into Heaven or Hell?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
This life is an opportunity.
Allah Most High said, “Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life to test you [people] and reveal which of you does best––He is the Mighty, the Forgiving” [67.1-2]
He wants the believers to strive so that He can grant them the everlasting favour of Paradise according to the degree of their efforts.
There would be no appreciation in being created in Paradise– but toil, struggle, and pray for 80 years then see Paradise and you’ll be grateful for eternity.
And Allah alone gives success.
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani