The purpose of our creation is to worship Allah. But He does not need our worship. So why did Allah create us in the first place?
Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Jazakum Allah khayr for your question.
Allah Most High says in the Qur’an, ‘I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me’ [51:56].
It is true that God does not need our worship, but this does not negate the purpose of our existence. The question you have asked is common: If the purpose of our creation is to worship God, and God does not need our worship, then why did God create us in the first place?
The very brief answer to the question is that God’s Knowledge, Will, Power, and Wisdom are absolute and perfect. He willed to create us to know Him, and commanded us to believe in Him and to worship Him, and He willed that if we do so, we will attain to eternal bliss in the Hereafter, and this reward is from His Generosity and Favour towards us. All of this, is because God has willed it to be so and that it be done in this manner.
This question can also be delved into in great detail. We will try to summarize the most important points to elucidate the matter for you, as well as others who have the same question, insha’Allah.
1. Elements of Actions
In regards human actions, all acts return to 1) a motivation, reason, or need (‘ilatun gha’iyyah / al daf’i), 2) the purpose sought after to fulfil the need or desire (al gharad), 3) the actual fulfilment or conclusion of the act (al ghayah), and sometimes, 4) the benefit of the act (al Fa’ida).
Take for example, a person who makes a sandwich. They are motivated by a need or a desire (‘ilatun gha’iyyah / al dafi’); either hunger, to feed someone else, or for mere enjoyment, comfort etc. The purpose sought after from performing the action (al gharad) is a feeling of satiety or satisfaction. Once eaten, one has concluded the act and has a sense of fulfilment from the act, which in this case, they experience the actual feeling of satiety, satisfaction, pleasure etc. [al ghayah]. The benefit of making and eating the sandwich (al fa’ida) could be many; satisfaction, gaining strength and energy, feeling better emotionally, feeling restful, fulfilling another’s need or right, and so on.
Human acts comprise of the first 3 elements, and usually the 4th element (benefit). A person who acts without a need, purpose, or motivation is either fooling around (‘aabith) or not fully sound of mind (safih). For example, we could say that a person could make a sandwich just for the sake of making a sandwich, not due to a need or desire. They could even make it and throw it away, and do this throughout the day. However, no sensible person would do this, so it is not worth considering.
In regards God, we should know that His actions do not comprise of the first three elements; a motivation, reason, or need, a purpose sought after, or conclusion of the act [al ghayah].
What this means is that Gods actions are purely from the Divine Will. Why did God create you and me? Purely because He wanted to. Why did God create this world? Purely from the Divine Will. Why does He ask us to worship Him? Purely because He willed it to be so. Why will God punish some people and reward others? Simply because He willed and Purely because He is able to. Why do we pray 4 cycles of prayer in Dhur? Because that’s what God willed, and so on.
God is a volitional agent, meaning the Divine Will is affirmed, and this Will is Absolute. However, there is no motivating factor, need, or desire that drives Him to act and judge, and there is no actual end conclusion to His acts and commands that comes about from a purpose being fulfilled.
In fact, for God to act due to these reasons is an imperfection, and imperfections are impossible for a true God. The reason being is that a person who acts due to a need, to fulfil a desire within them, or are forced, or experience a sense of conclusion and fulfilment from an act, all of these are deficiencies or imperfections. They act to feel complete. On the other hand, a being who is absolute perfection can never be motivated by a desire or need to complete them. They are the total and full meaning of perfection and completeness, and therefore, they require nothing more to perfect them or complete them.
However, because God is All Knowing, All Wise, and Most Generous, element 4, the benefit of an act (al Fa’ida), holds true for God’s acts, and the benefits of Gods actions are immeasurable.
We should also note, that just because God’s actions and commands are void of a motivating factor, it does not mean in any way that His acts are void of Wisdom. Rather, like the immeasurable benefits to God’s acts and commands, there is perfect and absolute Wisdom in them also, and this Wisdom is perfect.
Because God’s knowledge, Will and Wisdom are perfect, there can be no better way of things happening, even if created being cannot perceive it. If created beings knew the reality of matters, they would not wish it in any other than the way that God has willed them.
This is Allah, our Lord, ‘Doer of whatever He wills’ [85:16]. He Wills and does as He pleases, and His Sovereignty of all things is absolute. ‘He cannot be questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned’ [21:23].
In summary, we should know that God has absolute Knowledge, Will, Power and Sovereignty over all things, to do as He pleases. This is the nature of a True God.
2. Cause and Effect
Out of His Absolute Knowledge, Wisdom, and Will, the Sunna of God (God’s way) is that things have a cause and effect. To earn money, we must work. To start a fire, we must rub wood together or light a match. In the same way, God has made it that in order to enter Paradise (effect), we must believe and worship Him (cause). However, we affirm that none of these cause and effect relationships are necessary in of themselves, and had God willed differently, He could have made these matters revolve around different relationships or no relationship at all. He could make have made everyone a believer and enter them into Paradise without struggle or test.
Because of this cause and effect relationship, if we want to succeed in the Hereafter, we have no choice but to work and do righteous deeds.
3. The Verse in Context and it’s Full Meaning
Now, in regards the verse, I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me’, the first thing we can mention is that God created us and has ordered us to worship Him purely out of his Will. He was not motivated by a need or desire, nor in order to gain a sense of purpose or fulfilment, nor is He forced, all of which we have mentioned before. Our creation and the command to worship is first and foremost because God has willed it to be so in this way.
Secondly, to fully understand the verse, وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ, ‘I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me’, it is important to read the chapter, al Dhariyat, in full. Previous to this verse, Allah Most High discusses, in order:
1. The disbelievers of Mecca who denied the Quran, the Hereafter, and He warns them of the grievous punishment that awaits them should they continue.
2. In contrast to disbelievers, Allah Most High then mentions the God-fearing believers, and reminds them of the promise of the pleasures and bliss of the Hereafter, in order to increase them in their faith and their desire for doing righteous works in this life.
3. Then, Allah informs man of His Omnipotence (al Qudra) and the Oneness of His Absolute Power, Ability, and Might, telling man to look for the signs of his Power and Ability that are manifest in the universe; the heavens and skies, mountains, land and seas, in the creation and form of man and jinn etc.
4. He Most High then mentions stories of the Prophets and their struggle with the rulers and disbelievers of their nations.
5. The chapter ends with the purpose of our existence, including the verse in question, which is to know Allah, to believe in Him as the One True Deity, and to worship Him alone with sincerity.
So in most of this chapter, God discusses and compares the disbelievers and the believers, threatening those who do evil with eternal perdition and reassuring those who do good with everlasting felicity.
Then, as a reminder to both groups, but particular to those who deny the Message, God is also is saying in the verse we are discussing, ‘I created the jinn and man to realise their full potential and be true believers, which entails affirming and worshipping the True God only. You were not created to worship other deities other than your One True Creator, and nor did I create you to be content, chase after, or be preoccupied with this world.
As Imam al Razi states, ‘After having described the state of the disbelievers, God mentions this verse to highlight the evil of their actions, in that they abandoned the worship of Allah while they were [in reality] created to only worship Him alone.’
Thirdly, as some of the Quranic commentators have mentioned, the first letter لِ in the words لِيَعْبُدُونِ , outwardly, and in regards Arabic grammar, indicates the Lam al Ta’lil,, the Lam of Motivation or Justification, taking the meaning of ‘to’ or ‘for’. For example, ‘I ate the sandwich to satiate my hunger’ ‘I made the sandwich for my lunch’. However, the reality of this letter Lam, according to Arabic rhetoric, is that it is the Lam al ‘Aqiba, the Lam of Conclusion or End Result, giving the meaning of ‘realisation’ or ‘attaining to’.
In this sense, the verse also takes on the meaning of ‘I created the jinn and humankind only that they may attain to being true believers and worshippers’. Mujahid stated that ‘Only that they might worship me’ means ‘Only that they may know Me’.
With these meanings, we further understand that ‘attaining to being those who Worship God’, and ‘knowing’ God is a way of perfecting ourselves and becoming complete, pure, and noble enough to enter into the Divine Presence, and see Him Most High, and enjoy His everlasting bliss in the Hereafter.
In conclusion, God is not simply saying to us, ‘The only reason why I created you all is so I can be worshipped by you’, but rather, He Most High is saying, ‘I created you all that you may know Who I am, Who it is that created you, and through this knowledge, belief, and worship of your One True God and Creator, you can attain to the lofty state of being true and complete believers and be of those who I will honour in the next life.’
All of these layers of meanings, and more, are present in this one small verse.
Now that the verse has been understood more fully, the question remains, why create us in the first place? We will discuss this now by referring to everything we have mentioned.
4. Why create us in the first place?
To answer this question, we may recall three points that we mentioned earlier:
1. That God has created us and ordered us to worship Him alone purely out of his Will. Therefore, on God’s behalf, there is no need or motivating factor behind His acts of creating or His commands, no purpose sought in of itself, and no conclusion or fulfilment that arises from His acts. At the same time, God’s Wisdom is Perfect.
2. God has created our existence on the basis of cause and affect relationships; do good and you will enter Paradise, do evil and you will enter Hellfire. This is how God has willed it. If He so willed, he could have entered the disbelievers in Paradise and the believers in Hellfire.
3. We mentioned that the fourth element of actions is the benefit of the act (al fa’ida), meaning the beneficial consequences that come about from actions, and that the benefits of God’s actions and commands are countless.
Whether we like it or not, we must do good to succeed in the next life. Our acts in this brief life on earth, namely our belief and worship, has been placed as a condition for our admission into the realm of perpetual and unimaginable bliss. Therefore, the ‘benefit’ of our actions are that we will enter paradise and earn God’s Pleasure. Unlike worldly benefits from actions, there are no benefits comparable to the eternal pleasures that await the people of Garden.
Yet, while our entering Paradise has been conditioned by doing good works on earth, the reality is that our works are a paltry payment for the inconceivable benefits, rewards, and pleasures of the Garden. More importantly, these meagre works of ours are not what will actually enter us into Paradise or earn the rewards therein. Rather, as the Prophet ﷺ said, ‘None of you will enter Paradise because of his deeds alone.’ [al Bukhari, Muslim]
So what is that will enter us into Paradise and grant us its benefits, if not our worldly actions?
The answer is that we will enter and enjoy Paradise purely due to the Mercy, Favour, Generosity, and unrestricted Bounty of God.
Given all the above, it is still common for a person to ask or wonder, ‘But why did He create me if He has no need for me? Is it only because He wanted to or He willed to? What if I didn’t want to be created? I didn’t have a choice in the matter, how is this fair?’ and many more questions of this nature.
A summary of my answers to these types of questions is as follows:
1. First, let us recall the verse, ‘Remember when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to place a successive authority on earth.” They asked Allah, “Will You place in it someone who will spread corruption there and shed blood while we glorify Your praises and proclaim Your holiness?” Allah responded, “I know what you do not know”.’
This sentence, “I know what you do not know”, applies not only to angels, but to the jinn and to mankind, to you and me. God knows what we do not know. We have mentioned already that Allah’s Knowledge and Wisdom is Perfect.
2. If we could see with our eyes the ‘benefits’, blessings, and gifts descending upon us, or we saw the angels around us, or God spoke to us, no person would deny God or worship other than God. However, in this world, by means of a test, there are veils between us and God, between us and the Unseen, whether the veils be preoccupation with world affairs, wealth, ego, satan, or other matters.
Because people experience these veils and cannot see beyond them, and are instead commanded to have faith and persevere, we ask these types of questions. Because we experience a life of struggle, ups and downs, uncertainties, and upheaval, we ask these types of questions. If God granted everyone on earth a life of opulent, luxury, happiness and pleasure, and other gifts close to one’s heart’s desires, even if they could not actually see God and the Unseen, no one would be asking the question, ‘Why did God have to create me?!’ or complain that ‘I didn’t choose this existence’!!
3. It is common for people who have gone through struggles in this life to look back and say, ‘even though it was hard, I would not change the past.’ Of course, this may not be the case with severe suffering, trauma, particularly violence and abuse etc., but these statements are common. The point is, suffering and hardship is very often a means to appreciate and experience life in a new and meaningful way, that would not have been possible before the suffering, and is a chance to return to God with all our focus and devotion, which ultimately benefits us, and not God. These struggles are not in vain, and are in accordance with God’s Knowledge and Wisdom. He knows what we do not know about the reality of our burdens.
4. While in this life we struggle, when a person enters Paradise and sees what eternal pleasure, delight, joy, happiness, spiritual and physical bliss they have been given, even the person who suffered the most in this life, would not say ‘Why did you create me in the first place?!’ or ‘I did not ask for this!’.
Rather, the unimaginable bliss they will feel, which will be far above and beyond any equal compensation for their worldly suffering, will only make them say, in true sincerity and conviction, ‘Praise be to God, who created me and granted me all this for eternity, out of His Pure Generosity and Favour!’
At this point, we will realise what we did not know, and we would not prefer our existence to have been any different than it was, and we will know for certain that Allah’s Wisdom, Will and Decree are perfect.
In conclusion, God did not create us simply because he wanted beings to worship Him, nor without Divine Wisdom, Love, and Generosity.
Rather, we were created in order to live up to our full potential and noble rank as Gods representatives on earth (khalifah), which necessarily means knowing and believing in God, worshipping the One who created and sustains us, and in so doing this, God will enter us into eternal felicity, through his Generosity and Favour. For jinn and man to worship other than the One who created them and sustains them in every moment of their existence, is not what they have been created for and is a grave deviation from the truth.
God created us in accordance with His Divine Knowledge and Wisdom (‘I know what you do not know’), and has chosen to honour and raise the rank of the righteous amongst His creation, by entering them into an everlasting abode, in order that He may bestow His Favours upon them, grant them with perpetual pleasure and delight, and host them in a life ever-lasting. All of this, purely out of his Bounteousness and Generosity, and not because we have earned it. No person who enters Paradise will wish that they never existed or that their existence was any different to what God had willed for them.
Therefore, from our initial inception into existence to our final settlement in the Lasting Abode, it is exclusively because God has willed it to be, that it be done in this specific way, and this is out of His Love, Generosity, and Mercy for us, as well in accordance with His Infinite Knowledge, Wisdom, and Absolute Perfection in all things.
And all Praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
[Hashiyat al Susi, al Bahr al Muhit, Tahdhib Sharh al Sanussiya, al Iqtisad fil I’tiqad, Tafsir al Razi, Tafsir al Badawi, Tafisr al Qurtabi, Safwat al Tafasir].
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah