The Purpose Of Religion


In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

I have previously made a case for religion; yes, there are horrible things done in the name of religion, but there have been unbelievable acts of kindness and mercy also committed in the name of religion. Thus, I have not given up on religion just yet.

Yet, when I thought about it more, I came to the inevitable question: what is the purpose of religion? Why have religion at all? Why did the Precious Beloved send down His religion in the first place? The answers to these questions have been given by countless sages and scholars before me, sages and scholars who were much more knowledgeable and eloquent than me.

Still, the question remains germane even to this day, especially in light of the barbarism and horrors that are being done today in the name of religion. I have thought long and hard about this question. At the essence of it all, religion was sent down to polish the roughness of the human soul.

The human soul has an inherent roughness, one that becomes more rough and crusted as time passes on this earth. The soul is equipotent: it is equally able to be good and bad. Yet, it seems that the inclination to the bad is easier than the inclination to be good, i.e., the roughness of the human soul. Religion came to polish that soul, to smooth out the roughness of the human soul so that the Light of the Precious Beloved – contained within each and every soul – can shine through for all to see. The problem is, so many of the “religious” fail to understand this, all the while failing to let religion do the shining it was designed to do.

This “roughness” has a very wide spectrum. It can range from small defects in one’s character to the barbarity of “honor killings,” suicide bombing of civilians, and burying infant girls alive. Religion came to smooth out all of these “roughnesses” of the human soul. Thus, the Qur’an condemns the practice of burying infant girls alive:

And when the girl-child that was buried alive is made to ask for what crime she had been slain (81:8-9)

for, whenever any of them is given the glad tiding of [the birth of] a girl, his face darkens, and he is filled with suppressed anger, avoiding all people because of the [alleged] evil of the glad tiding which he has received, [and debating within himself]: Shall he keep this [child] despite the contempt [which he feels for it] – or shall he bury it in the dust? Oh, evil indeed is whatever they decide! (16:58-59)

One of the most powerful ways the Qur’an seeks to smooth out the roughness of the human soul is by the verse at the top of my webpage:

Believers, never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice (5:8)

No matter what has been done to us in the past or present, our religion forbids us to commit injustice in return, i.e., the killing of civilians, no matter where they are in the world. This verse, in fact, can apply to many situations, and I have called it the most profound statement of the Qur’an.

The life-history of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) showed us – in “real time” – how religion smoothes out the roughness of the human soul. In one instance, a bedouin Arab began to urinate in the mosque in Medinah. Some of the Companions tried to stop him and were pretty angry that he was doing so, a very natural reaction. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), however, was the embodiment of the Qur’an. He lived the purpose of religion, to smooth out the roughness of the human soul. The natural, “human,” response would be to grab the man urinating and throw him out of the mosque. Imagine what would happen today if someone spills a soda in the mosque, let alone urinates in it! Yet, the Prophet did not do that. He told the Companions to let the man finish urinating, and then he simply poured water over the urine. He did not rebuke the bedouin, even though he clearly did something wrong.

The point of that story is not that we should let someone urinate in the mosque. No. The point of the story is to show the Prophet’s mercy, to show how religion smoothes out the roughness of the human soul. The same goes with the Prophet’s (pbuh) exhortations to be good to those who are not good to you; to never tell a lie; to always have good character. That is how religion smoothes out the roughness of the human soul.

It is difficult, no doubt about it. It is tough to restrain your natural human tendency for the sake of God, but that is the whole purpose of religion. The arguments that I have had with some people about suicide bombings in Israel is illustrative of this point. I am told by the people with whom I argue that such an act in London, Madrid, Chicago, New York, etc. is strictly forbidden, something with which I strongly agree. But, if it occurs on a bus in Tel Aviv, however, that’s OK.

“How can this be?” I ask.

“Israel is different,” they tell me.

“How so?” I ask again.

“The Israelis are killing our women and children. They are occupying our land. The only weapon they have against the Israelis is suicide bombings. They don’t specifically target women and children,” I am told.

“Yes, the occupation of Palestinian land is wrong, and it must end. Yet, how could going into a pizza parlor or on a commuter bus in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and blowing yourself up not be specifically targeting civilians?” I ask.

“Israel is different,” they tell me with increasing frustration in their voice. “They are killing our women and children. They have no other weapon but the suicide bomb.”

“But the Qur’an says,” I rebut, “‘Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.'”

“No, no, no! The Qur’an also says, ‘An eye for an eye,'” they snap back at me. “Besides, shaikh So-and-So said it was OK. You are not a scholar. Do you claim to know more than shaikh So-and-So?”

“I really don’t care what Shaikh So-and-So says,” I reply. “I don’t worship Shaikh So-and-So. I worship God, and He says, ‘Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.”

They get more angry with me, and I usually end the conversation there. Yet, you know what? The anger in the voices of those with whom I argue, along with their hanging their entire arguments on the opinions of shaikh so-and-so, tells me that they know that I am right.

But, you see, the people with whom I argue don’t understand the purpose of religion. Yes, the occupation of Palestinian land is a terrible tragedy. Innocent people are being killed every day. But, that does not mean that it is then OK to kill Israeli civilians. Religion says “no,” and it has always said “no” and it will always say “no.” This remains true even if some people say “yes” and claim religion also says “yes.” Sorry, it does not. That is how religion smoothes out the roughness of the human soul.

And that is why people were so attracted to the Prophets, especially Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He was so different than the rest; so kind, so generous, so warm, so loving, so honest, so compassionate, so merciful. People noticed it immediately, and they wondered why. It was because Islam had polished the Prophet’s (pbuh) heart to utter perfection, and the light of God shone through to everyone.

The ultimate goal in my life is to have my Islam polish and shine my soul from its inherent roughness. It is not an easy challenge, but it is one I must take up. For the very survival of my soul in the life to come.

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