In his exploration of the goal of life, Mutahhari (1972) analyses the most significant perspectives presented regarding the subject and discusses the view that the Islamic Monotheism holds regarding the objective that drives all existence.
For Mutahhari (1972), the debate about the motive in man’s creation is something tied to the very nature of man:
“The question of the ‘motive in the creation of man’ is basically one that refers to the ‘nature of man’.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 4)
Being amongst the most natural of instincts, this question has put man in a continuous search for the meaning of his existence. Man has, therefore, presented a number of different answers to this in-built and never ending quest of purpose.
As a prelude to his main argument, Mutahhari (1972) steers through his routine academic analytical discussion while exploring and criticising some of the perspectives presented by most of the mainstream Western authors, both classic and contemporary, including Sartre, Russell, Epicurus, Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx and Socrates, whose works are the basis for most of the commonly held ideas about the man’s goal of life.
The Common Goals of Life
After establishing an academic and a firm intellectual foundation, the main argument of the treatise develops as Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari (1972) ingeniously categories some of the most widely held perspectives about the goal of life, and groups them into five different schools of thoughts, discussing and analysing each one of them, before presenting the Islamic view on the topic. The five perspectives are discussed below, ordering from the least prolific to the most divine ones, followed by an explanation of the Islamic perspective about the goal of life:
- Materialistic goal: Maintaining that the perfection of humanity lies in power, materialistic goal of life is the most abominable goal cherished by a great number of people and thinkers, alike, including Darwin, Nietzsche, Epicurus and so on. The implications of this goal include reducing human salvation to nothing more than material success, survival instinct, carnal pleasures and even reduction of the aim of applied science to materialism, thereby halting any progress “beyond animal and vegetable perfection.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 22)
- Artistic goal: Slightly higher above the animalistic goal of life, is the perfection seen by a group of people in the appreciation of beauty and aesthetic pleasurability. Not limited to the arena of arts, this perspective seeks to also find beauty in intellect, knowledge, science, wisdom, truth, spirituality and even God. This group of people slightly transcend beyond the common animalistic life and consider “beauty to be the essence of human perfection” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 21), noticing beauty as the only truth and the truth being beautiful.
- Sentimental goal: Almost synonymous with the ‘humanitarian goal’, seeing perfection in the form of selfless sentimental morality and loving others more than one’s self, is yet another popular goal of life for a number of human beings. The people belonging to this category believe firmly in loving others instead of their own selves and selflessly caring for all of humanity. Many critics of the Western mode of individualistic thinking belong to this category. Love, affection and morals are treasured by the travellers on this path.
- Intellectual goal: The seekers of perfection in intellect, philosophy, wisdom, knowledge, science, analysis and even justice, constitute one of the most elucidate group of people whose objective in life is to be absorbed by a constant intellectual development. For the philosophers, “perfect human being must recognise wisdom” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 19). Knowledge is the ultimate objective of this group.
- Spiritual goal: The divinest and the most important goal held by a minority of people is that related to gnosticism and the spiritual method, which consists of an abandonment of the temporary things that accompany man and being absorbed by the light of the perfection of the Perfect Man. Somewhat a transcendence beyond even the intellectual goal, this perspective believes that “the way to Him is through the heart, not the mind or philosophy” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 18) or it is through “changes and transformations which remove the obstacles to perfect unity” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 20). Mysticism, asceticism and cordial disciplines are the pavers of the way towards the ultimate Truth, of whom everything else is believed by them to be shadows or attributes.
The Islamic Monotheistic Goal of Life
However, to Mutahhari (1972), all these goals are not independent objectives on their own. Rather, they are either means towards or effects of the actual goal of existence. That objective, in the view of Islam, is nothing but God Himself:
“Thus the goal and ideal that Islam offers is God, and everything else is preparatory to it, and not of an independent and fundamental importance. All other goals are the product of this one and subsidiary to it.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 6)
Islam does not by any means negate any of these goals but encompasses all of them and moves a step further. It directs all these goals towards one ultimate goal, who is God, and the rest of the goals are dependent upon that paramount goal.
The Islamic vision celebrates the idea that the goals aforementioned are not essentially objectives on their own but dependancies that revolve around The Independent, implying the fact that it is certainly God who is the only goal of our existence:
“Thus, in Islam everything revolves round the axis of God, including the goal in the mission of prophets and individuals’ goal of life.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 6)
Mutahhari, A. M. (1972). Goal of Life. Islamic Republic of Iran: Foreign Department of Be’that Foundation, Someyeh Avenue.