What is the motive behind our creation? Is it a question related to the objective of God in creating man, or does it only pertain to the aim of man as a creation? This article explores the different ontological depths of the question at hand and presents the view of the Islamic philosophy on this issue.
Amongst the many philosophical discussions presented on this topic by Islamic philosophers, two of the most insightful accounts are given by Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari (1972) and his teacher Allamah Mohammad Hussain Tabatabai (2011). According to both of them, the consensus is that the motive behind creation of man is a question related to man himself and not to God.
The Islamic concept of God consolidates all elements of the highest forms of perfection and unifies them under the label of monotheism. The monotheism enjoyed by Islam, although as rare as it may be in other world religions, maintains the position of God as beyond any attributable human traits or any other creation. Based on this concept, Tabatabai (2011) starts analysing the notion of ‘motive’ and discusses that for any action or a movement in the world of existence, there is a need for a motive that drives the action and justifies a change in the state of the actor, as compared to its former state:
“Basically, any movement that occurs has a direction. This movement is always intermediary and joins one thing or direction to the other. The direction desired by the object is the result and motive that completes the deficiency and aspiration of the agent.” (Tabatabai, 2011: p. 88)
This action necessarily suggests the incentive behind the performed action which is aimed towards an attainment of a certain satisfaction or a perfection from a prior state of dissatisfaction and imperfection, as explained by Tabatabai (2011):
“Therefore, we can conclude that, in general, the motive for a volitional act is an appropriate effect lying within the result of the action and is a perfection that rectifies a fault in the agent and completes it… When this specific action is completed, it is substituted with the result of the action, the natural or intentional desire is fulfilled, and the perfection it sought is annexed to its being.” (Tabatabai, 2011: p. 87)
The above preposition automatically precedes the notion that there is neither action, nor movement in which a certain satisfaction is not intended. Conversely, it can also be said that action is only accompanied with the motivation of attainment of a certain perfection in comparison with the current imperfection. This is the essence of life, and what keeps the whole universe working, moving and changing. This cycle of movement and motivation, however, is not attributable to God since He, in all His attributes and His Essence, is Perfect, and therefore free of any motive and thus any action or movement needed:
“Therefore, “motive and aim” is related to action in that it transforms active movement into immobility and tranquility and is related to the agent in that it transforms the existential defect of the agent into perfection. In addition, according to logical discussions regarding the Attributes of the Creator of the world, His Pure Essence is Absolute Perfection and contains no defect or need.” (Tabatabai, 2011: p. 89-90)
This necessitates a denial of the motive behind our creation being associated with God in any way. Thus, it is impossible to think of any other option but that the motive is related to the creation itself. This idea is also backed by Mutahhari (2011), who says:
“We cannot assume a goal for God, and believe that He wishes to attain something by His acts. Such a supposition implies a shortcoming in the doer of an action, which may be true of creatures with a potential power, but not of the Creator; since it would mean that He intends to move towards perfection and secure something which He does not have. The motive of God, the Almighty, in creating the world is bringing benefit to others, not to Himself.” (Mutahhari, 2011, p. 4)
So, in the first step, it is necessary to rid the imagination that God wanted to attain something in our creation, or that He created us to fulfil some aim of His own, because such associations are nothing but suggestions of imperfections, which cannot be attributed to God. In the second step, we can develop on the notion that if God did not want to achieve anything for His own self, then why did He create us? The purpose we attend to, in the second step, is that which is related to man himself. In the moment of humans being created, God desired a purpose for them, not for His own self, and therefore, the motive in the creation of man is his own perfection himself.
Thus, we have inferred that owing to the perfect and the purest nature of God, we cannot attribute the question of the ‘motive behind creation’ to God, but rather, we can only associate this question with humankind. As far as what the motive really is, it is the betterment of the humans themselves and a necessity for man to attain the highest stations created for him by God, which is a symbol of God’s unconditional Mercy:
“Thus, the motive of God in creating the world is His own Essence and the aim of His act, i.e. this imperfect world, is a more complete world. The aim of a more complete world is an even more complete world. As for the aim of the creation of a perfect creature, it is the creature itself.” (Tabatabai, 2011: p. 90)
Mutahhari, A. M. (1972). Goal of Life. Islamic Republic of Iran: Foreign Department of Be’that Foundation, Someyeh Avenue.
Tabatabai, M. H. (2011). The Motive Behind Creation. In quarterly “Maktab-e-Tashayyu”, Spirituality of the Shi’ism (and other discourses) (p. 85-90). Tehran: ABWA Publishing and Printing Center.