While Western philosophers and writers of the modern era, such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, have addressed the question of the meaning and secret of human existence by closely examining the limits of reason, experience and, sometimes even, the absurdity of the world, there is a question that we Muslims must consider as a fundamental and existential question:
“Why did God, the Most High, create us? “.
All lucid Muslims know this verse:
“I only created the jinns and men so that they would worship Me» (Quran 51:56).
It should also be clarified that, according to Muslim theologians of the Middle Ages, God does not need men. According to Ali ibn Abi Talha, Ibn Abbas said: “so that they worship Me means: so that they accept, willingly or unwillingly, my adoration”. This obligation to worship God is that of Ibn Djarir and Ibn Kathir in his tafsir.
At this point we have an explanation supported by Muslim theologians based on the Quranic verse. But is this explanation correct and sufficient?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Through an unforeseen detour, I came across a very profound theological and philosophical answer. By reading the book by Jean-Paul Sartre “Being and Nothingness”, a French existentialist philosopher who is nevertheless an atheist, in which he explains to us, among other things, why he is an atheist, I really got close to the secret of the creation of the man.
Let us first examine what this philosopher tells us. According to him, there are two kinds of being. Being in itself, as defined by Sartre, is unconscious, immutable and unchanged. Being in itself is never anything other than what it is. He is incapable of changing and modifying himself. Being-in-itself is a completed reality… Being-in-itself has no inside which would oppose an outside and which would be analogous to a judgment, to a law, to a self-consciousness.
The in-itself has no secrets: it is massive. In a sense, we can call it a synthesis. But it is the most indissoluble of all: “the synthesis of oneself with oneself,” he said.
In other words, being-in-itself has a completed purpose, a function. It is made for something, and we can accept the idea that it had a creator who nourished the design of its creation and its functioning, with a view to a specific purpose. This is my understanding of Sartre’s vision of being in itself.
In contrast, being for itself is none other than man. The latter has, according to Sartre, no finality and it represents a consciousness which only refers to itself as being unfinished. “ Being for oneself is made of emptiness, it needs to change, to go through developments and mutations to become what it could be. », Said Sartre.
From there, Sartre considers that being for itself is free. This, in his eyes, is the quintessence of freedom and, consequently, there is, according to him, no creator, hence his atheism.
In reality and paradoxically, being for itself, that is to say man, is actually free. But this freedom was precisely planned and designed by God, the Most High, for a specific purpose: an improvement and refinement of his creation.
Beings who were created before man, like angels and jinns, are, using Sartre’s categorization, beings-in-themselves, who have no choice. They are massive and have a function imposed from the outside. They are non-free creatures, since they are designated to perform specific functions for a specific purpose.
Angels perform functions in the Universe and in the court of God. The jinns were even placed by God at the disposal of the prophet Suleiman (some dived into the seas to bring back precious stones, others were soldiers, while still others accomplished other missions, as well as described in the Quran).
God, in his wisdom and his creative genius, decided to create man while giving him the freedom to do what he wants, to choose between good and evil, so that he knows those who have their willingly decided to worship him. There is a grandeur and perfection in worship that does not exist for angels and jinns.
This is how being for itself is in no way a being that has no creator, quite the contrary. It has a creator: God, the Most High, who in his infinite greatness and omniscience modeled man, the best of his creations, to make him a being endowed with freedom.
Therefore, freedom is at the heart of the Quranic tradition. We thus turned Sartre’s atheist argument against himself, by revealing the true secret of the creation of men and by further deepening the interpretation of the Koranic verse which evokes it, of which unfortunately, the theologians of the Middle Ages did not did not grasp the full scope.
From this concept of freedom which is intimately linked to the secret of the creation of man, we can admit the notion of free will, and even the notion developed by the ancient Mutazilites relating to the acts accomplished by man and to his responsibility for the evil he does in life before the judgment of God. Men create their actions and are accountable for them, because they are free.
On the other hand, Al-Ash’ari, a theologian opposed to the Mutazilites, considers that man is certainly free, but that he does not therefore create his actions. It is God who creates, according to him, the actions of man. Al-Ash’ari develops an astonishing and difficult to understand theory. The fact that God creates the actions of men is not, according to him, opposed to the idea that men do indeed decide to carry out such and such actions. He affirms that God attributes actions to man (Iktissab).
But he avoids saying that men are the instigators of their own actions. We cannot follow Al-Ash’ari here in his way of dissociating the control of action from its existence, or from its appearance.
The origin of an action is not beyond its control. The one who initiates an action completely controls it. Action is an indivisible phenomenon: the one who initiates an action and chooses to undertake it, has logically given birth to it. The action cannot be caused by one agent and executed by another. This is impossible. The agent who initiates an action, controls it and accomplishes it at the same time.
Furthermore, actions are not tangible and material things. They are both individual and intersubjective. Human freedom is inherent in the creation of actions by men. However, the knowledge of God embraces actions even before their creation. Knowledge is not synonymous with creation.
The creation of men and their actions, as the Mutazilites affirmed, does not mean that they are creators in the same way as God. Human actions are not, in reality, creations as if they were material things. These are partly social and behavioral phenomena. Furthermore, the Last Judgment requires that men be creative and responsible for their actions. This is justified in terms of responsibility.
At the same time, the accomplishment by men of their actions, and only their actions, does not necessarily mean that God is unaware of what they undertake on the Earth of which they are the vicars and, consequently, His absolute Knowledge does not is in no way called into question.
We suggest, contrary to the opinion of the Mu’tazilites who asserted that God does not know the actions of men after their creation, that the Almighty and the All-Knowing does indeed have knowledge of these actions before men do them. develop and carry them out.
Their creation occurs subsequently. There is no contradiction in this sequence of actions. Knowledge is different from creation.
Thus, with a slight modification, mutazilism becomes more coherent than acharism. In fact, God remains the Creator of all things and actions are not creatures, things or substances. They are the material and immaterial extensions of men in physical and intersubjective reality, nothing more.
Furthermore, God remains Knowledgeable about all things, including actions even before their conception germinates in the minds of men. This is how the Quranic story on the creation of men can be explained by revealing all its beauty and grandeur.. There is a subtlety in the creation of men that must be admired and measured.
To read on Umma : “Intellectual Islamophobia: a critique” by Rafik Hiahemzizou (editions L’Harmattan)
A book that the Oumma editorial team particularly recommends