THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS TO LIVE A LIFE OF PURPOSE
Dr Mahfouz A. Adedimeji, fspsp, FWIP
Department of English,
University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria
Text of the 2018 Graduation Lecture of the Great Heights Academy Delivered at Evelyn Events Centre, 3rd Avenue Junction, Gwarinpa, Abuja, on Sunday, July 15, 2018
I begin by thanking the Almighty Allah, the Lord of Overwhelming Authority, Who has made today a reality in the lives of our young graduands and their parents. As it is not automatic that everyone that starts a journey must finish the race, there is every reason to say Alhamdu Lillaah that a journey, which started few years ago in this great Academy, has reached a destination of glory. I, therefore, heartily congratulate our graduands, their teachers and parents on the success of today’s graduation. Baaraka Llaahu fiikunna!
While praying that Allah continue to make our graduands, teachers, parents, the leadership of the Academy and other stakeholders graduate from success to success, I also want to appreciate the invitation extended to me to share my thoughts with this august audience. In this respect, I acknowledge the management of Great Heights Academy and I specially thank Mal. Mustapha Kannike for prodding me on.
I want to confess that my participation in this programme chiefly borders on my conviction that we need to get the foundation right because no matter how magnificent the superstructure is, if the foundation is fetid, the whole structure would soon collapse. If not, at the University of Ilorin, I should be among a panel of four, two professors and a Brigadier-General, that was to discuss a lecture presented by the Honourable Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, on Friday, July 13, 2018. As the impression I earlier had was that this programme would hold yesterday, I felt there was no way I would be part of the Ilorin programme and still be able to make this event punctually.
It could therefore be seen that I also put high premium on this event and I pray that it is ultimately worthwhile. I pray that Allah continue to bless this fledgling Academy so that it may continue to soar like an eagle in the service of the Ummah and humanity. The Prophet (SAW) said that educating a girl-child is like educating a community and it is very good that many communities have been educated by the parents of these graduands and the Academy.
Two Points to Ponder
Perhaps a good starting point is for us to ponder on two powerful points in my opinion. The first is attributed to Confucius, the Chinese teacher, editor, politician and philosopher who lived between 551 B.C. and 479 B.C. Confucius was known to be passionate about creating ethical models of family, promoting good public interactions and setting educational standards. He said:
If your plan is for one year, plant rice
If your plan is for ten years, plant trees
If your plan is for a hundred years, educate the children.
An orientalist also said:
“If you want to destroy the civilization of a nation, there are three ways of doing so: 1) destroy the family structure 2) destroy EDUCATION and 3) lower their role models. In order to destroy the family, undermine the role of the Mother, so that she feels ashamed of being a housewife. To destroy education, you should give no importance to the Teacher and lower his place in the society so that the students despise him. Then, to demean the role models, you should undermine the Scholars, doubt them until no one listens to them or follows them. For when a conscious mother disappears, a dedicated teacher disappears and there is a downfall of role models, who will teach the youngsters VALUES?”
What we see often in the Nigerian public space is a reflection of this destructive tendency where mothers prefer to focus on careers only, not family. We are in a situation where teachers’ salaries are not paid and they look so pitiable in front of the students they should inspire. We find ourselves in a situation where character and great learning are not considered worthy of attention. Rather, barely-clad and foul-mouthed “celebrities” are being celebrated. It is gratifying that a school like this with a sound vision and a keen mission is here to make models out of teachers who impart knowledge and values in the students.
Education is the best legacy one can bequeath to one’s children. It is the ticket of success and the visa to the future. It goes without saying that investment in education is the one that yields huge dividends. For those who accord their children the type of balanced education offered by this Academy, the dividends are multiple. Apart from other things, their children are the types that will make their life easy and still do what would benefit the parents on the Day of Judgement.
What is the Purpose of Life?
Today is a day of joy but as Muslims, we should also remember that every new breath we draw provides an opportunity for us to reflect. Everyone of us knows the purpose of this school and it is based on that knowledge that the parents from far and near decided to enroll their children and wards in it. No student is going to remain in school forever. It is a transit camp to which people come and from which they go. Our graduands are leaving gloriously and we pray that their next journeys to higher institutions too be marked by success.
Many people know the purpose of attending schools but they do not know the purpose of life. What is the purpose of life? This question has bothered thinkers since the beginning of time and as I noted in The Webs of Shaitan (Adedimeji, 2011), many philosophers have really been troubled by issues surrounding the question. Pascal, a French philosopher, calls man “a bundle of contradictions”. Jean-Paul Sartre, on his part, describes man as a being carrying a vacuum, an emptiness within him which makes him always dissatisfied, restless and unhappy. In his “Iliad”, Homer expresses it pungently, “Of all the creatures that creep and breathe on the earth, there is none wretched than man”. For Augustine, a Jewish philosopher, after a youth of seeking pleasure and passion, a personal experience of life made him to conclude: “Life is useless, all useless. You spend your life working, labouring and what do you have to show for it?”. Nothing – except, of course, death.
But a Muslim does not consider himself or herself wretched because he or she knows she was not created for fun. Therefore, it is crucial to appreciate that the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. Allah purposely created us to worship Him (Q.51: 56-57). It is by worshipping Allah and being dutiful to Him that we are useful. It is by serving Him that we achieve the purpose of being here. Without faith, without worship, without Islam, we are useless. This is because nothing exists for nothing and our coming here was part of Allah’s design to have vicegerents that would do His wish on the surface of the earth (Q.2:30).
Are we living purposefully or living purposelessly? Will you be useful or useless in life? The answer lies in our adherence to Islamic injunctions or our deviation from what Allah has commanded us. If nothing exists for nothing and no invention is made without a reason, our being in this world has a purpose. If a mobile phone, a gadget, a key, a clock, or any other thing does not serve its purpose, it is useless. If we do not do what Allah created us for, we are useless. Be useful, don’t be useless!
Between Gandhi and the Great Wall of China
Dear graduands, each of you cannot live a life of purpose which is the purpose of life without combining character with learning, which incidentally is the motto of the University of Ilorin (i.e. probitas doctrina). Therefore, as you are graduating into the more permissive macro society, you must mind your character as ambassadors of your great families and Great Heights Academy because character is everything. It even supersedes learning.
Indeed, one of the “social sins” or “seven blunders” of today that Mahatma Gandhi told his grandson before he was assassinated in 1947 was “knowledge without character”. The other blunders he mentioned are wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle. His grandson, Arun Gandhi, added the eighth later, which he called “rights without responsibilities”. In a back page column I used to write for Newswatch newspaper, I make the blunders ten with additional two: “democracy without decorum” and “courts without justice” (Adedimeji, 2013). In essence, knowledge without character is like a tree without fruit, a car without an engine, a mobile phone without a SIM card, a school without students – all these are useless.
In the same vein, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in his address, “Change begins with Education”, delivered at the Presidential Retreat on Education held on November 13, 2017 shared what he read about China. The summary of the story is that at a point in their history, the Chinese wanted to live in peace. To protect themselves from the invaders, they built the impenetrable Great Wall of China. They believed that it was not possible to scale the walls because they were of “Great Heights”. However, in the first 100 years of its construction, the Chinese were invaded thrice.
“Every time the invasion took place, the hordes of the enemy infantry had no need of penetrating or climbing over the wall because each time they bribed the guards and came through the doors. The Chinese built the wall but they forgot to mould the character of the guards who secured the walls. The great lesson of this story is that character-building precedes wall-building” (Adamu, 2017). If you watch your character, there is no limit that you can’t reach and the sky will be the beginning.
The Prophet (SAW) was singled out of all the Prophets of Allah on the basis of his character. In Q33:21, Allah tells that we have the best example in the personality of His Prophet (Muhammad, SAWS), the same point he reiterates in Q68:4 where he says the Prophet is of the exalted standard of character. When ‘Aisha (RA) was asked about her husband’s character, she said he was the Qur’an in motion, meaning that the Prophet was Qu’ran personified, a Qur’anic personality.
You can also succeed in life by adhering to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad like many Muslim role models you can see around you. The ultimate success in this life is being qualified for Al-jannah. Always remember: if you set out to please Allah always, you will always be pleased.
Two Heroines, two Countries
The Greek philosopher, Plato, said that an unexamined life is not worth living. It is therefore important for every educated person to reflect on his or her life to determine if he or she is living a life of purpose. We are here to serve Allah first and to serve humanity. In living a life of purpose, you must be determined, you must be resolute and you must always be mindful of who you are as a candidate of Aljannah. If you fear Allah, Allah will always stand by you. If you are principled, principles will be made in your favour. Always remember that sacrifice is the making of a Muslim and you should have it on your mind that you must sacrifice something or some things to be a Muslim (Murad, 1985). What are you sacrificing? No pains, no gains!
Let me share two stories with you. One evening on December 1, 1955, a 42-year old lady, Rosa Parks, boarded a segregated bus in Montgomery, the capital of Alabama in the United States. She took a seat near the middle just behind the front “white” section right within the “colored” section. As more passengers came on the bus, there was no more space within the white section. So, the white driver who had a pistol with him commanded the black passengers in the middle to stand so that four white passengers that just boarded the bus could sit. Three people stood as instructed but Rosa Parks refused. She knew the consequences. She was arrested; she lost her job.
But that singular act of disobedience to an unjust and unfair system changed the history of America forever. It was all what the Civil Rights Movement required to swing into action. The black people first boycotted public buses and America witnessed her first large-scale demonstration against racial segregation. Based on her action, and the events that followed it, the US Supreme Court ultimately outlawed racial segregation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were promulgated. Racial relations in the US became more favourable to the oppressed African-Americans and that was the foundation that made it possible for a black man in Barrack Obama to become a US President in 2009, as Obama himself acknowledged (Adedimeji, 2017).
Now, the second story is a familiar one that is related to the first. The story began on December 13, 2017 in Abuja when a young Nigerian graduate of Law from the University of Ilorin, Amosa Firdaos, was at the International Conference Centre with her colleagues for the highly important call to bar ceremony. When it was her turn to enter the expansive hall, she was prevented. She was ordered to remove her hijab above which she wore her wig just as Rosa Parks before her was ordered to stand. Others before her had complied but she refused. That was the singular action needed to alter an unjust system (Adedimeji, 2017).
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and various Muslim organisations rose in unison. The social media warriors in the Ummah challenged the religious bigots who questioned her conscientious refusal. In a similar fashion to Rosa Parks, a storm was raised, the naysayers were vociferous, the supporters were unrelenting, the battle was tough and impostors spewed rubbish and fumed. But just last Tuesday, July 10, 2018, not only was Barrister Amosa Firdaos called to bar with her hijab, the same type for which she was denied some months earlier, the Body of Benchers and Council for Legal Education have done the needful by granting Muslim sisters their constitutional rights to wear their hijab to the ceremony. As a matter of fact, other Muslim sisters wore their hijab to the ceremony without any harassment that day.
What a huge victory achieved through the sacrifice of a wonderful daughter and conscious sister! Generations of unborn female Muslim lawyers will continue to benefit from that act of courage and commitment to Deen. What a ceaseless act of charity!
Why did it take so long to challenge the convention that would make our hijabi and niqabi sisters to expose their hair in order to be called to bar? No one was ready to make the sacrifice or undergo the challenges Fridaos underwent; no one had the courage; no one had the power of conviction that she had. No one wanted any problem as everyone rationalised that the ceremony would just be for a short time and Allah knows the intention! Rationalisation is easy for those with the faith of a feather.
That was before December 2017. There is already a ripple effect in the making as places where Muslims are being harassed are being forced to toe the path of honour, including hospitals where female Muslim nurses are persecuted on account of hijab.
May Allah bless Amosa Firdaos!
The Pencil and You
You can live a life of purpose and make your own impact in the world by learning from the pencil. Everyone has used the pencil before but many of us have not paid attention to its essence the same way a grandmother did when she was asked by her grandson why she was writing with it. This is crucial to you as you graduate to higher educational attainments.
“The pencil has five qualities that if you manage to hang on them, you will always be at peace with the world,” she began. “First, you are capable of great things but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God and He always guides us according to His will. Second, now and then, I have to stop and use a sharpener. That makes the pencil suffer a little but afterwards, he is much sharper. So, you too must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows because they will make you a better person. Third, the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.
“Fourth, what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you. Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality is that it always leaves a mark. In the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in every action you take,” she concluded.
In today’s world where everyone appears to be in a hurry, it is instructive that you pause and put Allah first, confront challenges frontally and convert them to opportunities, accept mistakes when they are committed, be (wo)men of character and integrity and leave positive marks behind because this life is temporary but the hereafter is better and everlasting (Q. 87:16-17).
Parents, Play your Part
It may appear that advising our happy parents today on proper upbringing of children would relatively appear like preaching to the converted since only conscious parents would enroll their children and wards in a school like this. Yet, it is important to add a word or two for the purpose of this occasion and because we are urged to remind one another as reminders benefit Muslims. After all, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. Besides, we are all witnesses to what our society has become as a result of the failure of parents to devote time to the educational and moral development of their children, a scenario I call “poor parenting syndrome” (Adedimeji, 2018).
Many children today are “bastards” as a result of their standard deviation from the path of sanity and righteousness trodden by their parents and forebears. Parents, do not allow your children to be bastards as result of negligence; save them! “O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones; over it are angels stern and strong, they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them, and they do as they are commanded” (Q. 66: 6).
It is an open sore that assails our conscience that Muslim youth in our towns and cities, motor parks and ghettoes, abuse drugs, engage in prostitution, drink alcohol and engage in many bad behaviour unexpected of true Muslims. The genesis of this menace lies in the home and it is very important that we return to the basics through proper parenting or parents being active in the education and training of their children. Parents should set good examples by not making children believe that all what matters in life is money or the ability to speak English. They should imbue in them the love of God and the fear of consequences. For every action, there is a reaction as you have in Newton’s third law.
The point being made here is that unlike in the good days of yore when children imbibed wisdom, knowledge and values from their parents at the formative age, the absentee parents of today are distracted by the quest for lucre. When parenthood is on vacation, popular culture fills the vacuum as we are confronted with a situation of Muslims bereft of Islamic identity. Parents should always remember that their children are part of the trust of Allah and they are accountable to Him on how the children are raised. Proper preparation prevents poor performance and it is through planning that we are able to raise good Muslims for future generations.
May Allah make our children sources of our success!
Make no mistake about it everywhere you go: the purpose of this life is to live it purposefully. Living life purposefully means living for and serving Allah with all determination and courage. Life is like a multiple choice question. There is only one answer, known as the “key”. There are many wrong answers which are “distracters”. You must find your purpose. Do not be distracted. Focus on your goal. Keep your eyes on the target and everything will be fine.
As one graduates from one level to another, one should also think of graduating from a level of iman to a higher level. Seeking knowledge is very important and I congratulate our graduands on acquiring a good blend of Islamic and Western education in this school. But knowing is not enough, we must apply what is known. As, the German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe told us, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” Application of knowledge reflects in the character. It is good to know the Qu’ran but it is better to apply the Qu’ran to our day-to-day activities. We know much in Nigeria but our problem is applying what we know to make our country better.
As a matter of fact, our prayers are not answered and we are daily confronted with problems because we do not practise or apply what we know. This is the exact truth that Ibrahim bin Adham, one of our righteous predecessors, told the curious minds that accosted him one day while having a walk. They had asked him, “O Ibrahim, why is it that we pray and our prayers are not answered, despite the promise of Allah, ‘call on me and I will answer you’?” Ibrahim replied: “It is because your hearts have been corrupted by ten things” and he mentioned them there and then:
- You know that Allah is the truth but you do not follow Him;
- You say Muhammad (SAW) is your Prophet but you do not follow his teachings, his Sunnah;
- You know that Qur’an is the word of Allah but you do not implement it;
- You eat from the bounty of Allah but you do not appreciate Him for it;
- You say Shaitan is your enemy but you are like him;
- You know that death is real but you do not prepare for it;
- You know that Paradise is real but you do not work for it;
- You know that Hell fire is real but you do not run away from it;
- You wake from your sleep and you preoccupy yourselves with discussing other people’s faults while neglecting yours; and
- You bury your dead ones but you do not bother about them.
You can make a difference by being positively different and putting what you know about the purpose of life and other things of value into practice. May Allah bless you and make you succeed in life.
Lastly, I want to thank the Academy again for inviting me and I want to appreciate you all for your kind attention.
Wa aakhiru da’awaanaa anil hamdu liLlaahi rabbil ‘aalamin.
Wa-salaam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.
Adamu, Adamu. (2017) “Change begins with education”. Address delivered at the Presidential Retreat on Education for the Federal Executive Council on November 13 at the State House, Abuja.
Adedimeji, M. A. (2018). “Poor parenting syndrome (PPS)” Unilorin Bulletin. University of Ilorin. June 4. Back page.
Adedimeji, M. A. (2017). “Is Abdulsalam Firdaos Nigeria’s Rosa Parks?” New Telegraph, Lagos. December 19. Available at www.newtelegraphonline.com/2017/12/abdulsalam-firdaos-nigerias-rosa- parks/
Adedimeji, M. A. (2013). “Democracy without decorum, courts without justice”. Daily Newswatch. August 2. Back page. Available at www.mahfouzadedimeji.com/2013/12/27/democracy-without-decorum- courts-without-justice/
Adedimeji, M. A. (2011). The webs of Shaitan. US: Xliblis Corporation.
Murad, Khurram (1985). Sacrifice: The making of a Muslim. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation.