A Life Worth Living

by Arturo Pineda 

The discussion, “A Muslim Vision of a Life Worth Living” does not start immediately. Muslim members of the audience at Battell Chapel on Wednesday are finishing their maghrib prayers. Tonight, world-renowned Islamic scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf will address the age-old question, “What is a good life?” through the lens of Islam.

The Shaykh begins by cautioning that a life lived without direction cannot be a good one. For evidence, he reads from the Qur’an: “I swear by the position of the stars.” Here, the stars represent nature’s orientation towards a good life. The quote alludes to human inability to understand Allah if we ignore the stars. Humans must make the conscious decision to view the stars and interpret them.

In another passage, Allah speaks to the angels about appointing a caliph, which is a caretaker or steward on Earth. The angels question whether this caliph will sow corruption and shed blood. After all, the previous inhabitants of the Earth were corrupt.

However, as Shaykh Yusuf explains, humans can avoid corruption. Islam tells us that humans sow anger when we lose control of ourselves—when emotions take control. These appetites and emotions cause bloodshed and murder. If humans control elements of our nature, we will be able to control our nature and see the path of the stars.

The Shaykh concludes with a discussion of possible fundamental sins. It is up for debate whether pride or humans’ distractibility is the more fundamental sin. We are easily distracted by our surroundings because we suffer from profound boredom. This boredom causes man to carry out a myriad of pursuits. These pursuits lead humans on paths that deviate from the moral teachings of the Qur’an. According to Shaykh Yusuf, one must remember that anything not done in the name of Allah is done in vain.

As a preface to his speech, Shaykh Yusuf has remarked that Westerners face inherent barriers to comprehension when they first study Islam and the Qur’an. The structure of the holy book is non-linear; most chapters have no clear beginning, middle, and end. Additionally, the Qur’an is written in Arabic, and meaning gets lost in translation. None of this, he says, should deter people from studying Islam. In a society rife with Islamophobia and misunderstanding, this seems like good advice.

The event was live-streamed and can be viewed here, courtesy of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.