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Is Life Just a Game?

Articulating a compassionate and intelligent case for Islam in a post-secular society is quite difficult. Due to an increase in materialism, the value of religion has diminished. One way of starting a conversation is to get people thinking about the implications of their ideas about man, life and the universe. Once it can be shown that there are some absurd consequences and unpalatable logical implications, it can create fertile ground to have rational discussions about why Islam is true.

A popular view about life is that it is “just a game”. We have one life (YOLO) and we should make the most of it. However, is life just a game? This belief ignores or denies the supernatural and any form of Divine accountability. Why would there be? When you play a game you either win or lose, and then you move on to the next game, and then you eventually die. The formula is simple; believing life is just a game equals no ultimate purpose and value. Not only does it make life ludicrous but it also represents a very bleak outlook on our existence. As this article is going to explain, this conclusion is a result of thinking rationally and logically about the implications of thinking that life is just for frivolous play.

“And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for mere play.”

The Qur’an, Chapter 44, Verse 38

No Purpose

Is it reasonable to believe? To help us try and answer this question, let us take the following into consideration:

You are probably reading this article sitting on your chair, and wearing some clothes. Have you ever asked yourself the question: for what purpose? Why are you wearing the clothes, and what purpose does the chair have? The answers to these questions are obvious. The chair’s purpose is to allow us to sit down by supporting our weight, and our clothes fulfil the purpose of keeping us warm, hiding our nakedness, and of course making us look good. Our clothes and the chair are lifeless objects with no emotional and mental abilities, and we attribute purpose to these. Yet, some of us do not believe we have a purpose for our own existence. Naturally, this seems absurd and counter intuitive.

Having a purpose for our lives implies that there is a reason for our existence, in other words some kind of intention and objective. Without a purpose we have no reason to exist, and we do not really have a deep, profound meaning for our lives. This is the implication of believing life is just a game. If we take the logical conclusion of this indifferent view on our existence, we are essentially on a sinking ship. This metaphorical ship is our planet, because according to scientists this planet is heading towards its inevitable demise, and will suffer what they call a “heat death”, where the Sun will eventually destroy the earth.[1] Therefore, if this ship is going to sink, then what is the point of reshuffling the deck chairs or giving a glass of milk to the old lady? The Qur’an represents humanity’s intuitive stance on this issue,

“Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose”

The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verse 90

Islam’s view on the purpose of our lives is empowering. It elevates our existence from being a mere product of matter and time, to recognising us as conscious beings that freely choose to have a relationship with the One that created us. Under the belief that life is just a game, there is no ultimate purpose for our existence. We are just based on blind, random, non-rational, physical processes.

And they say, “There is none but our worldly life, and we will not be resurrected.” If you could but see when they will be made to stand before their Lord. He will say, “Is this not the truth?” They will say, “Yes, by our Lord.” He will [then] say, “So taste the punishment because you used to disbelieve.”

The Qur’an, Chapter 6, Verses 29 to 30

No Value

What is the difference between a human and a chocolate bunny? This is a serious question. According to the belief that life is just a game with no afterlife, everything that exists is essentially a rearrangement of matter. Everything is a result of prior physical causes and processes.

If this is true, then does it really matter?

If I were to pick up a hammer, smash a chocolate bunny, and then I did the same to myself, according to this perspective there would be no real difference. The pieces of chocolate and the pieces of my skull would just be rearrangements of the same stuff; cold, lifeless matter.

The typical response to this argument includes the following statements: “we have feelings”, “we are alive”, “we feel pain”, “we have an identity” and “we’re human!” These responses are quite intuitive, but not all intuitions are true. According to this perspective, these responses are just neuro-chemical occurrences in one’s brain. In reality, everything we feel, say or do can be reduced to the basic constituents of matter. Therefore, this sentimentalism is unjustified if one adopts this worldview, because everything, including feelings, emotions or even the sense of value, is just based on matter and cold physical processes and causes.

Coming back to our original question: what is the difference between a human being and a chocolate bunny? The answer according to the life is just a game perspective; there is no real difference. Any difference is just an illusion – there is no ultimate value. If everything is based on matter and prior physical causes and processes, then nothing has real value. Unless, of course, one argues that what matters is matter itself. Even if that were true, how could we appreciate the difference between one arrangement of matter and another? Could one argue that the more complex something is the more value it has? But why would that be of any value? Remember, nothing has been purposefully designed or created if everything is the result of cold, random and non-conscious physical processes and causes.

From an Islamic perspective, we have ultimate value because God has placed an innate disposition within us to acknowledge some fundamental moral and ethical truths. This disposition is called the fiṭrah in Islamic thought. Another reason we can claim ultimate value is because God created us with a profound purpose, and preferred us to most of His creation. We have value because the One who created us has given us value.

“Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam…and favoured them far above most of Our creation.”

The Qur’an, Chapter 17, Verse 70

Islam values the good and those who accept the truth. It contrasts those who obey God and thereby do good, and those who are defiantly disobedient, and thereby do evil,

“Then is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly disobedient? They are not equal.”

The Qur’an, Chapter, 32, Verse 18

Since believing that life is just a game ignores or denies the Hereafter and any form of Divine justice, then it rewards the criminal and the peacemaker with the same ends: death. We all meet the same fate, so what ultimate value does the life of Hitler or the life of Martin Luther King Jr. really have? If their ends are the same, then what real value does this view give us? Not much at all.

However, in Islam, the ultimate end of those who are compassionate, honest, just, kind and forgiving is contrasted with the end of those who persist with their evil. The abode of the good is eternal bliss, and the abode of the evil is Divine alienation and eternal torment.

“And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from God and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?”

The Qur’an, Chapter 57, Verse 20

In Islam we have value. Under the view that life is just a game, any sense of value cannot be rationally justified except as an illusion in our heads.

Conclusion

Once you have read this article you will see that all of the profound questions that we as human beings have about our existence are answered in the Qur’an. God didn’t create the universe and everything in it only to leave us all to our own devices. Our Creator cares about us, and it is out of His mercy that He sent down the Qur’an as guidance.

To conclude, believing that life is just a game cannot provide profound answers for our existence, and therefore real happiness can never be achieved. When we stop treating life like a game and become God-conscious, we free ourselves and find ourselves. Only then can we achieve true happiness both in this life and the next [2]:

“Truly it is in the remembrance of God that hearts find peace.”

The Qur’an, Chapter 13, Verse 28

If this has created some interest and motivated you to want to talk about this topic to your brothers and sisters in humanity, then join us on the 20th August 2016 for World Dawah Mission. To find out more, please visit: http://www.worlddawahmission.com/

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] See http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae181.cfm and http://www.universetoday.com/18847/life-of-the-sun/.

[2] To find out more about the Qur’an you can download a free copy of our publication “The Eternal Challenge: A Journey Through the Miraculous Qur’an” at http://www.onereason.org/eternalchallenge/

About Hamza Andreas Tzortzis

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis is an international public speaker on Islam, a writer, lecturer, instructor and researcher. He is particularly interested in Islam, politics, western and Islamic thought and philosophy. Hamza delivers workshops, seminars and courses on the foundations of Islamic thought. He is an instructor for iERA and AlKauthar Institute. Hamza has also delivered a short course on the intellectual foundations of Islam for the Islamic Online University for their Diploma course. Hamza is one of the main initiators of the contemporary emergence of Muslim public debaters and speakers using western and Islamic philosophy to defend and explain Islam. Hamza heads the research team and Lectures for iERA.

6 comments

  1. a paradise player (in-sha-Allah)

    sallam alaikom,

    personally I FUNdamentally agree to the article. And as life is no game lets pray we get to play in heaven.

    I swear I will be playing in the Olympics and all the world cups…only if I get there…i.e. Jannah. imagine! Muhammed our beloved, his comapnions, previous beloved’s Musa, Ibrahim, Noah and the rest of our loved ones…..either playing with us or supporting and encouraging……

    life…? is it worth it?..it’s a gift..yes…..the game to come is the real game…..Allah make us firm!

    p.s if anybody happens to read this…….one of the lions of the ummah..sheik’ hamza Yusuf’s mother passed away last week sometime…please make dua for her and the sheik and his family and even better why not try and send a message of condolence……

    also, of what I have not done..a message to dr.zakir n and sheik aaid al-qarnee, as they must be going under some ordeal emotionally….al-hamdullah Allah is near always for them and us (the believers).

    who does not care of the affairs of the ummah is not one of them . on that note if anybody not mentioned, may Allah give them relief and shower them with His mercy dunyia and akhirah….

    may Allah also look after our little Omrans……..

    I got to go and play now so……
    peace unto you

  2. Ousmane souare

    Je suis guinéen de conakry , j’ai reçu votre informations à travers des jeunes guinéen qui vien de s’intègrent .
    Je suis muezzin a la mosquée kebeya au route de niger Conakry.

  3. Shahriar Khan

    Jazakallahu khairan brother Hamza for this great article. I was wondering how to combine it with the the other perspective where Allah refers to life in this world as a game, as in the following verses –
    وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ ۖ وَلَلدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لِلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ ۗ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

    The life of this world is nothing but a game and a distraction; the Home in the Hereafter is best for those who are aware of God. Why will you [people] not understand? Qur’an 6:32

    إِنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ ۚ وَإِنْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَتَتَّقُوا يُؤْتِكُمْ أُجُورَكُمْ وَلَا يَسْأَلْكُمْ أَمْوَالَكُمْ

    the life of this world is only a game, a pastime, but if you believe and are mindful of God, He will recompense you. He does not ask you to give up [all] your possessions. Qur’an 47:36

    Grateful for your comments please.

    • lets keep playing

      sallam alaikom brother khan,

      after reading what you wrote I came across-al-Qariah and at-Takathur…al-Bayinnah…..it did give a little bit of insight into the game playing…etc.

      on another note, it is upsetting like here and other sites that most of the time the authors and scholars do not respond to those like you myself and others when we submit questions and queries…..is there any point in commenting…etc. May be the editors can take on the responsibility as it is a great responsibility when asked of something and the one questioned knows and does not give the answer,……

      apologies if that comes across in a wrong way……but life is great is it not?

      fe aman Allah

  4. Assalamalaikum and jazakullah khair for the article, may the author be rewarded for their efforts.

    When it comes to ‘debating’ about the existence of God then the late Muhammad Ali put it brilliantly where in one example he held up a glass and said ‘does anything think this glass made itself? No? So how could the universe create itself?’.

    Pretty much all atheist arguments can be wiped out in a similarly succinct manner.

    It’s not difficult to put together a coherent argument for Islam and the atheist mindset or secular world view isn’t really challenged at all by the ‘Is life just a game’ question. The author says it leads to an absurd conclusion as if people would see that a lack of a purpose as absurd when actually they just revert to what is obvious, i.e. you live once so have as much fun or do as many interesting things as you can. It’s not true to reality as we know, but makes sense within it’s own construct as purpose being something that is self generated.

    And yes, atheists/secularists do believe that life is ultimately ‘pointless’ but treat that realisation as an insight that leads to self introspection (the fruitless kind of introspection). Consider that many, many young people do see life this way hence suicide is the biggest killer of young men (cancer for women). More young men are killing themselves than dying in any other single way so we can assume that these are people who conclude for themselves that life involves pain, nothing comes after death so death is a swift release. Again makes sense from this viewpoint – as ignorant as it is you cannot say it is inconsistent or absurd. Most people of that view don’t then look at the big picture because they’re just living their lives in a day to day manner avoiding the bigger questions and let’s face it are inundated with noise and ‘false hope’. When it comes the value of life then again the atheist/secularist view is that it’s what you leave behind that makes a difference. It’s your legacy that differentiates between Hitler and MLK, as referenced in the article. In my humble view, a lot of these points have been missed by this article and the arguments in it are against a straw man that doesn’t represent typical atheist views in the west today.

    Much more challenging to the atheist mindset is something like Muhammad Ali’s statement above from a tv interview many decades ago.

    In comparison to the verses talking to the hypocrites or disblelievers, there are very few that talk to the atheists (my simple understanding) perhaps because really atheism is such an ignorant mindset that has only ever been a tiny minority in the vast history of humanity. A man born blind and left alone in a locked room with only basic common sense could come to the conclusion that there must be a creator and that he must be one. Islam is simple and profound and the only religion that espouses this pure view of one God. It takes a lot of arrogance to fight the obvious, and unsurprisingly, arrogance is the salient characteristic of the typical atheist (caricatured as the testimonies of the atheist: 1. I don’t believe in God, 2. I hate him! (authoobillah)).

    In support of the article, all main textbook arguments from atheists can be responded to easily (note that some are variations or combinations of the below):

    1. Religions cause war and destruction! Hmm. Consider Chairman Mao an atheist responsible for the deaths of 90-100 Million people, Pol Pot (40 million deaths), Stalin (10 million deaths). All done in the name of communism so it’s the atheists that are the biggest killers, no one else comes close. The chocolate bunny example given in the article rings close to home on this one.

    2. God can’t exist as there is evil in the world! Hmm. We are the creation of Allah and he does not owe us anything and we owe him everything and we are in need of him and he has no need of us. If he gives us his mercy then we are saved and our calamities should be seen as an absence of mercy. This fills us with humility and respect whereas the other way round makes us arrogant. There is no such thing as pure evil as we live interrelated lives, the dua of the mechanic for more money means more people have car breakdowns. The disaster for one person is the opportunity for another to do good. The world is a mixed up place full of tests and trials but consider that God promises a safe landing, not a smooth journey.

    3. God is unnecessary and therefore doesn’t exist! Hmm. Not a great argument as George W Bush isn’t necessary by any stretch of the imagination but still exists. However, at a deeper level though we need to understand that people will say they don’t feel the need for God in their lives and that this is unsurprising. We live in a time where you swipe your finger around your phone and voila, pizza is delivered to your door. Our society has become so comfortable and tailored to our whims that we never truly fear or struggle. The dunya has become a beguiling, distracting illusion that surrounds us in shirk and is thus more ‘magical’ than the magic that separates husband and wife.

    4. There are millions of Gods, how can one be true! Hmm. Use your reason and intellect, you were given a brain so use it. Anyone who looks into Islam with an open heart and open mind concludes that this must be the truth.

    5. Then who created God? Hmm. By definition, God has always existed and God created everything else.

    6. Can God create something that does and doesn’t exist at the same time? Hmm. This is “linguistic gymnastics”, it’s playing with definitions and has no value. You can counter with something equally duplicitous where both outcomes are wrong, e.g. did you kill all those people the ones that you robbed? Or alternatively ask someone else ‘who is this clown’ implying that the questioner is a) a clown, and b) one of the lesser known clowns.

    7. But I’m free to not believe in God! Hmm. Yes you are free to do whatever you want, that’s the only way you can be judged because you were free to choose. You had the option and the opportunity to believe and you declined so you should expect to be punished as a result. Hell is real and the punishment for this arrogance is severe and you will say send me back and I’ll pray and fast and do everything but your opportunity has passed, you didn’t take it and therefore the punishment is potentially eternal. Why? Because even if you lived for eternity, you would never have submitted to God.

    8. There’s no proof of God and I need to see some amazing miracle! Hmm. Imagine God presented you with a pillar of light from heaven and spoke to you directly. The day after you would be the most godfearing person on earth. A year later, less so. Ten years later your memory would have clouded and people’s constant amazement would affect your confidence. Twenty years later you would wonder what you saw at all or maybe it was a dream. Your belief needs to come from within, from your own conclusions and intellect and reasoning so that is proved to yourself and is something that gets stronger over time rather than the opposite. Separately there is no proof for your great great great great great …. granddad but he must have existed. This is where the GORAP approach can then be useful.

    9. Evolution means God doesn’t exist! Hmm. An evolutionary process doesn’t preclude the existence of God at all. But for the record, there are millions of examples of human beings and millions of examples of early primates and there are no examples of what evolved in between. Hence the prevalence of hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man, as evolutionary biologists themselves say this remains a huge gap for humans.

    A short conversation is all that’s needed to annihilate all atheist arguments. Real power and empowerment comes from the example that you set as a Muslim that then creates that additional pull for them towards Islam.

    We have a major issue with our youth leaving islam for lack of understanding of the above basic issues. Simple things like these are why some are losing their confidence in the deen, that and the media onslaught so this is something we should all be equipped with and easily able to respond to.

    And are these types of debates still effective? I don’t think so, it’s now all on youtube for anyone who cares to watch and there are bigger issues to focus on. Even the concept of phrasing it as a debate sets us up as two sides and isn’t an empowering context. Does anyone change their mind as a result? Compare that to how effective our dawa stalls are and shouldn’t we invest instead in constantly improving and upgrading our dawa material so we are consistently excellent up and down the country?

    Also isn’t it closer to the Prophetic method to talk to people about the rewards of Jannah and the punishment of hellfire to attach their hearts rather than continual debate?

    Going off topic slightly, when people do then become Muslim I can only recommend that they hook up with Muslims in their local masjid and listen to reputable speakers online or sign up to alkauthar or almaghrib courses but otherwise I never know where to send new Muslims as a real portal for their needs. Any recommendations?

    I would also like to see more ways that teach us how to present the message of Islam in a coherent manner that goes beyond the debating paradigm.

    When talking to non-muslims, always remember that when you debate, discuss, guide, present, encourage, explain (or however you want to describe how you present Islam) then when done so in a beautiful manner, people will remember some of what you say but will certainly remember how you made them feel as that’s how people are so pay attention to this. 🙂

    Please note that I am by no means an expert in any of these matters and I welcome any corrections.

    May Allah pour upon us patience and keep our feet firm, ameen.

    • Sallam alaikom br.Zishan,

      Ma-sha-Allah very nice and provoking in thought what was written.

      It is all a mystery really, from destiny to history. I hope I do not go into kufr as I too am not learned. With that said, We may have choice, but really and truly it is not us who believe or disbelieve and it is not us who do tazkiya of ourselves, even though it for our own selves, all is in Allah/God’s hands and will. Our job as believers is just to’ not ask why but do and die’ i.e. hear and obey and pray we have a good ending, because no one is really saved until we meet our Lord on the Judgement day. And just a reminder of a hadith that goes on the lines of ‘ a person can do good all his/her life until what is written comes into affect and starts doing the actions of the people of the not so good place that is to come and the opposite also being true…’. As to the written, God knows all-PAST/PRESENT and FUTURE, so it us who chooses and if it was not so, just to mention one of the many proofs of the final testament,as alluded to I think at the end of surat yaseen, Allah would have made us into stationary objects…etc.

      As you alluded to arrogance…etc, that is what it is about! So where will the kings and tyrants be on that day, including us all??…..’basically we are slaves whether we like it or not…abeed and abaad…..so as a sahabi or a tabayee said….that islam came to take mankind out of the narrowness of servitude/slavehood to creation to the grandeur of slavehood and servitude to the Creator and to sum it up…..we are either slaves to man and what he made /or we are slaves to WHO made man and all that he does or thinks he does……to sum it up all again…………….Will we submit?

      istigfurAllah.istigfurAllah.istigfurAllah. we seek refuge from His punishment and from the valley of al-wail. And may we all enter His Mercy and Pardon and enter His gardenof the next abode. Ameen/amen.

      p.s as to recommendations for new muslims, tablighi jamaat is a great start I persoannly would have thought!

      May Allah forgive me a sinner and give me and the rest of us the tawfiq/success to do good and end on good and true success.

      Submission in ‘’La ilah ila Allah’’ i.e. there is no god and no other gods except the ONE and ONLY GOD….ALLAH.

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