Any idea or theory expressed with an impression of providing salvation or an everlasting solution commonly makes "committed' monotheists very sensitive and reactionary. This is especially true for Muslims because the oneness of God is the ultimate teaching and the most unequivocal belief in Islam. While other factors also determine this sensitivity, the underlying reason is theological - the belief that true salvation can only be from Allah, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty. I affirm that this sensitivity should be kept alive and respected. However, we should not ignore there will be variations in how minds will conceptualize or interpret codes, terminology or rhetoric in expressions. For instance, IKIGAI "is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning "alive" or "life," and gai, meaning "benefit" or "worth." When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. In a literal understanding, the IKIGAI concept promises to help you find your "purpose in life. The red flag in this concept is the fact that our purpose in life has already been expressly revealed in the Qur'an as Allah says: "I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose of worshipping Me" (Q51:56). This implies that any other message giving the notion of the purpose of life or promising to help us find our purpose in life should be clearly knocked out.
But, what does worship really mean? Many would say they are embedded in the five pillars of Islam. A publication rightly said: "Many people, including some Muslims, misunderstand the concept of worship in Islam". Worship is commonly taken to mean performing ritualistic acts such as prayers, fasting, charity, etc." This limited understanding of worship is only one part of its meaning in Islam. The traditional definition of worship in Islam is a comprehensive definition that includes almost everything in any individual's activities. The definition goes thus: "Worship is an all-inclusive term for all that God loves of external and internal sayings and actions of a person". To corroborate this definition, the Qur'an instructed the Prophet Muhammad to: "Say: Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds". This truly shows that worship is an all-encompassing affair and the statements and actions of the Prophet (saw) are always indicative of this. It can be as simple as "to smile in the face of your brother or sister is an act of charity" (Hadith). Even at the place of work, the Prophet (saw) said, "Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired of his work, God will forgive his sins". The Prophet (saw) also said: "There are over 70 branches of faith. The highest is to bear witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. The lowest is the removal of harm from the road. Modesty is also of faith." (Hadith)
So, adopting IKIGAI as a guide to find your purpose in life, the BIG question should be, "what segment of my life does it address and how does it intend to do it"? Interestingly, I was introduced to this term a few months back when Therapist Hauwa, alias Mumtaz, mentioned it. I was on transit that faithful day when her call came in. She wanted me to attend a planned exposé of a "model". She believed our community needed to be exposed to it. She opined that the concept would benefit many if it is properly utilized to find meaning in life because it relates to our core and the activities around us. So, I asked her what the "model" is. "IKIGAI", she responded. Then, I asked further: "What is IKIGAI?"? She said that it is a concept and practice that originated from a village in Japan. Hmmm, Japan... The one fascinating idea I could remember about Japan is Kintsugi: the art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Then she encouraged me to read more about IKIGAI before the class because I promised to attend. Immediately she ended the call, my INTJ instinct caused me to google search the new term quickly, and I even downloaded a book. I was keenly interested in the topic and wanted to read more about this concept. At the same time, I needed to critically check if the IKIGAI philosophy can pass my monotheistic litmus tests. Unfortunately, I had clumsy schedules in those periods, and I could not read further about it before participating in the exposé. But once in a while, I thought about it and what I should expect. I told myself that the idea couldn't be far from a combination of familiar concepts like emotional intelligence, identifying goals, passion, ethics etc. and all of the other things motivational speakers teach. So, I had prepared my mind to be attentive and to be ready to critique the philosophy with the notion of accessing if it was a necessary concept to capitalize on or if it will (not) offer any unique idea.
After the session, I expressed gratitude to Mumtaz for inviting me because the concept is truly unique and amazing. If I have to introduce this concept to anyone, I will simply call it a model or template where you just fill in your worldview and beliefs and connect the major aspects of your human life together using a Venn Diagram. The result is simply based on your inputs and your speaking to your inner core and belief systems. We live in a strange era. We face different trials. We are forced to live certain life either out of compulsion or social pressures or just the need to survive, among many other things driving our life decisions.
Interestingly, the IKIGAI concept is not flawless. Some may get it right, and some get it wrong. The beauty of the IKIGAI model, as brilliantly illustrated below, is that it is a template or worksheet modelled for anyone to make self-discovery of one's hidden talent that will make you a versatile individual. A believer is supposed to cultivate the earth and to be of self-benefit by contributing to the universe.
Using the concept of the Venn Diagram, IKIGAI has four sets (circles), each circle has fundamental questions for you to answer;
1-What are the things you LOVE?
2-What are the things you think the world NEEDS?
3-What are the things you can be PAID for?
4-What are you GOOD AT?
The intersections of the four sets will give four results; Passion, Mission, Profession and Vocation. A common feature in these four results is an indication of your IKIGAI. Of course, it may not be as simple as summarized. It does require a quiet moment to work out. The things we will naturally do with full capacity and satisfaction while being active in all of the aspects or wheel of life is what IKIGAI seeks. It helps us find the balance between our dreams and reality. As rightly said, "IKIGAI neither means avoiding new experiences nor following strict routines and taking lots of responsibilities. It means seeking for meaning and fulfilment in your daily life. So, it doesn't revolve around your existing things. You can try new things as well and always have a curiosity for them." It is also an indication to be active and present with everyday occurrences. Sometimes, you might pick interest or passion in something, but your being might not truly love it, or instinctively you are not good at it. There are things you have developed a passion for, that you love and that there is a need for in the world, even in your immediate environment, and that indeed you can be paid for it. If you have discovered something like this about yourself, it simply means you have found it all in one. You found your IKIGAI and can focus on it as part of your service and worship to your Lord. This philosophy is applicable to many affairs, from micro to macro.
Amazingly, few days after this session with Mumtaz, I read an article in punch newspaper written by Dr Obadiah Mailafia titled IKIGAI: Japanese secret to success, happiness, long life. The writer suggested the practice of Ikigai as a solution to the citizens of Nigeria in this period of chaos and instabilities. A week later, I found myself in Ghana and was fortunate to meet the first and the current Chief Imam of Ghana, who Jerry Rawlings appointed. When I met this centenarian, Sheikh Osman Sharanbutu, for the first time, I was melted by his state, and he earned more of my respect after digging deep about him. Even though he is not gifted a single biological child, the sage trained many scholars and fathered many children through adoption.
I did not hesitate to share my feeling about him with Mumtaz and to let her know I have found a man I believed got his IKIGAI right. Her comment was: "Hummmmm, when you get your IKIGAI right, every bump on the road is just a reminder to be happy and focus on what is most important to you." His life was service befitting his position. His effort to keep the unity of the Muslims in Ghana is evident. As the Chief Imam, his passion, love, and what he thinks the world (community) needs is what he is "paid for". He is old, but his heart is very young. He is always cheerful, charming and welcomes visitors always.
Sometimes, IKIGAI finds you, but most of the time, you have to find your IKIGAI. Imam Ghazali said he was seeking knowledge (to become a scholar) for worldly reasons in his early years, but later on, knowledge refused to be sought for that reason. It is never too late to start discovering your IKIGAI; as one speaker fondly said, you can start your IKIGAI as part-time. But it is good to start immediately. "Imam An Nawawi had a very short life of 45 years, but during this short period, he had written a large number of books on different subjects, and all of his books had been recognized as valuable treasures of Islamic knowledge." He got his IKIGAI right at the early stage of his life.
Finally, IKIGAI encourages a balanced healthy life. Living life to serve yourself and others at the same time. Additionally, for the people of faith, doing it all to earn the pleasure of your Lord. If you come across a concept for the first time and feel there is a grey area in it, you either leave it or do your findings; perhaps what makes it grey is your limited knowledge of it. Perhaps it may be the single most crucial model you really need.