On June 24, 2012, the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies sponsored a lecture in the Overseas Masters Lecturing Series and along with the Office of International Relations at Peking University, invited Prof. Gholamreza Aavani, President of the International Society of Islamic Philosophy and fellow of the Iranian Academy of Philosophy. Prof. Aavani gave an excellent lecture entitled “The Concept of ‘Human’ in the Koran According to Sufi Masters” at the Yingjie Exchange Center. The lecture was moderated by Prof. Tu Weiming, Director of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies. Students and teachers from Peking University attended the lecture.
Prof. Aavani argued in his lecture that the concept of human is critical in the Koran and reviewed the relation between humans and Allah in Islamism: all the characteristics of the human are covered in the Divine Names of Allah, and the human also possesses the possibilities for all of Allah’s Divine Attributes. The human is the guardian of the earth and the representative of Allah. Prof. Aavani also compared the different views on human nature from the Christian and the Islamic traditions and discussed the commonality between ethical norms—such as ‘No killing’—of Islamic philosophy and those of other Axial Civilizations.
Prof. Aavani then discussed in details the views of two most important Sufi philosophers on human nature. Ibn-Al-Arabi (1165-1240) points out in his masterpiece the Bezels of Wisdom that humans are a mirror for Allah: Allah understands himself through his creation of human beings. Although Angels are distinguished, they can only express part of the divinity; humans though born on earth can reveal all the Divine Names of Allah. The poet Molana Jalaluddin Rumi related the relationship between humans and Allah in his poem Mathnawi. The image of reeds at the beginning of the poem symbolizes the self-consciousness, spirituality, and need for Allah of the human beings. Humans represent the mesocosm between macrocosm and microcosm: although humans are weak, they possess infinite possibilities. Humans are the last to be created and are thus the telos of creation. At the same time, humans are the first to be conceived: everything existent is created for humans. Rumi highlights the importance of “love” in the relation between humans and Allah: the real love, he says, is the friendship between humans and Allah and between humans and all created things. The real meaning of “Islam” is peace.
When Prof. Tu commented on Prof. Aavani’s lecture in the end, he pointed out that apart from the Islamic and the Christian traditions, the self-cultivation of the Confucian tradition also emphasizes the relation between humans and the heaven. Though different from the Islamic tradition, the Confucian concept of “heaven” does not refer to a specific omnipotent god but locate the responsibilities of human conducts on humans themselves. Through his interpretation of the concept of the human in Sufism, Prof Avvani introduced to the audience a long civilizational tradition centered on the human.