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Premodern anthropology: A quotation

September 16, 2010

This quotation reveals in immense difference between premodern and modern understandings of human identity:

The Sufis say that the only worthy thing that a man has and that God does not possess and that man can offer to God is his nothingness, his being, to serve as a mirror reflecting God’s Qualities and Attributes. Everything else God has. What can we offer to God that He does not already possess? Our wealth? God does not need our wealth. He wants us to help others of His creatures with our wealth. Our knowledge? Surely He knows everything and is not in need of our knowledge, although what He wants for us is to know Him. What we can offer to God is our being, but we must remember that all that is positive in our being comes from God and already belongs to Him. Therefore, what He wants from us is the realization that we are nothing and He is everything, that we are a mirror. On the highest level, the Perfect Man is the perfect mirror before God, but at the same time and by virtue of being the perfect mirror he or she contains inwardly all the virtues, all of the perfections, which we should strive for in this life. This doctrine is very important and central to Islamic anthropology in the deepest sense, and especially to Sufi anthropology.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “The Spiritual Dimension of the Muslim Heritage,” Sophia Vol. 15 no. 9, pages 13 to 14.

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