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Looking for one real human being

One of the amusing paradoxes about the Islamic tradition is the fact that the conception of God is quite simple (radically One), but the conception of the human being is subtle and nuanced.  

That subtlety is expressed in myriad ways:   the incomparable sage Rumi says:  “The human being is like a jackass, with wings of angels tacked on.”     We are all mixtures of good and evil, light and darkness, lower than the animal, and more sublime than the sublime.    This is what the Qur’an expresses as God having created the human in the “loveliest of forms” (fi ahsan al-taqwim, لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ ﴿95:4﴾) and then bringing us to “the lowest of the low.” ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ

Rumi continues that same paradox by a story he adapts from the Greek philosopher Diogenes:  Rumi states:

Last night the spiritual teacher was wandering around the town, with a lit torch at hand.    He said:  "I am sick and tired of these two-legged beasts.  I want to find one real human being."    

Everyone said:  "O, there is not even one of those to be found."
He said:  “That very one that is not to be found, that’s the one that I seek with heart and soul.”

Diogenes’ tale is one of cynicism, bemoaning the fact that there is not a single honest person to be found.

Rumi’s tale is a classically Muslim one, acknowledging the paradox that each and every single one of us is created by God, in the image of God, containing the spirit of God inside, in the primordial nature (fitrah).    
At the same time, very few of us actually live life to that full potential, and fail to live life as a full and complete human being.   

In other words, we do not live as a real and complete human being, we have to become a real human being.

The one we seek is the one we have to become.
May God help make of us a real human being.

دی شیخ با چراغ همی گشت گرد شهر کز دیو و دد ملولم و انسانم آرزوست


Tags: complete, diogenes, human being, mawlana, real, rumi


  1. Thank you for the article and the great quote from Rumi! This task (becoming fully human) seems to be left out of most religious dialogue in favor of adopting partisan positions, defending superficialities, etc….. Thank you for going beyond the headlines and drawing our attention to a substantive issue.

  2. Diogenes and Rumi were both right to suffer such an exaggeration of presumption when observing the human race and considering the scarcity of honesty in practice.  It is so scarce that it often seems non-existent.  I guess that’s where hope comes in, hope that it might be found, hope that it might spread healthily, hope that the human race might yet improve because unless honesty replaces the all-too-present, basic selfish greed of humans, there can be no honesty.  But action is needed as much as hope.  Keep your lights lit!

  3. Thank you Omid for the article, and bringing our attention to becoming a real human. I think at least two questions naturally rises out of this concern. First, what does it take for us to become real humans? and how can that happen? I think mystical and spiritual practices are the key for transformation. Recent neurobiological studies on expert meditators has shown considerable difference in structure and functions of the meditators Vs non-meditators. The regions of the brain that were most impacted were the parts that have something to do with sense of empathy, connection, and mood/affect regulation. I am not trying to reduce spirituality, and connection, and love to neurotransmitters, and neurons, but I would like to suggest in order for us to become a complete person (Ensan Kamel), we should approach ourselves wholistically, and follow what ancient spiritual masters who have recommended different forms of these practices for thousands of years.

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