The Moths and the Flame
Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned —
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he’d been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs
Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”
Another moth flew out — his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance —
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair —
No creature’s self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.
The three moths in Attar’s poem represent the three types of believer – The Muslim, the Mu’min and the Muhsin.
The Muslim is the one who practices the outward dimensions of the faith, that are the basic five pillars, and he is satisfied with them. He hovers around the remembrance of Allah, but he will never truly know Him.
The Mu’min is the one who believes inwardly as well as outwardly, he has an incorruptible conviction in the six articles of Iman, he feels the dizzying heights of The Eternal, but it is only intermittent, he falls back to earth after he has felt the ecstasy of his Creator.
The Mushin is the one who truly loves Allah. With no fear he plunges into the remembrance of The One True Lord and is annihilated in His Majesty. He is the one who ‘worships Him as though he sees Him’. He has no desire or wish of his own except that it is the wish of His Lord:
“You did not throw, when you threw, but Allah (SWT) has thrown.” (Qur’an 8:17).
“My servant comes close to me with the worship of good works until I love him; and when I love him, I become the hearing in his ears; I become the sight in his eyes; I become the words on his tongue; I become the hands with which he holds; I become the strength of every part of his being.” – Bukhari.
And to Him is our return.