In his 1822 poem One Word is Too Often Profaned, the English poet, Percy Shelly, wrote:
I can give not what men call love;
But wilt thou accept not
The worship the heart lifts above
And the heavens reject not:
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?
Poetry such as this often presents us with powerful imagery which can help us to reflect upon the theme of “Meaning”. For ‘In some poetry,’ the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘there is wisdom.’
Shelly sees in the moth’s desire for the star a poignant symbol of the heart yearning for something which is compelling, sustains hope and soothes us from our immediate sphere of sorrow. Now for reasons we don’t fully understand, moths have a tendency – an inborn nature – to be attracted to light. Starlight and moonlight attracts moths; so do candlelight and floodlights. But here there is something of a problem for moths. A candlelight at night will attract moths, but they end up being consumed in its flame. Floodlights on a football pitch attracts moths, but will vaporise them on first contact. The innate longing of a moth for light, if it is the wrong source of light, can lead to its own destruction.
There is a parallel here with the human situation. Man, too, has a deep yearning for what will truly satisfy him – and that longing Islam tells us is for God. In the Qur’an, one of God’s Beautiful Names is al-Kafi – “The Sufficer”, “The One who satisfies all needs”. It follows, then, that whenever we turn our backs on the Sufficer, we shall continue to remain unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
Another of God’s Names is al-Nur – “The Light”, for God is the light of the heavens and the earth, says the Qur’an (24:35). Muslims hold that creation is a theophany, a manifestation, of the Divine Names. If God were not light, there will be no light anywhere in creation: neither physical nor spiritual.
As human beings, we have an innate longing for God’s light – for God – and in the absence of that light there is only an unfulfilled restlessness within us. Like the moth attracted to harmful sources of light, we too can misdirect our hopes and our longings to things that may harm us, as they fail to deliver what we had expected. The objects of our desires have a marked tendency to frustrate us in that everything we hoped would bring meaning into our lives ends up disappointing us. A most obvious point in case is our current materialistic culture with its many quick-fixes and promises of fulfilment. The longing for God can even be subverted or perverted, in that one could end-up making a ‘god’ of created beings or forces. For when the love, longing, devotion, loyalty and submission that is due to God, is focused on other than Him, or others along with Him, then this is idolatry – shirk. For as Islam sees things, whoever loves something, desires it, values it, and centres their hopes; fears; love and loyalty around it – submitting to it independently of God – then this, for them, is a deity, a god, an object of sacrilegious worship. Some there are who make a god of wealth, others make gods of women, still others make a god of their own whims and desires. Asks the Qur’an: Have you seen him who takes his whims for his god? (25:43) Of course we have!
Surkheel (Abu Aaliyah)