Moses & the Shepherd

October 16, 2008

Musa and the Shepherd

Jalaluddin Rumi

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying, “God,”

where are You? I want to help You, to fix Your shoes

and comb Your hair. I want to wash Your clothes

and pick the lice off. I want to bring You milk,

to kiss Your little hands and feet when it’s time

for You to go to bed. I want to sweep Your room

and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats

are Yours. All I can say, remembering You,

is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh.”

Moses could stand it no longer.

“Who are you talking to?”

“The One who made us,

and made the earth and made the sky.”

“Don’t talk about shoes

and socks with God! And what’s this with Your little hands

and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like

you’re chatting with your uncles.

Only something that grows

needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!

Even if you meant God’s human representatives

as when God said, ‘I was sick, and you did not visit me,’

even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.

Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name

for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,

it’s an insult. Body-and-birth language

are right for us on this side of the river,

but not for addressing the Origin,

not for Allah.”

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed

and wandered out into the desert.

A sudden revelation

came then to Moses. God’s voice:

You have separated Me

from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,

or to sever?

I have given each being a separate and unique way


of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.

What seems wrong to you is right for him.

What is poison to one is honey to someone else.

Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,

these mean nothing to Me.

I am apart from all that.

Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better

or worse than one another.

Hindus do Hindu things.

The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.

It’s all praise, and it’s all right.

It’s not Me that’s glorified in acts of worship.

It’s the worshippers! I don’t hear the words

they say. I look at the humility.

That broken-open lowliness is the Reality,

not the language! Forget phraseology.

I want burning, burning.

Be friends

with your burning. Burn up your thinking

and your forms of expression!


those who pay attention to ways of behaving

and speaking are one sort.

Lovers who burn

are another.

Don’t impose a property tax

on a burned out village. Don’t scold the Lover.

The “wrong” way he talks is better than a hundred

“right” ways of others.

Inside the Kaaba

it doesn’t matter which direction you point

your prayer rug!

The ocean diver doesn’t need snowshoes!

The Love-Religion has no code or doctrine.

Only God.

So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!

It doesn’t need markings.


God began speaking deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,

which cannot be recorded here, poured into

and through him. He left himself and came back.

He went to Eternity and came back here.

Many times this happened.

It’s foolish of me

to try and say this. If I did say it,

it would uproot our human intelligences.

It would shatter all writing pens.

Moses ran after the shepherd.

He followed the bewildered footprints,

in one place moving straight like a castle

across a chessboard. In another, sideways,

like a bishop.

Now surging like a wave cresting,

now sliding down like a fish,

with always his feet

making geomancy symbols in the sand,


his wandering state.

Moses finally caught up

with him.

“I was wrong. God has revealed to me

that there are no rules for worship.

Say whatever

and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy

is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world

is freed.

Loosen your tongue and don’t worry what comes out.

It’s all the Light of the Spirit.”

The shepherd replied,

“Moses, Moses,

I’ve gone beyond even that.

You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped

out of itself. The Divine Nature and my human nature

came together.

Bless your scolding hand and your arm.

I can’t say what has happened.

What I’m saying now

is not my real condition. It can’t be said.”

The shepherd grew quiet.

When you look in a mirror,

you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.


The fluteplayer puts breath into a flute,

and who makes the music? Not the flute.

The Fluteplayer!

Whenever you speak praise

or thanksgiving to God, it’s always like this

dear shepherd’s simplicity.

When you eventually see

through the veils of how things really are,

you will keep saying again

and again,

“This is certainly not like we thought it was!”

Mathnawi II 1720-96, from This Longing: Poetry, Teaching Stories, and Selected Letters,

translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne (Putney, Vt.: Threshold Books, 1988), pp.


I absotively love this story! Ah, Subhan’Allah…


4 Responses to “Moses & the Shepherd”

  1. yaser said

    As a passing note, I recommend Nicholson’s translation – its more faithful to the text (I’ve heard from scholars and also anyone who has any grounding in Farsi will notice as well, many translators of Rumi like to extrapolate so much into the text that , in the words of Shaykh Nuh, make a Hanafi mufti (Mawlana Rumi) sound like a hippie; which is really made me chuckle). And its findable here online with a persian transliteration (which I think you can appreciate) at the end of each section. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it:

    Keep me in your du’aas iA

  2. khwaja said

    Salaamu Alaikum,

    Jazak’Allahu khairun for your input, yes I’ve come across the same scholarly thoughts that some translators such as Barks aren’t exactly as exacting with translations, adding much Western flare to the poetry. I came across this when reading through some of Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s work, he recommended the Iranian-Eng. translators. So yes its vital to get the right transl/ and commentary on Maulana- h/o our head of RLS dept. at Stony sent me this particular piece since I’m taking Islamic Classsics with him. I’m sure you know who I’m referring to. Thanks for the link, I’ve been on the site before as well.


  3. khwaja said

    This is one favorite of the Masnavi,

    Bad-e darweshi cho dar baTin bowaad
    Bar sar-e aab-e jahan sakin bowaad
    Gar che jumla-ye een jahan mulk-e way-ast
    Mulk dar chashm-e dil-e o la shay ast

    When the breeze of (spiritual) poverty is(blowing) within (someone), he is abiding peacefully upon the surface of the world.

    Even though this entire world is his kingdom, (such a)kingdom is (as) nothing in the eye of his heart.

  4. yaser said

    ma shaa` Allah. I don’t think I have a favorite, there are some that stick out more than others though. jazakillah. wa ‘alaykum assalam

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