From Captivity to Freedom

The yearning of lovers for each other is a blessed act.

In particular, if the one who yearns is Layla,

and the one who is yearned for is Majnun.


A merchant owned a beautiful parrot that he dearly adored and kept in a cage. One day, the merchant decided to travel to India on a business trip. Since he was a kind man, he asked his servants if they wanted anything from India. Everyone requested something and in the meantime, he asked his beloved parrot:

– Should I bring something for you from India?

The parrot replied:

– Just deliver my greetings to them and mention my condition!

By doing so, the captive parrot wanted to convey the following message to the parrots of India: “This parrot who admires you has been captured in a trap. He is now imprisoned in a cage for the entirety of his life. In sending greetings to you, he is requesting your guidance, assistance, and help. Is it fair for him to be in a cage while you are freely enjoying yourselves among beautiful flowers in green forests? He is in a prison while you are in a rose garden. Can this be loyalty or friendship? Is it acceptable for him to suffer alone in a remote country and for him to eventually die alone here? O the master parrots! Please do not forget this miserable one while you enjoy yourself each morning in green pastures. The yearning of friends for friends is a blessed act; it is a blessing of multiple worth. This is true in particular, if the one who yearns is Layla, and the one who is yearned for is Majnun[1]. O all parrots who live and fly as a community! While you fly freely, my heart bleeds in a cage! If you want to bring happiness to me, drink a few more sips on my behalf from the eternal life-giving waters and sprinkle some drops to earth in memory of your helpless brother!”

The merchant accepted the parrot’s request. When he reached India, he saw some parrots flying in the branches of trees. He screamed towards them and conveyed the greetings of his parrot.

The meaning that was carried in this greeting, that is the cries and tears of the caged parrot, touched the hearts of the parrots in India to such an extent that one of them trembled, fell to the ground, lost its breath, and suddenly died.

The merchant was amazed by what he had witnessed. He resented that he had conveyed the greetings of his parrot to them. He said to himself, “I have caused the death of a living being; I have sinned. Probably, this parrot was a distant relative of my parrot. Why did I do this? Why did I convey this message and harm this innocent bird with my words?”

When the merchant returned home, he told his parrot with great amazement what had happened in India. He went on to add:

–  O my parrot! I still resent what I said and even bite my hands and fingers in anguish. But what use is there in this remorse after having committed the offense…

The captive parrot in the course of carefully listening to his owner’s news, just as had happened to the parrot in India, trembled, and fell down motionless to the bottom of his cage. The merchant, when he witnessed this, took off his hat and threw it to the floor. He became extremely agitated and began screaming:

–  O my beautiful parrot! O my bird blessed with such a beautiful voice! What has happened? Why have you become so? O my comrade! If King Sulaiman had a bird like you, he would not have spared a moment for other birds!

The merchant cried because he realized that his parrot was his source of joy. He used to talk to it and share with it his deepest secrets. As he was weeping, he said to himself:

– Allah is the one who gives, and Allah is the one who takes away.

His heart was on fire because of having been separated from the parrot. He was helplessly searching for a solution just like the one who has been drawn to the bottom of the sea, but refuses to release his hold on the seaweed… He was blaming his tongue:

– O my tongue! You have caused two deaths! You have greatly harmed me. What can rightfully be said to you? O my tongue! You are both a source of destruction and a source of fruit. Until what time will you continue setting fire to the harvest? O my tongue! My heart has been rent asunder by you. Although it obeys you in all circumstances, it suffers from you too. O tongue! Sometimes you are an endless source of treasure like the tongue of a saint, but sometimes you are a cause of chronic pain and suffering like the poisonous tongue of corruption! O merciless! You are enough to bring a snake out of its den and to make a man leave his religion! Are you not going to show me mercy, or have you decided to direct your arrow towards me and to kill me too?

Eventually, after a long and deep lament, the merchant took the dead body of the parrot out of the cage and began to think about a place to inter it.

At this instant, the parrot, which had been acting as if it had died, suddenly showed signs of life. It flew away and lit on the branch of a tree.

The merchant was shocked and deeply puzzled by what he observed. Perplexed, he questioned the parrot:

– O my bird! For the sake of Allah, explain your true circumstance to me. What have you learned from the parrot in India that has inspired you to vex my heart? What is the secret behind your course of action? Explain it to me so that I can also benefit from these revelations. Please do not deprive me of this.

The parrot replied:

– The parrot whose news you conveyed to me guided me by sending me a message through its actions. It advised me and its advice was like a spring of life-giving water to my heart burning with lament. Its message to me said: “Your beautiful voice is the cause of your imprisonment. O the one who sings and brings happiness to the young and to the old! O the one who brings ecstasy to both scholars and uneducated people alike! O the one who entertains everyone with his songs of joy! Pause, concentrate, and contemplate your situation. Cease this chanting! Die like me, and be saved from captivity”. I immediately followed his advice, killed myself and consequently gained salvation.

The parrot went on to say:

– O my lord! I have been saved from captivity and will now return to my homeland. If you choose the same path I have chosen, you too will be freed from the cage of your body, gain your freedom, and return to your homeland, the paradise from which your father Adam came. You will break free from this body composed but of ash, and will rise to the Heavens!

The merchant was spiritually stirred by his inspired words. He said to himself, “This guidance suffices for me! From this moment forward, I too will follow the path of my parrot because I have realized that on its path is a spring of life-giving water that imparts eternal life and leads one to enlightenment and the discovery of the ultimate truth of his nature.


The parrot in the cage that has been sited in this story symbolizes the soul that is being held captive both by the body and by the ego. The parrots in India symbolize the friends of Allah who have abandoned this transient world and its pleasures and have been liberated from slavery to this material world.

The instruction offered by the parrots in India to the parrot in the cage should be understood as follows: “Die before death.” It is an order of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which should be pursued because true; abiding salvation is only possible this way. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, has made the following statement:

“Die so that you can wake up in the morning of truth!”

It is as if the parrot in India remarked to the parrot in the cage:

– Die! In other words, free yourself from attachment to your mundane desires before the moment of your physical death arrives. Know how to die through the application of your will, through the curbing of your desires. As a soul, strive for the life of the Real as you fly to new horizons.

Is not worldly life but a physical imprisonment for the one who remains unaware of his origin, unaware of his true nature and unaware of the treasure hidden within him? The real life begins only after the carnal desires of the body have been reined in and firmly brought under control. This implies nothing but the death of the ego and leads to the discovery of the true meaning of existence.

Therefore, Rumi states as follows:

The story of the parrot of life resembles the story of the merchant’s parrot.

O heedless one! Die just like this bird and be saved! If you act like a kernel of wheat, the birds will discover you and will eat you. If you become like a rose, children will pluck you like a beautiful blossom.

Cover up your wheat and hide yourself in remote places! Hide your rose so that you resemble inconsequential grass growing at the bottom of a wall.

That is, avoid fame and avoid showing off or proving yourself. Preserve your modesty and covet nothingness. This way you will be protected both from evil eyes and from intrusions on your freedom.

The one who displays his beauty at the marketplace invites trouble. This attitude draws the attention of evil eyes. Both friends and enemies will work for his destruction, though through different means. The former will employ excessive praise; the latter will endeavor through jealousy. The only way to overcome both of these dangers is through freedom from the chain of existence.

In order to be saved from the chains of this worldly life, one has to die, or look as if he is dead; that is, he should submit himself voluntarily to the will of Allah. Therefore, Junayd al-Baghdadi defined the Sufi path as follows: “Allah kills you within you and revives you within Himself. This is tasawwuf.

When the human servant is cleansed of his base worldliness and is absorbed in the divine light, his troubles are overcome but not vice versa. For instance, the flood that killed the enemies of Allah, befriended Musa(a.s) and Nuh (a.s)and similarly the fire designed to consume Ibrahim(a.s) instead became a rose garden for him. These incidents are not accidents but rather are Allah’s miracles and demonstrate the support and generosity of Allah to his pure hearted servants. This is but the beginning since these stories are rich with other lessons and wisdom too.

On the other hand, these stories demonstrate the possibility of divine support coming to those who are in need of it or who deserve it. What a servant of Allah must do is to purify his heart of his ego. This banishes the devil from his heart as it detaches his heart from anything other than Allah. With this, the believer can turn to Him and fill his heart with His remembrance.

Yet it should also be kept in mind that remembrance of Allah is not only through the repetition of His names, but also through true knowledge of Allah which makes His manifestations pervade one’s entire existence.

Continuous remembrance of Allah elevates one to such a degree that one realizes that the truth of remembrance is the sole true function of the heart and the sole purpose for which it was ultimately created. The heart becomes the mirror of remembrance of Allah.

The truth of remembrance is beyond letters, words, and sounds. This is because the essence or the core of the heart is divine. It is a spiritual entity that cannot be reduced to only material qualities. These two, the heart and the activity of remembrance, thus become abstracted from the material base, unite, and become one. At this point remembrance contains the heart like a cover and protects it from all else other than Allah. The heart thus attains to nothingness during the remembrance of Allah. Everything else disappears except Allah, the one who is remembered. This is the state of fana. It is a state where all that is transient is cleared away between Allah and the one remembering Him and the Eternal alone remains. It is the fulfillment of the heart and the union of the lover with the Beloved.

It is stated in the Qur’an that: “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction” (Ra’d 13: 28). Another verse stresses the same point: “For, believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear his revelations rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord” (Anfal, 8: 2). The following verse illuminates the condition of the friends of Allah in the Hereafter: “Behold! Verily on the friends of Allah, there is no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Yunus 10: 62).


The bird in the cage reached ultimate freedom through understanding the message in the symbols and applying them.

In reality, the soul is imprisoned in the cage of the body. Thousands of birds, not just one, enter and exit this cage. The birds that enter are passions, carnal desires and false concerns. These are the desires that fawn and flatter one parasitically for their own interests. Each one of these groups reveal to us numerous things.

Some say:

– I am your true friend!

Others say:

– No, I am your only friend and comrade!

While others flatteringly claim:

– Both worlds have been created for you. We are but servants at your door!

Some hypocritically remark after everything you mention:

– You are correct!

These examples are countless. But unfortunately, human beings with immature souls, who are in love with their physical bodies that serve as their cages, are fooled by these whispers. They attribute great importance to themselves. These miserable individuals are unaware that these are the dangerous and the complicated tricks of Satan. Flattering remarks that inflate our egos are like a most enjoyable music to him. However, they are the food of the Devil and turn eventually into fire. Even though, they appear to be a source of joy, in the end, they become a destructive fire. Those who are unable to decipher the nature of this destructive fire in this world will understand the true nature of it in the middle of flames in the Hereafter. The moment of their death will be too late and their last cries of true understanding will serve as but an indication of the coming of their end.

The Caliph Ali has said, “Two things destroy a person: following the desires of the ego and enjoying praise and flattery of himself.”


Allah will grant the eternal happiness of the next world only to those who do not act arrogantly, who do not cause corruption, and who instead nurture the love of Allah in their hearts. Those who lose touch with the spiritually blessed quality of humility and in its place adopt evil qualities will not be saved from becoming like Pharaohs. Therefore, it is necessary for us to cultivate humility for avoiding such an ignominious end.

The blessings of humility are many in kind. A humble person is generous. A generous person is merciful. A merciful person is full of joy borne of service to other creatures since it brings the blessings of Allah. Yet a person who has distanced himself from humility is equally distant from these admirable qualities.

Understanding grows in a person by virtue of humility and this helps him easily distinguish his foes from his friends. Out of humility, he might one day grow to understand that through it he spiritually might lose his ego based authority, leadership, and status; and at that instant the flatterers will suddenly become his enemies. They will dislike him and spontaneously run from him as one runs away from a lion.

Consequently, a servant of Allah should strive to be near the friends of Allah who are but mirrors of the heart and will reflect to him his true nature. Through their guidance, one should struggle to deeply see into himself and the tricks of his ego. He should observe the manners of the friends of Allah through the eye of his heart as he makes every effort to gain wisdom from them while at the same time distancing himself from the whispers of his ego and refraining from mistakes.

He should know that the word and the manners of the friends of Allah are full of wisdom. They convey secrets through symbols and signs because they do not like to embarrass those who are not ready for learning, while at the same time they refrain from depriving the teaching from those who are already in a state of readiness. Only, the ones with pure hearts can comprehend such words. Those who are not prepared hear but the words alone.

Abu Hurayra, may Allah bless him, said that: “I took two types of knowledge from the Prophet (pbuh). I spread one type and kept the other type. If I spread the latter as well, the meaning would be too much to carry and I would lose my mind.”

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his presence was a manifestation of the integration of all prophetic attributes. The good characteristics of each of the one hundred and twenty four thousand prophets that came to this world since the time of Adam were all reflected in his personality. The prophets and friends of Allah are unique in the perfection attributes that shine through their characters. The Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa salla was unique among these unique beings in that his character was a final integral expression, a final statement and display of all the positive attributes that were ever revealed in the lives of the prophets and friends of Allah that preceded him. Thus, his character carried the stamp of prophetic perfection.

In the course of history, each prophet’s personality was the expression of a particular quality that especially shone through his being. To better understand this, some examples are in order:

The Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) was named Khalilullah or the intimate friend of Allah who has room in his heart only for the love of Allah and nothing else. The Prophet Musa (a.s) was named Kalimullah or the one who conversed with Allah. The Prophet Isa (a.s) was called Ruhullah because of the purity of his soul and the perfection of his morality.

Likewise, the friends of Allah have also been known for particular spiritual qualities. Thus, they are reflections respectively of different divine attributes. For instance, Abdulqadir al-Gilani represents an outstanding level in the power to influence people; Muhyiddin Ibn al-‘Arabi represents an extraordinary level in his spiritual knowledge and the unveiling of the heart’s eye while Rumi represents a remarkable level in the degree of the burning of his love and ecstasy and his expression of unity.


Rumi explained his spiritual circumstance as follows:

I have expressed these secrets in a covered and brief way. I have not explained them openly. This is because if I had done so both the tongue of the one who explained in detail and the intelligence of the listener would have been burned.

In another couplet he says:

My couplet is not a simple couplet; it is a sea of meaning. My jokes are not simple jokes, but rather they are lessons. My stories are not a simple collection of ordinary words; they are teachings. All of them aim to help the audience grasp the secrets.

The Mathnawi is a book composed for spiritual education and enlightenment. Another characteristic of the Mathnawi is that since the levels of understanding and spiritual potentials of the readers vary, it has adopted a literary style that has made use of jokes and simple stories. In other words, in stories that on the surface appear very simple, he has explained deep secrets of the divine order using a veiled style.

Rumi’s couplets, describing his departure from this world, clearly illustrate this quality. He referred to his death as “shabi arus,” that is, the night of the wedding. In his choice of this ordinary expression, he has articulated his spiritual union with Absolute Beauty. He said:

“Let those who love me from their hearts entertain and share my happiness…”

In a like manner, he said:

When I die and I am put in a shroud, do not scream “separation!”, “separation!”. When they put me in my grave, do not cry “farewell!”, “farewell!”. For me, death is not a matter to complain about, but rather it is an occasion for joy.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, was asked:

– What is this world?

He replied:

– The prison of souls.

The poet Yunus Emre, who was blessed with a very sensitive heart, described his feelings of separation in this world in the form of a conversation with a nightingale:

Are you a stranger here,

Why do you cry, O nightingale?
Are you exhausted, are you lost,
Why do you cry, O nightingale?

Have you passed over the mountain tops covered in snow?

Have you passed deep rivers?
Are you separated from your home?
Why do you cry, O nightingale?

In another poem Rumi says:

I am in the prison of this world because I have been assigned the task of guiding lost souls. Otherwise, what is my being and what is the purpose of my imprisonment? Why should I be imprisoned? I have not stolen anyone’s property?

In the world, each step brings us closer to our destination. Likewise, each breath brings us closer to the time of our departure from this world. From another perspective, the original home of the soul is the world of souls. Each breath brings the soul closer to its origin. As the evaporation of the pool’s water escapes being noticed, so too our lives evaporate in a chain of breaths that are silently taken and silently given.

All physical bodies decay in the soil regardless of whether they are human or animal because the origin of each is ash. They all disappear and equally become dust. Each material being thus returns to its origin. So too will each spiritual being. Some beings will go to Paradise because it is in keeping with their nature, while some will go to the Hellfire because their souls deserve it.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, explained the three stages of his life as follows:

“I was immature, I became cooked and I was burned”.

The burning of the body symbolically indicates nourishment of the soul with spiritual food and thus detachment from the mundane.

Similarly, when the moth is drawn to the light it loses its own will, eventually enters the light, and is burned. Rumi illustrates this as follows: “Without the burning of your body, it is impossible to attain to the pleasures of divine love.”

Hallaj al-Mansur also longed for death due to the spiritual shocks he went through. He said: “My life is from my death.”

Rumi warns us against the traps of our egos as follows:

Do no eat ash! Do not buy ash! Do not look for ash! For, the face of the one who eats ash becomes pale.

For the purpose of perfecting the talents of your heart, eat heart! In other words, feed your heart with the descending divine knowledge so that you stay young and your face remains like a flower due to the divine manifestations it imbues.


The Babylon king Nimrod had prophet Ibrahim(a.s) thrown into fire. Nevertheless, Allah gave the following command to the fire:

“O Fire! Become cool and peaceful for Ibrahim!” (Anbiya, 69).

The fire did not burn him. Instead, his environs became a rose garden. If Nimrod and his followers had entered that fire, they would have all been burned in it because they did not possess the qualities Ibrahim(a.s) possessed. Instead, they carried the qualities of Nimrod.


When the two armies met in the battle of Badr, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) threw to the enemy side a handful of dust from the ground. The dust struck their eyes; they had to rub their eyes. It was the beginning of their defeat. This was explained in the following verse:

“When you threw it, you were not the one who actually threw it, but Allah is the one who actually threw it” (Anfal, 17).

At that moment, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) became a means for an action brought about by Allah. In a similar fashion, the friends of Allah also become vehicles for divine actions. Occasionally, the power of Allah manifests through them. They become mirrors of the Absolute Actor or the divine Will. Their actions bear the stamp of Allah.

It is necessary for those who carry in their heart the qualities of Nimrod to undergo training by an authorized master if they want to save themselves from the trap of Satan. Their circumstance is the same as the captive bird in the cage who saved its life by strictly following the instructions symbolically received from the birds in India. He gained his ultimate freedom. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, said:

Happy is the person who attains death, before he physically dies: his soul attains to the smell of the garden of truth.

In a divine hadith, Allah says:

I cause the death of a person I love. For whomever I cause his death, I pay for his blood money. For whomever I pay the blood money, I myself become the blood money.

Rumi said:

“My blood money is seeing the Lord Most High in Paradise.”

He continued his words with the prayer below:

O the One who is the King of the entirety of existence, but without throne and crown! Other than you, who can free us, the helpless, from the handcuffs clutched by our egos?

Save us from the hands of the evil ego because its knife has penetrated to our bones.

O Allah! Take hold of our hands and purchase us! Elevate the curtain of heedlessness from our hearts! But do not tear the curtain of nothingness and protect us from shame.


[1].      Layla and Majnun are the heroes of a love story that has been used by Sufi masters to symbolically explain divine live.

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”