The King’s Falcon
By Khawlah Najeeb Maan
The following story is taken from the Masnavi of Rumi:
The king had a deep love for falcons and was indeed an accomplished falconer. He kept a separate area of his palace dedicated to his outstanding birds and visited them regularly. One afternoon, after he’d finished some routine business with his advisers, he decided that it was the perfect time to fly his favorite falcon. But, alas, when he entered the enclosure he saw that the bird had escaped!
The falcon, having been reared in the palace all her life and cared for tenderly by the king himself, had somehow gotten out and lost her way, and had ended up at an old woman’s cottage. The woman was preparing a pot of soup for her family when she caught sight of the astounding bird perched on her wall. She felt sorry for her and grabbed her by the talons, tying them up with a piece of string so she couldn’t fly away, and began to stroke her beautiful feathers.
She decided, though, that the bird’s long, unkempt feathers needed pruning, so she cut them as short as she thought appropriate. Then she noticed the bird’s talons and thought it best to cut them as well, for they seemed not to have been trimmed for a long while. The entire time she tended to the poor falcon, she stroked her caringly and whispered to her sympathetically: “Where have you been, little one, that they’ve treated you so badly? Look how long your feathers and nails had grown! You should’ve flown to Mother much sooner.”
The lost falcon was now trapped for good, unable to fly or climb away. Meanwhile, the king and his soldiers had searched the entire county for her and were returning to the palace empty-handed and downhearted. As they rode through the last village on their route, all of a sudden, the king caught sight of his poor falcon, who didn’t look anything like her old, beautiful self but was still completely familiar to the king. In the midst of the smoke and dust of the old woman’s poor hut, the bird had lost her glory; the glamour of the palace had been completely washed away.
Tears welled up in the king’s eyes, and he spoke: “This is your punishment for being ungrateful and forsaking my blessing. Ending up in this disgusting hut with this old, ignorant woman is what you truly deserve!” The king reproached his bird while stroking her injured feathers lovingly.
The falcon was shamefaced and looked at her master with utter surrender and regret. If only she could speak, she would tell the king how sorry she was for being so naïve and ungrateful. Without words, she begged the king for forgiveness, admitting that she had taken her noble stature for granted.
With her expressive eyes, she confessed that even though she’d lost her feathers and talons, she was not unduly distressed because they would eventually grow back; she implored that she would gladly tolerate the pain of her diminished grandeur in the meantime, because she knew that the king was a merciful master! If only the king could find it in his heart to forgive her transgression, just this once!
Rumi’s stories are allegorical. They convey deep spiritual meanings very simply. Here, I will write what I felt the story signifies, connecting it with just the two highlighted words of this verse:
يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ أَرْضِي وَاسِعَةٌ فَإِيَّايَ فَاعْبُدُونِ – 29:56
“O My servants who have believed, indeed My earth is spacious, so worship only Me.”
We are the ‘ibad, the servants, the slaves of Allah. And we often runaway. We often become runaway slaves. And from Who? Allah, the King of the Universe. The Most Merciful Master. Who raises us tenderly planning out every detail of our lives. The closer one is to Allah, the higher one’s status. So when we runaway, we go to lowly places just like this falcon. Where our wings are cut leaving us unable to fly, fettering us to the dunya. To ignorance and ghaflat. Choosing the lowly abode, the dunya, over the eternal one, we express utter ungratefulness. If it was left to us having only what we deserved, we would stay in the lowly abode. However, our Master is Al-Wadud, and out of His love, always rescues his servants. In the story, it is the king who finds the falcon in the end; the falcon does not find her way back. It is always our Rabb who rescues us. When we realize our mistake, we are indeed left without words, the only expression of our regret, the flowing tears from our eyes as we implore our Maalik to forgive us. As we sit in front of Him in complete submission, begging Him to bring us close to Him, promising we won’t transgress again.
But Allah Knows that the children of Adam do not keep their promises. Even when we are the runaway slaves of Allah, we remain His slaves, nonetheless. He still calls us His:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ – 39:53
Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
Ya Allah I do not want to run away from You anymore! I do not want to be Your runaway slave. And still You describe Your runaway slaves as Yours. SubhanAllah!
Here, I would like to add a couple of beautiful verses from Dua Abu Hamza Thumali:
إِلَىٰ مَنْ يَذْهَبُ ٱلْعَبْدُ إِلاَّ إِلَىٰ مَوْلاهُ
To where would a slave go but to his master
هَارِبٌ مِنْكَ إِلَيْكَ
I am escaping from You to You