Story of the repentant Harper

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Following is extracted and adapted from Jalal ad-din Rumi’s (r.a) Matsnavi.

During the Caliphate of Umar (r.a), there was a man named Pir Changi (r.a)with a melodious voice who used to play the harp. His voice was as sweet Angel Israfil and beautiful that it greatly affected men, women and children alike. Whenever he used to pass by singing on his way from the jungle, even the birds and animals used to gather to listen to him. Gradually, as he grew older and his voice through old age became less attractive, those who used to rave over his voice began ignoring him. Now, wherever he went, no one would even ask about him. Thus, his fame and popularity vanished and he began to experience the solitude of being unknown and as a result started feeling pangs of starvation and hunger.

Noticing this selfish disinterest amongst the people, one day when he was very sad, he said to himself:
“O God, beloved, when I had a beautiful voice, people used to flock around me like butterflies and they entertained me from all sides. Now I am being ignored as I have become old and my voice is no longer beautiful. These selfish people even flee from my shadow. How sorry I am that I had attached my heart to such unfaithful people! How full of deceit was not this contact with them! If only I had turned to you, if only I had remained busy day and night with your remembrance, and if only I had fixed my hopes on you, then I would not have seen the disappointment of this day”. Pir Changi’s (r.a) heart became very sorrowful and tears started flowing from his eyes. Suddenly at that moment from the unseen, the force of Jazb pulled his heart towards God, the benevolent.

Pir Changi (r.a) uttered one long cry, turned his back to the people and like a madman went towards the graveyard in Madina. There he took refuge in a cave of an ancient grave wherein he sat down, and weeping bitterly he prayed:

“O God, today I am your guest, because people have discarded me. There is no other place of refuge except with you. There is now no one except you to purchase my voice. Acquaintances have left me and old age has overtaken me. Now I have no other refuge except with you. O God, I turn to Thee with great hopes. Do not send me back disappointed.”

Pir Changi (r.a) remained in the broken grave, remaining busy with his cries to God, while tears continued to stream from him until the Mercy of God descended upon him. In the way that the caliph of the time,  Umar (ra) was informed by means of ilhaam(divine dream or inspiration): “O Umar! There is one servant of Mine who, because of his melodious voice, used to be very well loved and popular among people. Now, because of old age, the beauty of his voice has disappeared and everyone has discarded him. Falling from grace and popularity has become the means of his repentance and his turning towards Me. Now My boundless Mercy has purchased his soul. Even though he may have been a sinner and negligent, I accept his cries, for in My sight, there is no other refuge for My bondsman, save in Me. O Umar! Take some wealth from the Baitul Maal(treasury), go to the graveyard and give My salaam(greetings or good news) to this troubled bondsman of Mine. Give the money to him and inform him that as of today his Lord has made him ‘near’ to Himself and that He has granted him a special favor. Now there is no need for him to be sad and grieved. O Umar! Tell this bondsman of Mine that from now onwards that his Lord will arrange his daily sustenance from the Unseen.”

Umar (r.a), on receiving this message through ilham (inspiration), became restless. He took some money from the house of treasury and proceeded towards the graveyard in Madina. When he arrived there, he saw an old man lying asleep in an ancient grave with a harp next to him, and with the sign of tears on his face and beard. He immediately realized that through those tears he must have reached this rank. Rumi (r.a) says:

“How could a harp-playing old man attain such a special rank.
Blessed! O hidden attraction, Blessed!”

Caliph Umar (r.a), respectfully remained standing in front of the grave for Pir Changi (r.a) to wake up, so that he could give him the glad tidings of Salaam from God, exalted. While standing there, Umar (r.a) sneezed and Pir Changi (r.a) opened his eyes. On seeing the caliph, he became filled with fear, so much so that he began trembling. He feared that  Umar (r.a) would punish him, because of the musical instrument that was lying next to him. During that time, it was well known that Umar (r.a) was staunch in religion and used to beat up with his stick the wrong-doers, for committing wrongs. However, when Hazrat Umar (r.a) saw Pir Changi (r.a) was trembling in fear, he said to him: “Fear not, I have come to bring you glad tidings from your Lord.”

When Umar (r.a) informed Pir Changi (r.a) of God’s special gifts and favors to him, Pir Changi (r.a) was filled with gratitude and sorrow.

Maulana Rumi (r.a) says:
“When Pir Changi (r.a) heard of God’s
bounty and gifts from the tongue of  Umar, he began trembling in gratitude and sorrow and began to bite his own hands in anger. Thinking of his former negligence, he cried: ‘O God, without likeness; seeing Your mercy and bounty, I am filled with shame at Your favor.’

He cried  and threw the harp down, breaking it into pieces and said to it: ‘You have deprived me of God’s Love and have led me astray from the path of truth. For seventy years, you drank my blood and for that time have I sinned and been unmindful. Till I have now become an old man and through you my face was blackened in God’s sight.” Umar observed all this and it affected him so deeply that his eyes were filled with tears on the condition of this harper

Umar (r.a) said: “O Man, this crying and weeping of yours is a sign of your intelligence. Your life is enlightened through your nearness to God. Verily the tears of sinners are very valuable in the sight of God.” “God weighs the tears of sorrow and grief from the eyes of a sinner. With the blood emanating from a martyr.”
Umar(r.a) then instructed that his wordly journey was over now, and that he must not give way to the contrition for the past , as he was not entered into the state of intoxication and ecstasy of union with God, in this exalted state regard to past and future should be swept away.

Through the blessed company of Umar (r.a), Pir Changi (r.a) became an eminent Shaikh of Tariqat(Sufi spiritual path) and entered the ranks of the Auliya of God (friends of Allah).

Lesson from the story is that, by virtue of his comprehensive nature, man is connected with almost all beings. Also included in his nature is a boundless capacity to love. For these reasons he nurtures love towards all beings.However, the beings he loves do not stop, they depart, and he constantly suffers the pain of separation. That boundless love of his becomes the means of boundless torment.However, the fault in suffering such torment is his, for he was given a heart with an infinite capacity to love in order to direct it toward One possessing infinite undying beauty. By misusing it and spending it on transitory beings, he has done wrong and suffers the punishment for his fault through the pain of separation.
If only he had uttered in his heart the name of  God”“O Eternal One, You alone are Eternal!” , it would sever his attachment to transitory beings; he leaves those objects of love before they leave him and he is thus cleared of his fault. It declares that love should be restricted to the Eternal Beloved, and expresses this meaning: “You are the only being that endures! Everything other than You is transient. My heart cannot become attached to anything transient, for it was created for everlasting love, to feel ardour lasting from preeternity to post-eternity. Since those innumerable beloveds are transitory and they leave me and depart, declaring, ‘O Eternal One, You alone are Eternal!’ I shall leave them before they leave me. Only You are immortal, and I know and believe that beings can only be immortal by Your making them so. In which case, they should be loved with love of You. They are not otherwise worthy of the heart’s affection.”

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