Free as a Bird
By Faisal Amjad

Life Lessons from Birds, the symbol of freedom

Published in: Self, Wealth
Date: 22 / 08 / 20

"A free bird leaps on the back of the wind

and floats downstream till the current ends

and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage

can seldom see through his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still

and his tune is heard on the distant hill

for the caged bird sings of freedom."

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

It is quite apt when writing about freedom, that we start with a quote from the great poet, author and activist Maya Angelou. In her case, she wrote about freedom from the shackles of slavery for her people, which is what her famous poem and book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” was about. But it got me thinking about birds in general and what they represent, and why birds are often symbolic of freedom.

Indeed, the self-proclaimed 'land of the free' and bastion of all things freedom the United States have none other than the bald eagle as their icon and mascot. 

It made me think there are actually so many lessons we can learn from them, for any would-be entrepreneurs or freedom-seekers wishing to follow this route.

1. Be humble and grateful. All Power and Might is from Allah alone.

“Do they not see the birds suspended in mid-air up in the sky? Nothing holds them there except Allah. There are certainly Signs in that for people who have faith.” (Quran 16:79)

Before we set out on any path, we must have faith that any success we have, comes from Allah alone. This keeps us grounded, humble, and focused. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. Whatever happens, good or bad is all from Allah, all part of the test of life that was written for you, and there is benefit and a lesson in everything, if we choose to recognise it.

2. Have Complete Reliance and Trust (Tawakkul).

Umar ibn Al-Khattab narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:

“If only you relied on Allah a true reliance, He would provide sustenance for you just as He does the birds: They fly out in the morning empty and return in the afternoon with full stomachs.”

The reliance of birds is that they do not store their livelihood. They have full trust that as Allah provided them with their food today, He will surely grant their food tomorrow as well.

When hearing of my decision to quit my job, pretty much everyone said incredulously; “OMG, WTF, LOLZ… [insert other acronyms here]… but all along the lines of how could I embrace such a risk and why would I put my parents / family etc at stake? My answer is simply that Allah is the one who provides. At the end of the day, it is not as though I have taken early retirement, and plan to spend the next 40 years on a golf course somewhere! (I don’t even like golf!)

I intend to work hard, insha’allah. With ihsan. Similar to those birds; , they don’t just sit in their nest waiting for sustenance to arrive to them. They FLY OUT every morning and make the effort, and they eventually find what they need and are rewarded for their efforts. It is the kind of endeavour that shows its fruits with little effort put forth into the pursuit.

3. Believe, and you can achieve.

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird

There are also an abundance of quotes from non-Muslim sources that have inspired me about birds. In the above quote by the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, he mentions that because birds believe, they do not question their own ability and as such they are empowered and successful in what they need to do.

4. Truly talented and passionate people living a life of purpose, destined for success are MEANT to soar and excel — you cannot tie them down even if you try.

“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”― Stephen King, the Shawshank Redemption

A memorable quote from one of my favourite films. It says it all, really. The birds destined to be free, show that to be the case in their actions — and make an impression on those around them.

5. Practice is better than theory. Get out there, make the mistakes and learn from your environment. Take the plunge.

“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ― Mark Nepo, Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives

This was one of my biggest flaws, previously. I love reading, and love listening to lectures and audiobooks. I can’t get enough of valuable knowledge and content. But it can trick you into thinking you are being productive. There HAS to be a balance. Do not worry about making mistakes, you will learn more from a few weeks of action than months of ‘theory’. Birds learn what they need by getting out there, and doing what they need to do. Learn by doing.

6. Talent is Overrated. Anyone and everyone can be a success if you work hard enough and believe you have a gift to share with the world.

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” — Henry Van Dyke

Everyone has a gift and can add value in some way or another. Don’t aim for perfection, aim for progress. It would make for a colder and poorer world if we suppress our own talents for fear of failure.

7. Have faith. Disrupt the status quo. Persevere. Take that leap. Once you take the first step, anything is possible. You can do it.

“The bird dares to break the shell, then the shell breaks open and the bird can fly openly. This is the simplest principle of success. You dream, you dare and and you fly.”― Israelmore Ayivor

Do not conform. Everyone has problems surrounding them. Just confront them head on, persevere along that path and you will eventually fly. Even baby birds might not have strong enough wings to fly first time of trying. But do they give up?

8. Remain positive and grateful for what you have.

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?” — Rose Kennedy

“You have to believe in happiness, or happiness never comes … Ah, that’s the reason a bird can sing — On his darkest day he believes in spring.” — Douglas Malloch

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” — Rabindranath Tagore

“Why do birds sing in the morning? It’s the triumphant shout: ‘We got through another night!’” — Enid Bagnold

Absolutely. Gratitude is key and increases both your positive mindset and effectiveness, and the abundance that you can attract. Remember, Allah said in the Qur’an:

“And remember! Your Lord caused to be declared: If ye are grateful, I will add more unto you.” — Surah Ibrahim (Holy Qur’an, 14:5-7)

We need to stay focused, be grateful and thankful for what we do have, and insha’allah, the law of attraction and Allah’s bountiful mercy will ensure we always attract abundance. Through practicing gratitude, you strip away the veils of separation, fear and need, and begin to realise that you have been given more than you know or could ever earn.

9. Don’t give up on your dreams. Be ambitious. It is never too late to pursue your passions.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” — Langston Hughes

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” — Salvador Dali

It’s interesting the different uses of wings, by popular poets, artists and authors. Wings seemingly are your tool to get to your destination, therefore we need to ensure our wings are never clipped, that they are nurtured and most of all… that we actually use them!

10. Don’t worry about other people, the naysayers and the haters. Just do your thang.

“Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see bird that had the blues? One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.” — Dale Carnegie

Very important. Too many people have not been true to themselves, for fear of what others may think. And I learned early on, this is at your own expense. If you keep trying to please others, you will only succeed in making yourself miserable.

11. Work on bettering your character, nurturing your soul and cultivating strong relationships with people.

“It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.” — Aesop

In our superficial world, it seems we have become shallow when it comes to defining success. Now it is defined by the car that you drive, what you look like, and how much money you have. Once upon a time, before Friedman economics and pure capitalism, where profit is the most important thing, no matter the consequences, entrepreneurs always had the interests and betterment of society at heart.

Remember it’s not about being perceived to be successful, wearing the right clothes and being seen at the right events. It’s about depth and substance. After all, the Prophet (SAW) also said:

“The best of people are those with the most excellent character.” [Tabarani, Sahih]

“The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.” [Daraqutni, Hasan]

12. Whatever you do, do it your own way. Be different. Be original. Be true to yourself.

“No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.” — William Blake

“Each bird must sing with his own throat.” — Henrik Ibsen

It is better to be less successful but remaining true to yourself, than being successful based on deception and falsehood. That is definitely my firm belief. There is great satisfaction that lies within achieving something small that is authentic to you, as opposed to getting huge credit for what you did not really do.

To finish the way we began, and a few very good reminders to reflect on from Maya Angelou’s ‘I know why the Caged Bird Sings’…

“…pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

“Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

So as you can see, when it comes to freedom, pursuing dreams, passions and all that entails - we can definitely learn a lesson or two from our feathered friends. 

Faisal Amjad

About the author

A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.

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