Rabia Basri

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Rabia Basri
Hazrat Rabi'a al-Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya
Rabia basri.jpg
Rabia Basri’s tomb
Order Unknown
Born Circa 95-99 AH/713-717 AD
Basra, Iraq
Passed away Circa 180-85 AH/796-801 AD
Resting place Basra, Iraq

Hazrat Rabi'a al-Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (ra) also known as Rabi'ah al-Basri was a Sufi saint from Iraq and is considered to be the first female Sufi Saint of Islam, the first in a long line of female Sufi mystics. She lived during the 8th Century and was born in Basra, a seaport in southern Iraq where she spent the vast majority of her life. Much of her early life is narrated by Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra), a later Sufi saint and poet, who used earlier sources. She did not leave any written works herself.

Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) is remembered to this day as one of the greatest saints of the 8th century and is remembered with devotion and affection for her faith, piety and patience. The great woman mystic, saint and Qalandar of Islam had conquered herself (Nafs) through devotion, meditation, contemplation, patience (Sabr) as well as fear and trust in God. (Tawwakul). Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) was constantly absorbed in the thought of God and had reached the pinnacle of mystic path i.e Fina-Fillah.

Contents

Praise from Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra)

Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra) praises her unparalleled status as a female Sufi saint emphatically in the Conference of the Birds :

No, she wasn't a single woman,
But a hundred men over:
Robed in the quintessence of pain
From foot to face, immersed in the Truth,
Effaced in the radiance of God,
And liberated from all superfluous excess.

He also praises Hazrat Rabia (ra) in his Tazkirat al-Awliyā (Memoirs of the Saints):

That noble recluse who dwelled behind the cloisters of God's elect, a matron of sanctity beneath sincerity's veil, on fire with love, totally consumed with yearning, arduously enraptured by God's proximity, that apostle of Mary's purity, acknowledged by all men was Rabia al-Adawiya God's mercy rest upon her.

He has also written, "Both in terms of her spiritual transactions (mo'amalat) and gnosis of God (ma'refat) Rabia was unexcelled in her time and was accredited by all the great men of her age."

Birth

Even though she is said to have belonged to the tribe of Al'Atik, whose lineage is traced back to Hazrat Nuh (as), Hazrat Rabia (ra) was born into a family of poor circumstances. Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra) relates her story in Tazkirat al-Awliyā: On the night Hazrat Rabia (ra) came into being it is related that there wasn't even a wrapping on hand to swaddle her with, nor a lamp, nor a drop of oil to anoint her navel. Her father possessed three daughters and Hazrat Rabia (ra) was the fourth (ar-Rabia); thus, was she named Rabia. His wife told him: 'Go to the neighbour’s house and ask them for a lamp and some oil.' Although Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father had already vowed not to ask anything of God's creatures, he arose, went next door and then returned telling his wife only, They are all asleep.' He then fell asleep, deeply grieved and heavy hearted and while he slept he dreamt that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came to him and said,

Do not be grieved. You have been blessed with a daughter who will be a great saint; her intercession will be wished for by seventy thousand of my community. Tomorrow send a letter to 'Isa Radan, Amir of Basra, reminding him, by this sign, that every night he is wont to offer one hundred benedictions to me, and on Friday night, four hundred. But this Friday he has neglected me so tell him that, as a penance, he must give you a hundred dinars.'

Waking at dawn, Hazrat Rabia's (ra) father, in tears, noted his dream down in a letter, went to the court of 'Isa Radan, and handed it to a chamberlain to give to the Amir. After reading the letter, 'Isa Radan commanded that ten thousand dinars should be distributed to the poor as a thanksgiving offering since the Prophet deigned to mention me.' Ordering that four hundred dinars be given to Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father, he commented:

Though I wish that such a person should come to me, rather I will come and sweep the dust from his doorstep with my beard. For God's sake though, whenever he is in need, please let me know.

And so Hazrat Rabia's (ra) father brought home the gold and spent it.

Life

After Hazrat Rabia's (ra) parents passed away, a severe famine arose in Basra, and all her sisters scattered while she fell into the hands of a cruel man who auctioned her off as a slave for a few dirhams. When a stranger approached her in the street one day, she became frightened and tried to flee but fell in the dust, breaking her wrist. Prostrating herself in the mud, she confessed:

O God, I am a stranger, without father or mother; I have been sold in bondage, and now my wrist is broken. But despite all this, I am not distressed about anything that has befallen me. I only wish you to be content, so that I might know if I have gained your satisfaction or not

She then heard an unseen voice tell her:

Do not mourn, for in the hereafter you will reach such a rank that even those nearest to God in heaven will be proud of your station.

Hazrat Rabia (ra) then turned to her master's house and began to fast constantly, praying through each night. During the day she remained on her feet, occupied with her household chores. One night her master awoke and, hearing a cry, stared over to see Hazrat Rabia (ra) awake with her forehead bowed to the floor in supplication:

'O God, You are aware that the sole longing of my heart is to be totally surrendered to your command. The very light of my eyes is service to Your court. If it were up to me, I would never cease serving you, even for an hour. Yet you have caused me to be subject to a creature. For this, I come late to your service.'

As she was immersed in prayer, a divine light enveloped around her. After witnessing this incident, her master rose and pondered to himself, 'Such a woman cannot be confined to slavery.' In the morning he summoned Hazrat Rabia (ra) and set her free, remarking, 'If you remain with us, we shall all serve you; if you do not wish this to happen, go where you will.' Hazrat Rabia (ra) asked for her leave and departed.

She subsequently devoted herself to various works of piety. Within every twenty-four hour period, she was said to perform a thousand rak'ats of the ritual prayer. She made a cell of seclusion for herself and occupied herself solely with acts of devotion. In the end, she set out on the pilgrimage to Makkah and retired to the desert.

The Question of Marriage

While she received many marriage offers she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than Allah and so remained celibate. Mohammad Ebn Solaiman Hashemi, the Governor of Baghdad, whose properties produced an income of eight thousand dirhams each day, once wrote to the nobles of Basra, requesting them to find him a suitable wife. They sought out Hazrat Rabia (ra) as a possible candidate. In answer to his request, Hazrat Rabia (ra) wrote to the Amir:

"Just as abstinence (zuhd) in this world is a source of bodily comfort, likewise attention to the world results in worry and grief. Lay aside your excess wealth, dedicate your riches here to the life hereafter. Be trustee of your own soul now; do not let men administer and divide your wealth later on. Fast from life; let death break your fast. As for me, even if God were to place at my disposal as much as you offer, or even much more, it would not be possible for me to heed ought beside Him for as much as the wink of an eye." "(Monawi, Tabaqat al-Awliya)"

It is reported that even the renowned Sufi saint Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) asked for her hand in marriage to which she replied:

The marriage contract is bound to a 'being.' But here 'being' is absent. Of myself I am unaware; alone through Him I am, and under the shadow of His will I exist. My husband must be sought from Him.

How did you attain to this station? questioned Hazrat Hasan (ra)."
Through losing all my attainment in Him. she replied.
How do you know Him, then? Hazrat Hasan (ra) inquired.
You know 'how', she answered. I know without 'how'.

When asked by the people why she didn’t marry, she said:

I have been left bewildered by worry over three things. If you free me from having to worry about them, I will marry. First of all, at the moment of death, shall my faith be sufficient to bring me to salvation? Second, will the book of my deeds be given to me in my left or right hand?1 Third, upon that hour when a party of people are called forth on the left hand to Hell, and another group from the right hand are summoned to Heaven, which company will I belong to?

"Of this, we are ignorant," they informed her. "With this anxiety that afflicts me then," she replied, "how can I ever marry?" Shaikh Shoaib ibn Abdul-Aziz al-Horayfaysh in his book al-Rowdh al-Fa'iq, has added a fourth question to Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar's (ra) account of this story: "When I am interrogated in the grave by the two angels of death, Munkar and Nakir, shall I be able to answer their questions or not?"

Hazrat Rabia's (ra) Devout Way of Life

Hazrat Rabia (ra)'s nights were occupied in sleepless vigilance, and her days in the worship of God. It is said that she was deeply absorbed in grief and wept exceedingly.

The following account, attributed to Hazrat Rabia (ra) by 'Abda Bint Abi Showal, a lady devoted to Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) service, is related in the Sifat al-Safwat of Ibn al-Jawzi:

Hazrat Rabia (ra) used to pray all night, only then permitting herself to doze lightly before dawn until the shadow of daybreak tinted the horizon. Then she would rise and say, possessed by deep fear, 'O soul, how long shall you go on with this sleeping and waking? The time is near when you will sleep so much that only the trumpet call of the Resurrection will summon you awake.' This was her way of life until she died, extremely eager to maintain the night vigil unless some task arose that kept her from it.

In the same work, Ibn al-Jawzi narrates Abdullah Ibn Isa's account of his meeting with Hazrat Rabia (ra):

When I entered Hazrat Rabia's (ra) house, I perceived her face radiant with a brilliant sheen from her constant crying. A man sat near her, reciting a verse from the Koran concerning Hellfire, whereupon she burst out in tears, then she cried out and fainted.

Another time she was seated on a mat of woven reeds when we entered her presence. A man near to her was lecturing on some matter while her tears poured like rain onto the torn reed-mat. In sudden agitation she cried out. Then we all arose and took our leave.

Abdur-Ra'uf Monawi in the Tabaqat al-Awliya (Classes of the Saints) has also noted that Hazrat Rabia (ra) was “extremely fearful.”

Hasan al-Basri (ra) gives the following account of her nature:

In her whole house I saw only a pitcher with a chip on its spout, which she used to perform ablutions as well as drink water, a brick which she used as a pillow, and a mat of woven reeds on which she prayed. Besides this, there was nothing else. Whatever people bestowed on her she rejected, saying, 'I have no need of the world.

Monawi writes in the Tabaqat al-Awliya that “Hazrat Rabia (ra) felt so ashamed before God that for forty years she never raised her head to heaven.”

Hazrat Malik bin Dinar (ra) has described Hazrat Rabia (ra)'s life-style as follows:

I visited the saint. She possessed a pitcher with a crack in it which she employed both for ablutions and drinking; instead of a pillow, she used a brick. There was also an old straw mat. My heart was anguished at the sight, and I pleaded with her, 'I have wealthy friends; only indicate it and I’ll see that they regard you favourably.' 'You are wrong Malik,' she replied, 'my Provider is their Provider too, isn't He?' 'Of course,' I replied. 'Do you imagine,' she rejoined, that He has forgotten the poor because of their poverty, while assisting the rich because they are wealthy?' 'No,' I answered. 'Since He is aware of my state then,' she went on, 'what need is there to remind Him? If this is how He likes it, my, wish is one with His.'

Describing an overnight visit with Hazrat Rabia (ra), Hazrat Sufyan al-Thawri (ra) has written:

I saw her enter her mihrab and occupy herself in prayers until daybreak. In the opposite corner of the house I also performed prayer till dawn. With the sunrise, she suggested we dedicate the rest of the day to fasting to express our gratitude for the grace through which we maintained the night vigil.

It is related that Hazrat Rabia (ra) was engaged in continual wailing and lamentation. "For what are you weeping?" she was questioned. She confessed:

My deepest fear is separation, for I have become accustomed to Him. Is it not possible that at the time of death a voice will come saying, 'You are not worthy of Me?'

She also said:

Deep within my breast lies the reason for my bereavement and pain. This ailment no doctor can remedy. The sole cure of this pain is Union with the Friend, and by mourning I hope that perhaps hereafter I will reach what I seek. Though I was not originally conceived in that Divine Grief, I attempt to simulate the state of those who are truly afflicted with Divine Love, that I may be deemed no less than they.

Old Age

Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat, relates the following story from Mohammad Ebn Amr:

When I entered Hazrat Rabia (ra)'s presence, she was an aged woman of eighty years, brittle as dried skin. It seemed that if you touched her she would crumble to pieces. In her house I saw only a split reed-mat and a clothes stand of Persian reed, which was two meters wide. The covering of her house was of plain branches. There was also a water pitcher and a bit of sheep's wool beside her bed and place of prayer. Next to these was a reed-mat on which she had placed her shroud. Whenever death was mentioned, she would tremble, visibly possessed by shivering. It is related that a pool of water from her tears lay gathered beside the place where she prostrated during prayers.

In his Tazkirat al-Awliyā, Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) writes of Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) spiritual magnanimity:

Concerning Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) death, great Sufi masters all averred: 'Hazrat Rabia (ra) came into the world and went unto the hereafter; she never exalted or vaunted herself before God, never wanted anything, never saying, 'Do so much for me' or 'Provide me with this.'

Passing On

Date

There is no unanimity among scholars concerning the date of Hazrat Rabia' (ra) death. Various historians offer differing accounts. The date 135 AH/753 AD is cited by Ibn al-Jawzi in the Shodhur al-'oqud, Abul-Mahasen Taghriberdi in the Al-Nojum al-zahera, Mortadha Zobaydi in the Ittehaf al-sadat al amottaqin, Ebn al- Molqan in the Tabaqat al-Awliya, and Ebn 'Emad Hanbali in the Shadharat al-dhahab. According to Dhahabi and Abdur-Ra'uf Monawi in the Tabaqat al-Awliya, Hazrat Rabia (ra) passed away in 180 AH/ 796 AD. Ebn Khallekan and Ebn Shaker al Kotobi in their biographical histories, and 'Emad al-Din Abol-Fada' Esma'il Ebn 'Omar Ebn Kathir al-Qoraishi al- Demashqi (d.1373) in his book al-Bedayah wal-nahaya, put her death date as 185 AH/801 AD. The latter is also cited for Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) death by Dara Shokuh in the Safinat al-Awliya.

Final Moments

Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat relates that at the time of her death, Hazrat Rabia (ra) summoned 'Abda Bint Abi Showal into her presence and gave an order that none be informed of her death. She requested that she be shrouded only in an old gown (jubbah) for burial. Her servant faithfully complied with her request and clothed her corpse only in that gown, covered by the woolen cloak that was her normal garb. In Tazkirat al-Awliyā, Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) writes of Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) passing on (ra): During Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) last hours, the masters of her age gathered around her deathbed. She commanded, "Rise and make way for the prophets of God." Rising, they left the room and shut the door. A voice was then heard declaring:

Yusuf Ali: O soul who is at rest, return to thy Lord, well-pleased (with Him), well-pleasing (Him). So enter among My servants, and enter My garden.

Nothing else was heard. The Sheikhs then entered and found that she had passed on.

Incidents after her Demise

Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) relates that after her death, Hazrat Rabia (ra) appeared in a certain person's dream. Tell us of Munkar and Nakir, the two angels of death," the person begged. Those two noble beings appeared to me," she related, and asked, Who is your Lord?'" I said:

Return and tell God... among so many thousands of people, You did not forget an old woman, and so, since I could never forget You who are all I have in the whole world, how then could You send someone to ask, Who is your Lord?

Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat relates that about a year after Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) death, 'Abda Bint Abi Showal, a pious lady in Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) service, dreamt of her. Hazrat Rabia (ra) appeared attired in a green silken gown embroidered with gold and silver. 'Abda had never before beheld anyone more beautiful. "What happened to the old gown and woolen cloak that we buried you in?” the girl asked. Hazrat Rabia (ra) answered:

I swear by God, those garments were taken away from me, and then I was garbed in that which you see now, while my former shroud was folded, sealed and borne aloft to a sublime spot so that my reward would be perfect on the Day of Resurrection."

"Was this the reason for all your spiritual combat (mujahida) during your days on earth?" asked 'Abda. Hazrat Rabia (ra) answered, "What is even this compared to what I have seen of God's generosity to His friends."

"Whatever became of 'Abda, Abu Kalab's daughter?" 'Abda inquired.

"Ah, far, far beyond me is the station she attained," Hazrat Rabia (ra) responded, "Never shall I approach her." 'Abdah pressed, "But how is this, since your spiritual state was higher than hers?" Hazrat Rabia (ra) rejoined, "Because she did not concern herself with how she passed her days and nights."

"And of Abu Malek Zaygam," 'Abda continued, "whatever became of him?" Hazrat Rabia (ra) replied, "He makes pilgrimage to God, the Exalted, whenever he wishes." 'Abdah further inquired concerning Bashir Ebn Mansur.

"His state is happy," answered Hazrat Rabia (ra), "for God has bestowed upon him more than he ever aspired to."

'Abda in the end requested Hazrat Rabia (ra), "Provide me with some admonition so I may draw closer to God." Hazrat Rabia (ra) counseled her, "Devote yourself totally to the remembrance of God, for only this shall cheer you in the grave."

On another occasion, Muhammad ibn Aslam al-Tusi (ra) and Na'mi Tartusi (ra), who were known to have provided water for thirty thousand people in the desert, once visited Hazrat Rabia's (ra) grave. They asked, "O you who boasted you would never lower your brow before anyone in the two worlds, how are you now?" They were answered by a voice saying, 'How sweet indeed was what I saw!'"

Tomb

Some seem to have confused the grave of Hazrat Rabia (ra) of Syria with that of Hazrat Rabia al-'Adawiya of Basra (ra). Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) grave is sometimes said to be at the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This, however, is incorrect. Hazrat Rabia al-'Adawiya's (ra) tomb is actually in Basra.

Anecdotes & Miracles

Anecdotes pertaining to the life of Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) are many in number.

Quotes

1. O my Lord! If I worship Thee on account of the fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee with the hope of Paradise, exclude me from it, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty.
2. I have not served God for fear of Hell, for I should be like a wretched hireling, if I did it for fear; nor for love of Paradise, for I should be a bad servant if I served for the sake of what was given, but I have served Him only for the love of Him and out of desire for Him.
3. Repentance is attained by the saints with the Divine grace and it comes from the side of God who enlightens the hearts of those whom He loves. Seeking a formal forgiveness is the sin for lying. If I seek repentance of myself, I shall have need of repentance again.
4. Seclusion is the soul's ideal preparation for reaching God. It is in the state of solitude that the soul contemplates on the attributes of God.
5. The soul comes from God and it can be united with Him if it is purified through the process of mortification.
6. When asked about some worldly thing she wanted to have, she replied: "I am ashamed to ask for a thing of this world from Him to whom this world belongs; how can I ask for it from those to whom it does not belong.
7. She asked in her private prayer, "O my Lord, will you burn in the Fire a heart that holds love for you?" The caller answered; "We will never do such a thing. Do not think so poorly of Us."
8. One day she fell sick. When asked about the reason for her illness, she said, "At dawn my heart inclined fondly toward paradise. By way of this sickness, I have been rebuked by the Friend. This is the cause of my sickness. "
9. Hazrat Rabia (ra) once was asked, "When does a slave acquire contentment?" She replied, "When he or she is as grateful for adversity as for bounty."
10. None of the matter of this world or of the next should deter you from Allah. Rabia said, "While I am in this world, all I want from this world is to remember You, and my only wish for the hereafter is to be able to see You. Other than this, do with me as You wish.
11. As long as man’s heart is not alert, his other limbs cannot find the path of Allah. An alert heart is a heart lost in divine absorption. Such a heart is not in need of the aid of other limbs. This stage is called Fana (annihilation).
12. The best thing for a servant who desires to be near his Lord, is to possess nothing in this world or the next save Him.
13. I have served my God only for the love of Him and out of des ire for.
14. My peace is in solitude but my beloved (God) is always with me. Nothing can take the place of His love and it is test for me amongst the mortal beings.
15. Oh Lord: The Stars are shining and the eyes of man are closed and kings have shut their doors and every lover is alone with his beloved and here am I alone with Thee.
16. What He (God) wills, we should also will.
17. Two ways I love Thee: selfishly and next, as worthy of Thee. This selfish love that I do naught Save think of Thee with every thought.
18. There are three kinds of men: The first believes that his hands and his sons’ hands are all that is necessary to succeed in the only world they know-the material world. The second kind prays with his hands so that a reward will be earned in the next life. The third kind has his hands tied at the wrist, bound with love to serve without thought of return.
19. O God, whatsoever You have apportioned to me of worldly things, Give that to Your enemies, And what You have apportioned to me in the Hereafter, Give that to Your Friends, For You suffice me.
20. Asking for forgiveness out loud is the work of hypocrites. Though we repent, we need still another repentance to repent of repenting.
21. If the virtue of patience were a man, he would be of a generous disposition.
22. The fruit of gnosis is to turn one's face towards God, the Almighty.
23. The Gnostic is someone who seeks a heart from God. Once this is granted to him, however, he immediately renders it back to God, such that it remains secure in His tenure and is shrouded from human access in Divinity's mystery (serr).
24. Love (mohabbat ) has come from pre- eternity (azal), passed unto post-eternity (abad) and perceived no one among the eighteen worlds competent to drink even a gulp of its sherbet. When at last Love reached the Truth, only this adage remained: 'He Loves them and they Love Him'.
25. My love of the all-Merciful leaves me no room for hostility towards Satan.
26. O children of Adam! Your eyes provide no passage to perceive the Truth, nor is there any access to Him by speech of the tongue. The faculty of hearing is but a highway to distress for the speaker, while your hands and feet only steer you only into bewilderment. The true work is in the heart. Try to acquire an awakened heart, for when the heart is awakened, it will have no need of a friend. That is to say, an awakened heart is one which is lost in God. What need does one who is effaced and lost in God have of a friend; for this is the station of Annihilation in God. (fana fi’llah)
27. Hazrat Rabia (ra) was once asked, "Do you actually see Him whom you worship?" She replied, "I would not worship Him unless I saw Him."
28. I grieve not because I am sorrowful; I am aggrieved at my own lack of sorrow.
29. Indeed your days are numbered, for when one day passes, a significant portion of your life has passed away. And when that portion has fled, soon it will come to pass that your whole life has disappeared. As you know this, strive always towards the performance of good deeds.
30. Even if the entire world belonged to one man, he would not be rich for the world passes away.
31. I am not after any reward for my good works, but only that on the Day of Judgment the Prophet Mohammad ﷺ should say to the rest of the Prophets: 'Behold this woman of my community; this was her work.'
32. All people are afraid of the reckoning of the Day of Judgment, whereas I long for it. At last God will address me as 'O, My servant!'
33. How many passions are there, O God, whose delights perish, while only an evil after-effect remains. O Lord, shall Your sole retribution also be bad? Do You hold no other punishment besides fire?'
34. Neither fear of Hellfire nor hope of a Heavenly reward excites my love and worship of God. If either were so, I would only be a bad employee working from fear of punishment or hope of benefit. My longing and love, rather, is the sole basis of my devotion to Him.
35. The lover of God will cry and weep until he finds rest in the Beloved's embrace.
36. Conceal your good qualities as much as you conceal your bad qualities.
37. O Creator, I forgive everyone who has oppressed me for Your sake. Request whoever I have oppressed to forgive me.
38. No separation exists between the Beloved and the lover.
39. Death is a bridge between friends. The time now nears that I cross that bridge, and friend meets Friend.
40. Were the rapture of Divine Love which I have realized ever to be bestowed upon humankind, no one would remain unaffected by this love.
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