Anecdotes of Rabia Basri

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Journey to Makkah

After Hazrat Rabia (ra) set out for Makkah, she was forced to stay in the desert for a few days.”Oh God," she cried out, "my heart is heavy with sorrow. Where am I going to? I am but a handful of dirt, and your house is only a stone. You are my sole desire." Without mediation, God addressed her heart, saying:

You are approaching the blood of the eighteen thousand worlds. If I were to manifest Myself to the Universe as I am, all would be scattered. Do you wish to cause such destruction? Do you not know what happened when Moses requested a vision of Me? I scattered but a few atoms of Theophany on the peak of Mt. Sinai and it was shattered into forty pieces." (See Quran 7:143)

The Ka’ba meets Hazrat Rabia (ra)

It is related that when Hazrat Rabia (ra) was performing the pilgrimage to Mecca through the desert, she saw the Ka’ba itself coming out to receive her. "I want the Lord of the house," she cried. "What can I do with this Ka’ba? I pay no attention to the Ka'ba and enjoy not it's beauty. My only desire is to encounter Him who said, ‘Whosoever approaches Me by a span, I will approach him by a cubit.' What benefit can I receive from seeing the Ka’ba?" The full Hadith being referred to is as follows:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger ﷺ as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, thus stated: I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his (remembrance), and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by the cubit, and if he draws near Me by the cubit I draw near him by the space (covered by) two hands. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him.
Sahih Muslim 35:6471

Reliance on Allah Alone

Hazrat Rabia (ra) owned only a donkey to transport her luggage when she set out in the desert on pilgrimage to Makkah. In the middle of the desert, her donkey died. When her fellow travellers offered to bear her bags, she replied, "You go on. Not by trusting you have I come thus far." The caravan then continued on, leaving her there, "O God, is this the way Monarchs behave with helpless women?" Hazrat Rabia (ra) cried. "You invited me to Your dwelling, then on the way make my donkey die, leaving me stranded in the heat of the desert!" Instantly, her donkey revived and arose. She laid her luggage on it and proceeded on her way.

Meeting with Hazrat Ibrahim Bin Adham (ra)

It is related that Hazrat Ibrahim Bin Adham (ra)(d.782) spent fourteen years traversing the desert until he arrived at the Ka'ba. "Others walk on foot to Mecca," he remarked, "while I tread on my eyes." His habit was to make two rakaats of prayer for every one step forward. On attaining to Mecca, however, the Ka'ba had disappeared. "What has happened?" he asked, rubbing his eyes, "perhaps I've become dim- sighted."

"Your vision is fine," a mysterious voice informed him. "Only the Ka'ba went to receive a lady on her way here." "Who can she be?" he cried aghast with envy. Then he beheld Hazrat Rabia (ra) hobbling along the way, cane inhand. The Ka'ba returned to its place. "O Hazrat Rabia (ra), what is this riot and commotion you have created in the world?" Ibrahim demanded.

Hazrat Rabia (ra) retorted, "It is you who are the real cause of commotion in the world, having waivered fourteen years in crossing the desert to reach God's Shrine"

"Of course," he pleaded, “for fourteen years I was preoccupied in ritual prayer (namaz) on my journey."

Through ritual prayer you journeyed," Hazrat Rabia (ra) replied, "whereas I made my way by means of desperate spiritual supplication and need (niyaz)." Hazrat Rabia (ra) then completed the pilgrimage and wept in grief, saying "O God! You have given us assurances of Your approbation and good will, both for our pilgrimage and for our adversity. If my pilgrimage is unacceptable now (which itself is adversity ), where is Your reward for the adversity I have endured?" She then returned to Basra until the next year. "If last year," she commented, "the Ka'ba came out to meet me, this year I shall go to greet the Ka'ba"

Loaves of Bread

Two Sheikhs once came to pay their respects to Hazrat Rabia (ra). Both happened to be hungry, and they reflected, "Whatever she offers us will assuredly be permitted by Islamic law."

They seated themselves and she set two loaves of bread before them. At that moment, a beggar presented himself, asking for alms and Hazrat Rabia (ra) gave him both loaves. Though both men were astounded at her behaviour, they made no objections. A maidservant then entered Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) cottage with an armful of warm bread.

"My mistress has sent these for you," she explained. Hazrat Rabia (ra) took them; there were eighteen loaves, "There must be some error," she remarked. "Please take them back to your mistress." Though the girl protested, Hazrat Rabia (ra) insisted they be returned.

When the maidservant brought the loaves back to her mistress and recounted the story, the lady supplemented her gift by two additional loaves. This time when the girl brought the loaves to Hazrat Rabia (ra), the saint acknowledged the gift of twenty loaves. Hazrat Rabia (ra) laid the loaves before her guests and, though surprised, they enjoyed the meal.

Afterwards, they ventured to ask Hazrat Rabia (ra) the mystery of the events they had witnessed. "As you entered," said Hazrat Rabia (ra), "I saw you both were hungry, but I felt it wouldn't be becoming to offer such notables as yourselves so meager a fare as two loaves. Therefore, I bestowed them on the beggar, entreating, "O God, you have promised to repay our charity tenfold. This is beyond doubt. I have offered You two loaves; grant me a tenfold return then." When the maidservant brought only eighteen, I saw that a mistake had occurred, or else they had been incorrectly delivered to me. I returned them until the proper amount I had petitioned for arrived."

Her Spiritual Condition

One night, preoccupied with prayers in her chamber, sleep overcame Hazrat Rabia (ra). When a blade of straw entered her eye, so intense was her yearning and so extreme was her contrition that she remained unconscious of any injury. Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) relates the situation:

Once I visited Hazrat Rabia (ra) but this lady of her day was engaged in prayers. I knelt next to her prayer-mat for a long time observing her. Protruding from her right eye was a broken thorn and a drop of blood was trickling off her cheek onto her prayer-mat. After she finished prayers I exclaimed, "What have you come to? A thorn in your eye, your prayer-mat blood-stained..." Hazrat Rabia (ra) rejoined, 'O Hasan, I vow by God's glory, which has endowed this least of creatures with Islam's elevation, that I was utterly unconscious of this state. My heart was so taken from me that if all the torments throughout all the stories of hell were fitted upon a needle and my right eye lined with them, were my left eye to twitch even once with that pain, I would pluck it out from its base. (Tasfir-e-Ansari, Vol. 1, p. 514)

On another occasion, Hazrat Rabia (ra) accidently struck her head against a sharp stone in a wall. Though she began to bleed profusely, she was utterly unconscious of her condition. People asked, "Don't you feel any pain?" Hazrat Rabia (ra) rejoined, "I was so preoccupied with fulfilling God's will during that instant, that no sensation of what you witnessed remained to me." (Monawi, Tabaqat al-Awliya)

The Thief and the Chadur

Another night a thief entered her cell and seized her chadur. As he tried to make off with it, he found the way barred to him. He laid the chadur aside and immediately the door opened.

When he again picked up the chadur however, he discovered that the passage was again closed. He experienced this seven times until, from a nook of Hazrat Rabia (ra)'s cell, a mysterious voice addressed him, "She has entrusted herself to Us all these years. Since even the Devil is afraid here, how can a thief like you even dare to circle her chadur. Be gone, you rogue, because if one friend falls asleep, the other Friend is vigilant and awake."

According to one exegesis, this story is a demonstration of the verity of the following verse:

Yusuf Ali: For each (such person) there are (angels) in succession, before and behind him: They guard him by command of Allah.
Qur'an 13:11

Preparing a Meal

Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) maidservant was preparing a stew one day since neither she nor Hazrat Rabia (ra) had eaten for some time. Finding herself in need of onions, she proposed to her mistress to ask the neighbours. "Forty years now," Hazrat Rabia (ra) replied, "have passed since I vowed to God, the Majestic and Transcendent, never to request anything from anyone but Him. Forego the onions."

Suddenly a bird swooped from the skies and cast a few perfectly peeled onions into the frying pan. "There still might be deceit in this operation," Hazrat Rabia (ra) remarked. Setting aside the entire stew, she dined on dry bread.

Beasts on the Mountain

One day Hazrat Rabia (ra) had gone to the mountains, and hordes of wild beasts, goats and gazelles thronged about her. When Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) suddenly appeared on the scene, and they all scattered in fright. Inwardly perturbed by this event, Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) asked Hazrat Rabia (ra), "Why did they make friends with you but flee from me?"

"What was your meal today?" Hazrat Rabia (ra) asked in return. "A mere broth," said Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra).

"Well, you eat of their fat. Why shouldn't they be in fear of you?"

Meeting with Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra)

It is related that once Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) saw Hazrat Rabia (ra) sitting by the side of the Euphrates. Throwing his prayer rug on the surface of the water, he called for her to come and offer two rakaats there. She retorted by telling him that if he was showing off his spiritual goods in the worldly market, it should be things his fellow-men were incapable of displaying. On saying that, she flung her prayer rug into the air and flew up on it, and continued by asking him to join her up there where people would be able to see. Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra), who had still not attained that station, remained silent, on which she said, "Fishes also do what you did, while what I do is but a mosquito's performance. Real work transcends both."

Light Radiating from Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) Finger

Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) and some friends paid Hazrat Rabia (ra) a visit late one evening. Hazrat Rabia (ra) owned no lamp, but since the group thought one was needed, Hazrat Rabia (ra) blew lightly on her fingers, which remained aflame, acting as a lantern until daybreak. If anyone makes objections to this, I would answer, “It is the same as the white hand of Moses." "But he was a Prophet," perhaps such a person will respond. To which I say, "Likewise followers of a Prophet imbue a bit of his charismatic blessing (karamat).

The Divine endowment of the Prophet (nabi) consists of miracles (mo'jezah), whereas the saint (wali) is blessed by virtue of obedience to a Prophet with [similar] charismatic powers (karamat). In the words of the Prophet ﷺ, "Whosoever rejects a penny's worth of the unlawful has attained one degree of Prophethood,"

He has also said, "A true dream is a fortieth part of Prophecy."

Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) Gifts to Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra)

Hazrat Rabia (ra), on one occasion, sent three things to Hasan: a bit of wax, a needle, and a hair. She told him:

Light the world, though like wax you burn yourself. And like a needle, be always engaged in the spiritual work, while outwardly barren. Upon acquisition of these virtues, then become a hair (do not see yourself) so that your work will not be wasted.

A Swarm of Locusts

A swarm of locusts once descended upon Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) newly planted garden. She made the supplication. "O God, you have promised me my daily sustenance; bestow it as You will, upon Your friends or enemies." At that moment, the locusts all took flight. Afterwards, it was as if they had never landed. (Monawi, Tabaqat al-Awliya)

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