Birth Name: Hazrat Rabia al-Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya
Born in: between 95 and 99 Hijri. In Basra, Iraq.
She was born between 95 and 99 Hijri in Basra, Iraq. Much of her early life is narrated by Farid al-Din Attar. Many spiritual stories are associated with her and it is sometimes difficult to separate reality from legend. These traditions come from Farid al-Din Attar, a later Sufi saint and poet, who used earlier sources. Hazrat Rabia herself did not leave any written works.
She was the fourth daughter of her family and was therefore named Rabia, meaning “fourth”. She was born free in a poor but respected family.
According to Farid al-Din Attar, Hazrat Rabia’s parents were so poor that there was no oil in their house to light a lamp, nor a cloth even to wrap her with.
Her mother asked her husband to borrow some oil from a neighbour, but he had resolved in his life never to ask for anything from anyone except the Creator. However, to satisfy his wife, he went to the neighbour’s house, knocked on the door and came away before anyone opened it. On his return, he told his wife that the door was not opened. Grief-stricken, he fell asleep. In a dream, he saw Rasulallah (s.a.w) telling him, “Do not grieve, this girl born to you is exceptionally fortunate and holy.
By her intercession 70,000 people of my Ummah will be forgiven. Go to the governor of Basra and convey to him this message written on a page:
“Every night you recite 100 Durood on me and on Friday night 400 times. Last Friday night you forgot to recite the Durood. As a compensation for this omission, give this person 400 dinars.”
Hazrat Rabia’s father woke up crying in joy. He wrote out the message and went to meet the governor. He handed the letter to a guard. When the governor read the letter, he was moved by the fact that Rasulallah (s.a.w) had remembered him. He ordered 10,000 dirhams to be given to the poor as a token of gratitude. He went out to meet Hazrat Rabia’s father. After presenting him with the 400 dinars, he said: “In future whatever your needs are, come to me without any hesitation.”
After the death of her father, a famine overtook Basra and Hazrat Rabia parted from her sisters. Legend has it that she was accompanying a caravan, which fell into the hands of robbers. The chief of the robbers took Hazrat Rabia captive, and sold her in the market as a slave. The new master of Hazrat Rabia used to make her work hard with household chores.
She would pass the whole night in prayer, after she had finished her household jobs. She spent many of her days observing fast.
Once the master of the house got up in the middle of the night, and was attracted by the sorrowful voice in which Hazrat Rabia was praying to her Lord. When he looked, he saw a great light surrounding her as she entreated her Lord in these terms:
“Lord! You know well that my keen desire is to carry out Your commandments and to serve Thee with all my heart, O light of my eyes. If I were free I would pass the whole day and night in prayers. But what should I do when you have made me a slave of a human being?”
At once the master felt that it was sacrilegious to keep such a saint in his service. He decided to serve her instead. In the morning, he called her and told her his decision; he would serve her and she should dwell there as the mistress of the house. If she insisted on leaving the house, he was willing to free her from bondage.
She told him that she was willing to leave the house to carry on her worship in solitude. This the master granted and she left the house. Throughout her life, her Love of God, poverty and self-denial did not waver. They were her constant companions. She did not possess much other than a broken jug, a rush mat and a brick, which she used as a pillow. She spent all night in prayer and contemplation, chiding herself if she slept because it took her away from her active Love of God.
As her fame grew, she had many disciples. She also had discussions with many of the renowned religious people of her time. Though she had many offers of marriage, and (tradition has it) one even from the Amir of Basra, she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than God.
More interesting than her absolute asceticism, however, is the actual concept of Divine Love that Hazrat Rabia introduced. She was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for God’s own sake, not out of fear as earlier Sufis had done.
She taught that repentance was a gift from God because no one could repent unless God had already accepted him and given him this gift of repentance. She taught that sinners must fear the punishment they deserved for their sins, but she also offered such sinners far more hope of Paradise than most other ascetics did. For herself, she held to a higher ideal, worshipping God neither from fear of Hell nor from hope of Paradise, for she saw such self-interest as unworthy of God’s servants; emotions like fear and hope were like veils i.e. hindrances to the vision of God Himself.
She prayed, “O Allah! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”
Hazrat Rabia was in her early to mid eighties when she passed away, having followed the mystic Way to the end. She always believed she was continually united with her Beloved. As she told her Sufi friends, “My Beloved is always with me.”
She died in Jerusalem in 185 A.H ( Zirkali, al-A`lam, vol. 3, p 10, col 1, who quotes ibn Khalikan as his source.)
She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love and who is widely considered to be the most important of the early Sufi poets.
Much of the poetry that is attributed to her is of unknown origin. After a life of hardship, she spontaneously achieved a state of self-realization. When asked by Sheikh Hassan Basri how she discovered the secret, she responded by stating, “You know of the how, but I know of the how-less.”
She was the first in a long line of female Sufi mystics. Anecdotes:
The prayer of Hazrat Rabia
Once while she was in the service of her Sheikh, she was sent on an errand. Along the way a man pursued her. In fright she fled, slipped and broke her hand. Praying to Allah Ta’ala she cried, “O Allah! I am forlorn, without mother and father. Now my hand too is broken. But I do not mind these things if Thou be pleased with me. But make it manifest to me that you are pleased with me. “
A voice called to her, “On the Day of Qiyamah, even the Muqarrab (very close) Angels will envy your rank.”
Rely on Allah alone
When she went for Hajj she took along an emaciated donkey on which was loaded her few belongings. The donkey died along the journey. The people accompanying her offered to carry her belongings, but she refused, saying, “Proceed! I did not come relying on you.” The caravan continued, leaving her behind. With her perfect trust in Allah Ta’ala she supplicated for His aid. Even before completing her dua, the donkey came to life. Hazrat Rabia continued her journey and reached Makkah Mukarramah.
Hazrat Rabia in her yearning for Allah, prayed to be shown His Vision. A Voice said to her, “If you desire Me, I shall reveal a manifestation (Tajalli) of Myself and in a moment you will be reduced to ash.”
Hazrat Rabia said: “O Allah! I lack the power for Your Tajalli. I wish for the rank of Faqr (i.e. an extremely lofty spiritual status of divine proximity).”
The Voice said: “O Rabia! Faqr is the famine of My Wrath. We have reserved it exclusively for those Men (Awliyah) who have completely reached Us. There remains not even the distance of a hair between them and Us. At that juncture, We rebuff them and distance them from Our Proximity. Inspite of this, they do not lose hope in Us. They again commence their journey towards Us. While this is their condition, you are still wrapped in the veils of time. As long as you are with the folds of these veils and have not entered into Our Path with a true heart, it is improper for you to even mention Faqr.”
The Voice then commanded Hazrat Rabia to lift her gaze towards the heaven. As she complied, she observed a vast rolling ocean of blood suspended in space. The Voice said, “This is the ocean of tears of blood of My Lovers who are lost in My Absorption. This is their first stage (in their journey to reach Allah).”
The thief & the shawl
Once, Hazrat Rabia, overcome with tiredness, fell asleep. A thief entered and took her shawl, but he was unable to find his way out. When he replaced the shawl, he saw the exit. Again, he took the shawl and lost the way. He replaced the shawl and again saw the way out. He repeated this process several times.
Then he heard someone saying:
“Why bring a calamity on yourself? She whose shawl this is, has handed herself over to another Being. Even Shaitaan cannot approach her. A thief is not able to steal her shawl. Leave it and depart.”
Beasts of the jungle
Once when Hazrat Rabia was on a mountain, the wild beasts of the jungle gathered around her and stared at her in wonder. Coincidentally, Hazrat Hassan Basri appeared on the scene. All the animals scattered and disappeared into the jungle. In surprise, he said: “The animals fled when they saw me. Why did they stay with you?” Hazrat Rabia asked, “What did you eat today?” Hazrat Hassan Basri replied, “Meat and bread.” Hazrat Rabia then said, “When you have eaten meat, why should they not flee?”
It was said to Hazrat Rabia, “Hazrat Hassan says that if on the Day of Qiyamah he is deprived of Allah’s Vision for even a moment, he will lament so much that the inmates of Jannat will take pity on him.”
Hazrat Rabia said, “True, but this claim is appropriate for only a person who does not forget Allah Ta’ala here on earth for a single moment.”
People asked: “Why do you not take a husband?”
Hazrat Rabia responded, “I am saddled with three concerns. If you remove these worries from me, I shall take a husband. One: Tell me, will I die with Imaan? Two: On the Day of Qiyamah, will my Record of Deeds be given in my right or left hand? Three: On the Day of Qiyamah, will I be among the people of the right side or the left side?” The people said that they were unable to give her assurances regarding these issues. She said, “A woman who has these fears has no desire for a husband.”
The world & hereafter
She was asked, “From whence have you come and whither are you going?” Hazrat Rabia said: “I came from that world and I am returning to that world.” The people asked: “What are you doing in this world?” Hazrat Rabia let out a cry of lament. They asked, “Why are you lamenting?” Hazrat Rabia said:
“I obtain my rizq (provisions) from that world while I am doing the work of this world.”
The pain of separation from Allah
When asked for the cause of her constant crying, Hazrat Rabia said: “I fear separation from Allah Ta’ala. I fear that at the time of death, I may be rejected and it be announced, “You do not deserve to be in Our Presence.”
The prayer of Hazrat Rabia
She was asked: “When is Allah pleased with a person?” Hazrat Rabia replied: “When he expresses gratitude for the effort (on His Path) just as he expresses gratitude for bounties.”
Fana or Annihilation
”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).”
Love of God
One day, she was seen running through the streets of Basra carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she said:
“I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”
At one occasion she was asked if she hated Satan. Hazrat Rabia replied, “My love for God has so possessed me that no place remains for loving or hating any save Him.”
Her special status
When Hazrat Rabia Basri would not come to attend the sermons of Hazrat Hassan Basri, he would deliver no discourse that day. People in the audience asked him why he did that. He replied, “The syrup that is held by the vessels meant for the elephants cannot be contained in the vessels meant for the ants.”
The Kabah meets Hazrat Rabia Basri
Once Hazrat Rabia was on her way to Makkah, and when halfway there she saw the Kabah coming to meet her. She said, “It is the Lord of the house whom I need, what have I to do with the house? I need to meet with Him Who said, ‘who approaches Me by a span’s length, I will approach him by the length of a cubit.’ The Kabah which I see has no power over me; what joy does the beauty of the Kabah bring to me?”
At the same time the great Sufi Saint Hazrat Ibrahim bin Adam arrived at the Kabah, but he did not see it. He had spent fourteen years making his way to the Kabah, because in every place of prayer he performed two rakats.
Hazrat Ibrahim bin Adam said, “Alas! What has happened? It maybe that some injury has overtaken my eyes.” An unseen voice said to him, “No harm has befallen your eyes, but the Kabah has gone to meet a woman, who is approaching this place.” Hazrat Ibrahim Adam responded, “O indeed, who is this?” He ran and saw Hazrat Rabia arriving, and that the Kabah was back in its own place. When Hazrat Ibrahim Adam saw that, he said, “O Hazrat Rabia, what is this disturbance and trouble and burden which you have brought into the world?”
She replied, “I have not brought disturbance into the world. It is you who have disturbed the world, because you delayed fourteen years in arriving at the Kabah.” He said, “Yes I have spent fourteen years in crossing the desert (because I was engaged) in prayer.” Hazrat Rabia said, “You traversed it in ritual prayer (Salat) but with personal supplication.”
Then, having performed the pilgrimage, she returned to Basra and occupied herself with works of devotion.
One day Hazrat Hassan Basri saw Hazrat Rabia near a lake. He threw his prayer rug on top of the water and said, “Rabia, come! Let us pray two rakats here.” She replied, “Hassan, when you are showing off your spiritual goods in the worldly market, it should be things which your fellow men cannot display.” Then, she threw her prayer rug into the air and flew up onto it saying, “Come up here, Hassan, where people can see us.” Then she said, “Hassan, what you did fishes can do, and what I did flies can do. But the real business is outside these tricks. One must apply oneself to the real business.”
The Act of Repentance (Tawba)
“Repentance which is only verbal is the act of liars. When a vain person repents, he should repent again (for the sin of vanity).”
Divine love & worldly bounties
Once Hazrat Rabia kept seven fasts and spent the entire night in Ibaadat. On the seventh day, someone presented her a bowl of milk. When she went to fetch the lamp, a cat came and drank the milk. She decided to breakfast with water. When she brought a cup of water, the lamp was extinguished. As she lifted the cup, it slipped and broke. She drew a sigh and said, “O Allah! What are You doing to me?” A Voice said, “O Rabia! If you desire the bounties of the world, We shall bestow it to you, but then We shall remove Our love from your heart. Our love and worldly bounties cannot coexist in one heart.”
Henceforth, Hazrat Rabia severed all her worldly hopes and her attitude was like that of a person in his death throes. Each morning she supplicated, “O Allah! Keep me engrossed in You and do not allow the people of the world to divert me.”
Recognition of the Lord
Once when Hazrat Hassan Basri went to visit Hazrat Rabia, he found one of the wealthy and prominent citizens of Basra standing with a bag of money, weeping at her door. On enquiring, he said, “I have brought this gift for Hazrat Rabia. I know she will refuse it, hence, I am crying. Do intercede for me. Perhaps she will accept it.” Hassan Basri went inside and delivered the message. Hazrat Rabia said, “Since I have recognized Allah, I have renounced the world. I am not aware of its source–whether halal or haram.”
Allah remembers His creation
Malik Bin Dinaar went to visit Hazrat Rabia. He found in her home only a partly broken jug which she used for wudhu and drinking water, a very old straw-mat on which she slept and a brick which she used as a pillow. Malik Bin Dinaar said, “I have many affluent friends. Shall I ask them to bring some items for you?”
Hazrat Rabia said, “O Malik! Is my Provider, your Provider and the Provider of the wealthy not the same Being?” Malik said, “Yes.” Hazrat Rabia then said, “What, has He forgotten about the needs of the poor on account of their poverty, while he remembers the needs of the wealthy?” Malik Bin Dinaar said, “It is not so.” Hazrat Rabia then said, “When He never forgets anyone, why should we remind Him? He has wished this condition for me and I am pleased with it because it is His pleasure.”
Hazrat Rabia’s wish
Hazrat Rabia supplicated, “O Allah! My duty and my desire on earth are Your remembrance and in the Aakhirah, Your Vision. You are the Master. O Allah! Maintain the presence (i.e. concentration) of my heart or accept my ibaadat, devoid of concentration.”
The end of Hazrat Rabia’s worldly life
When her time to depart from earth was near, the illustrious Mashaikh gathered by her. She said, “Go away and leave place for the Angels.” They all went out and closed the door. While they were waiting outside, they heard from within a voice reciting:
“O soul at rest! Return to your Rabb.”
For a long while thereafter there was silence. When they went inside, they discovered that Hazrat Rabia’s soul had taken flight from this world and had reached Allah.
Who is your Rabb?
In a dream someone asked her, “What happened when Munkar and Nakeer came to You?” Hazrat Rabia said, “When they asked me, “Who is your Rabb?” I said, “Go back! Say to Allah: When You had never forgotten this weak woman despite Your remembrance of entire creation, how can she forget You when on earth You were her only remembrance? Why do you send Angels to question her?”
From beyond the grave
Muhammad Aslam Toosi and Nu’maa Tartoosi (R.A) stood at her graveside. One of them said:
“O Hazrat Rabia! During your lifetime you made bold and audacious claims of having renounced the world. Tell us, what has transpired now with you?”
From inside the grave, Hazrat Rabia (R.A) spoke, “May Allah grant me barkat (blessings) in what I have seen and am seeing (i.e. of the wonders of the spiritual realm).”