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|Saint Rabia of Basra|
Rabia, depicted in an Islamic miniature
|Mystic and Virgin|
Mount of Olives
|Influenced||Other saints in Basra|
She was born between 95 and 99 Hijri in Basra, Iraq which is ~715 Julian . Much of her early life is narrated by Farid ud-Din Attar, a later Sufi Saint and poet, who used earlier sources. Rabia herself did not leave any written works.
She was the fourth daughter of her family and therefore named Rabia, meaning "fourth". Although not born into slavery, her family was poor yet respected in the community.
According to Farid ud-Din Attar, Rabia's parents were so poor that there was no oil in house to light a lamp, nor a cloth even to wrap her with. Her mother asked her husband to borrow some oil from a neighbor, but he had resolved in his life never to ask for anything from anyone except the Creator. He pretended to go to the neighbor's door and returned home empty-handed.
In the night Muhammad appeared to him in a dream and told him, "Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord, and shall lead many Muslims to the right path. You should approach the Amir of Basra and present him with a letter in which should be written this message: 'You offer Durood to the Holy Prophet one hundred times every night and four hundred times every Thursday night. However, since you failed to observe the rule last Thursday, as a penalty you must pay the bearer four hundred dinars'".
Rabia's father got up and went straight to the Amir with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks. The Amir was delighted on receiving the message, knowing that he was in the eyes of Muhammad. He distributed 1000 dinars to the poor and joyously paid 400 dinars to Rabia's father. The Amir then asked Rabia's father to come to him whenever he required anything, as the Amir would benefit very much by the visit of such a soul dear to the Lord.
After the death of her father a famine overtook Basra and 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 Rabia captive, and sold her in the market as a slave. The new master of Rabia used to take hard service from her.
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 voice in which Rabia was praying to her Lord. She was entreating 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 wali 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.
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.
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.
Rabia introduced the actual concept of Divine Love. 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 such as fear and hope were like veils—i.e. hindrances to the vision of God Himself.
She prayed: "O God! 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.”
Rabia was in her early to mid eighties when she died, having followed the mystic Way to the end. She 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 AH. See Zirkali, al-A`lam, vol. 3, p 10, col 1, who quotes ibn Khalikan as his source.
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 Hasan al-Basri how she discovered the secret, she responded by stating:
"You know of the how, but I know of the how-less." 
One of the many myths that surround her life is that she was freed from slavery because her master saw her praying while surrounded by light, realized that she was a saint and feared for his life if he continued to keep her as a slave.
While she apparently received many marriage offers (including a proposal from Hasan al-Basri himself), she remained celibate and died of old age, an ascetic, her only care from the disciples who followed her. She was the first in a long line of female Sufi mystics.
It is also possible that she helped further integrate Islamic slaves into Muslim society. Rabi'a was passionate against all forms of slavery. She refused a slave later in life. 
- 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. Rabia replied: "My love to God has so possessed me that no place remains for loving or hating any save Him."
- When Rabia would not come to attend the sermons of Hasan 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."
- Once Rabia was on her way to Makka, and when half-way there she saw the Ka'ba 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 Ka'ba which I see has no power over me; what joy does the beauty of the Ka'ba bring to me?"
- At the same time the great Ibrahim bin Adham arrived at the Ka'ba, but he did not see it. He had spent fourteen years making his way to the Ka'ba, because in every place of prayer he performed two rakats.
- Hazrat Ibrahim bin Adham 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 Ka'ba has gone to meet a woman, who is approaching this place." Ibrahim Adham responded, "O indeed, who is this?" He ran and saw Rabia arriving, and that the Ka'ba was back in its own place. When Ibrahim saw that, he said, "O 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 Ka'ba." He said, "Yes I have spent fourteen years in crossing the desert (because I was engaged) in prayer." 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.
- "In her early to mid eighties when she died.". Poetseers.org.
- Margaret Smith, Rabi'a The Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints in Islam, Cambridge Library Collection, 1928
- Farid al-Din Attar, Rabe'a al-Adawiya, from Muslim Saints and Mystics, trans. A.J. Arberry, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983
- Jamal, Mahmood (2009). Islamic Mystical Poetry. London, England: Penguin Books. p. 5.
|Sufism and Tariqa|