Rabia of Basra

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Rabi'a al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya
Rabia al-Adawiyya.jpg
Depiction of Rabi'a grinding grain from a Persian dictionary
Bornbetween 714-718 CE
Died801 CE
Academic background
InfluencesHasan of Basra
Academic work
Main interestsSufism, Asceticism, Divine love
Notable ideasDivine love

Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya (Arabic: رابعة العدوية القيسية‎) (714/717/718 — 801 CE)[1] was an Arab Sunni Muslim saint and Sufi mystic.[2] She is known in some parts of the world as, Hazrat Bibi Rabia Basri, Rabia Al Basri or simply Rabia Basri.[3]


Rābiʻa is said to have been born between 714 and 718 CE (95 and 98 Hijri) in Basra,[1] Iraq, of the Qays tribe.[4]Farid ud-Din Attar, a later Sufi saint and poet have recounted much of her early life.

She was the fourth daughter of her family and so named Rābiʻa, meaning "fourth".

According to Fariduddin Attar, when Rābiʻa was born, her parents were so poor that there was no oil in the house to light a lamp, nor even a cloth 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 God. He pretended to go to the neighbor's door and returned home empty-handed. At 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'".


However, after the death of her father, famine overtook Basra. She parted from her sisters. Rabia went into the desert to pray and became an ascetic, living a life of semi-seclusion. She is often cited as being the queen of saintly women,[5] and was known for her complete devotion as "pure unconditional love of God." As an exemplar among others devoted to God, she provided a model of mutual love between God and His creation; her example is one in which the loving devotee on earth becomes one with the Beloved.[5]

She prayed:

"O Lord, if I worship You because of Fear of Hell,
then burn me in Hell;

If I worship You because I desire Paradise,
then exclude me from Paradise;

But if I worship You for Yourself alone,
then deny me not your Eternal Beauty".[6]


Rābiʻa died in her 80s[7] in Basra in 185 AH/801 CE, where her tomb was shown[clarification needed] outside the city.[1]


Often noted as having been the single most famous and influential renunciant women of Islamic history, Rābiʻa was renowned for her extreme virtue and piety. A devoted ascetic, when asked why she performed a thousand ritual prostrations both during the day and at night, she answered:

"I desire no reward for it; I do it so that the Messenger of God, may God bless him and give him peace, will delight in it on the day of Resurrection and say to the prophets, 'Take note of what a woman of my community has accomplished'".[4]

She was intense in her self-denial and devotion to God. She never claimed to have achieved unity with Him; instead, she dedicated her life to getting closer to God.[8] As an explanation of her refusal to lift her head toward the heavens [to God] as an act of modesty, she used to say: "Were the world the possession of a single man, it would not make him rich ... [B]ecause it is passing away."[4]

She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love known as Ishq-e-Haqeeqi[9] and is widely considered being the most important of the early renunciant, one mode of piety that would eventually become labeled as Sufism.[3]

Poetry and Myths[edit]

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. She was able to perform divine miracles because of her intimacy with God through this introspection. When asked by Shaikh Hasan al-Basri, how she discovered the secret, she responded by stating:

"You know of the how, but I know of the how-less."[10]

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.[8]

Feminist theory based on the life of Rabi'a al-Adawiyya[edit]

Several aspects of Sufism suggest that Sufi ideologies and practices have stood as counters to dominant society and its perception of women and the relationships between men and women. The stories detailing the life and practices of Rabi'a al-Adawiyya show a countercultural understanding of the role of gender in society. Her role as a spiritual and intellectual superiority is depicted in several narratives. In a Sufi narrative, Sufi leader Hasan al-Basri explained, "I passed one whole night and day with Rabi'a ... it never passed through my mind that I was a man nor did it occur to her that she was a woman...when I looked at her I saw myself as bankrupt [i.e. as spiritually worth nothing] and Rabi'a as truly sincere [rich in spiritual virtue]."[11] However, she decided to stay celibate in order to leave her womanhood behind and devote herself completely to God.[8]


One day, she was seen running through the streets of Basra carrying a pot of fire 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 Allah. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of Allah."[12]

In popular culture[edit]

The life of Rabia has been the subject of several motion pictures by Turkish cinema. One of these films, Rabia, released in 1973, was directed by Osman F. Seden, and Fatma Girik played the leading role of Rabia.[13]

Rabia, İlk Kadın Evliya (Rabia, The First Woman Saint), another Turkish film on Rabia, also of 1973 was directed by Süreyya Duru and starred by Hülya Koçyiğit.[14]

Rabia quote become song in Indonesia called "Jika Surga dan Neraka tak pernah ada" by Ahmad Dhani and Chrisye in Senyawa Album 2004.[citation needed]

The final episode of the comedy show The Good Place refers to 8th century Sufi mystic poet Hazrat Bibi Rabia Basri as one of many worthies who gets into heaven.[citation needed]

Futher reading[edit]

  • Rabia Basri
  • Kayaalp, Pinar, "Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya", in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 511–12; ISBN 1610691776
  • Mohammad, Shababulqadri Tazkirah e Hazrat Rabia Basri, Mushtaq Book Corner, 2008

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Margaret Smith (1995). Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., Vol. 8, "Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya". Brill. pp. 354–56.
  2. ^ Smith, Margaret (2010). Rabi'a The Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints in Islam. Cambridge University Press. p. 252. ISBN 9781108015912.
  3. ^ a b Hanif, N. (2002). Biographical Encyclopaedia of Sufis: Central Asia and Middle East. Sarup & Sons. pp. 108–10. ISBN 9788176252669.
  4. ^ a b c a-Ra'uf al-Munawi, 'Abu (1998). Renard, John (ed.). Windows on the House of Islam. Berkeley, CA: University of California. pp. 132–33.
  5. ^ a b Khawar Khan Chrishti, Saadia (1997). Hossein Nasr, Seyyed (ed.). Islamic Spirituality Foundations. New York: Crossroads. pp. 208–10.
  6. ^ Willis Barnstone; Aliki Barnstone (1992). A book of women poets from antiquity to now By. Schocken Books, Inc. p. 90. ISBN 978-93-82277-87-3. OCLC 1004930317.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Rabia al Basri". Poetseers.org. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Barbara Lois Helms, Rabi'a as Mystic, Muslim and Woman
  9. ^ Margaret Smith, Rabi'a The Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints in Islam, Cambridge Library Collection, 1928.
  10. ^ Farid al-Din Attar, Rabe'a [sic] al-Adawiya, from Muslim Saints and Mystics, trans. A.J. Arberry, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.
  11. ^ Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. Yale University. p. 96.
  12. ^ Attar, Farid al-Din (c. 1230). Memorial of the Friends of God (2009 Translation by Losensky ed.).
  13. ^ "Rabia (1973)". IMDb.com. September 1973. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  14. ^ "Rabia/İlk Kadın Evliya". Sinematurk.com. Retrieved 5 May 2016.

External links[edit]