Rabi'a al-Basriyya Qalandar

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Hazrat Rabi'a al-Basriyya Qalandar

The Great Sufia and Walia of Allah

I have loved Thee with two loves, a selfish love and a love that is worthy (of Thee). As for the love which is selfish, I occupy myself therein with remembrance of Thee to the exclusion of all others, As for that which is worthy of Thee, therien Thou raisest the veil that I may see Thee. Yet is there no praise to me in this or that, But the praise is to Thee, whether in that or this.

Dear Respected Sisters, Our journey in this short life has to be fullfilling as it will determine our final resting abode. Therfore we will be learning about the ways and spiritual enlightenment of various pious ladies in Islam. It is of timely mportance that we will talk about Hazrat Rabi’a al Basri Qalander as a role model. The Urs celebration marking her life and death is approaching us, to be more precise on 22nd of Rabi ul awwal. So let us ponder about her life, her struggles and achievemnts so that we may emulate towards a similar path, however small the step that we initially take.

The dignity of Saintship (Wilayat) has been conferred on women as much as on men. As far as rank among the 'friends of God' is concerned, there is complete equality between both genders. (1)

It was the development of mysticism (Sufism) within Islam, which gave women their great opportunity to attain the rank of sainthood. The goal of a Sufi quest is union with the Divine, and the Sufi seeker after God, having renounced this world and its attraction being purged of Self and its desires, inflamed with a passion of love of God, journeyed ever onward, looking toward the final purpose, through the life of illumination, with its ecstasies and raptures, and the higher life of contemplation, until at last one achieves the heavenly gnosis and attained to the Vision of God, in which the lover might become one with the Beloved, and abide in Him for ever.

Such a conception of the relations between the Saint and his Lord leaves no room for the distinction of gender. In the spiritual (ruhanni) life there can be 'neither male nor female'. All whom God has called to be Saints could attain, by following the Path, to union with Himself, and all who attained, would have their royal rank, as spiritual beings, in the world to come.

Our beloved Prophet Muhammed has narrated that, 'The people are assembled (on the day of Judgement) according to the purposes of their hearts' …(2) So also Abbas of Tus said that when on the Day of Resurrection the summons goes forth, 'O men', the first person to set foot in that class of men (i.e. those who are the enter Paradise) will be Mary, upon whom be peace… (that women count for as much as men among the saints) Sufis, have no separate existence in the Unity of God. In the Unity, what remains of the existence of 'I' or 'thou'? So how can 'man' or 'women' continue to be? (3). So too, Abu Ali Farmadhi said, 'Prophecy is the essence, the very being of power and sublimity. Superiority and inferiority do not exist in it. Undoubtedly Saintship is of the same type'.(4)

So the title of Saint is bestowed upon women equally with men, there is nothing to prevent a woman from reaching the highest religious rank in the hierarchy of Awliya.

The spiritual head is known as the Qutb in addition to which are four 'Awtad', from whose ranks the successor is chosen, and below them, in the next rank of the hierarchy, are forty 'Abdal' or Substitutes, who are described as being the pivot of the world and the foundation and support of the affairs of men. Jami relates how someone was asked, 'How may are the Abdal'? and he answered, 'Forty souls', and when asked why he did not say 'Forty men', his reply was, 'There have been women among them'. The biographies of the Muslim Saints, such as those compiled by Abu Nu'aym, Farid al-Din Attar, Ibn al-Jawzi, Jami and Ibn Khallikan and many others, are full of the mention of women Sufis, their saintly lives, their good deeds, and their miracles.

The saintly Rabi'a, a freedwoman of the Al-Atik, a tribe of Qays b. Adi, from which she was known as al-Adawiyya or al-Qaysiyya, and also as al-Basriyya, (Basra).

The account which has been used for the main events of Rabi`a’s life is as follows: Allah, the All-Mighty, gave the parents of Hazrat Rabi Basri a daughter whom the father named Rabi`a. Then they had another daughter whom the father named Rabi`a ath-thani, and a third daughter he named Rabi`a ath-thalata, and yet again another daughter whom he named Rabi`a ar-rabi`a who was to become the beloved Saint of Allah.

It is said that on the night that Hazrat Rabi`a was born there was not even a drop of oil in their house with which to anoint the navel of the new-born daughter and no cloth in which to swaddle her. So in despair, Hazrat Rabi`a’s mother told her husband to go to their neighbor’s house and to beg them for some oil so that she could light their lamp.

The her father had made a promise never to ask a human being for anything. So he went out and put his hand on the neighbours’ door and without saying anything to them, returned to his own house. “They will not open the door,” he said.

Upon hearing this, Hazrat Rabi`a’s mother wept bitterly. Full of anxiety and feeling helpless in the matter, Hazrat Rabi`a’s father put his head on his knees and fell asleep.

While he was sleeping he dreamed that the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him, came to him and said, “Do not be sad. The girl child which has just been born is a queen amongst women who shall be the mediator for seventy thousand of my Community. Tomorrow you must go to `Isa Zadan, the Governor of Basra. Write this message on a piece of paper which you will take to him: Every night you send upon me a hundred blessings and on Friday night four hundred. Last night was Friday night and you forgot me. To set right your forgetfulness, give this man four hundred dinar, which he has lawfully earned.” When he awoke and remembered his dream Hazrat Rabi`a’s father burst into tears, but he got up straight away and wrote exactly what the Prophet had told him to write, then took his letter and presented it to one of the Governor’s chamberlains.

As soon as the letter reached the Governor and he had read it, he said to his Minister, “Give two thousand dinars to the poor people immediately because I thank the Master for reminding me of my forgetfulness. Also give four hundred dinar to the old man and say to him: I would like you to come to me so that I may see you. But I do not hold it proper for a man like you to come to me. I would rather come to you and rub my beard on the floor of your threshold. But I swear by Allah that whatever you need you may let me know about it.”

Hazrat Rabi`a’s father was overjoyed and took the money, thanking Allah and his Prophet, and he bought all that was necessary for his holy daughter.

The mother, found herself alone and the life of the desert being very hard for them, decided to take her four daughters and set out for Basra where she hoped to make a better living for herself and her children. However, on their way they were set upon by bandits and in the resulting fray the mother was killed, and each of the daughters was taken as a slave by the robbers.

Hazrat Rabi`a’s master took her to Baghdad where he immediately set about using her in the way that was most profitable for himself. Songs were coming from her heart for her Beloved Who was her true Love because now Allah, the All-Mighty, had awakened Rabi`a.

This made her master very angry because he could no longer use her to make money for himself. He began to ill-treat her, to beat her, and even to put burns on her body hoping that this would frighten her into returning to her former ways.

But she refused everything that her master tried to do to her. She had begun to pray all through the night, crying to her Beloved God to help her in her desperate state.

After a time her master, seeing that he could not influence her in any way, and because she was no longer of any use to him, decided to sell her. So he put a cord around her neck and took her to the slave market of Baghdad. There a holy man took Hazrat Rabi`a to his home, gave her food and simple clothes, and told her that he did not want anything from her, except that she could pray and be free in his house.

Hazrat Rabi`a thanked him with all her heart and said, “If you want anything from me for the Face of Allah, He will give you your reward, but if you want anything from me for yourself only, I have nothing to give you. I have everything that I need from my Beloved God and I do not need anything from any human being.”

Then Allah, the All-Mighty, sent a very holy person to Hazrat Rabi`a, some say that it was Hazrat Hasan al-Basri. Hazrat Hasan al-Basri is usually referred to as being one of the closest of the Beloveds of Allah around Hazrat Rabi`a in her early life. It is he who is recorded as being the person who said to Hazrat Rabi`a, “Do you desire for us to get married?” To which she replied, “The tie of marriage is for those who have being. But here being has disappeared for I have become as nothing to my self, and I exist only through Allah for I belong wholly to Him, and I live in the shadow of His control. You must ask for my hand from Him, and not from me.” Hasan then replied, “How did you find this secret, Rabi`a?” She answered him, “I lost all found things in Him.” Hasan then replied, “How did you come to know Him?” She said, “You know of the how but I know of the how less.”

For Hazrat Rabia`s case was that she had heard the Voice of her Beloved Who was Allah and none other than He, and she had no need for any earthly husband.

Like many of the ascetic sufis, Hazrat Rabi`a made no separation in her love between man and woman if they lived for the Face of her Beloved God. Many people loved her and needed her and wanted to take from her something of the special gift which she had been given from Allah. She had many followers who yearned to feed themselves from her Love which she gave to all those whom she loved. Allah himself was her real Beloved but she kept company with her fellow beings, as she said, “Everyone who obeys (and she meant by this the true lover) seeks intimacy.” Then she recited these lines:

“I have made You the Companion of my heart. But my body is available to those who desire its company, And my body is friendly toward its guest, But the Beloved of my heart is the guest of my soul.”

She never married nor did she have any children but as she, may Allah be pleased with her, said,

“My peace is in solitude but my Beloved is always with me. Whenever I witness His Beauty He is my prayer niche (mihrab); toward Him is my qibla. Oh Healer of souls, the heart feeds upon its desire and its striving towards Union with You has healed my soul. You are my Joy and my Life to Eternity. You were the Source of my life; from You came my ecstasy. I have separated myself from all created beings, for my hope is for Union with You; for that is the Goal of my searching.”.

She, may Allah be pleased with her, had a long life in this dunya (material world) during which she continued, to her last days, to give of everything that Allah inspired her to give to all who loved her, because she was His special Light for them all.

She is often referred to as a true Saint (waliya) of Islam and was praised. It was also stated that Hazrat Rabi`a was;

“That one set apart in the seclusion of holiness; that woman veiled with the veil of sincerity; that one enflamed by love and longing for her creator”

Another interesting episode communicates the high spiritual station attained by Hazrat Rabia, excelling her one time master and fellow-saint Hazrat Hassan Basri. It is related that once Hazrat Hassan Basri saw Rabia sitting near a lake. 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. Hassan, who had still not attained that station, remained silent, on which she said "what you did fishes also do, and what I did flies also do. The real business is outside both these tricks. One must apply oneself to the real business."

It is thus said in sufi literature, that miracles were given as a sanction to the Prophets, but to the saints they were granted as a test. Being endowed with such miraculous power, yet she knew the value of humility, and the Divine Riza or Good-will was the only goal she fixed her vision on. To what then sisters should we in fact set our ultimate vision on? Becoming a slave to our desire to meet Allah (swt) or become a slave to all our desires.

Hazrat Rabi`a once said that 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. What a beautiful saying dear sisters, should we not take heed of such great words of wisdom. To not expect anything other than the creators divine love in return for our full hearted and unlimited servitude, Subhanallah!

Her life and sayings became a source of deep inspiration and yearning (himma) for all those who were drawn to her and followed her, both in her time and afterwards. This was because her love, manifesting directly from the Spirit and for the Face of her Beloved alone without any trace of self in it, brought a special fragrance from the deep Secret Love into the more austere teachings of those early Sufis. She was the word which gave life to the hearts of those beloved people of Allah who followed after her in the same line, for the Love of God, as she had done. Particularly, this was the case later for Abu Bayazid al-Bistami, Abu ‘Husayn an-Nuri, Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, and Abu Bakr ash-Shibli, may Allah be pleased with them, who, around their leader and Master al-Junayd, came to be known as The Baghdad School.

Someone said, “The ascetics regard the beauty of the Unknown with the light of belief and certainty and they despise the world, but they are still veiled by a sensuous pleasure, namely-the thought of Paradise, whereas the true Sufi is veiled from both worlds by the sight of the Primordial Beauty and the Love of the Essence.”

One of the early stories about Hazrat Rabi`a relates how she set about making the Pilgrimage to Mecca. She joined a caravan of other pilgrims and she had a small donkey on which she put her baggage for her journey. However, in the middle of the desert the donkey died. Some of the people in the caravan offered to carry her baggage for her, but she said to them, “Go on your way for I must not depend upon you for help, but I trust myself to Allah.” So, seeing that they could not persuade her otherwise, the other pilgrims continued and Hazrat Rabi`a remained behind alone in the vast desert all around her. She prayed to her Lord, saying, “O my God, do kings deal thus with a woman, a stranger who is weak? You are calling me to Your House (the Ka`ba) but in the middle of my way You have suffered my ass to die, and You have left me alone in the desert.” Hardly had she finished praying when her ass began to move, and finally it stood up. Hazrat Rabi`a put her baggage again on it and continued on her way. The person who related that said that he saw the same little donkey for sale in the market-place.

Once Hazrat Rabi`a fasted for a whole week, neither eating nor sleeping. All night she prayed and became very hungry. Then a visitor came bringing her a bowl of food. She accepted it and went to fetch a lamp. When she returned, she found that a cat had overturned the bowl of food. She then said to herself: “I will fetch a jug of water and break my fast by drinking.” But by the time that she had fetched the jug, the lamp had gone out. She then tried to drink the water in the dark, but the jug slipped from her hand and broke into pieces. She lamented and sighed so much, as the story-teller said, “that it was to be feared that the whole house would be consumed with fire!” “O Allah!” she cried, “What is this that You are doing with this helpless slave?”

Then she heard a voice say, “Be careful lest you desire Me to bestow on you all worldly blessings, but take away from your heart the caring for Me, for care for Me and worldly blessings can never be together in a single heart. Rabi`a, you desire one thing and I desire another. My desire and your desire can never be joined in one heart.”

She said then, “When I heard this admonition I so cut off my heart from the world and curtailed my desires that whenever I have prayed during the last thirty years I have thought it to be my last prayer.” Hazrat Rabia is known to have said the following;

“Everyone prays to You from fear of the Fire; And if You do not put them in the Fire, This is their reward. Or they pray to You for the Garden, Full of fruits and flowers. And that is their prize. But I do not pray to You like this, For I am not afraid of the Fire, And I do not ask You for the Garden. But all I want is the Essence of Your Love, And to return to be One with You, And to become Your Face.”

It was told of Hazrat Rabi`a that she was seen one day carrying a brand of fire in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other, and that she was running very fast. When they asked her what she was doing and where she was going, she said,

“I am going to light a fire in the Garden and pour water onto it so that both these veils may disappear from the seekers, and that their purpose may be sure, and that the slaves of Allah may see Him, without any object of hope or motive of fear. What if the Hope for the Garden and the Fear of the Fire did not exist? Not one would worship his Lord, nor obey Him. But He is worthy of worship without any immediate motive or need.”And she said:

” I love You with two loves-a selfish love And a Love that You are worthy of. As for the selfish love, it is that I think of You, To the exclusion of everything else. And as for the Love that You are worthy of, Ah! That I no longer see any creature, but I see only You! There is no praise for me in either of these loves, But the praise in both is for You.”

Here Hazrat Rabi`a was referring to the love which is of the complete integrity, steadfastness and patience, which is for nothing but the Face of Allah (swt) who is the only true beloved. It is the worship of the heart which only witnesses the perfect union of the beloved and the lover.

It was said that Hazrat Rabi`a was the first person to teach about the necessity for truthfulness and sincerity in the lover’s bondsmanship to the Beloved Who is Allah. She was one of those referred to as the spies of the heart for she often spoke out clearly against all who claimed to be lovers of Allah, but whose hearts were not always pure in intention and devotion.

This was the case of those who could not unquestioningly surrender to the will of the Beloved in everything. She said to them,

“You rebel against Allah, yet you appear to love Him. I swear by my faith that this is most strange. For if your love were truthful you would have obeyed Him, since the lover obeys the one whom he loves.” So that whenever someone said to her, “Alas, for my sorrow (my sins),” she replied, “Do not lie, but say rather, ‘Alas for my lack of sorrow,’ for if you were truly sorrowful, life would have no delight for you.”

Someone asked Hazrat Rabi`a, “What is Love?” She, may Allah be pleased with her, said, “Love has come from eternity and passes into eternity, and none has been found in seventy thousand worlds who drinks one drop of it until at last he is absorbed in Allah, and from that comes His words: “He loves them, and they love Him.” (5:59). She said: “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.”

She also said: “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.”

When Hazrat Rabi`a was urged to speak, her words perfectly manifested her love, her belief and her faith, for she was so totally immersed in her Lord that she became a shining Light which attracted many people to her presence to drink from the same Spring from which she drank. She said, “If I will a thing and my Lord does not will it, I shall be guilty of unbelief.” So that her faith came from her total surrender to her Beloved God, as she said, “I have fled from the world and all that is in it. My prayer is for Union with You; that is the goal of my desire.” Then, since she always attributed her illnesses and misfortunes to the Will of her Beloved God, how could she oppose Him in trying to rid herself of them?

It was part of her faith that she welcomed an asceticism which accepted everything as a gift from Allah (swt), the Lover to his beloved slave. Therefore, she regarded misfortune in the same way as she regarded favors and happiness, and this was the ultimate of bondsmanship to her. About this she said, “You have given me life and have provided for me, and Yours is the Glory.” And she added, “You have bestowed upon me many favors, and gifts, graces and help.” In this she acknowledges her bondsmanship to the Giver and Bestower of all Bounty.

One day a man, who was said to be a knower of Allah (swt), met Hazrat Rabi`a who asked him of his state, whereupon he replied, “I have trodden the Path of obedience and I have not sinned since Allah created me.” She, may Allah be pleased with her, said to him, “Alas my son, your existence is a sin wherewith no other sin may be compared.”

She also said, “You must conceal your good deeds as you conceal your evil deeds.”In the same way, she said, “What appears of any (good) works, I count as nothing at all.” And again, a story of the same nature is as follows: It is related that Ibrahim ibn Adhan, a very holy person, spent fourteen years making his way to the Ka`ba because in every place of prayer he prayed two ruk`u and at last when he reached the Ka`ba he did not see it. He said to himself, “Alas, what has happened to my eyes. Maybe a sickness has come to them.” Then he heard a voice which said, “No harm has befallen your eyes, but the Ka`ba has gone to meet a woman who is approaching.” Ibrahim was seized with jealousy and said, “O indeed; who is this?” He ran and saw Hazrat Rabi`a arriving, and the Ka`ba was back in its place.

Rabi`a’s companions spoke about how she was always weeping and when she was asked, “Why do you weep like this?” she said, “I fear that I may be cut off from Him to Whom I am accustomed, and that at the hour of death a voice may say that I am not worthy.”

We can perhaps find both the inner depth and the height of the meaning of her need for poverty in a story relating to a period in the early days of Rabia’s walking on the Path of Allah. This was always to be a reminder to her of the need to strive and surrender all her existence to her Beloved Lord if she was to reach to the Goal of what He desired of her. She, may Allah hallow her secret, told of how when she was making the Pilgrimage, and upon reaching the standing on `Arafat she heard a voice saying to her, “O you who call upon Me, what request have you to make to Me? If it is Myself that you desire, then I will show you one flash of My Glory, but in that you will be absorbed and melt away.” She said then, “O Lord of Glory, Rabi`a has no means of reaching to that degree, but I desire one particle of Poverty.” The voice said, “O Rabi`a, Poverty is the drought and famine of Our Wrath which We have placed in the way of men. When but a hair’s breadth remains between them and Union with Us, everything is changed and Union becomes separation. As for you, you still have seventy veils of existence, and until you have come forth from beneath these veils you will not benefit even to speak of that Poverty.”

The key to Hazrat Rabi`a’s reaching and living in the loving Presence of her Lord was her constant praying, remembrance and asking for forgiveness for all her shortcomings, and a knowing that her Union with her Beloved God could not come in the way that she desired, but only in the way that He desired for her. She was also well aware that her remembrance and repentance did not come from herself, but from Him, her Beloved God. It is said that someone once said to her, “I have committed many sins; if I turn in repentance (tawba) toward Allah, will He turn in His Mercy toward me?” She said, “No, but if He will turn toward you, you will turn toward Him.” For Rabi`a, repentance was a Gift from Allah. As she said, “Seeking forgiveness with the tongue is the sin of lying. If I seek repentance of myself, I shall have need of repentance again.” Or as she also said, “Our asking for forgiveness of Allah itself needs forgiveness.”

She, may Allah be pleased with her, said: “O God, my whole occupation And all my desire in this world, Of all worldly things, Is to remember You. And in the Hereafter It is to meet You. This is on my side, as I have stated. Now You do whatever You will.” It has been said that in her nightly prayers she loved to commune with her Beloved God, saying, “O God, the night has passed and the day has dawned. How I long to know if You have accepted my prayers or if You have rejected them. Therefore console me, for it is Yours to console this state of mine. You have given me life and cared for me, and Yours is the Glory. If You want to drive me from Your Door yet would I not forsake it for the love that I bear in my heart towards You.”

Through her journey of life she traversed all the stages of The Way, starting from "Tawba" Penitence, the first of the many, and finally reached the true gnosis and Beautific Vision, the ultimate achievement. To conclude, she was a saint par excellence, burning with the love of the Real to such a degree that the world of illusion was reduced to cinders around her.

The nature of her belief and notion of worship was so pure of anything other than the Divine Contemplation , that she would frequently pray "O’ my Lord if I worship Thee from fear of hell, burn me in hell, and if I worship Thee from hope of paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine eternal Beauty."

As for the rest of the story of her life in this world, it is said: About seven years before she died, she travelled to Jerusalem with a woman companion and attendant, and she bought a small house with some land surrounding it on top of the holy Mountain of Olives (at-Tur). There she lived, and from there she used to walk down, every day, to al-Aqsa Mosque where she prayed and gave teachings to the people, both men and women, who came to listen to her. Although she was a woman, nobody could prevent her from doing this because it was Allah (swt) who moved her in this way to be the means of manifesting Himself to the people who sought Him through her. Then after praying and teaching in the Mosque she would walk back up the mountain to her house. This she did every day until she died in the year 185 A.H. / 801 C.E. Her final departure from this world is recorded in a beautiful account of the event by a Persian biographer. He says that during her last moments, many of her followers surrounded her, but she bade them to leave, asking them to make way for the arrival of Allah’s messengers. When they had left her presence, they heard her voice making the profession of faith "La illaha ilallah", and then a voice saying "O’ soul at rest, return to thy Lord, satisfied with Him, giving satisfaction to Him. So enter among My servants and enter into My paradise." [Al-Quran]. After she died her followers built a tomb for her which still exists near the Christian Church of the Ascension on top of the Mountain of Olives. It is visited by those who remember her and thank Allah (swt) for the blessing which He granted through her life-the example of a holy soul. __________________________________________________________________


Selflessness – the idea that we should endeavour to put others before our own whims and desires in order to reap the rewards and ultimately gain closeness to Allah (swt).

Simplicity – Living a simple life so as not to become distracted from our inner journey towards our creator. Examples of some great Awliya who lead a simple life, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, Hazrat Makhdoom Ashraf Shah Jahangeer (who gave up his Kingdom of Simnaan to work in Allah swt’s way)

Dear Sisters, we ar all prone to the distractions of worldy ornaments. In order to gain nearness to Allah (swt) let us attempt to distract ourselves from spending and wasting unessarily. We should ask ourselves do we really need to fill our homes with wastefull luxuries? Will it really help us in the long run?

Seclusion – Unfortunately a majority of us are unable to emulate the exact seclusion that Hazrat Rabi’a conducted throughout her life as she did not marry , have children or have familt ties. So. Kind sister,s let us make the time in our busy day to day schedules where we can allocate time (apart from salah) for communicating with our creator. Even, if it be for five minutes a day to start with. Just to close our eyes and focus on Him alone and open our hearts and souls as he alone knows what lies within us.


(1) Smith, Margaret - Rabi'a Basri: The Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints

(2) Attar, Farid al-Din - Tadhkirat-al-Auliya [Memorial of the Saints]

(3) Abbas, Tus

(4) Farmadhi, Abu Ali

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