Hazrat Rabi’a al-Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (ra) also known as Rabi’ah al-Basri was a Sufi saint from Iraq and is considered to be the first female Sufi Saint of Islam, the first in a long line of female Sufi mystics. She lived during the 8th Century and was born in Basra, a seaport in southern Iraq where she spent the vast majority of her life. Much of her early life is narrated by Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra), a later Sufi saint and poet, who used earlier sources. She did not leave any written works herself.
Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) is remembered to this day as one of the greatest saints of the 8th century and is remembered with devotion and affection for her faith, piety and patience. The great woman mystic, saint and Qalandar of Islam had conquered herself (Nafs) through devotion, meditation, contemplation, patience (Sabr) as well as fear and trust in God. (Tawwakul). Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) was constantly absorbed in the thought of God and had reached the pinnacle of mystic path i.e Fina-Fillah.
Praise from Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra)
Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra) praises her unparalleled status as a female Sufi saint emphatically in the Conference of the Birds :
- No, she wasn’t a single woman,
- But a hundred men over:
- Robed in the quintessence of pain
- From foot to face, immersed in the Truth,
- Effaced in the radiance of God,
- And liberated from all superfluous excess.
He also praises Hazrat Rabia (ra) in his Tazkirat al-Awliyā (Memoirs of the Saints):
He has also written, “Both in terms of her spiritual transactions (mo’amalat) and gnosis of God (ma’refat) Rabia was unexcelled in her time and was accredited by all the great men of her age.”
Even though she is said to have belonged to the tribe of Al’Atik, whose lineage is traced back to Hazrat Nuh (as), Hazrat Rabia (ra) was born into a family of poor circumstances. Hazrat Fariduddin Attar (ra) relates her story in Tazkirat al-Awliyā: On the night Hazrat Rabia (ra) came into being it is related that there wasn’t even a wrapping on hand to swaddle her with, nor a lamp, nor a drop of oil to anoint her navel. Her father possessed three daughters and Hazrat Rabia (ra) was the fourth (ar-Rabia); thus, was she named Rabia. His wife told him: ‘Go to the neighbour’s house and ask them for a lamp and some oil.’ Although Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father had already vowed not to ask anything of God’s creatures, he arose, went next door and then returned telling his wife only, They are all asleep.’ He then fell asleep, deeply grieved and heavy hearted and while he slept he dreamt that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came to him and said:
Waking at dawn, Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father, in tears, noted his dream down in a letter, went to the court of ‘Isa Radan, and handed it to a chamberlain to give to the Amir. After reading the letter, ‘Isa Radan commanded that ten thousand dinars should be distributed to the poor as a thanksgiving offering since the Prophet deigned to mention me.’ Ordering that four hundred dinars be given to Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father, he commented:
And so Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) father brought home the gold and spent it.
After Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) parents passed away, a severe famine arose in Basra, and all her sisters scattered while she fell into the hands of a cruel man who auctioned her off as a slave for a few dirhams. When a stranger approached her in the street one day, she became frightened and tried to flee but fell in the dust, breaking her wrist. Prostrating herself in the mud, she confessed:
She then heard an unseen voice tell her:
Hazrat Rabia (ra) then turned to her master’s house and began to fast constantly, praying through each night. During the day she remained on her feet, occupied with her household chores. One night her master awoke and, hearing a cry, stared over to see Hazrat Rabia (ra) awake with her forehead bowed to the floor in supplication:
As she was immersed in prayer, a divine light enveloped around her. After witnessing this incident, her master rose and pondered to himself, ‘Such a woman cannot be confined to slavery.’ In the morning he summoned Hazrat Rabia (ra) and set her free, remarking, ‘If you remain with us, we shall all serve you; if you do not wish this to happen, go where you will.’ Hazrat Rabia (ra) asked for her leave and departed.
She subsequently devoted herself to various works of piety. Within every twenty-four hour period, she was said to perform a thousand rak’ats of the ritual prayer. She made a cell of seclusion for herself and occupied herself solely with acts of devotion. In the end, she set out on the pilgrimage to Makkah and retired to the desert.
The Question of Marriage
While she received many marriage offers she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than Allah and so remained celibate. Mohammad Ebn Solaiman Hashemi, the Governor of Baghdad, whose properties produced an income of eight thousand dirhams each day, once wrote to the nobles of Basra, requesting them to find him a suitable wife. They sought out Hazrat Rabia (ra) as a possible candidate. In answer to his request, Hazrat Rabia (ra) wrote to the Amir:
It is reported that even the renowned Sufi saint Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (ra) asked for her hand in marriage to which she replied:
- How did you attain to this station? questioned Hazrat Hasan (ra).”
- Through losing all my attainment in Him. she replied.
- How do you know Him, then? Hazrat Hasan (ra) inquired.
- You know ‘how’, she answered. I know without ‘how’.
When asked by the people why she didn’t marry, she said:
- “Of this, we are ignorant,” they informed her. “With this anxiety that afflicts me then,” she replied, “how can I ever marry?” Shaikh Shoaib ibn Abdul-Aziz al-Horayfaysh in his book al-Rowdh al-Fa’iq, has added a fourth question to Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar’s (ra) account of this story: “When I am interrogated in the grave by the two angels of death, Munkar and Nakir, shall I be able to answer their questions or not?”
Hazrat Rabia's (ra) Devout Way of Life
Hazrat Rabia (ra)’s nights were occupied in sleepless vigilance, and her days in the worship of God. It is said that she was deeply absorbed in grief and wept exceedingly.
The following account, attributed to Hazrat Rabia (ra) by ‘Abda Bint Abi Showal, a lady devoted to Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) service, is related in the Sifat al-Safwat of Ibn al-Jawzi:
In the same work, Ibn al-Jawzi narrates Abdullah Ibn Isa’s account of his meeting with Hazrat Rabia (ra):
Abdur-Ra’uf Monawi in the Tabaqat al-Awliya (Classes of the Saints) has also noted that Hazrat Rabia (ra) was “extremely fearful.”
Hasan al-Basri (ra) gives the following account of her nature:
Monawi writes in the Tabaqat al-Awliya that “Hazrat Rabia (ra) felt so ashamed before God that for forty years she never raised her head to heaven.”
Hazrat Malik bin Dinar (ra) has described Hazrat Rabia (ra)’s life-style as follows:
Describing an overnight visit with Hazrat Rabia (ra), Hazrat Sufyan al-Thawri (ra) has written:
It is related that Hazrat Rabia (ra) was engaged in continual wailing and lamentation. “For what are you weeping?” she was questioned. She confessed:
She also said:
Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat, relates the following story from Mohammad Ebn Amr:
In his Tazkirat al-Awliyā, Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) writes of Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) spiritual magnanimity:
There is no unanimity among scholars concerning the date of Hazrat Rabia’ (ra) death. Various historians offer differing accounts. The date 135 AH/753 AD is cited by Ibn al-Jawzi in the Shodhur al-‘oqud, Abul-Mahasen Taghriberdi in the Al-Nojum al-zahera, Mortadha Zobaydi in the Ittehaf al-sadat al amottaqin, Ebn al- Molqan in the Tabaqat al-Awliya, and Ebn ‘Emad Hanbali in the Shadharat al-dhahab. According to Dhahabi and Abdur-Ra’uf Monawi in the Tabaqat al-Awliya, Hazrat Rabia (ra) passed away in 180 AH/ 796 AD. Ebn Khallekan and Ebn Shaker al Kotobi in their biographical histories, and ‘Emad al-Din Abol-Fada’ Esma’il Ebn ‘Omar Ebn Kathir al-Qoraishi al- Demashqi (d.1373) in his book al-Bedayah wal-nahaya, put her death date as 185 AH/801 AD. The latter is also cited for Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) death by Dara Shokuh in the Safinat al-Awliya.
Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat relates that at the time of her death, Hazrat Rabia (ra) summoned ‘Abda Bint Abi Showal into her presence and gave an order that none be informed of her death. She requested that she be shrouded only in an old gown (jubbah) for burial. Her servant faithfully complied with her request and clothed her corpse only in that gown, covered by the woolen cloak that was her normal garb. In Tazkirat al-Awliyā, Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) writes of Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) passing on (ra): During Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) last hours, the masters of her age gathered around her deathbed. She commanded, “Rise and make way for the prophets of God.” Rising, they left the room and shut the door. A voice was then heard declaring:
Nothing else was heard. The Sheikhs then entered and found that she had passed on.
Incidents after her Demise
Hazrat Farid al-Din Attar (ra) relates that after her death, Hazrat Rabia (ra) appeared in a certain person’s dream. Tell us of Munkar and Nakir, the two angels of death,” the person begged. Those two noble beings appeared to me,” she related, and asked, Who is your Lord?'” I said:
Ibn al-Jawzi, in the Sifat al-Safwat relates that about a year after Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) death, ‘Abda Bint Abi Showal, a pious lady in Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) service, dreamt of her. Hazrat Rabia (ra) appeared attired in a green silken gown embroidered with gold and silver. ‘Abda had never before beheld anyone more beautiful. “What happened to the old gown and woolen cloak that we buried you in?” the girl asked. Hazrat Rabia (ra) answered:
“Was this the reason for all your spiritual combat (mujahida) during your days on earth?” asked ‘Abda. Hazrat Rabia (ra) answered, “What is even this compared to what I have seen of God’s generosity to His friends.”
“Whatever became of ‘Abda, Abu Kalab’s daughter?” ‘Abda inquired.
“Ah, far, far beyond me is the station she attained,” Hazrat Rabia (ra) responded, “Never shall I approach her.” ‘Abdah pressed, “But how is this, since your spiritual state was higher than hers?” Hazrat Rabia (ra) rejoined, “Because she did not concern herself with how she passed her days and nights.”
“And of Abu Malek Zaygam,” ‘Abda continued, “whatever became of him?” Hazrat Rabia (ra) replied, “He makes pilgrimage to God, the Exalted, whenever he wishes.” ‘Abdah further inquired concerning Bashir Ebn Mansur.
“His state is happy,” answered Hazrat Rabia (ra), “for God has bestowed upon him more than he ever aspired to.”
‘Abda in the end requested Hazrat Rabia (ra), “Provide me with some admonition so I may draw closer to God.” Hazrat Rabia (ra) counseled her, “Devote yourself totally to the remembrance of God, for only this shall cheer you in the grave.”
On another occasion, Muhammad ibn Aslam al-Tusi (ra) and Na’mi Tartusi (ra), who were known to have provided water for thirty thousand people in the desert, once visited Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) grave. They asked, “O you who boasted you would never lower your brow before anyone in the two worlds, how are you now?” They were answered by a voice saying, ‘How sweet indeed was what I saw!'”
Some seem to have confused the grave of Hazrat Rabia (ra) of Syria with that of Hazrat Rabia al-‘Adawiya of Basra (ra). Hazrat Rabia’s (ra) grave is sometimes said to be at the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This, however, is incorrect. Hazrat Rabia al-‘Adawiya’s (ra) tomb is actually in Basra.
Anecdotes & Miracles
Anecdotes pertaining to the life of Hazrat Rabia Basri (ra) are many in number.
Main article: Anecdotes of Rabia Basri