Hazrat Rabi'a al-Adawiyya 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. Born in the year 714 AD in Basra (present-day Iraq) and she was the fourth child to a poor couple. When her father slept with a heavy heart lamenting over the inability to purchase even oil for the little girl, Allah appeared in his dream and said, “Do not be grieved. You have been blessed with a daughter who will be a great saint; her intercession will be wished for by seventy thousand of my community.” When Rabia lost her parents because of famine, she along with her three sisters scattered to different places for survival.
She was mainly recognized for her esoteric verses on Allah among the masses. Her devotion and austerity in her practice amazed a lot of Sufi saints, including Hasan Basri, Ibrahim ibn Adham, Malek-e Dinar, and Shaqiq-e Balkhi. She has quoted the fundamental of her philosophy through the following verse:
“O, Allah! I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but for the love of yours.”
She was likewise one of the Sufi saints who bravely expressed her divine love to God and established that love is the only way to reach God. She was a devout follower of monotheism and explicitly expressed her love and her concern to satisfy him,
“I will endure all pain and will be patient. But there is a pain which is much greater than this; a pain in my soul which prevents me from being patient with myself, which puts fear into my mind and my heart, and that is, ‘Are You content with me, O Lord?’ For this is alone my goal.”
There are several instances in the life of Rabia wherein she performed miracles and dazed her peers and visitors. She emphasized in realizing the philosophy and finding your true self. One day, when Hasan along with other Sufi pirs went to visit Rabia, her home was dark and there was no light. Sensing discomfort due to no light, Rabia made her thumb shine like a lantern and they sat in the radiance dumbfounded by her ability.
There is also another instance in her lifetime which interprets us the level of her spirituality. Her teaching through the instance is meticulous. Every Sadhaka would yearn for such kind of feeling when one comes to know about it.
One day when Hasan of Basra along with Malek-e Dinar and Shaqiq-e Balkhi went to visit Rabia on her sickbed. Hasan proclaimed,” He is not truthful in his claim, one who does not bear the lash of Allah with fortitude.”
Rabia replied, “These words stink of egoism. Why don’t you try Malek?”
Malek replied, “He is not truthful in his claim, one who is not grateful for the lash of Allah.”
“We need something better than that”, Rabia said once again. “Shaqiq, try to rectify it from your side.”
Shaqiq offered, “He is not truthful in his claim, one who does not take delight in the lash of Allah.”
Rabia was still not satisfied.
Malek then urged, “Why don’t you reveal the secret yourself?”
Then Rabia pronounced, “He is not truthful in his claim, one who does not forget the lash in contemplation of Allah.”
Rabia is still celebrated as one of the female pioneers in the world of Sufism and is a role model to those who aspire for God, breaking down the barriers of gender and religion. Her life as an independent, influential, and intellectual woman showed that wealth and status are not acquired through financial resources, but rather through richness in spiritual value and control of the ego.