Roses of Islam: Rabi’a Al-Adawiyah, Part I

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

The first part of the stories of Rabi`a Al-Adawiyah, or Rabi`a Al-Qaysiyya who was born in Basra, Iraq between the years 95 A.H. and 99 A.H. (about 717 C.E.).

In those turbulent years of the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad SAW, records of the lives of the early Sufis were not always accurate and were sometimes even based on supposition. This led to certain variations in the details of the events in their lives and in the case of Rabi`a al-Adawiyya, a confusion on occasion between her story and that of the Rabi`a bint Isma`il of Syria. It is generally agreed, however, that her father’s name was, nevertheless, Isma`il who was a very poor and holy man.The family lived his wife on the edge of the desert not far from the town of Basra, with his four daughters, including Rabi’a Al-Adawiyah.

It is said that on the night that 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, 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 father Isma`il had made a promise never to ask a human being for anything. So he went out and put his hand on the neighbors’ door and without saying anything to them, returned to his own house. “They will not open the door,” he said. Upon hearing this, Rabi`a’s mother wept bitterly. Full of anxiety and feeling helpless in the matter, Rabi`a’s father put his head on his knees and fell asleep.

“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.”

While he was sleeping he dreamed that the Prophet Muhammad SAW 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 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 dinar 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.”

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 story continues: As the four girls grew up, their father Isma`il worked, as he could, to make a living for his family in the desert. When Rabi`a was about eleven, her father died, leaving behind him his wife and four daughters, all of whom were very poor. The mother, now finding 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. Rabi`a’s master  took her to Baghdad where he immediately set about using her in the way that was most profitable for himself. She was very beautiful and she also had a lovely voice, so her master taught her how  to sing and play the `oud, made her dance and entertain people, and above all, to make money in this way for himself. He sent her to weddings and celebrations where she would dance and sing,  and the people would give her money for whatever they wanted from her. In this way she came to have many bad habits and ways, living a very low life amongst all sorts of people and not caring about anything that she did.

This continued until she was about thirty-six years old, when one day as she was singing at a wedding she found herself singing in a different way. Songs were coming  from her heart for her Beloved, who was her true Love because now Allah, the All-Mighty, had awakened Rabi`a.

Continued… Part II



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