The Du’a of Shaykha Rabi'ah al-'Adawiyyah (q.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Shaykha Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyyah al-Qaysiyyah (q.s.), or Shaykha Rabi’ah al-Baswri, was a waliah.  She was born between 95 and 99 AH in Basra, Iraq.  Much of her early life is narrated by Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Aththar (q.s.), from earlier sources.  Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) herself did not leave any written works.

She was the fourth daughter of her family and therefore named ‘Rabi’ah’, meaning ‘fourth.’  Although not born into slavery, her family was poor yet respected in the community.  According to Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Aththar (q.s.), Shaykha Rabi’ah’s (q.s.) parents were so poor that there was no oil in house to light a lamp, nor a cloth even to wrap her with.  Her mother asked her husband to borrow some oil from a neighbour, but he had resolved in his life never to ask for anything from anyone except the Creator.  He pretended to go to the neighbour’s door and returned home empty-handed.

In the night, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Your newly born daughter is a favourite 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 swalawat to the Holy Prophet one hundred times every night and four hundred times every Thursday night.  However, you failed to observe the rule last Thursday.  As a penalty you must pay the bearer four hundred dananir.’”

Shaykha Rabi’ah’s (q.s.) father got up and went straight to the ‘Amir with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks.  The ‘Amir was delighted on receiving the message, knowing that he was in the eyes of Prophet (s.a.w.).  He distributed 1,000 dananir to the poor and joyously paid 400 dananir to Shaykha Rabi’ah’s (q.s.) father.  The ‘Amir then asked Shaykha Rabi’ah’s (q.s.) father to come to him whenever he required anything, as the ‘Amir would benefit very much by the visit of such a soul dear to the Lord.

After the death of her father, a famine overtook Basra and Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) parted from her sisters.  Legend has it that she was accompanying a caravan, which fell into the hands of robbers.  The chief of the robbers took Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) captive, and sold her in the market as a slave.  The new master of Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) used to take hard service from her.  She would pass the whole night in prayer, after she had finished her household jobs.  She spent many of her days observing the fast.  Once, the master of the house got up in the middle of the night, and was attracted by the voice in which Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) was praying to her Lord.  She was entreating in these terms: “Ya Allah!  You know very well that the true desire of my heart is to fulfill Your Commands and to serve You with all my heart, that the light of my eyes is only in serving You.  If I were free, I would pass the whole day and night in prayers and I would not rest even an hour from serving You.  But what should I do when You Yourself have Left me at the mercy of a creature and have Made me as a slave of a human being?  Since You have Subjected me to be in the service of people, I am late for Your service.”

At once, the master felt that it was sacrilegious to keep such a waliah in his service.  He decided to serve her instead.  In the morning, he called her and told her his decision; he would serve her and she should dwell there as the mistress of the house.  If she insisted on leaving the house, he was willing to free her from bondage.  She told him that she was willing to leave the house to carry on her worship in solitude.  This, the master granted and she left the house.

Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) went into the desert to pray and became an ascetic, a zahidah.  Her eventual murshid was Quthb al-‘Arifin, Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.).  Throughout her life, her love of Allah (s.w.t.), poverty and self-denial did not waver.  They were her constant companions.  She did not possess much other than a broken jug, a rush mat and a brick, which she used as a pillow.  She spent all night in ‘ibadah and contemplation, chiding herself if she slept because it took her away from her active love of Allah (s.w.t.).

As her fame grew, she gained many disciples.  She also had discussions with many of the renowned religious people of her time.  These included Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (r.a.).  Though she had many offers of marriage, and one even from the ‘Amir of Basra, she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than Allah (s.w.t.).  More interesting than her absolute asceticism, however, is the actual concept of Divine Love that Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) introduced.  She was the first to introduce the idea that Allah (s.w.t.) should be loved for Allah’s (s.w.t.) Own sake, not out of fear, as some earlier Sufis had done.

She taught that repentance was a Gift from Allah (s.w.t.) because no one could repent unless Allah (s.w.t.) had already Accepted him and Given him this gift of repentance.  She taught that sinners must fear the punishment they deserved for their sins, but she also offered such sinners far more hope of Paradise than most other ascetics did.  For herself, she held to a higher ideal, worshipping Allah (s.w.t.) neither for fear of Hell nor for hope of Paradise, for she saw such self-interest as unworthy of Allah’s (s.w.t.) servants; emotions like fear and hope were like veils to the Vision of Allah (s.w.t.) Himself.

She prayed, “O Allah!  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.”

One day, she was seen running through the streets of Basra in a hal carrying a torch 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.”

She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love, of ‘ishq, and is widely considered to be the most important of the early Sufi poets.  She is widely considered the greatest proponent of the doctrine of ecstasy, sukr.  Much of the poetry attributed to her is of unknown origin.  She spontaneously achieved a state of Realisation by a Glance from the Divine.  When Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) asked how she discovered the secret, she responded by stating, “You know of the how, but I know of the how-less.”

On one occasion, she was asked if she hated Shaythan.  Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) replied, “My love to Allah has so possessed me that no place remains for loving or hating any save Him.”  She was firmly in the Path of Tawhid and with that is the realisation that there is no Reality except Allah (s.w.t.).  How can one hate that which has no reality?

When Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) would not come to attend the swuhbah of Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.), he would deliver no discourse that day.  People in the jama’ah asked him why he did that.  He replied, “The syrup that is held by the vessels meant for the elephants cannot be contained in the vessels meant for the ants.”

Once, Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) was on her way to Makkah, when half-way there she saw the Ka’bah coming to meet her.  She said, “It is the Lord of the House whom I need; what have I to do with the House?  I need to meet Him Who said, ‘Who approaches Me by a span’s length I will Approach him by the length of a cubit.’  The Ka’bah which I see has no power over me; what joy does the beauty of the Ka'bah bring to me?”

At the same time, the great wali, Shaykh Ibrahim ibn Adham (q.s.) arrived at the Ka’bah, but he did not see it, only the shadow.  He had spent fourteen years making his way to the Ka’bah, because in every place of prayer he performed two rak’ah.  Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) said, “Alas!  What has happened?  It maybe that some injury has overtaken my eyes.”

An unseen voice said to him, “No harm has befallen your eyes, but the Ka’bah has gone to meet a woman, who is approaching this place.”

Shaykh Ibrahim (q.s.) responded, “O indeed, who is this?”  He ran and saw Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) arriving, and that the Ka’bah was back in its own place.  When Ibrahim saw that, he said, “O Rabi’ah, what is this disturbance and trouble and burden which you have brought into the world?”

She replied, “I have not brought disturbance into the world.  It is you who have disturbed the world, because you delayed fourteen years in arriving at the Ka’bah.”

He said, “Yes I have spent fourteen years in crossing the desert because I was engaged in prayer.”

Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) replied, “You traversed it in ritual but with personal supplication.”  Then, having performed the pilgrimage, she returned to Basra and occupied herself with works of devotion.

Shaykha Rabi’ah (q.s.) was in her early to mid-eighties when she passed on, having followed the mystic Way to the end.  She believed she was continually united with her Beloved.  As she told her Sufi friends, “My Beloved is always with me.”  She passed away in Jerusalem in 185 AH.  We had the great privilege of visiting her maqam.  At her death bed, there were no less than three of the quthb present.


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