Rabia Basri

Whenever you search ‘Rabia Basri’ on the internet you will only find the history of this pious woman. Significant as it is, it does not give a complete picture of her teachings and her overall message. It is only when you dive into the works of her students like Fariduddin Attar and others’ works, that you find the key to understanding this spiritual enigma.

Not much is known about Rabia Basri, except that she was born into a poor family in the second half of the eighth century AD in Basra, Iraq. After her father’s death, she was forced into bondage but her master was so fascinated by her piety that he freed her to pursue her course of devotion. Unlike most mystics, Rabia Basri is presumed to not have received any instruction in a spiritual way from a murshid (guide). Rather she traversed the journey of spiritual attainment on her own. Her life was entirely devoted to the love of God and self-denial. Her reputation as an ascetic survives through numerous spiritual stories and what we can gather about her is reality merged with legend. She used to spend her nights praying and contemplating, reciting the Quran, and chiding herself as she fell asleep, as it took her away from her love of God.

What is perhaps more interesting than her absolute asceticism is the concept of Divine Love that she introduced. She was the first to put forth the idea that God should be loved for God’s own sake, not out of fear, as earlier Sufis believed. It is God who draws near to those who love God, not the lover who draws near to the beloved. For herself, she held to a higher ideal, worshiping God neither from fear of Hell nor from hopes of Paradise. Emotions like fear and hope were like veils, hindrances to the vision of God 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. ”

Rabia Basri lived a simple life and saw divine grace in everything. Life to her was beauty, and devoutness was worship. Rabia was in her early to mid-eighties when she passed away, having followed the path of asceticism all her life. She believed she was continually united with her beloved. She simply used to say, “My beloved is always with me.”


Azaf Shah

Class XII

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