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  The greatest legends are always these that most resemble the truth. Among such legends are the tales of bright stars appearing flickering in the twilight, and leaving their mark for the future generations.

  One such star appeared in the sky of Basra (present day Iraq) in the 8 century AD. Its light penetrated the houses and the souls of the people and burned there like a candle for almost a hundred years. It is an unforgettable phenomenon that was immortalized in the writings of men and in the speech of their tongues, as well as in the records of researchers from that time on.

  Rabia al-Adawiyah, well known in Islamic history as Rabiah Basri, was born in 714 A.C. in the city of Basra, Iraq. Not much is known about her, except that she lived in the second half of the 8th century AD. But many spiritual stories are associated with her and what we can glean about her is reality merged with legend. These traditions come from Farid ud din Attar, a later sufi saint and poet, who used earlier sources. Rabia herself though has not left any written works.

  After her father's death, there was a famine in Basra, and during that she was parted from her family. It is not clear how she was traveling in a caravan that was set upon by robbers. She was taken by the robbers and sold into slavery.
Her master worked her very hard, but at night after finishing her chores Rabia would turn to meditation and prayers and praising the Lord. Foregoing rest and sleep she spent her nights in prayers and she often fasted during the day.
There is a story that once, while in the market, she was pursued by a vagabond and in running to save herself she fell and broke her arm. She prayed to the Lord "I am a poor orphan and a slave; now my hand too is broken. But I do not mind these things if Thou be pleased with me. " and felt a voice reply "Never mind all these sufferings. On the Day of Judgement you shall be accorded a status that shall be the envy of the angels even"

  One day the master of the house spied her at her devotions. There was a divine light enveloping her as she prayed. Shocked that he kept such a pious soul as a slave, he set her free. Rabia went into the desert to pray and became an ascetic. Unlike many sufi saints she did not learn from a teacher or master but turned to God himself.

  Throughout her life of poverty, her Love of God and self-denial were unwavering and 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 prayer and contemplation chiding herself if she slept for it took her away from her active Love of God.

  Someone asked her why she continued to suffer poverty and did not seek help from her friends and she replied: "I am ashamed to ask for this world's goods from Him to Whom it belongs and how can I seek them from those to whom it does not belong!" At another time she answered one of her friends: "Does Allah forget the poor because of their poverty or remember the rich because of their richness? Since He knows my state, what have I to remind Him of? What He wills, we should accept".

  Many miracles are attributed to her. She became famous for her teachings of love and fellowship of Allah, which she said should be the goal of His lovers.
As her fame grew she had many disciples. She also had discussions with many of the renowned religious people of her time. Though she had many offers of marriage, and tradition has it one even from the Amir of Basra, she refused them, as she had no time in her life for anything other than God.
More interesting than her absolute asceticism, however, is the actual concept of Divine Love that Rabia introduced. She was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for God's own sake, not out of fear-as earlier Sufis had done.
She taught that repentance was a gift from God because no one could repent unless God 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 God neither from fear of Hell nor from hope of Paradise, for she saw such self-interest as unworthy of God's servants; emotions like fear and hope were like veils - i.e., 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.

  Rabiah Basri is highly esteemed and her teachings quoted by most of the Sufi writers and biographers of the great saints in the history of Islam. She died in Basra, Iraq in 801 A.C, when she was in her early to mid eighties, having followed the mystic Way to the end. By then, she was continually united with her Beloved. As she told her Sufi friends, "My Beloved is always with me"..


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