Rabi’a al-Adawiyya

Country

Iraq

Known for

First Sufi woman and Sufi saint

Dates

Hijri 98-184 (AH) Common Era 717-801(CE)

Rabi’a al-Adawiyya

Biography

Rabi’a was born into a poor family in Basra, Iraq. Her father, a Sufi and an ascetic himself, believed that the Prophet came to him in his dreams the night Rabi’a was born. The Prophet told Rabi’a’s father that his daughter was going to be a saint. The Prophet advised Rabi’a’s father to send a letter to the Amir, reminding him of his prayers and requesting a certain amount of money. The Amir responded positively, giving Rabia’s family a large sum of money and thanking him for the letter. However, Rabi’a’s good fortune did not last long, as her parents died early in her life. Orphaned, she was sold into slavery. There are several accounts of the next stage of her life. It is believed that at one point in her time as a slave, she spoke to God after slipping and dislocating her wrists. She then committed herself to Him, fasting during the day and carrying out her tasks. Many believe that in the middle of the night, her owner witnessed her bowing in worship while a lamp hung above her head without support. This image, symbolizing that of a Muslim saint, was enough for him to free her from slavery. It is said that she then spent several years worshipping in the desert, and performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. She chose a life of celibacy, rejecting many marriage proposals. She also lived a life of asceticism, rejecting materialism and accepting a life of poverty. She was known for performing many miracles. She is known for being the first woman Sufi saint who devoted herself entirely to God. She made the greatest contribution of any woman towards the development of Sufism.

Sources

Margaret Smith, Rabi’a: The Life & Work of Rabi’a and Other Women Mystics in Islam (Oxford: Oneworld, 1994).
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