Hazrati Rabia (St. Rabia) is one of the most influential, if not the single most influential female Sufis of all time, she was renowned for her virtue and piety. A devoted ascetic, when asked why she performed a thousand ritual prostrations both during the day and at night, she answered:
“I desire no reward for it; I do it so that the Messenger of The Divine, may his name be blessed, will delight in it on the day of Resurrection and say to the prophets, ‘Take note of what a woman of my community has accomplished'”
Her sense of humility and devotion was so intense that she refused to lift her head towards the heavens out of modesty, she used to say: “Were the world the possession of a single man, it would not make him rich … because it is passing away.”
She was one of the first to expound on the doctrine of Divine Love (Ishq-e-Haqiqi), which changed the way people viewed their relationship to God:
“I will not serve Allah like a labourer,
in expectation of my wage.”
Born in the 8th century in Basra, we know much of Rabia’s life through the great Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar. Her family was poor yet respected in the community, they were so poor that there was no oil in house to light a lamp, nor even a cloth to wrap her with.
After the death of her father, famine overtook Basra. She parted from her sisters. Rabia went into the desert to pray and became an ascetic. She is often cited as being the queen of female saints, and was known for her complete devotion in the form of “pure love of God.” She is a model of mutual love between God and creation; her example is one in which the loving devotee on earth becomes one with the Beloved. 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.”
Several aspects of Sufi ideologies and practices have stood as counters to dominant society and its perception of women and the relationships between the genders. The stories detailing the life and practices of St. Rabia show a countercultural understanding of the role of gender in society. Her role as a spiritual and intellectual superiority is depicted in several narratives. Sufi leader Hasan al-Basri explained:
“I passed one whole night and day with Rabi’a … it never passed through my mind that I was a man nor did it occur to her that she was a woman…when I looked at her I saw myself as bankrupt [i.e. as spiritually worth nothing] and Rabi’a as truly sincere [rich in spiritual virtue].”
Rabia died in her 80s in Basra in 801 CE, there is a tomb in Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives where she is visited regularly.
Saint Rabia Al-Adawiyya is very important to Queer Muslims, she went against the patriarchal expectations of her society and was focussed not on the external regulations of that society but on the devotion to The Divine. She did not think of heaven or hell, but simply on Allah as her Beloved, and as such she can be considered a true queer Wali (friend) whose energy acts as a protector to us. We can learn much from her life and as a result we make it our intention to learn more about her and to meditate on her relationship with Allah. As a friend of Allah (wali) a meditation on Hz. Rabia evokes the Divine Quality (“ism”) of Al-Wali – The Friend – but this is a friendship that is Divine, not a human type of friendship.
A Meditation on Rabia and Allah as The Divine Friend
After performing ritual ablution (wudu), we come into presence (huzoor) by sitting upright in a comfortable position, closing our eyes and taking three deep breaths.
Now we recite an ayah from Surah Baqarah 2: 257
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
اللَّهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا يُخْرِجُهُمْ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْلِيَاؤُهُمُ الطَّاغُوتُ يُخْرِجُونَهُمْ مِنَ النُّورِ إِلَى الظُّلُمَاتِ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ
Allaahu waliyyu allatheena aamanoo yukhrijuhum mina alththulumati ilaa-alnnoori wa-allatheena kafaroo awliyaa-uhumu alttaaghootu yukhrijoonahum mina alnnoori ilaa alththulumati ulaaika ashaabu alnnaari hum feehaa khaalidoona
“Allah is The Friend of those who have faith, leading them out of the depths of darkness into the light.”
Bringing to mind the story we know of her, we pause to reflect on her life and name, and feeling her presence we salute her and send peace and blessings upon her as follows:
“Ya Hadhrati Rab’ia, Waliyatullah, As-salaamu a’laykum. Allahumma sali a’la hadhrati Rabi’a al-adawiyya waliyyatullah”
“Oh Hazrati Rabi’a, the friend of Allah, Peace be upon you. Oh Allah send your peace and blessings upon Saint Rabia Al-Adawiyya, the friend of Allah”
Now we turn our hearts and minds to The Divine, as did Rabia. We take three deep breaths and turning our heads slowly to the right we say:
“Ya Wali” (Oh Divine Friend)
turning our heads slowly to the left we say:
“Ya Karim” (Oh Bountiful One)
[we repeat this slowly 33 or 99 times]
When completing the Tasbih of 33 or 99 we say:
“La ilaha ila Allah” (there is nothing worthy of worship except The Divine)
We bring to mind the image of a good friend, we reflect on their relationship with us, and we invoke Divine protection and peace on them as follows:
“As-salaamu alayhi” (for males) or “As-salaamu alayha” (for females) (of course the gender is not important, and we can queer this practice by mixing the pronouns)
Now we take a further three deep breaths and on the out-breath we say a long “huuuuuuu” (“that which is”)
If we do this Zikr (remembrance) as a group we turn to the person to the right first and then to left by kissing their hand and saying “salaamun alaykum” (peace be upon you).