By Masha Hassan
Mar 18, 2016
As a 21st century kid, at a time when competition and technology are booming, I am aware that life is all about practicality, about profit and loss. So the word ‘selfless’ might not figure in our lexicon. And religion is largely relegated to performance of rituals only—that too for fulfilment of desires.
We just observed Women’s Day on March 8; it made me think about a woman who had only one need and one love---to immerse herself in the love of God. In her prayer she says:
O God! 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
She might not be as popular as Rumi but her story resonates and reaffirms the true significance of the term ‘selfless love’. She is Rabia Basri also known as Rabi'ah al-Basri, Sufi saint from Iraq, considered to be the first female Sufi Saint of Islam, in a long line of female Sufi mystics, renowned for her virtue and piety as a devoted ascetic.
Once Malik Bin Dinaar went to visit Hazrat Rabia. He found in her home only a partly broken jug which she used for Wudhu (ablution) and drinking water, an old straw-mat on which she slept and a brick which she used as pillow. He said, “I have many affluent friends. Shall I ask them to bring some items for you?”
Hazrat Rabia said, “O Malik! Is my Provider, your Provider and the Provider of the wealthy not the same Being?” Malik said, “Yes.” Hazrat Rabia then said, “What, has He forgotten about the needs of the poor on account of their poverty, while he remembers the needs of the wealthy?” Malik Bin Dinaar said, “It is not so.” Hazrat Rabia then said, “When He never forgets anyone, why should we remind Him? He has wished this condition for me and I am pleased with it because it is His pleasure.”
Rabia was born in the 8th century in Basra, a seaport in southern Iraq where she spent most of her life. Much of her early life is narrated by Hazrat Fariduddin Attar, a later Sufi saint and poet. She did not leave any written works herself.
Hazrat Fariduddin Attar praised the status of this female Sufi saint. He says,
‘No, she wasn't a single woman,
But a hundred men over:
Robed in the quintessence of pain
From foot to face, immersed in the Truth,
Effaced in the radiance of God,
And liberated from all superfluous excess.’
The great woman mystic, saint and Qalandar of Islam had overcome her self (Nafs) through devotion, meditation, contemplation, patience as well as trust in God (Tawakkul). Rabia was constantly absorbed in the thought of God and had reached the pinnacle of mystic path --Fina-Fillah.
More interesting than her asceticism, however, is the actual concept of Divine love that Hazrat Rabia reaffirmed. She was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for God’s own sake, not out of fear.
Hazrat Rabia Basri taught that repentance was a gift from God because no one could repent unless God had already accepted her and given 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.