By Sadia Dehlvi
Feb 18, 2014
One of my favourite Sufis is Rabia Basri, who gave Sufism the concept of Divine love. The eighth century mystic woman remained a celibate as her overwhelming love for God left no room for any worldly relationships. Sufi manuals are filled with stories from her remarkable life that illustrate her teachings.
A disciple of Rabia’s once came to see her with a bandage around his head. Rabia asked him the reason for tying the bandage. He replied that his head was hurting due to a severe headache. Rabia enquired, “How old are you?” The disciple said he was 30 years of age. Rabia said, “In these 30 years have you been mostly healthy or sick?” The man replied that he had mostly been in good health.
Rabia then said, “Have you ever in these 30 years, tied a bandage of gratitude? Now because of a single headache, you tie the bandage of complaint”.
Another famous anecdote from Rabia’s life illustrates her complete faith and trust in God. Once a few pious men came to visit her. They saw Rabia had two loaves of bread, but instead of serving it to them, she gave them to a beggar who was crying out for alms nearby.
Immediately, a serving woman came to the house carrying 18 loaves of bread saying, “The lady of my house has sent you these”.
Rabia counted these bread loaves and returned them to the girl saying she had made a mistake.
The girl took them back to her mistress and told her the story. The lady of the house added two more bread loaves and sent them again to Rabia, who counted the 20 loaves and put them before her guests. They ate them and asked her about her mysterious behaviour.
Rabia said, “When you came, I knew you were hungry but I did not wish to put just two loaves of bread in front of you. When the beggar came, I gave it to him praying, ‘Oh God, for each thing given in your way, you have promised tenfold.’ When the girl bought 18 loaves, I knew there was some mistake. Either someone had nicked two loaves or that lot was not meant for me. When the lady sent 20 loves, tenfold of what I gave to the beggar, I was sure they were for me”. Such was Rabia’s exemplary trust in God.
Rabia’s prayers and devotions are often recited and quoted: “O lord, if I worship you out of fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you out of want of paradise, forbid it to me. And if I worship you for your own sake, do not deprive me of your eternal beauty.”
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.