History of Rabi’a al- Adawiyya

Stories of Rabia Al Adawiyya

I first met with Rabi’a al- Adawiyya, when I was reading a book about Sufi women. Her stories were amazing: the donkey one and the lighting fire on paradise one (you can read more about them below). 

Since then, she has been incredible guidance in my life, as you can read here. 

She brought the Love concept to Sufi mystic tradition. She is a lover and all her life has been a journey of love to her Beloved. Her words are reflecting true wisdom which is timeless and still continues to guide those who are seeking. 

Here I am glad to share the history of Rabi’a Al Adawiyya with you. Shall we? 

Rabi’a al- Adawiyya books

Rabi’a did not write any book. Those who wrote biography and stories about Rabi’a lived long years after the death of Rabia. Therefore, it is hard to have 100% trusted information about her. Which is quite common for the information we receive about saints. 

On the other hand, this is showing us that people respected her a lot. Especially in the sources, we find out that they call her Rabia, as they did not need any more explanation-as everybody knew her. Moreover, in a society where a woman has not been respected as much as men, having a place like hers is incredible. 

The most comprehensive book about Rabi’a Al Adawiyya is the book of Margaret Smith; Rabi’a The Mystic and Her Fellow-Saints in Islam.

Check the book in detail

In her book, she gives a comprehensive sources guide including all those books that are talking about Rabi’a. These books are not only about Rabi’a, but they include stories about her. 

Some of the most important are:

For this blog post, I have used the book of Margaret Smith and  Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā of Attar of Nishapur. Moreover the article “Meanings, Words, and Names: Rābi’a’s Mystical Dance of the Letters.” by Tamara Albertini 

Story of Rabi’a al- Adawiyya

Who is Rabi’a al- Adawiyya?

Biography of Rabi’a al Adawiyya: Rabia’s childhood

We receive information about her early childhood from Feridun Attar (Tadhkirat-ul-Awliyā ) who lived 400 years after Rabia. 

She was born in 717 After Christ in Basra where she spent most of her life.

According to Fariduddin Attar, when Rābiʻa was born, her parents were so poor that there was no oil in the house to light a lamp, nor even a cloth to wrap her with. Her mother asked her husband to borrow some oil from a neighbor, but he had resolved in his life never to ask for anything from anyone except God. He pretended to go to the neighbor’s door and returned home empty-handed. At night Muhammad appeared to him in a dream and told him,

“Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord and shall lead many Muslims to the right path. You should approach the Amir of Basra and present him with a letter in which you should write this message: ‘You offer Durood to the Holy Prophet one hundred times every night and four hundred times every Thursday night. However, since you failed to observe the rule last Thursday, as a penalty you must pay the bearer four hundred dinars”.

His father did so and the Amir did everything and respected him a lot. 

Biography of Rabi’a al Adawiyya: Rabia’s slavery

After his father’s death, she lived as a slave. One day a stranger approached her. As Rabia was walking away for protection, she slipped on the road and injured her ankle.

“O, my Lord, I am an orphan without mother and father, and also I am a slave. I do not grieve about this. I only want your consent. She said let me know if you are pleased with me. She heard a voice say to her: ‘Do not grieve, even angels will envy your rank in the hereafter.'”

One night while she was praying, her master saw her that there was a lamp on her without any chain. It was just flowing in the air and was illuminating the house. He thought all night what to do, and in the morning said to Rabia that she was not anymore, a slave.

Biography of Rabi’a al Adawiyya: Rabia’s not choosing marriage

She lived all her life as a not married woman, even though many men wanted to marry her but she always replied as she does not have any place in her heart besides God. 

She was able to stay unmarried thanks to being an orphan and then slave actually, as at that time parents were deciding for the marriages of the woman and it was quite strange for a woman to be unmarried. So this reminds us, the famous story: “what is good, what is bad?”

Rabi’a Al- Adawiyya quotes: Rabia’s worships and prayers

Among the prayers recorded of Rabia, is one which she offered at night upon her roof. “O, my Lord, the stars are shining, and the eyes of men are closed and the kings have shut their doors and every lover is along with his beloved, and here am I alone with You”.

Again she prayed: “O, my Lord, if I worship You from the fear of hell, burn me therein, and if worship You for the hope of paradise, exclude me therefrom, but if I worship You for Your own sake, then withhold not from me Your Eternal Beauty”.

Rabia’s miracles

One day 2 elders came to visit Rabia. They were both hungry. Rabia gave them not fresh bread- not feeling so good about it. At this time a beggar came and Rabia gave this bread to him. These elders felt a bit offended but they did not say anything. 

Soon somebody knocked on the door and they brought 18 hot bread. Rabia counted it and she said this is not for me. The person who brought insisted, but she did not take it. In some minutes that person came again with 20 hot pieces of bread (she added those 2 which she separated for herself). Rabia then said ok these are mine. 

Elders did not understand anything at all and asked what happened and she replied. When the beggar came I gave the bread to him and said to God “Ok my lord, you say that to those who give 1 you give 10. So now I give 2 pieces of bread to him to make you happy. So please send 20 to me. And when I received 18 I understood that or somebody stole 2 of them or these pieces of bread are not mine.”

Another story of her:

One day Hasan Basri visited her, and they were talking. She needed to cook but she said “any muhabbet/sohbet-conversation made from the heart- is better than anything to eat, so she preferred to have a chat instead of cooking. When it was time to break their fast, they realized that the food had been cooked on its own and it was the most delicious food they have ever eaten. 

Rabi’a al Adawiyya’s contribution to Islam

Those people who wrote about Sufi teachings such as Abu Talib al-Makki, Kushayri, and Al-Ghazali they all referred to Rabia again and again. 

On the other hand, it is an important point that we never hear the spiritual teacher of Rabia. 

A Sufi writer; al-Munawi places Rabi’a in the same place as Abdul Qadir Gilani, explaining that there are 2 groups. One who is looking for a leader, a Prophet, especially Prophet Muhammad to reach God, and the other one is those who do not need anybody to meet God. Rabi’a and Abdul Qadir Gilani are from this group. 

“Arif” is not a hafiz who is ignorant when he forgets what he learned. A person who receives his knowledge from his Lord without learning and studying can only be a wise man. This science lasts throughout life. “Arif” never forgets this, he remembers it forever. He does not need the book. This is true wisdom. 

In fact, there are thousands of roads leading to Allah, and the roads leading to Allah are as many as the number of believers. The whole world is the book of the almighty Allah, and under the veil of every particle is the Beloved’s soul-entrancing beauty.

Serious Sufism representatives argued that “Aşık” Lover should pass the specific ranks mentioned:

  • Repentance(tovbe), patience and gratitude
  • Hope and fear
  • Poverty (fakir), asceticism (zuhd), oneness (tevhid), and trust(tevekkul)
  • Love, ingenuity (maarifet), vision, unity

Just for the sake of giving a structure to the stories of Rabia, I will go with the order of these ranks/doors, however, you would like to call it.

Rabia’s Sufi teaching about repentance, patience, and gratitude

They asked her: If a person repents, God accepts his repentance. 

Rabia said, If Allah does not destine repent and does not accept the repentance, how will he repent? There is no doubt that a sinner cannot repent unless He grants repents.

Rabia’s Sufi teaching about hope and fear

For Sufis, Hell is a place other than a place that separates the existence of God. For them, Paradise is not a place full of material and even spiritual doomsday, it is the beloved’s communion and the state of oneness with Him.

Among the Sufis, the first person to put forward this theory is Rabia.

It is rumored that Rabia once said:

“One night I prayed to God. Then I slept. I saw a large, bright green tree that was too beautiful to describe. It was like a girl’s breast I haven’t seen in the world: it had three kinds of fruit, white, red, and yellow. I liked them very much and I said who is this. Someone said, “This is yours for your prayers a while ago.” That’s when I started walking around the tree. There were eighteen golden fruits on the ground. I said, “I wish these fruits were also on the tree.” That person said to me, “They would be there, but when you prayed, the fruits fell because you wondered whether the dough was leavened or not.” This is a warning for those who understand, advice to those who worship God.”

They asked Rabi’a, what is the core of her belief:

“I have not served God from fear of Hell, for I should be like a wretched hireling if I did it from fear; nor from love [ḥubban] of Paradise, for I should be a bad servant if I served for the sake of what was given, but I have served Him only for the Love [ḥubban] of Him and desire [shawqan] for Him. (Smith 1994, p. 125)

Another great story is: 

“When someone keeps knocking at the door, it will in time open for him,” was admonished by Rābi‘a: “How long will you keep saying that? When was the door ever closed, that it might have to open?”

Rabia’s Sufi teaching about poverty (fakr), asceticism (zuhd), oneness (tevhid), and trust(tevekkul)

When asked by Shaikh Hasan al-Basri how she discovered the secret, she responded by stating:

“You know of the how, but I know of the how-less

When questioned by someone as to why she did not seek help from her friends, she replied, “I should be ashamed to ask for this world’s good from Him to Whom it belongs, then why should I seek anything from those to whom it does not belong.”

Poverty can only be achieved when the dervish is removed from all the attributes. Zühd is handled with the concept of poverty. The first phase of the dervish candidate is the beginning of the purification life that must be passed before entering the sect. 

Tawhid is one of the first main principles of Islam. Shirk, that is associating partners with Allah, is an unforgivable sin. This principle expresses that one cannot associate with Allah. God is One in His presence and attributes. Therefore, He is the only reason for all that exists and disappears. 

For Sufis, oneness means more than accepting the oneness of Allah. According to them, oneness was the death of the soul and the dissolution of personal desire in the desire of Allah. Thus, the doctrine of oneness became the doctrine of oneness for the Sufis.

One day Rabia was going to Mekka for her pilgrimage. She was walking in the desert with her donkey and the donkey died. People wanted to help her to carry her stuff and she refused. She began to talk to God: Divine! Is this how the sultans do to a helpless woman? You invited me to your house, but you killed my donkey halfway down the road! You left me all alone in the deserts! Upon this, the donkey immediately jumped to his feet, and Rabia continued his way, hitting his load on his back.

Rabia’s Sufi teaching about love (Ask), ingenuity (maarifet), vision, unity

The highest and last level is love. The order of love includes consent and enthusiasm.

The lover passes directly to divine secrets (ingenuity) from love, he can see God without a veil, and oneness becomes One with him.

This monotheism can be reached in this world in short moments, but it can be lived in it forever in the hereafter.

For Sufi, human is in love, God is Beloved.

Consent has two aspects, objective and subjective. The servant is pleased with Allah, and Allah is pleased with the servant. Kushayri said that if my heart is pleased with Allah, I know that he is pleased with me.

Although Rabia is not the first person among the Sufis to understand that the path of God should be sought with love, she is the first great person to emphasize this and combine the discovery doctrine – the Beloved’s manifestation to his lovers at the end of the road.

She was the first to teach the new concept of unrequited Love for many of his Sufi friends, who often served God with the hope of eternal reward or fear of eternal punishment.

When asked about the nature of generosity in the presence of other visitors, the same al-Thawrī gave the most advanced opinion: “For the people of the world, it is generous with their money; but among the people of the coming world, it is generosity with themselves.” Rābi‘a, however, remained unimpressed and said: “You menfolk are all wrong!” Al-Thawrī then asked back: “What is generosity among womenfolk?” to which our protagonist replied: “It is worshipping him out of love for him: not in expectation of a recompense or reward.”

Sufyan al-Thawri said: I cannot say anything for you. Do you say something to me?

Rabia replied. You are a good man except that you love the world. 

Surprised Sufyan asked why is that?

Your hadith work she answered. 

Sensing the truth of her words Sufyan implored “God be satisfied with me”

Yet to Rabia this statement also lacked sincerity.

“Are you not ashamed to seek for the satisfaction of One with Whom you are not satisfied. She questioned.

They asked her, a person when gives consent? 

She answered when she is in gratitude to evil as she is to blessing.

“How is your love for the Prophet (may God bless and preserve him)?” She replied: “Verily, I love him. But love for the Creator has turned me away from love for created things” (ās-Sulamī 1999, p. 78). 

Another visitor inquired about her take on Satan to which she answered: “My love for God leaves no room for hating Satan” (Smith 1994, p. 123).

One day a number of saints saw that Rābi‘a had taken fire in one hand and water in the other and was running with speed. “O lady of the next world, where are you going and what is the measure of this?” “I am going to light a fire in Paradise and to pour water on to Hell so that both veils may completely disappear… What if the hope of Paradise and the fear of hell did not exist? Not one would worship his Lord or obey Him.” (Smith 1994, p. 123)

There is so much more we can share about her; this is just a beginning. Many of her words need contemplation as well. 

Poems of Rabi’a al- Adawiyya

I love You with two loves, a love that is desire

And a love because You are worthy of it

As for the love that is desire

I occupied myself in remembrance of no other than You

And as for the love because You are worthy of it

It is [due] to Your uncovering of the veil to me so that I see You

No praise is due to me for neither this nor that [love]

But the praise for this and that [love] is due to You

(translation of Tamara Albertini)


Those souls who lived in this world and who reached being immortal by unifying with God, are around us to guide us. 

If the story of Rabi’a inspires you, this can be a sign for you. You can build a relationship with her and ask for her guidance. 

They are friends “Dost” of God and here to support us. You can learn how from this blog post here. 

If you would like to have a guided meditation to receive Rabia’s guidance, check this article here.

Below is a Pinterest-friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Ancient Wisdom Board!


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