“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.”
For V day the last few years I wrote about great examples of Earthly love. They included some of the greatest love stories in history like Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Robert Browning and Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him & Khadija bint Khuwaylid. Well this year since I have no Earthly love to report about (le sigh, make Dua ppls) I’m going to go one better and talk about one of the greatest Spiritual love stories ever: The story of Rabia al Adawiyyah.
The amazing thing about Rabia is that she’s just so shrouded in miracles, legends and mystery. She wasn’t wealthy, from a notable family or powerful. She didn’t write any scholarly works, books or an autobiography. She didn’t leave any amazing family or children. She didn’t leave anything behind at all really. Yet her name is well known and famous in the annals of Islamic history. Her fame and legacy comes solely from her dedication and worship of God.
Sometimes when I read some accounts of her I’m just amazed, surprised, awed, amused, curious, even envious. Dudette was no hothouse rose (take note boys), she was one very strong woman. Her first priority was always her Lord and she never let anyone get in her way. She did what she had to do. She was well known in her time and visited by the greatest Muslim Shaykhs of her age. They were hoping to learn from her and she was seen as their equal if not stations above them. She even turned down worldly marriage proposals in so scathingly proper a manner as to make even Elizabeth Bennet envious!
Once when she had a proposal from a rich suitor who proudly told her his income was 10,000 Dinars a year, she wrote back that it didn’t please her to be distracted from God for even a single moment! Ouch poor Darcy
In this day and age of debates on whether or not Islam and feminism are compatible, you only have to look at Rabia’s life to see how she probably was the first “Islamic feminist”. She didn’t want to be dependent on any man (or human being) for anything.
Her pithy comments and rejoinders are famously told until today. She just took no fakeness from anyone. Once when someone said to her, “Alas, for my sorrow! (for my sins)”, she said, “Do not lie, but say rather, ‘Alas, for my lack of sorrow’, and if you were truly sorrowful, life would have no delight for you.” Ouch again!
Reading about her life, you’re just intellectually trying to understand how one person can have this much Tawakkul (reliance) on God. She was dirt poor. People wanted to give her gifts, servants, riches, whatever she wanted really and she would just say that if Allah had willed it and wanted it for her, He would have given it to her. She didn’t need it. She had so much respect for not displeasing God, so careful… even to the detriment of herself. How many people even do that? We pray when it’s convenient for us, occasionally in our rich Mosques with every amenity. We have gold inlaid Qurans and beautiful houses. If a burglar entered our house we certainly wouldn’t be busy with prayer ignoring that he was taking our worldly things, saying to ourself ‘Oh maybe he needs them more than me’, like Rabia!
Some reports say she prayed 1000 Rakats a day. I’m thinking to myself, is this even possible? Is this an exaggeration? A non-Sahih Hadith? So I timed a Salah. We can pray a Rakat in under a minute. And in a day there’s 1,440 minutes. Reports say Rabia would pray all day and all night except for a little before dawn, when she would sleep on an old worn prayer mat (that she prayed on). And still with all our beautiful and luxurious prayer rugs (some hanging on our walls beautifully displayed of course) we oftentimes can’t even pray Fard on time.
I am envious that she had this complete faith and dependence on Allah. If she needed something she knew Allah would give it to her. If she didn’t have something she knew it was because Allah didn’t give it to her out of His love for her. How I wish my relationship could be like that! Instead of making Dua for things never knowing if they reach Allah and wondering why Allah didn’t answer it.
I am envious too that she lived on her own and wasn’t dependent on anyone. Her whole world revolved around her worship and she didn’t have to worry about anything else. No worldly concerns, no family to worry about, no friends or frenemies. No Facebook and people making demands on her. No worries about marriage or getting old alone or money. So not dependent on what people think. How I wish I too could have some kind of spiritual retreat or island somewhere away from everyone and everything.
I know our Mosques should be like this, and eventually our prayers wherever we are, and the final level, our hearts. But I am still far from these. In the end, I think Rabia’s story gives me what it has given to people throughout the centuries. It gives my heart inspiration.
“Your Hope in my heart is the rarest treasure
Your Name on my tongue is the sweetest word
My choicest hours
Are the hours I spend with You
O Allah, I can’t live in this world
Without remembering You
How can I endure the next world
Without seeing Your face?
I am a stranger in Your country
And lonely among Your worshippers:
This is the substance of my complaint.”
-Rabia al Adawiyya