Rabi?a of Basra (C. 714–801)

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RABI˓A OF BASRA (C. 714–801)

Rabi˓a of Basra, also known as Rabi˓a al-˓Adawiyya, is regarded as a paradigm for Sufi women. An ascetic whose life spanned the late Umayyad and early Abbasid periods, her biographical image is a mosaic created by later writers. There are as many versions of Rabi˓a's hagiographic persona as there are accounts of her. She has been portrayed as a second Mary, a miracle worker, and the originator of the concept of divine love. Hanbali writers respect her extreme asceticism and otherworldliness, and modern historians consider her the quintessential saint of Islam.

Little objective information is known about Rabi˓a. She was a client of the Arab tribe of Banu ˓Adi. Popular accounts state that she was sold into slavery during a drought, but her sanctity secured her freedom and she retired to a life of seclusion and celibacy, first in the desert and then on the outskirts of Basra, where she taught both male and female disciples. One of her male disciples was the jurist Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 777). Rabi˓a was the culminating figure in a series of Basran female ascetics, starting with Mu˓adha al-˓Adawiyya (d. 719). Her teacher may have been named Hayyuna. Many stories and poems attributed to Rabi˓a actually belong to her students or to other Sufi women with similar names, such as her contemporary Rabi˓a al-Azdiyya of Basra, and Rabi˓a bint Isma˓il of Damascus (d. before 850). The Sufi biographer al-Sulami (d. 1021) portrays Rabi˓a as a contemplative and rational thinker. Later writers portray her as a more emotional and legendary figure.

See alsoSaint ; Tasawwuf .


Sells, Michael A. Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur˒an, Mi˓raj,Poetic and Theological Writings. Mahweh, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1996.

Smith, Margaret. Rabi˓a: The Life and Work of Rabi˓a and OtherWomen Mystics in Islam. Oxford, U.K.: One World, 1994.

Rkia E. Cornell

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Rabi?a of Basra (C. 714–801)

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