RABIA

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RABIA

(Secret of Basara)

Rabia, the great Sufi mystic, lived a remarkable life. Throughout her life, her Love for God, poverty and self-denial were her constant companions. She did not possess much more than a broken jug, a rush mat and a brick which she used as a pillow. She spent all night in prayer and contemplation, chiding herself if she slept because it took her away from her active love of God.

As her fame grew, she had many disciples. Farid-ud-din Attar, who has recorded her life, tells us that she held discussions with many renowned religious people of her time. Though she had many offers of marriage, she declined as she had no time in her life for anything other than God. Her concept of Divine Love was truly elevating. She was the first to introduce the idea that God should be loved for God’s own sake, not out of fear – as was the practice among some earlier seekers. Thus she prayed, ‘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.’

 

An incident :

Rabia of Basra was considered one of the most beautiful women living on earth in her time. Her youth and beauty were unsurpassed. Now it so happens that a young man from Shiraz in Iran comes to Basra while travelling and sight-seeing. He's vigorous and handsome and very successful in business. His business takes him from place to place and country to country. At this time it brings him to Basra. He's fond of sight-seeing. So while having tea or food he asks whomever he meets, "Are you from Basra?"

"Yes."

"Tell me what's to be found in this place? Is there anything out of the way, anything unusual, anything special?"

"Well, we have fine gardens and we have fountains and all that."

"Oh! I have roamed many countries and seen a number of big cities. There are many such beautiful things; but is there anything here that is out of the way?"

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"The most beautiful woman on earth!"

"What? The most beautiful woman on earth!" He's young and handsome, and youth is always attracted by beauty. He hears this and laughs. "Well, I've seen thousands of beautiful girls. Can there be any more beautiful than those in Iran?"

"Well, that's what I'm telling you," says the man.

And the young Iranian again goes sight-seeing and again asks some people, "Is there anything special to see in this place?" And they tell him about various sights, and again he asks, "But is there anything special?"

And they say, "There is nothing better here than Rabia of Basra. Her beauty surpasses all beauty."

"How can that be?" he asks. "What makes you say that?"

And they reply, "Those who are starved for beauty, they will find that out when they meet her."

"All right, where can I find her? How does one see her?"

"Well, where else? In a brothel!"

"Oh, that's a common story. We have prostitutes in Iran too. We know about that kind of woman."

"Yes, but this is different!" they answer.

He goes around to different places in the city, and again he hears the name of Rabia from someone he meets, and then from another man and then another and another. Gradually he comes to realise that this whole city is somehow different from other cities he has visited. This place is charged with such an atmosphere that people talk freely about the beauty of a woman, and yet there seems no trace of vulgarity in their talk. What is it? Who could she be? What makes her so beautiful and at the same time approachable by all? He thinks, "Well she's only a beautiful prostitute. That's why she's approachable for all."

After some days he decides to visit Rabia even though she's in a brothel. Although he is from a social stratum that customarily does not frequent brothels, he makes himself bold to go there. For the first time in his life he makes up his mind to go to such a place and see for himself what he has heard about from other people. He makes discreet inquiries about the place and time she's available. Somebody leads him there in the evening, saying, "Go up the stairs and there will be a matron who will see you and ask you to pay a fee."

"She takes fees?"

"She doesn't, but the matron asks for them. Without paying you won't be able to go in."

"Okay, never mind. I have money."

So up he goes, slowly climbing the stairs. And all the time his mind is working, full of this beauty he has heard about and anticipating the moments he'll spend with her. When he arrives, the matron questions him, "What do you want? Are you a stranger in this country?"

"Yes, I am a stranger here, and I want to see Rabia of Basra."

"What do you mean you want to see Rabia of Basra? Is she an exhibit in a zoo or something?"

"Well, isn't she approachable?"

"Yes, but you have to be with her, not just see her. And you have to pay a fee."

"Yes, yes, I want to spend time with her."

"All right, but the fee is exorbitant."

"I don't mind; I'll pay whatever it is." He pays and she takes him to the suite, ushers him inside and shuts the door.

He finds the room is vacant; there is nobody to wait upon him. Then he gradually ventures further in. There is a little room to the side and in it a figure is praying. A prayer carpet is spread and the figure is kneeling, absorbed in prayer. What beauty she has! He has never seen such beauty! "Oh, how could she be here?" he thinks, "How could she allow men to co-habit with her?" He sits and gazes at her beauty and loses himself. Yet, his passion is aroused, and he waits for her to be finished with the prayer.

She prays and prays. An hour passes. Gradually there is an ebb in his passion. He is attracted by her beauty and at the same time by her purity. After another hour or so she finishes her prayer and looks at him; it is as if lightning has struck him, the very sight of her!

She apologizes and says, "I'm so sorry. Pardon me for keeping you waiting so long! I was absorbed in prayer. You must be hungry." She claps and her maidens come. She orders, "Spread the feast for him. He is our guest tonight." And to him, "Would you like to drink something? What sort of liquor do you prefer?"

"Well, I'm from Iran...." And he thinks, "That's good, she's not too absorbed in prayers; she offers me food and drink also. And it's true what people say — she's truly beautiful!"

So he takes an interest in conversing and opens up his heart. He tell her his whole story while she listens intently. As he talks he just gazes at her, feeding upon her beauty. She also participates in the conversation, inquiring about his well-being, and about his travels and his work.

"You must have visited many places and seen many fine sights. Have you visit Basra properly?"

"Yes," he says, "I have almost finished my visit to Basra, and everywhere I go I hear about your beauty. And so I wanted to be here with you."

"You are most welcome," she says, "But after all, what is this beauty of mine? It's a passing show! Very soon I'll get old and become all wrinkled. Age will tell upon me just as it will upon you."

And she takes up the thread there. The talk about beauty and truth and God starts, and it goes on and on into the early hours of the morning. Eventually she leads him to the point where he becomes a real devotee.

"What a discourse you've given me tonight!" he says. "Now I begin to realise what real beauty means, how one should behave in life, how one should seek that eternal beauty which never perishes."

"Yes," she says, "that's right. That's how it is."

Finally he feels it's time to go. "I'm your slave," he says from his heart. "Tell me anything, anything in this world I can do for you."

"I have one little request."

"Anything," he replies. "Ask for wealth. Ask for anything you want."

"There is just one little thing, if you could do it."

"What is it?"

"Never tell anyone what transpired here tonight. Allow the people to come to me. This beauty is bait to lure them. It motivates them and gives them strength and right understanding and the right perspective on life. God has placed me in this particular place so that I can do His work and tell people about true beauty and real love. Promise me that you'll never tell others what you've experienced here tonight."

"Oh!" he says. "So this is the secret of Basra! The whole city clamours after your beauty. Yet nobody tells me about his experience."

"Yes," she smiles. "They all promise. You see, my beauty is my strength to fight in the cause of my Lord."

So Baba says: Every Baba-lover who is beautiful can use her beauty as a great strength to get many more hearts to me. But you must be as stable as Rabia.

And Baba added: It took a long time after that for Rabia to become Babajan, the Perfect Master who awakened me to my own Divinity!

 

Another episode

One day, Rabia was passing through a street on her way to the marketplace where she went every day, to share the truths she had sought and attained through her prayers and reflections. And for many days she had been watching a well-known mystic, Hassan, sitting before the door of the mosque and praying to God with intense devotion. ‘God, open the door! Please open the door! Let me in!’

On that day, Rabia could take it no more. Hassan let out a heart-rending wail, tears rolling down his cheeks. He was repeatedly shouting, ‘Open the door! Let me in! Why don’t you listen? Why don’t you hear my prayers?’

Every day, Rabia had laughed quietly to herself whenever she had heard Hassan uttering his plaint. But today was too much. Hassan was weeping his heart out. She went up to him, shook him up and said, ‘Stop all this nonsense! The door is open – in fact you are already in!’

Hassan looked at Rabia, and that moment became a moment of revelation for him. Looking into Rabia’s eyes, he bowed down, touch her feet and said, ‘You came in time; otherwise I would have spent my whole life just calling God in vain! For years I have been doing this – where have you been all these years! Why did you not come earlier to take me out of my misery? I know you pass this street every day. You must have seen my crying and praying. And yet you did not come to me until now!’

Rabia said to Hassan, ‘Yes, but truth can only be said at a certain moment, in a certain space, in a certain context. I was waiting for the right moment, the ripe moment. Today it has arrived; hence I came to you. Yesterday if I had told you, you would have felt irritated; you may have even become angry. You may have reacted thus, “You have disturbed my prayer!” – and it is not right to disturb anybody’s prayer.’

Rabia said, ‘I had wanted to tell you this long time back, but I had to wait for the right moment. It did not come till now