Muslim Women: Past and Present

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Throughout the ages, from the earliest days of Islam to contemporary times today, Muslim women have been and continue to be active leaders in their communities and countries across the world. This directory is a growing archive of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and more. Please contribute to this archive by suggesting Muslim women to be featured through our recommendation form.

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Rabi’a al-Basri

"I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love."

photo of Rabi’a al-Basri Credit: Heba Amin

Known For: Sufi Saint
Dates: 717-801(CE)
Country: Iraq

About

Rabi’a Al-Basri, the first female Sufi saint and poet in Islam, set forth the doctrine of “Divine Love.”  She was born in the early 8th century in the port city of Basra, present day Iraq, to a very poor but well respected family. She was named Rabi’a for her position as the fourth child in the family. Even though Rabi’a did not leave written evidence of her poetry, we are able to catch a glimpse of her poetry primarily through the works of Farid Al-din Attar, a Sufi saint and poet who compiled her poetry into writing, and Margaret Smith who wrote, “Rabi’a the Mystic” in 1928.

Rabi’a’s father, a Sufi and an ascetic himself, believed that the Prophet came to him in his dreams the night Rabi’a was born. The Prophet told Rabi’a’s father that his daughter was going to be a saint. The Prophet advised Rabi’a’s father to send a letter to the Amir, reminding him of his prayers and requesting a certain amount of money. The Amir responded positively, giving Rabia’s family a large sum of money and thanking him for the letter.

However, Rabi’a’s good fortune did not last long, as her parents died early in her life. Orphaned, she was sold into slavery. There are several accounts of the next stage of her life. It is believed that at one point in her time as a slave, she spoke to God after slipping and dislocating her wrists. She then committed herself to Him, fasting during the day and carrying out her tasks. Many believe that in the middle of the night, her owner witnessed her bowing in worship while a lamp hung above her head without support. This image, symbolizing that of a Muslim saint, was enough for him to free her from slavery. It is said that she then spent several years worshipping in the desert, and performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. She chose a life of celibacy, rejecting many marriage proposals. She also lived a life of asceticism, rejecting materialism and accepting a life of poverty. She was known for performing many miracles.

She is known for being the first woman Sufi saint who devoted herself entirely to God.  She made the greatest contribution of any woman towards the development of Sufism.

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This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women by their Country. We are actively building the archive of Muslim women leaders from the past, as well as from today, and we would welcome your recommendations of women to feature. Please complete our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.
This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women leaders by entering the keyword(s) of your choice. If you cannot find a particular woman that you are looking for, please let us know by completing our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.