ProMosaik’s New Publication about Rabia al-Adawiyya

Dear readers,

we are very happy to present you our new publication about Islamic mysticism. The book is about Rabia al-Adawiyya, the first well-know Muslim Saint, and as the Author Abderrahman Badawi calls her, the Martyr of Divine Love.

This is one of the philosophical books about Islamic mysticism that
has touched me most in my life as a reader. This is why I decided to
present it in English.

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I believe the author is the Arabic philosopher of existentialism tout-court.
With this booklet, the Egyptian writer and philosopher Abderrahman
Badawi (1917-2002) makes an essential contribution to interreligious
dialogue, in particular with Christianity, offering many comparative and
dialogic approaches within mysticism and spiritual life in Christianity
and Islam, starting from a concept essential to Christianity, that of
Divine Love.

In his research, he compares the great Sufi
Saint Rabia al-Adawiyah and her psychological and
theological-philosophical path towards true Divine Love, as a completely
dematerialised experience going beyond religion as duty and law, with
various important thinkers and mystic pioneers of Christianity like
Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, or notable Christian Saints
like Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Augustine of Hippo.

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second aspect that makes this work fundamental for Islamic
interreligious studies is that Rabia al-Adawiyah was a woman. For
Islamic feminism, she represents an essential model of self-engagement,
braveness, and struggle for female spiritual growth.
Badawi’s work
is noted for detailed historical and philosophical research, a very
critical evaluation of hagiographic sources, the clear distinction
between reality and legend, myth and history, and the importance of
spirituality and personal growth in faith.

important aspect is the concept of dematerialisation of Islam, initiated
by Rabia al-Adawiyah who influenced whole centuries of Islamic
philosophy and mystic thinking. For Badawi, the example of going beyond
the Kaaba and beyond the idea of hellfire and paradise to really love
Allah because of Himself only represents an incredibly developed concept
for that time.

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follows a short summary of all small chapters of Badawi’s research with
an indication of the most important concepts and arguments he

In the introduction, the author speaks about
Basra and the soul of its inhabitants, showing how by dismissing legend
it is impossible to understand history, and, without history, it is
impossible to understand the development of spiritual life, which is
considered as a process in time.

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chapter 1, Badawi presents the two main difficulties in researching
Rabia’s life: on one hand the scarcity of sources, and on the other the
confusing legends and invented stories to embellish her theological
achievements and spiritual development and perfectness.
The final
objective of the author’s work is to comprehensively show and describe
the spiritual development of Rabia al-Adawiyya, from her life of the
earthly life through his conversion until her perfection as martyr of
Divine Love.
Unfortunately, we know very little about Rabia’s
life. Apparently she was born in a poor household, and became a slave
who was then freed. For a while, Rabia worked as a reed pipe player. Her
conversion then followed. Her personality changed completely, by
emerging from the dark night to the light of great souls like St. John
of the Cross, St. Augustine and many other Christian mystics.

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my opinion, Badawi’s approach to spiritual life as a universal
phenomenon can be very useful in promoting interreligious dialogue
between Christianity and Islam. The philosophical method of
existentialist philosophy can be very fruitful for the analysis of
internal spiritual development towards perfectness in Saints and
Another important aspect I consider very innovative in
this work by Badawi concerns the concept of Divine Love, another subject
at the crosslink of Christian and Islamic Theology. Badawi starts from
the basic assumption that Rabia was a Martyr of Divine Love, and that
this Divine Love was the achievement of spiritual de-materialised
This idea is also shown very well in two discourses:
first, the subject about the Kaaba, which has to be controversially
de-materialised to achieve real spirituality. In this context, Islam
goes beyond Judaism and Christianity, which connect worship to a
particular place, while Islam de-materialises spiritual life completely
on a topologic level.
Second, the concept of Paradise and
Hellfire, which are completely useless in achieving spiritual
perfection. Indeed, Rabia affirms that those who obey Allah because they
fear hellfire are not true believers, since those who really loves
Allah only love Him for Himself, without looking for any reward, and
without being afraid of any punishment.

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the sixth chapter, Abderrahman Badawi introduces the important
biographical problems, with Rabia often confused with another Rabia,
even if for both there are many legends and embellishments to prove
their spiritual achievements and perfectness.
Another important
matter Badawi focuses on is the refusal of married life in Rabia’s sufi
mysticism. She is convinced that marriage would force her to strive for
divine love according to Quran and Sunnah. The same can be said about
all worldly and material attachments and links, even if they are linked
to religion like the Kaaba and the belief in paradise and hellfire.
Rabia’s core principle is to love Allah for Himself without any
condition and reward. The Sufi notion of “camaraderie”, explained in
detail by the author, is affirmed by him as an early development of what
will become al-Hallaj’s concept of Divine Love in the future
development of non-orthodox Sufism.
According to the emotional
concept of Love in Rabia’s thought, there is an important distinction to
be made between passionate love on one hand, and true love on the
other. Indeed, despite this qualitative distinction, Rabia used them
both, even if she always had in mind that Loving Allah Himself for
nothing but Himself is the highest level of Love of real believers. In
my view, the following passage I would like to mention in the present
foreword can be said to be the core message expressed by Badawi in his
work about Rabia al-Adawiyya:
 “Then the final stage came by
lowering the curtains of her divine love tragedy by the scene of those
angels, i.e. the women who took her to her final resting place in
heaven, like Gretchen in ‘Faust II’. However, she was not elevated to the high rank by eternal “womanly” (Das Ewig-Weibliche), but by the martyr-dom of divine love. Anyway, who knows! Eternal femininity and divine love may be the same!”

goethe ewig weibliche

would say that without excluding the possibility that Eternal
femininity and Divine Love could perhaps coincide, Badawi exalts women’s
contribution to Islam not only in the area of mysticism, but in general
Islamic thought and religious culture. Moreover, this is the heritage
by Rabia we have to strongly reaffirm today.
of the extensive legends invented about her life and deeds also prove her essential importance in Islamic doctrinal development.
important aspect inherent in Divine Love according to Rabia’s world
vision is the duality between passivity and activity. Detaching herself
from passionate love to reach the real love of loving Allah for Himself
only was not the last passage she wanted to achieve, as she additionally
strived for active love as product of the passive experience of Divine
Love she had already experienced.

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concerns the explanation of this active love made of hardship and
struggles, Badawi compares Rabia’s experience with the dark night of
Juan de la Cruz, offering us another important thought-provoking impulse
for interreligious dialogue between Christia-nity and Islam.
the next chapter, Badawi makes an important topological distinction
between the three monotheistic religions, focussing on the fact that
Islam does not “limit worship to one place, because every place could be
made a house for worshipping Allah.” The thesis the author affirms is
that Rabia revolutionarily transformed Islamic thought by her criticism
of the sensual and material aspects of religion as we have already seen
in her discourse on the Kaaba. Another important element Rabia
introduced into Islamic spirituality was the call for pain, an essential
element of the path to Divine Love. True worship is worship devoted to
Allah without seeking rewards or benefits; it is not because of some
religious text or fear; and it is not because of awakening of desire or
fear. It is not because of Paradise or hellfire. This is the central
message of Rabia’s Sufi spiritual conception.