I began my Ramadan challenge with the story of Maryam AS, mother of Essa AS/Jesus. Her story was one of strength in character, faith in Allah and the power of dua.
Thanks to those who appreciated the effort! An ex-colleague messaged and said she would make her daughter read the Ramadan challenge posts too and I thought to myself, what a lovely comment to receive - I should definitely try and keep my stories anecdotal and easy to read for everyone.
Keeping in mind my new potential audience, today's story takes us back to the basics - unwavering love for God! A perfect first lesson for a child. Today's blog post is about an Iraqi woman called Rabia al Basri - the first Sufi to talk about Divine love!
Maryam's story is about gaining success by putting your faith in Allah. Rabia Al Basri's life reminds us that actually Maryam's story is also about her utmost love for Allah - the essential tool which can lead to faith in Allah.
Who is Rabia al Basri:
Rabia al Basri was the fourth daughter in her family, born in Basra (Iraq) in the early 8th century.When her father passed away, there was also a famine in Basra and circumstances forced Rabia away from her sisters. With no money on her, she was sold to a master away from her family. Her master was ruthless and over worked her and made her toil away.
But this did not make her lose hope or faith in Allah. Rabia's love and faith in Allah did not waver. She worked endlessly but spent her nights praying to Allah. Once when she was asking Allah in her prayers, her master over heard her and was so moved by what he heard, he realized he was making a mistake by enslaving someone so close to Allah. He freed her immediately!
(Myth says he asked her if he could instead be her slave but Rabia obviously opted for freedom instead. She remained ardently against slavery all her life!)
Equality of women in Islam:
We saw yesterday how a daughter was accorded such high importance that Allah (swt) devoted an entire chapter to Maryam as an example for generations to come. There need not be any further proof of the status given to women in Islam. Sufi tradition in Islam saw no distinction between sexes either. Equal number of women received the status of sainthood as men. These women were respected and honored equally by both their male and female students and followers.
When freed, Rabia left for the desert where she spent her life as a sufi mystic. She wrote many poems on Divine Love and amongst her students, Hasan Basri was one of her students through whom we have learnt a great deal about Rabia Basri. This in itself shows that Islam does not differentiate between a male or a female intellectual or teacher.
In fact, it is purely the love of Allah that will make someone understand that there is no distinction between his human beings and that each attains a strength and power that can change the world.
And how true is that! Imagine someone who studies hard for an exam. She may work hard for fear of not failing or for the hopes of achieving A grade. She will only study as much as is required to achieve these goals. But if it was the sole love for the subject that would drive her to study, she will continue to delve into the subject like it was an unending ocean yet to be discovered.
When asked by Sheikh Hasan al-Basri (her student) how she discovered the secret, Rabia responded by stating:
"You know of the how, but I know of the how-less." 
If we are driven by the sole love of Allah, we will learn not to judge others by how they "follow" Islam, rather by how much they love Allah. And because we will never be able to measure others' love for Allah against ours, as that is deeper than what appears outwardly, we will soon lose this habit of being judgemental. Instead our energies will focus on loving Allah and striving to continue growing in that love.
If we indulge in love for Allah the positive energy will reduce our bitterness and hatred for others. We won't be affected by what society tells us of a people, a group of people, and our minds will be stronger than what the media wants us to learn about a group of people. Our love for Allah will make us think and do what He loves and what He wants us to do.
When asked if she hated Satan, Rabia replied: "My love to God has so possessed me that no place for loving or hating any save Him."
Conclusion and an activity for parents
For all of us: What do you think can be the benefits of achieving Divine Love? It would be lovely to hear your comments below so that we can help each other understand that Divine Love just does not have to be a sufi concept but something that can be easily applied to our every day lives.
For parents/ "teachers": Kids think differently from adults. This Ramadan it might be a great idea to explain your children how much we should love Allah. They will say they love Mama or Baba - ask them why and then make them push their boundaries to think why they should love Allah. Finally, do an activity with them where they can think if they love Allah, what are the things Allah loves that they can do too.
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