Rabia

2006
acrylic, ink and collage on canvas
40" x 30"
3000
Rabia

The female mystic Rabi'a (717-801 C.E.) became one of the most celebrated
Muslim teachers, and is considered one of the first true Sufis. She was born
free, but sold into slavery at her parents' death. Later, she was freed "by
a miracle," and took up residence in a small cell outside of Basra. Except
for pilgrimages to Mecca, Rabi'a lived all of her life in Basra as a celibate
ascetic, who debated with and taught the major religious figures of her time.

Her biographer, the great medieval Sufi poet Attar, tells us that she was "on
fire with love and longing" and that men accepted her "as a second
spotless Mary." She was, he continues, "an unquestioned authority
to her contemporaries." She was one of the first of the Sufis to teach
that Love alone was the guide on the mystic path.

She expounded other mystical ideals, as well, not the least of which was
a true humility. These two tales, one told about Rabi'a and one told about
the Jewish mystic Baal Shem Tov, who lived about a millennium after the Sufi
saint,
show just how proximate were the Jewish and Muslim mystical paths. The story
told about the Sufi went like this:

"It is said that Rabi'a met one of the Gnostics and asked him his state,
and he replied: 'I have trod the path of obedience and have not sinned
since God created me,' whereupon she replied: 'Alas, my son, thine
existence is a sin wherewith no other sin may be compared.'"

The Baal Shem Tov expressed a similar sentiment about "sinners" in
the following teaching tale:

"I let the sinners come close to me, if they are not proud. I keep
the scholars and the sinless away from me if they are proud. For the sinner
that knows he
is a sinner, and therefore considers himself base - God is with him,
for He 'dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.' But
concerning him who prides himself on the fact that he is unburdened by sin,
God says, as we know from the Gemara: 'There is not enough room in
the world for myself and him.'"

These two tales are so closely linked that it almost appears as if the Baal
Shem Tov is offering an explication of Rabi'a's slightly more cryptic
utterance.