by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
The superintendent at the public pool watches me each day as I heave my strengthening body through the 20 lengths I have promised myself. After 10 days my jeans are looser and I should have not been surprised but I was, because a woman of my age becomes used to being invisible, I was surprised when the superintendent walked me to my car, listening patiently to my prattle about the weeds that the Jo’burg municipality isn’t bothering to tidy up, and then abruptly asked me if I was an occupied woman, and I didn’t know what he meant because I was psyching myself up to get some more writing work, so no, I don’t have a job, if that’s what you mean, and he said, No, do you have someone to kiss you? And I said yes I do, I have several kissers and one in particular whose kisses are not limited to any part of my anatomy, then he blushed and said have a nice day, and I did.
She was born between 95 and 99 Hijri in Basra, Iraq. Much of her early life is narrated by Farid al-Din Attar, a later Sufi Saint and poet, who used earlier sources. Rabia herself did not leave any written works.
She was the fourth daughter of her family and therefore named Rabia, meaning “fourth”. Although not born into slavery, her family was poor yet respected in the community.
According to Farid al-Din Attar, Rabia’s parents were so poor that there was no oil in house to light a lamp, nor a cloth even to wrap her with. Her mother asked her husband to borrow some oil from a neighbor, but he had resolved in his life never to ask for anything from anyone except the Creator. He pretended to go to the neighbor’s door and returned home empty-handed.
In the night Muhammad appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord, and shall lead many Muslims to the right path. You should approach the Amir of Basra and present him with a letter in which should be written this message: ‘You offer Durood to the Holy Prophet one hundred times every night and four hundred times every Thursday night. However, since you failed to observe the rule last Thursday, as a penalty you must pay the bearer four hundred dinars'”.
Rabia’s father got up and went straight to the Amir with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks. The Amir was delighted on receiving the message, knowing that he was in the eyes of Muhammad. He distributed 1000 dinars to the poor and joyously paid 400 dinars to Rabia’s father. The Amir then asked Rabia’s father to come to him whenever he required anything, as the Amir would benefit very much by the visit of such a soul dear to the Lord.
I have loved Thee with two loves –
a selfish love and a love that is worthy of Thee.
As for the love which is selfish,
Therein I occupy myself with Thee,
to the exclusion of all others.
But in the love which is worthy of Thee,
Thou dost raise the veil that I may see Thee.
Yet is the praise not mine in this or that,
But the praise is to Thee in both that and this.