Rabia Al-Basri (717–801 CE) was a female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic. She was the one who first set forth the doctrine of Divine Love and is widely considered to be the most important of the early Sufi poets.
She taught that repentance was a gift from God because no one could repent unless God had already accepted him and given him this gift of repentance. She taught that sinners must fear the punishment they deserved for their sins, but she also offered such sinners far more hope of Paradise than most other ascetics did. For herself, she held to a higher ideal, worshipping God neither from fear of Hell nor from hope of Paradise, for she saw such self-interest as unworthy of God's servants; emotions such as fear and hope were like veils—i.e. hindrances to the vision of God Himself.
Rabia was born between 713 and 717 CE in Basra, Iraq. Much of her early life is narrated by Farid ud-Din Attar, a later Sufi Saint and poet, who used earlier sources. Rabia herself did not leave any written works about her life.
After the death of her father a famine overtook Basra and Rabia parted from her sisters. Legend has it, that she was accompanying a caravan, which fell into the hands of robbers. The chief of the robbers took Rabia captive, and sold her in the market as a slave. The new master of Rabia used to take hard service from her.
After she had finished her house jobs, she would pass the whole night in prayer. She spent many of her days observing fast.Once the master of the house got up in the middle of the night, and was attracted by the voice in which Rabia was praying to her Lord. She was entreating in these terms: “Lord! You know well that my keen desire is to carry out Your commandments and to serve Thee with all my heart, O light of my eyes. If I were free I would pass the whole day and night praying to You. But what should I do when you have made me a slave of a human being?”
At once the master felt that it was sacrilegious to keep such a wali in his service. He decided to serve her instead. In the morning he called her and told her his decision; he would serve her and she should dwell there as the mistress of the house. If she insisted on leaving the house he was willing to free her from bondage. She told him that she was willing to leave the house to carry on her worship in solitude. This the master granted and she left the house.
Rabia went into the desert to pray and became an ascetic. Her murshid was Ḥasan al-Baṣri, himself a known saint elevated at the level of the seven sacred souls. She did not possess much other than a broken jug, a rush mat and a brick, which she used as a pillow. She spent all night in prayer and contemplation. As her fame grew she had many disciples. She also had discussions with many of the renowned religious people of her time. Though she had many offers of marriage, and (tradition has it) one even from the Amir of Basra, she refused them as she had no time in her life for anything other than God