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Aqsa Week and the Sufi connection to Al-Aqsa Sanctuary: Rabiah Al-Basri, Imam Ghazali and Baba Farid

February 21, 2022 at 8:02 am

The Bab Al-Rahma gate in Jerusalem on 10 March, 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/ Anadolu Agency]

The Quran states that the land of Al-Aqsa is “blessed”. The Sufi interpretation of “blessed” land is not a reserve for material gain or exclusively for humans, but the land is “blessed” to benefit all creations. It also includes deeds performed within Al-Aqsa being more generously blessed.

Hence, blessed land is associated with barakah – the land over which Allah has endowed spiritual and physical blessings from which all of humanity can benefit. Al-Aqsa Sanctuary has thus been honoured and glorified by Allah for all the creations’ benefit and guidance. It is to gain the blessing from the land and seek the closeness to Allah that made Al-Aqsa a desired place for Sufis.

One of the earliest and most famous female Sufis from the 8th century, Rabiah Al-Adawiyyah (better known as Rabiah Al-Basri), spent considerable time in Jerusalem. Rabiah was from a very poor background in Basra and, through her piety, became one of the greatest Sufis. Her students included famous scholars like Sufyan Al-Thawri and Shubah ibn Al-Hajjaj.

Rabiah was a cleaner, but when her master noticed her escaping a man’s advances, he freed her from labour bondage. Once freed, she embarked on the road towards Jerusalem. She settled in Jerusalem, where she dedicated her life to devotion and charitable work. She pioneered the concept of “divine love”.

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Her reputation spread far and wide, attracting more scholars to Al-Aqsa. After a lifetime of advancing “divine love”, she passed away in Jerusalem. She was buried in a grave at the top of Tur Zeita mountain in Jerusalem.

Her words penetrated deep into believers, evoking the love of Allah.

One of her poems reads:

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!

If I adore You out of desire for Paradise, lock me out of Paradise.

But if I adore You for Yourself alone,

Do not deny me Your eternal beauty!

She influenced renowned scholars like Ibn Al-Jawzi and Farid Al-Din Al-’Attar, who considered her a leading mystic. However, one of the greatest scholars influenced by Rabiah was Imam Ghazali.

Imam Ghazali challenged Greek philosophers who differentiated reason from revelation and provided a link between figh (jurisprudence) and Sufism. Ghazali, like Rabiah, migrated to Jerusalem and spent up to ten years within Al-Aqsa. While at the sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, he wrote Al-Qistas (Just Balance), Mahakk Al-Nazar (Touchstone of Reasoning in Logic) and also part of his famous treatise Ihya Ulum Al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences). Ihya Ulum Al-Din was written while sitting on the rooftop of the Bab Al-Rahmah building within the Al-Aqsa Sanctuary.

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He left Jerusalem on the news of advancing crusaders and dedicated his efforts to revive the love of Islam. He became a principal at a university in Baghdad established by Nur ul-Deen Zengi. Later, Salahuddin made the works of Imam Ghazali part of the school curriculum. It was the teachings of Imam Ghazali that provided the revival within Muslims towards liberating Al-Aqsa from the crusaders.

A few decades after Salahuddin liberated Jerusalem, a Muslim scholar from the east travelled to Al-Aqsa. He was Hazrat Farid ud-Din Ganj Shakar (Baba Farid) – a great scholar who travelled for months to fulfil the Prophet’s advice (PBUH) and visit Al-Aqsa before going for Hajj. Baba Farid, having revived the sunnah (advice) of the Prophet, Muslims from the east (present-day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), started following in his footsteps. Most of these Muslims came just before Hajj. Some of them adorned their ihram (garment for Hajj) in Al-Aqsa and proceeded to their Hajj.

Indian hospice is a monument in Jerusalem, 7 November 2018 [Satdeep Gill/Wikipedia]

Indian hospice is a monument in Jerusalem, 7 November 2018 [Satdeep Gill/Wikipedia]

The visitors from the east were so numerous that, eventually, a permanent hospice was established for them. The hospice was established where Bab Farid stayed during his visit to Al-Aqsa. The hospice is today known as the “Indian Hospice” and is still open within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

While militarily the safety of Jerusalem relied on the great man Salahuddin, it was the Sufis who kept the love and zeal for Al-Aqsa alive in the hearts of the Ummah. Aqsa Week is to revive that love and remind us that Al-Aqsa belongs to us all.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.