Rabia Basri

Yesterday I read Looking for Alaska by John Green, and came across many philosophical pages, exploring in depth both the joy and pain of love. One section which has particularly spoken to me is this…

Karl Marx famously called religion ‘the opiate of the masses’. Buddhism, particularly as it is popularly practised, promises improvement through karma. Islam and Christianity promise eternal paradise to the faithful. And that is a powerful opiate, certainly, the hope of a better life to come. But there’s a Sufi story that challenges the notion that people believe only because they need an opiate. Rabe’a al-Adiwiyah, a great woman saint of Sufism, was seen running through the streets of her hometown, Basra, carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When someone asked her what she was doing, she answered, ‘I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because he is God.’

Because he is God. Yes. Rabe’a al-Adiwiyah, (known by many names including Rabia Basri), was a Sufi mystic (and saint). I can’t say I know a lot about Sufism, but from what I do know, she was very important. I disagree with her in many aspects (such as in the sending to and existence of a flame filled Hell), but agree with her philosophy in many other ways; in her opposition to viewing religion simply as an opiate, for wanting to banish that fear of eternal punishment and separation, and to bring to others the doctrine of Divine Love and the seeing of God’s magnificent beauty in the world.

I do not believe because I feel that I must. I believe because I know and love God, my Parent, my Brother, my Strength. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit that has always loved me, and who lives in me and in all of us, if only we choose to open ourselves (to vulnerability yes, but to love in all its aspects) and see that. And when we do, life becomes so much more extraordinary, more often celebrated, and feels wonderfully fuller, wonderfully more complete…

Ephesians 3:17-19 KJV – That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

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6 Responses to Rabia Basri

  1. Kara says:

    I’m not sure what this website is, but I Google’d this quote and this is what appeared. I paused at this same point when I finished up reading Looking for Alaska just two days ago. What I want to know though is this: do you think that people (Christians?) often pursue God without want of heaven or fear of hell? I’m afraid that is what I’ve often been taught myself: Do this and you’ll achieve heaven, do this and you’ll achieve hell. I don’t know where love exists in that. And I am afraid that I don’t know what to do about this right now, the idea that so many denominations of a beautiful idea are getting it wrong. What do you think (whomever you are?)

    • First of all Kara – sorry it has taken me two weeks to reply! Looking for Alaska, great book, glad you read it. I’m hoping to be given “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green for Christmas as I haven’t read that yet.

      God is important to me in this life, not just in terms of afterlife. I do not believe we are predestined to a hell either, as God loves us and wants us to be with him. Especially in this Christmas time we remember that in the face of a baby is the ultimate gift of life and love, and that applies not just to Jesus but to us all. God as Emmanuel – with us and in us, not just for us. Born in a stable not a palace, telling us to turn the other cheek and love our neighbour, not pretend we have the power or right to tell people they are damned and hate them because they are different to us. God is love not hate, and God is with us.

      I think that hell is not somewhere you are sent, but somewhere you would choose if you wished to be separate from God. Hell is sort of not a place of punishment in my mind, but more a place of self-exile where you completely disown love and turn to hatred and are consumed by it – at which God as Parent, Sibling and Spirit would be very sad.

      God is Love, and unfortunately religion misses that sometimes, and too many focus on ideas of the afterlife when we are here as co-creators and should be helping to make earth a better place so it becomes the Kingdom of Heaven. I agree with you that it is sad when people don’t see the beauty. I hope that more do in time. Meanwhile I don’t know where you are, but in terms of Christian denominations I am in an Anglican Church (Church of England/Wales at the moment but they are all over the globe) and am in the Liberal end rather than the conservative evangelical end. I also have more traditional hymns rather than modern praise music with drums. Tonight we had a beautiful Christingle with about 400 people, all singing together gladly. I hope you find somewhere that helps you to express your spirituality and faith. Let me know if you want help finding somewhere – I’m an ordinand (a sort of training priest-to-be) so write again if you’d like to keep in touch.

      Love and peace to you Kara,
      Rachael Elizabeth x

  2. Emma Bryant says:

    Hello Rachael, I am giving a sermon for my church on this particular passage from Looking for Alaska. I was wondering if you would give me permission to use some of your quotes from this post? You have worded your thoughts so beautifully and I agree with you 100% that people view religion as an opiate.

    • Absolutely, I’m very pleased you find my words moving, and it was nice to be taken back to a post from several years ago to re-read over what you commented on. Given I haven’t been writing a lot lately due to self-doubt of some form, I take your request to heart, so thankyou for letting me know! I hope your sermon is well received. Rachael Elizabeth x

  3. Amanda says:

    I don’t know if you’ll still be checking your comments for this post. But I googled this quote to see if it affected anyone else as much as it has me. I finally read Looking for Alaska a couple weeks ago and I just keep thinking about this quote all the time. I’m not religious at all-completely agnostic- so I have been wondering if people are truly good. Is it still good if you’re only going through the actions for fear of maybe getting in to heaven? That just doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Being good for fear of what will happen if you’re not. I feel like heaven will reward you because you want to do the good, not because you have to.

    • I think that if you do something but are not doing it from a good place it can still be a good act, but lacks meaning. For example, someone doing charity work because they want other people to admire them rather than to help is still a good act, but it is less admirable than someone helping and being humble. The whole saved by faith or by works debate has been ongoing for a long time.

      Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

      Matt 15:10-20 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

      James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

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