Her slave master sold every exterior attribute she had: her beauty, her youth, her melodious voice. She sang and danced at weddings and other festivities in Basra, and the slave master profited.
But the slave master had no domain over her soul.
Her soul pined for something. It felt detached from an original source. It looked for love and purity: pure love, one that is unselfish, one that is not attached to requital. Different from the ones that she sung for clients, there was a song within her, unsung but strong.
She looked around and saw the practice of religion to be a mockery of its essence. The pious and the holy were like traders. So many rewards for so many good deeds were what they expected from God. They were not different from the customers who paid for her song and dance. Many times they happened to be exactly the same individuals.
Then came a day, a day that the song that had been gathering on her inside broke through to the outside. It stilled all the songs she used to sing. It wrapped her in ecstasy she had not known before. She announced to the slave master she was not his slave any longer. She was beaten, starved, tortured, and then sold again. But Rabia Basri had found pure love, she was one with God, she had turned invincible.
The new slave master had a dilemma. He had paid good money for the slave, but he could see that the slave was imbued with knowledge, strength, confidence, and a radiance that demanded respect, even obedience. Was the slave, then, the master?
Suspecting that, perhaps, he had gotten a better deal than he had bargained for, the new slave master gathered enough courage to ask Rabia to marry him. Her answer was plain. No, she said, she existed in and through God, and belonged only to Him. Thus began her lifelong celibacy. There were many suitors along the way, freemen and prosperous, but uniformly unsuccessful. To the later generations, she became a historical example of female autonomy and emancipation.
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