Rabia Basri in watercolor

Watercolor painting of Rabia Basri

Watercolor paiting of Rabia Basri, a saint and Sufi mystic


Rabia al-Basri was a Sufi mystic that lived during the 8th century in Basra, Iraq. It is said that she would run through the streets of the city at night, with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other because she wanted to set Paradise ablaze and douse the fires of Hell. For Rabia, love for God ought to be the driving force for a Muslim, rather than fear of Hell or desire for Heaven’s rewards. For this reason, she wanted to destroy these distractions, which prevented people from worshipping out of a pure love for God. A genuine love for God is a characteristic that is often used define what it means to be a Muslim.

This watercolor painting depicts Rabia holding a torch to burn down Paradise and pouring water over the fires of Hell. Paradise is portrayed as the lush greens on the top of the painting, in accordance with various names used to describe it in the Qu’ran (e.g. The Highest Gardens of the Paradise, Gardens of Everlasting Bliss, The Eternal Gardens, The Gardens of Delight). Hell is depicted as the roaring flames on the bottom of the painting, as Hell is often described as a place of fire in the Qu’ran.

In the painting, Rabia is portrayed wearing plain black garments; she devoted her life to worshipping God, and thus, she does not care about worldly concerns like the latest fashions. At the same time, Rabia is surrounded by a heavenly glow. In the Ayat an-Nur, it is stated that Allah is the Lights of the heavens and earth. Devoted saints, such as Rabia, are a way for Him to bring His light into the world, which is why she is surrounded by light. The style of the painting is meant to resemble stained glass, an art form that depends on light as a source of illumination. Love for God was a fundamental facet of Rabia’s life, and it is fitting that a depiction of her is literally infused with the light of the God to whom she was so devoted.

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