Women of Spirit
Women's Wisdom from Sufism

Timothy Conway (Compiler / Editor)

© Copyright 1992, 2017 by Timothy Conway



Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiya; Omm Ahmad; Amat al-Jalīl; Fātemah Omm ‘Alī; Omm Talq; Bahriya ‘Abedah; Tohfah; Thawbiya; Hayyunah; Roqiyah; Reyhānah; ‘A’eshah; ‘Atekah Ghanuyah; ‘Ofayrah ‘Abedah; Fātemah Barda’iyah; Fātemah; Bībī Fātemah Sam; Fātima Jahānārā Begum Sāhib; Hayātī; Princess Zobaydah; Arifa; Irina Tweedie.

Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiya (d. 801; Basra, Iraq):

[Referring to herself, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawiya said:] Here being has disappeared, for I have become naughted to self and exist only through Him. I belong wholly to Him. I live in the shadow of His control. (A 46) [1]


[One day, when Rābi‘a retired into her dwelling for contemplation, her servant girl said:] “O mistress, come out and behold the works of the Creator.” “Rather you come in,” answered the saint, “and view the Creator Himself. Contemplation of Him keeps me from beholding His creation.” (N 42-3)


I do not let what is inside me go out, nor do I allow what is outside me to come in. (N 49)


Rābi‘a was asked, “Do you love God?”

“Yes,” she affirmed.

“Are you an enemy of Satan?” they inquired further.

Rābi‘a confessed, “My love of the all-Merciful leaves me no room for hostility towards Satan.” (N 49-50)


[Sofyan-e Thauri visited Rābi‘a once when she was very ill...] “If you will say a prayer,” Sofyan said to Rābi‘a, “your pain will be eased.” “Do you not know who has willed that I should suffer? Was it not God?” Rābi‘a demanded. “Yes,” Sofyan agreed. “How is it that you know that,” Rābi‘a went on, “and yet you bid me to request from Him the contrary of His will? It is not right to oppose one’s Friend.” (A 49)


[Malek-e Dinar saw Rābi‘a’s poverty and said:] “I have rich friends ... If you wish, I will get something from them for you.” “Malek, you have committed a grievous error,” she answered. “Is not my Provider and theirs one and the same? ... Since He knows my estate, how should I remind Him? Such is His will, and I too wish as He wills.” (A 50)


One day Hasan of Basra, Malek-e Dinar and Shaqiqe Balkhi went to visit Rābi‘a on her sickbed. “He is not truthful in his claim [to be a lover of God],” Hasan began, “who does not bear with fortitude the lash of his Lord.” “These words stink of egoism,” Rābi‘a commented. “He is not truthful in his claim,” Shaqiq tried, “who is not grateful for the lash of his Lord.” “We need something better than that,” Rābi‘a observed. “He is not truthful in his claim,” Malek-e Dinar offered, “who does not take delight in the lash of his Lord.” “We need something better than that,” Rābi‘a repeated. “Then you say,” they urged. “He is not truthful in his claim,” Rābi‘a pronounced, “who does not forget the lash in contemplation of his Master.” (A 50)


Rābi‘a once was asked, “When does a slave [of God] acquire contentment?”  She replied, “When he is as grateful for adversity as for bounty.” (N 51)


Sūleh Merri often used to say, “The door will be opened to whomever knocks.” Overhearing him once, Rābi‘a remarked, “How long will you say: ‘The door will be opened...’ as if it were ever closed!” (N 52)


No separation exists between the Beloved and the lover. (N 68)

The angel of death once approached Rābi‘a. She asked who he was. “I am the destroyer of delights,” he replied, “the orphaner of children, the widower of wives.” Rābi‘a then asked, “Why do you only speak of your bad qualities? Why don’t you say, rather, “I am the one who unites friend with Friend.” (N 54)


It is related that Rābi‘a once dug a grave for herself at home. It was her practice to stand by the grave’s edge, morning and evening, saying: “Tomorrow here you shall be.” She would then engage herself in devotions. For forty years she maintained this routine until her death. (N 56)


Rābi‘a was once asked, “Did you ever perform any work that, in your opinion, caused God to favor and accept you?” She replied, “Whatever I did, I fear, may be counted against me.” (N 68)


Conceal your good qualities as much as you [try to] conceal your bad qualities. (N 68)


[When asked, “What should the servant do who desires proximity to his Lord?” Rābi‘a replied:] He should possess nothing in this world or the next, save Him. (S 221)


O my Lord, if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty. (S 224)




Omm Ahmad (n.d.; Egypt):

Whoever obeys God, all things obey him. (N 80)




Amat al-Jalīl (n.d.; Arabia):

[A number of male shaikhs were discussing how a saint feels about spiritual and worldly powers, his own destiny, etc.; finally, they came to Amat al-Jalīl and related to her all that had ensued in their previous debates. She then declared:] A saint’s times are such that he is so excessively absorbed and occupied with God that he can’t be bothered with the world. Thus the saint has no need. ... If someone ever tries to tell you that a saint of God ever pays attention to anything besides God, do not believe him. (N 84-5)




Fātemah Omm ‘Alī (9th century; Balkh, Afghanistan):

God, through an infinite variety of subtle graces and goodnesses, invites people to Himself, but since they reject His call, He afflicts them with diverse calamities, that by means of this torment they might return to Him, for He loves His creation. ...


It is far easier to overcome one’s desires than to endure being abased by seeking after them. (N 86-7)


Omm Talq” (n.d.; Basra, Iraq):

Should you manage to restrain the self (nafs), you shall be a sovereign; but if you follow its dictates, you will be a slave. (N 87)




Bahriya ‘Abedah (n.d.; Basra, Iraq):

Whenever the heart abandons its passions, it becomes intimate with knowledge (‘elm), and in its pursuit, endures patiently everything that occurs. (N 92)




Tohfah (9th century; d. at Mecca):

I delighted in Union’s garb

With which You clothed me;

You are my Lord, and Lord in truth, over all.

Stray desires all overran my heart,

Yet every impulse gathered within You,

Together, the moment I beheld You.


Tell me what or who I am,

And why with such slow torture

You draw me towards You.

This world’s existence, without You,

Is merely a penitentiary.

Whereas life with You, even in Hell,

Is a garden of delights. (N 97, 100)




Thawbiyah (n.d.; Damascus, Syria):

Light of my eyes! Nothing in this world or the next

affords me any pleasure unless You be with it. (N 106)




Hayyunah (n.d.):

Whoever loves God, will gain intimacy with Him. (N 112)




Roqiyah (n.d.; Mosul, Iraq):

O God, O Creator, though You inflict me with torment,

It is nothing in comparison with what I lose

From being far from You.

Though with heaven’s bounty You bless me,

It is still less than the rapture

With which Your love has favored my heart.

Try to be learned concerning the right modes of devotional sincerity.

Do not endeavor to gain knowledge of that which will draw you hither and thither. (N 115-6)




Reyhānah (late 8th century; Basra, Iraq):

O You, my Friend, my ecstasy and aspiration,

Besides You, my heart spurns all other love.

O Beloved, my long-enduring ambition and yearning is to behold You.

Among all the pleasures of Paradise

Only union with You do I wish. (N 117)




[A group of Sūfīs went to see Sa’idah Sūfīyah, a great recluse, saying, “Recite a prayer for us.” She replied,] May God cut off from you everything that cuts you off from Him. (N 124)




‘A’eshah (10th century; Nishāpur, Persia/Iran):

Do not delight in what is merely temporary and disappears. Rejoice rather

in the All-Mighty, and take care that you do not fall from His regard.


Disdain towards a servant exhibits lack of knowledge concerning his Master.

The lover of the Creator loves the creation as well. (N 131)




‘Atekah Ghanuyah (n.d.; a Bedouin):

Those who follow God’s commands in this world find no sweeter pleasure in their hearts than increasing their obedience for the sake of proximity to God. In the true seeker’s heart, the sweetness of a single hour of obedience to God excels all of the delights and pleasures of the world. Because of God’s goodness, the disciple upon God’s way never regards what he has given up as a loss. So, brother [she is speaking to Zarār Tafāwi] labor and strive before your time passes and it is too late. Advance yourself before it is too late to advance. The world is impure in the mind of one who has comprehended it; unmindful folk distracted by worldly concerns shall soon realize this too. (N 132-3)




‘Ofayrah ‘Abedah (n.d.; Basra):

[‘Ofayrah had become blinded through her many tears of love for God:] It is far more painful to bear blind-heartedness towards God, than to lack this eyesight that observes the world. I would prefer, by God, that He expropriates every one of my bodily organs and leave me solely with the jewel of His Love. (N 137)



Fātemah Barda’iyah (n.d.; Ardabil, Persia/Iran):

Remembrance (zekr) is that you contemplate the remembrance of you by Him-who-is-remembered (mazkur), while you never cease to remember Him. Then your remembrance will be annihilated in His remembrance of you, and (only) His remembrance of you will subsist beyond time and space. (N 138)




Fātemah (sister of Shaikh Abu ‘Ali Rudbāri, 10th century; Baghdad, Iraq?):

Chivalrous generosity (javānmardi) toward mankind consists in treating everyone with compassion (shafaqah), enduring them with equanimity, and perceiving them as above yourself, while witnessing your own faults. (N 139)




Take piety as your only provision ... and make the hereafter the aim of your quest. Adopt as the vehicle of your journey, asceticism and abstinence. While traveling to God, accustom your nature to severance from all things. Distance your heart from the world. Such will enable you to return to your Creator. ... Abandon the way of sinners, until ... you see, by God, that no veil intervenes between you and Him... —an anonymous ascetic woman’s advice to Sūfī saint, Dhu’l-Nun (N 174-5)


O my God, if my hopes for Your forgiveness exceed my merits, You are the One Who can pardon me with the vastness of Your Mercy. ... You are the End of my quest, You are He whom I seek.  —an anonymous lady, heard by Mohammad ebn Marwān (N 185)


[Abu Mohammad Morta’ash once encountered a saintly lady in the desert; he asked her, among other things, “What is the true way to the Transcendent?” She replied:] To seek for the Beloved through the heart upon the scales of the Invisible World. (N 195)




Bībī Fātimah Sam (late 13th century; India):

Nothing will earn greater reward in this or in the next world than the piece of bread and the water given to the hungry and the thirsty. The blessings of God for this are greater than for hundreds of thousands of namazes [bowings and prayers] and for many days spent in fasting. [2]




Fātima Jahānārā Begum Sāhib (d. 1681; Qādiriyya school; Delhi, India):

I offer a thousand praises and thanks to God the incomparable, for it was He Who, when my life was being spent to no purpose, led me to give myself to the great search for Him, and Who, after that, let me attain to the high degree of Union with Himself. ... He to whom this supreme happiness has been granted has become a perfect man [human] and the most exalted of created beings, for his own existence has become merged in that of the Absolute Being. He has become a drop in the ocean, a mote in the rays of the sun, a part of the whole. In this state, he is raised above death and the fear of punishment, above any regard for Paradise or dread of Hell. Whether woman or man, such a one is the most perfect of human beings. This is the grace of God which He gives to whom He wills. [3]




Hayātī (late 18th century; Nimatullāhi school; Persia/Iran):

On Covenant Day [with her husband-teacher and with God] my heart was freed from affliction—

in that Union there was no obstacle to the harmony of my soul.

This world is a snare, knowledge its victim—

truly the trap is well-made, firmly tied.

Since I closed the eye of avarice against all things not-God

the hand of Truth has undone my difficulties. ...

Thank God for the tie which binds, the cord

of his [her teacher’s] sainthood and love, soul-expanding bondage!

Those of his [God’s/her teacher’s] enemies who are not thus captured

are tied instead to the lurid glow of Hell.

In such hearts as his love finds a place

the mundane world can weave no confusion.

O master, whoever is chained as your slave [drawn to you as devotee]

cannot be trapped by love of this world or the next.

Now that my life’s thread is tied to your love

my soul is no more bothered by the terrifying cry of nothingness.

O songbird of the garden of solitude and spirituality

why, with your wings of yearning, do you bind up your [lofty] desires?

Spread your wings in the sky of praise for that king [the teacher]

and in the sea of praise all barriers will dissolve.

In his garden of freedom from bondage

even the bonds have begun to sing like birds. (PW 212-3) [4]


I set the soft glow of your face for a candle in my breast

My breast ripped open with your love

My eyes sewn shut against all idols. ...

In the bazaar of Love Hayātī

Has sold her religion and her heart

For a single glance [from the Beloved]. (PW 208)


If like Hayātī you drain the grail of love

Poison will become honey in your mouth. (PW 212)


However will one behold the moon’s glory

If over the heart His visage beams

Blazing like the sun? ...

If he were to lift the veil from his visage,

The world would be nullified,

The universe stupefied. ...

Tonight the Saki [cupbearer—a euphemism for the master and God], lips stained red, like rubies,

Pours forth wine to every drunkard’s [enraptured Sūfī’s] pleasure,

To suit every ecstatic’s taste.

Since Hayātī has imbibed His ecstasy

Soul-sated by His pure-hearted wine,

To what nectar [worldly pleasure] could she incline? (N 197-8)


In the realm of its own invisibility

Your sun-like countenance longed for epiphany

Till each single thing was cast into vision.

From the initial instant of time’s breath,

Your love lay within our soul,

Treasure in the heart’s secret chest. (N 198-9)


Long before time’s beginning,

The Emperor brought me forth

From Invisibility to Actuality

To grant me more intimate knowledge of Him. ...

I spent a desperate lifetime at the winehouse door

So that once I might hold that Goblet [of God’s love]

In which a vision of all worlds is beheld. (N 199)


Is this then the night of Power

Or merely your hair?

Is this the dawnbreak or your own face? ...

Everyone faces and prays to

A qibla [Muslim shrine signifying direction of Mecca] of adobe and mud:

The qibla of Hayātī’s soul

Turns towards your face. (N 200-1)




Princess Zobaydah (19th century; Nimatullāhi school; Persia/Iran):

How lovely, how sweet they murmured

Within my heart’s inward ear,

Are you a lover [of God]? Then go crazy, crazy!

If Union you desire,

And consummation with Him you crave,

Then to your ego be alien.

If to Love you are true, and to Him sincere,

Then burn your ego, consume your self.

Soar into love’s blaze like a moth

Be a moth, O heart, a moth.

Come Cupbearer! [God or the teacher and the cup of ecstatic Love]

Bring me a glass or two of wine,

So that a few drunk verses I may utter ...

In this drunkenness and intoxication

I will drive all memory of self

Into oblivion.

Other than You will not remain,

Only You ever subsistent.

Lovesick and bewildered

The whole world wanders crazed

Over the Beloved’s face.

Only a crazy lover talks this way,

Drunken in stupor. (N 117-8)




Arifa (20th century; Turkey):

A very great deal of present-day Sufist belief in Turkey is based upon the fact that we have verified what are often called the “miracles” of the ancients. But we do not rely upon these signs, as we consider them inferior to intuition—right thinking.... What you take as coincidence, or accident, very often is action: action taking place on a plane which is invisible to you. This does not mean that the illuminated Sufi sees and knows all: he or she only knows as much as is necessary for the time and the place. [5]




Irina Tweedie (1907-99; Russia-India-London):

It is the task of the Teacher to set the heart aflame with an unquenchable fire of longing; it is his duty to keep it burning until it is reduced to ashes. For only a heart which has burned itself empty is capable of love. (7) [6]


What the Teacher [Irina’s Hindu-Sūfī teacher, “Bhai Sahib,” “Elder Brother”] mainly did was force me to face the darkness within myself, and it almost killed me. It was done very simply—by using violent reproof, even aggression. My mind was kept in a state of confusion unable to function properly. I was beaten down in every sense until I had come to terms with that in me which I had been rejecting all my life. (7)


[The following are from her diary notes during her time with her teacher:] He is present in all my dreams. Never have I dreamt of anybody to such an obsessive extent. He is in all my dreams, as naturally as if he belonged there... (44)


[Lying down one afternoon, Irina experienced the following:] It was as if something snapped inside my head and the whole of me was streaming out ceaselessly, without diminishing, on and on. There was no “me”—just flowing. Just being. A feeling of unending expansion, just streaming forth. ... But all this I knew only later, when I tried to remember it. (130)


[After her long travail of ups and downs, tests and consolations, from her guru was over, and some 16 weeks after his physical passing, she was in spiritual retreat at Kausani, in the Himalayas:] The sunrise, the sunset, the garden, the people, the whole daily life seems outwardly the same. But the values have changed. The meaning underlying it all is not the same as before. Something which seemed intangible, unattainable, slowly, very slowly becomes a permanent reality. There is nothing but Him. At the beginning it was sporadic; later of shorter or longer duration, when I was acutely conscious of it. But now ... The infinite, endless Him ... Nothing else is there. And all the beauty of nature which surrounds me is as if only on the edge of my consciousness. Deep within I am resting in the peace of His Heart. The body feels so light at times. As if it were made of the pure, thin air of the snow peaks. This constant vision of the One is deepening and increasing in the mind, giving eternal peace. (201)


I felt that I was nearing the end of the road. I mean the end of the road to the Real Home. There is nothing else to do. He takes over. When the devotee becomes His, everything ends there. Yes, I am only at the beginning of this state; there will be many ups and downs. But this is really the beginning of the end. This feeling of belonging to Him, every breath, every pore of the body, every thought, every little cell—it is wonderful! There is such security in it, such tenderness; and yet it is Nothingness itself. Like a perfume rising from the innermost sweetness is this still joy... (202)


The Realization that every act, every word, every thought of ours not only influences our environment but mysteriously forms an integral part of the Universe, fits into it as if by necessity, in the very moment we do or say or think it, is an overwhelming and even shattering experience. If we only knew deeply, absolutely, that our smallest act, our smallest thought, has such far-reaching effects; setting forces in motion; reaching out to the galaxy; how carefully we would act and speak and think. How precious life would become in its integral oneness. It is wonderful and frightening. The responsibility is terrifying and fascinating in its depth and completeness, containing as it does the perplexing insecurity of being unique and the profound consolation of forming part of the Eternal Undivided Whole. And we all have the right to, and can achieve, the realization of this wonderful meaning of life; one is quite simply part of it all; a single vision of Wholeness. (202)


Now I must live with the Glory and the Terror of it ... It is merciless, inescapable; an intensely virile, intoxicating Presence, so utterly joyous, boundless and free. it is blasphemy to attempt to put it into words. (202)


You did not deceive me, Guruji. You pointed out the Way, and now the Way has taken hold of me ... fully ... irrevocably. (203)


God is Silence, and can be reached only in silence. (203)