I love you with a double love: I love you passionately, and I love you for yourself.
Loving you passionately has put me off others.
I love you for yourself so you would drop your shutters and let me see you.
I am not the one to be thanked, all thanks must go to you.

Rabia of Basra lived in twelfth-century Iraq. She wrote in Arabic, but her exemplary piety made her a saint who is venerated all over the Muslim world. In her era, the mystical tradition of Islam was growing, even burgeoning. In contrast to the crippling orthodoxy, which emphasised the fear of God, and the rise of materialism in her society, the advocate of mysticism focused on love. The mystics preferred an intimate relationship with God rather than many of the barren rituals of formal worship. ‘This was the period’, says the German scholar Anne-Marie Schimmel, ‘when early Islamic mysticism, with its austere and world-detesting outlook, began to turn into love-mysticism.’ And Rabia took the lead. Schimmel thinks that the absoluteness of devotion Rabia displays in her verses is ‘stronger than her art’. Artistic or not, such poetic intimacies, as Rabia’s twentieth-century biographer, Widad Sakkakini, points out, were seen by many as transgressive. To address one’s maker as if He were her lover?

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