Meanings, Words, and Names: Rābi‘a’s Mystical Dance of the Letters

  • Tamara Albertini
Part of the Comparative Philosophy of Religion book series (COPR, volume 1)


The present paper is divided into two parts with three sections each. The first part endeavors to pierce through the extravagance and flamboyance expressed in the “Rābi‘an” stories in order to unravel Rābi‘a the teacher, pedagogue, and innovator. The revolutionary edge in Rābi‘a’s doctrine and how instrumental it was in establishing Sufism as a love-based form of devotion has been the subject of numerous scholarly publications and is in no need of being rehashed. Her poetry as a whole, however, has not been the subject of a systematic inquiry. The second part, therefore, analyzes the language of some of Rābi‘a’s poems and sayings. It focuses in particular on her technical terms and generally her sophisticated written expression, which she developed in support of her mystical teaching. Her astute use of language connects well with the rhetorical skills reflected in the “stories.” However, Rābi‘a’s eloquence is not only indicative of a person naturally adroit with retorts. It rests on her formidable command of Arabic, which is also expressed in her mastery of intricate Arabic meters. A thorough analysis of her verses reveals her ability to seize on the structural and semantic layers of her native language not just for greater aesthetic appeal but also for a more perfect grounding of her teaching of unconditional love. The last sections of the present paper will show how Rābi‘a’s most creative techniques presuppose an advanced reflection on language.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Hawai‘i at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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