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Zainab Salbi Headshot

Who Is Rabaa Adawiya?

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Rabaa Adawiya Mosque has become a symbol for Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt after military took over in June 28 preceding the June 30 revolution, which led to the deposing of former president Mohammed Morsi. After more than a month of persistent protest, this historical Mosque has witnessed much killing and fighting and is now left burnt out after one of the worst bloody day in Egypt's history where more than 830 people were killed by the army and the police in what is now called "Black Wednesday."

The irony is that Rabia Adawiya, the woman -- yes, the woman -- who the mosque was named after, was known for being one of the first people in Islam to have introduce the idea of "divine love" and for the relationship to God be out of love and not out of fear. If that mosque was built out of love in 8th century then it was burnt out of hatred and fear in 2013. Today when you search the name Rabaa Adawiya, news of the protests and the killings dominant all search results rather than the woman who has dedicated her life to love of the divine.

Born in 715 Julian in Basra, Adawiya was known to have born into a poor family. Her father believed in his daughter's spirituality since her youth and had conveyed that to the ruler of the time who joined him in his beliefs and cared for the family. Upon her father's death, Adawiya's life changed as famine hit her city and her path eventually led her to be stolen by robbers of a caravan who sold her into slavery. Despite of her misfortune, though, Adawiya's love for God grew more and more so much so that the very master who she worked for released her after hearing her prayers and being touched by her love and dedication for the divine. Adawiya then spent the rest of her life in the deserts of Arabia loving God not out of fear of hell or desire for paradise but out of absolute and unconditional love for the divine. She has inspired so many people both religious scholars of the time and eventually followers of her spiritual path and history, who later honored her by naming a mosque after her in Cairo, Egypt.

It is most ironic that today, the mosque of the woman who preached love, forgiveness and grace despite her hardships became the epicenter for hatred and fighting among Muslims in Cairo, Egypt, today. The hatred and anger that has taken over the streets of Cairo stand for the exact opposite values of the very place that became the symbolism of the demonstrations in the past month. If Adawiya preached for the love of God, fear of God is now the dominant value that has spread among those who argue that religion is at the heart of politics and that God or rather a handful of people's interpretation of what God stands for is to rule the politics of governments.

Back in her time, Adawiya was remembered for her prayer: "O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your Own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty." These very values upon which that woman was honored has been replaced with men who justify bombings and killings not only in Egypt but in many parts of the Muslim world over promises of paradise and have prosecuted other Muslims who dare to have a loving, happy and joyful relationship with God, questioning their religion and their devotion if not fitting of a very restrictive image of what a "Muslim" mean. Fear and the desire for political power in the name of God and actions and promises for heavenly rewards have hijacked much of the beauty of Islam and definitely what Rabaa Adawiya advocated for hundreds of years ago.

Love of God is now almost viewed as blasphemy when said out loud. I once said it to an Egyptian taxi driver and my heart skipped a beat as he stared at me with both confusion and anger. Many in the region who see themselves as Muslims and good ones indeed complain about how their values and beliefs have been questioned if not fitting a very restrictive views and very particular practices defined by few political parties of what a "Muslim" should be. The relationship of love has been replaced by fear. And if we all agree that God is above all of politics than those who are fighting and killing and burning in the name of God have corrupted the very value of God, and that I would say is the biggest blasphemy.

Rabaa Adawiya Mosque is now burnt and destroyed from inside but apparently the outside walls are still standing. Perhaps her voice and her values can be a call, an appeal, for Egyptians and all Muslims who have mixed God up with politics to remember that the only way to honor God is to return to love as a guiding relationship with the divine and not hate, fear or anger and the only way to honor God is to leave our individual political ambitions out of manipulating the meaning of the divine. May we be able to return Rabaa Adawiya's name to the woman who wrote the following and not to the mosque that witnessed one of the worst bloodsheds among Egyptians. I look forward to seeing the day where the mosque is being rebuilt and I pray that it will be rebuilt with the same spirit Adawiya stood for.

"I have two ways of loving You:
A selfish one
And another way that is worthy of You.
In my selfish love, I remember You and You alone.
In that other love, You lift the veil
And let me feast my eyes on Your living Face."

-Rabaa Adawiya