Women and Sufism

In the recent post about the Mawlawi Order, a video was posted from YouTube featuring the Sema (the musical ceremony or dance). What was interesting about this video was the number of women performing the Sema.

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya of Basra

Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya of Basra

The relationship between women and Sufism is very interesting and one is worth exploring historically and socially. In the article by Camille Adams Helminski titled Women and Sufism (originally published in Gnosis #30 (Winter 1994), the historical link to Islam goes as far back as Muhammad.

Helminski writes:

From the earliest days onward, women have played an important role in the development of Sufism, which is classically understood to have begun with the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad brought a message of integration of spirit and matter, of essence and everyday life, of recognition of the feminine as well as the masculine. Though cultural manifestations have covered over some of the original purity of intention, the words of the Qur’an convey the equality of women and men before the eyes of God. At a time when the goddess-worshiping Arabian tribes were still quite barbaric, even burying infant girls alive in favor of male offspring, this new voice of the Abrahamic tradition attempted to reestablish the recognition of the Unity of Being. It tried to address the imbalances that had arisen, advising respect and honor for the feminine as well as for the graciousness and harmony of nature.

In the early years of this new revelation, Muhammad’s beloved wife, Khadija, filled a role of great importance. It was she who sustained, strengthened, and supported him against his own doubt and bewilderment. She stood beside him in the midst of extreme difficulty and anguish and helped carry the light of the new faith. It was to Muhammad’s and Khadija’s daughter, Fatimah, to whom the deeper mystical understanding of Islam was first conveyed, and indeed she is often recognized as the first Muslim mystic.

There are many questions about the continuing role of women Sufi, in terms of what are the attitudes in Turkey now and in the past towards women’s participation in religious and cultural practices.

One early Sufi mystic was Rābiʻa al-ʻAdawiyya al-Qaysiyya (Arabic: رابعة العدوية القيسية‎) or simply Rābiʻa al-Basrī (Arabic: رابعة البصري‎) (717–801 C.E.) was a female Muslim saint and Sufi mystic. Rābiʻa al-Basrī was born between 95 and 99 Hijri in Basra, Iraq. Much of her early life is narrated by Farid al-Din Attar, a later Sufi Saint and poet, who used earlier sources.

This will be an active area of research before and during the trip to Turkey.