Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiyya is a figure shrouded in myth. Certainly a woman by this name was born in Basra, Iraq, in the eighth century, but her life remains recorded only in legends, stories, poems and hagiographies. The various depictions of her – as a deeply spiritual ascetic, an existentialist rebel and a romantic lover – seem impossible to reconcile, and yet Rabi‘a has transcended these narratives to become a global symbol of both Sufi and modern secular culture.
In this groundbreaking study, Rkia Elaroui Cornell traces the development of these diverse narratives and provides a history of the iconic Rabi‘a’s construction as a Sufi saint. Combining medieval and modern sources, including evidence never before examined, in novel ways, Rabi‘a From Narrative to Myth is the most significant work to emerge on this quintessential figure in Islam for more than seventy years.
‘An exceptional contribution to scholarship. Although ostensibly a study on Rabi‘a, it sheds light on almost all of the major questions that modern scholars of early Sufism have been grappling with for over a century.’
– Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Professor of History, University of Maryland
‘A dazzling romp through the process of myth-making, sanctity, and popular culture enacted across the world stage for more than a millennium.’
– Lynda Coon, Professor of History and Dean of the Honors College, University of Arkansas
‘Goes far beyond prior attempts to examine what we know about Rabi‘a and her significance to the Islamic tradition and beyond. Engaging questions relating to historiography, narratology, and myth, this work carefully pieces together the historical Rabi‘a while placing stories and aphorisms attributed to Rabi‘a in their discursive, cultural, and ritual context. The result is a magisterial study that will be foundational for decades for the study of Sufism and Islam.’
– Zayn Kassam, John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College