Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya from Basra was one of the most important founders of the mystical element of Islam, known as Sufism. The stories about her life and teachings illustrate a woman free from many of the traditional constraints placed on women’s lives. In miracle stories such as this one, we see an essential element of Sufi thought: do not expect anything from God, but rather, recognize the larger greatness of the deity beyond your small existence.

Source: Helminski, Camille Adams. Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure. Boston: Shambala, 2003.


One day Rabi‘a and her serving-girl were getting ready to break a fast of several days. The serving-girl needed an onion and was about to go next door and borrow one, but Rabi‘a said: “Forty years ago I vowed never to ask for anything from anyone but God—we can do without onions.”

Just then a bird flew over, and dropped an onion into Rabi‘a’s frying pan, peeled and ready to fry.

“Interesting but not convincing,” she said. “Am I supposed to believe that God is an onion-vender? I mean, really.”

That day they fried their bread without onions.