"I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love."
Rabi’a Al-Basri, the first female Sufi saint and poet in Islam, set forth the doctrine of “Divine Love.” She was born in the early 8th century in the port city of Basra, present day Iraq, to a very poor but well respected family. She was named Rabi’a for her position as the fourth child in the family. Even though Rabi’a did not leave written evidence of her poetry, we are able to catch a glimpse of her poetry primarily through the works of Farid Al-din Attar, a Sufi saint and poet who compiled her poetry into writing, and Margaret Smith who wrote, “Rabi’a the Mystic” in 1928.
Rabi’a’s father, a Sufi and an ascetic himself, believed that the Prophet came to him in his dreams the night Rabi’a was born. The Prophet told Rabi’a’s father that his daughter was going to be a saint. The Prophet advised Rabi’a’s father to send a letter to the Amir, reminding him of his prayers and requesting a certain amount of money. The Amir responded positively, giving Rabia’s family a large sum of money and thanking him for the letter.
However, Rabi’a’s good fortune did not last long, as her parents died early in her life. Orphaned, she was sold into slavery. There are several accounts of the next stage of her life. It is believed that at one point in her time as a slave, she spoke to God after slipping and dislocating her wrists. She then committed herself to Him, fasting during the day and carrying out her tasks. Many believe that in the middle of the night, her owner witnessed her bowing in worship while a lamp hung above her head without support. This image, symbolizing that of a Muslim saint, was enough for him to free her from slavery. It is said that she then spent several years worshipping in the desert, and performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. She chose a life of celibacy, rejecting many marriage proposals. She also lived a life of asceticism, rejecting materialism and accepting a life of poverty. She was known for performing many miracles.
She is known for being the first woman Sufi saint who devoted herself entirely to God. She made the greatest contribution of any woman towards the development of Sufism.
Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the (Hell) Fire)." They said, "Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)?" He said, "No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise).
Jaha Dukureh, the face of a Guardian campaign to raise awareness of FGM in the US, who has taken her campaign back to her home country, said equipping young people at the event with religious arguments was vital in the battle to end FGM within a generation.
“Almost everyone who practises FGM believes it is a religious obligation, and this religious scholar has told us that this is not the case,” she said.
Jaiteh used the example of altered public health practices caused by the Ebola outbreaks to show that traditions could change, and quickly.
“Shaking hands is an obligation in Gambia,” he said. “But now Ebola has led to that practice being curtailed. Shaking hands is obviously therefore simply a cultural practice – when it is discovered that culture can lead to harm, it is stopped. Islam is here to safeguard and repel whatever causes harm.”
The impassioned youthful audience engaged in the detail of Islamic argument, and some young women urged others not to be afraid to challenge practices and laws made without their consent.
“Women were not there when these laws were being made for them,” said Ruqayah Sesay, attending the summit. “So much injustice is being done to women in the name of Islam and we are afraid to challenge it. But we must not be afraid to challenge, we need to stand up and be part of making these laws ourselves.”
Amie Bojang-Sissoko, a veteran anti-FGM campaigner, who has worked with the Gambian feminist organisation Gamcotrap for more than 20 years, said she hoped young people would go directly to the Qur’an to arm themselves with the facts.
She said: “If the prophet was said to love and care for his children, why can’t we learn from him? If he is this type of person why would he condone cutting a female body in the name of Islam? I don’t think he would.”
Bojang-Sissoko said that the youth summit had given new energy to the campaign to end FGM in Gambia, adding that she hoped young people would continue to push for a law that would make FGM illegal. “I am so proud to be working with these young people. At one point I felt we were losing our activism, but now I feel it has been re-energised,” she said.
Sadia quietly entered the room, lifted her burqa and took a seat. She's thin, almost emaciated, and old beyond her years.
"It was the second night of Ramadan," Sadia recounted, and she woke her husband up for suhoor, the morning meal served just before dawn.
"I prepared food and I told him to get up. When he got up he asked me why I didn't make milk tea. I told him I would go make it, but he didn't listen. He just started beating me."
Beatings were frequent over the course of their two-year marriage. Two months in, her husband and his family stopped feeding and giving Sadia clothes. They would shut all the windows and doors of the house and take turns beating and strangling her.
"When they beat me, they would tell me, 'You're all alone, scream as loud as you want, there is no one here to hear you.'"
"I asked from God to die."
Three-time abuse rule
Sadia returned to her family home three times because she was beaten so badly. At the husband's family's request, she was sent back, with a promise that the abuse would end.
Afghanistan's traditional justice system, one deeply woven into society, seemingly functions on a three-times rule. If, after the third time, a woman is still being abused by her husband, then elders, who often preside over the cases, will typically allow for a divorce.
Some families, however, intervene immediately so there is no second time. Others, not at all.
Mohammad Islam, Sadia's father, a poor daily labourer, admitted to seeing his daughter being beaten by her husband - not once, but several times. However, Sadia's husband, part of an armed group, sometimes known as arbakai, is led by a well-known, powerful local commander named Noor Mohammad.
Local armed groups have flourished in order to counter the threat from the Taliban as the central government's control barely runs beyond the capital, Kabul.
Afghan first lady in shadow of 1920s queen?
The growing fragility of the north can be seen on the vital highway linking the provincial capital of Takhar, where armed gunmen dot the road passing through the picturesque hills.
"The commander and his men put pressure on Sadia's family, who then come here and tried to pressure us to send her back. They have gone to the hospital and told the doctors to say this incident never happened," said Razmara.
"They also told the prosecutor to not touch the case. They have tried every means possible to get Sadia back."
As the director spoke, Sadia, probably 19 or 20 as she doesn't know her exact date of birth, leaned into the conversation, her hands clasped in her lap, looking down, continuously shaking her head in agreement.
Before passing out on that second night of Ramadan from the beating, Sadia recalls her husband getting on top of her, sitting on her face and then withdrawing his knife.
"I don't know how much time passed, but when I woke up he started beating me again. His brother's son came to the window and asked what was going on. I got up and walked to the window, my husband followed and continued to beat me. I crawled out of the window and my husband also followed."
When Sadia arrived at the hospital the following morning, according to Dr Safi, the director of public health, and Razmara, they found out that the right side of her major labia (outside fatty tissue covering the vagina) had been severed off by a knife. Her pelvis was mutilated and "abused" by hand, and her vaginal canal had been penetrated - with parts of her insides torn out.
"Violence against women is increasing day by day," Safi told Al Jazeera. "Today we even have a case of a woman with her ear cut off."
"But," he continued, "I have never seen anything like this before … not anywhere."
"In order for her to fully recover she needs plastic surgery. We can't do this in Afghanistan, she would need to go outside the country. We were also not able to give her a proper checkup, so we don't even know the full extent of the damage," Safi said.