“Rabia of Basra was considered one of the most beautiful women living on earth in her time. Her youth and beauty were unsurpassed. Now it so happens that a young man from Shiraz in Iran comes to Basra while travelling and sight-seeing. He’s vigorous and handsome and very successful in business. His business takes him from place to place and country to country. At this time it brings him to Basra. He’s fond of sight-seeing. So while having tea or food he asks whomever he meets, ‘Are you from Basra?’
‘Tell me what’s to be found in this place? Is there anything out of the way, anything unusual, anything special?’
‘Well, we have fine gardens and we have fountains and all that.’
‘Oh! I have roamed many countries and seen a number of big cities. There are many such beautiful things; but is there anything here that is out of the way?’
‘What is it?’
‘The most beautiful woman on earth!’
‘What? The most beautiful woman on earth!’ He’s young and handsome, and youth is always attracted by beauty. He hears this and laughs. ‘Well, I’ve seen thousands of beautiful girls. Can there be any more beautiful than those in Iran?’
‘Well, that’s what I’m telling you,’ says the man.
And the young Iranian again goes sight-seeing and again asks some people, ‘Is there anything special to see in this place?’ And they tell him about various sights, and again he asks, ‘But is there anything special?’
And they say, “There is nothing better here than Rabia of Basra. Her beauty surpasses all beauty.”
‘How can that be?’ he asks. ‘What makes you say that?’
And they reply, ‘Those who are starved for beauty, they will find that out when they meet her.’
‘All right, where can I find her? How does one see her?’
‘Well, where else? In a brothel!’
‘Oh, that’s a common story. We have prostitutes in Iran too. We know about that kind of woman.’
‘Yes, but this is different!’ they answer.
He goes around to different places in the city, and again he hears the name of Rabia from someone he meets, and then from another man and then another and another. Gradually he comes to realise that this whole city is somehow different from other cities he has visited. This place is charged with such an atmosphere that people talk freely about the beauty of a woman, and yet there seems no trace of vulgarity in their talk. What is it? Who could she be? What makes her so beautiful and at the same time approachable by all? He thinks, ‘Well she’s only a beautiful prostitute. That’s why she’s approachable for all.’
After some days he decides to visit Rabia even though she’s in a brothel. Although he is from a social stratum that customarily does not frequent brothels, he makes himself bold to go there. For the first time in his life he makes up his mind to go to such a place and see for himself what he has heard about from other people. He makes discreet inquiries about the place and time she’s available. Somebody leads him there in the evening, saying, ‘Go up the stairs and there will be a matron who will see you and ask you to pay a fee.’
‘She takes fees?’
‘She doesn’t, but the matron asks for them. Without paying you won’t be able to go in.’
‘Okay, nevermind. I have money.’
So up he goes, slowly climbing the stairs. And all the time his mind is working, full of this beauty he has heard about and anticipating the moments he’ll spend with her. When he arrives, the matron questions him, ‘What do you want? Are you a stranger in this country?’
‘Yes, I am a stranger here, and I want to see Rabia of Basra.’
‘What do you mean you want to see Rabia of Basra? Is she an exhibit in a zoo or something?’
‘Well, isn’t she approachable?’
‘Yes, but you have to be with her, not just see her. And you have to pay a fee.’
‘Yes, yes, I want to spend time with her.’
“All right, but the fee is exorbitant.”
‘I don’t mind; I’ll pay whatever it is.’ He pays and she takes him to the suite, ushers him inside and shuts the door.
He finds the room is vacant; there is nobody to wait upon him. Then he gradually ventures further in. There is a little room to the side and in it a figure is praying. A prayer carpet is spread and the figure is kneeling, absorbed in prayer. What beauty she has! He has never seen such beauty! ‘Oh, how could she be here?’ he thinks, ‘How could she allow men to co-habit with her?’ He sits and gazes at her beauty and loses himself. Yet, his passion is aroused, and he waits for her to be finished with the prayer.
She prays and prays. An hour passes. Gradually there is an ebb in his passion. He is attracted by her beauty and at the same time by her purity. After another hour or so she finishes her prayer and looks at him; it is as if lightning has struck him, the very sight of her!
She apologises and says, ‘I’m so sorry. Pardon me for keeping you waiting so long! I was absorbed in prayer. You must be hungry.’ She claps and her maidens come. She orders, ‘Spread the feast for him. He is our guest tonight.’ And to him, ‘Would you like to drink something? What sort of liquor do you prefer/’
‘Well, I’m from Iran….’ And he thinks, ‘That’s good, she’s not too absorbed in prayers; she offers me food and drink also. And it’s true what people say — she’s truly beautiful!’
So he takes an interest in conversing and opens up his heart. He tell her his whole story while she listens intently. As he talks he just gazes at her, feeding upon her beauty. She also participates in the conversation, inquiring about his well-being, and about his travels and his work.
‘You must have visited many places and seen many fine sights. Have you visit Basra properly?’
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I have almost finished my visit to Basra, and everywhere I go I hear about your beauty. And so I wanted to be here with you.’
‘You are most welcome,’ she says, ‘But after all, what is this beauty of mine? It’s a passing show! Very soon I’ll get old and become all wrinkled. Age will tell upon me just as it will upon you.’
And she takes up the thread there. The talk about beauty and truth and God starts, and it goes on and on into the early hours of the morning. Eventually she leads him to the point where he becomes a real devotee.
‘What a discourse you’ve given me tonight!’ he says. ‘Now I begin to realise what real beauty means, how one should behave in life, how one should seek that eternal beauty which never perishes.’
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘that’s right. That’s how it is.’
Finally he feels it’s time to go. ‘I’m your slave,’ he says from his heart. ‘Tell me anything, anything in this world I can do for you.’
‘I have one little request.’
‘Anything,’ he replies. ‘Ask for wealth. Ask for anything you want.’
‘There is just one little thing, if you could do it.’
‘What is it?’
‘Never tell anyone what transpired here tonight. Allow the people to come to me. This beauty is bait to lure them. It motivates them and gives them strength and right understanding and the right perspective on life. God has placed me in this particular place so that I can do His work and tell people about true beauty and real love. Promise me that you’ll never tell others what you’ve experienced here tonight.’
‘Oh!’ he says. ‘So this is the secret of Basra! The whole city clamours after your beauty. Yet nobody tells me about his experience.’
‘Yes,’ she smiles. ‘They all promise. You see, my beauty is my strength to fight in the cause of my Lord.’
~ story by Meher Baba