"Lord! You know well that my keen desire is to carry out. Your commandments and to serve Thee with all my heart, O light of my eyes. If I were free I would pass the whole day and night in prayers. But what should I do when you have made me a slave of a human being?"
These were the words of the female Muslim mystic and poet, Rabaa al-Adawiya. Her journey from slavery to freedom served as a generational testament of the resolve of the individual who was armed with faith and nothing else.
Rabaa’s story is multifarious, and despite the fact that the Muslim saint died over 12 centuries ago, few Egyptians are failing to see the centrality of her narrative to their own. In the north of the Nasr City district, tens of thousands of Egyptians chose the iconic mosque named after her to stage their sit-in and demanded the return to shar’iya (legitimacy) after it was seized in a brazen military coup which ousted elected President Mohammed Mursi on July 3.
Rabaa’s narrative is essential because it was about freedom. She was born into a very poor family in Basra, Iraq. According to Farid ud-Din Attar who related her story, she was so poor that when she was born the family had nothing to wrap around her, not even oil to light their only lamp. Years later when Rabaa was a grownup, she was kidnapped and sold into Egyptian slavery as she tried to escape a deadly famine in Iraq.
Rabaa didn’t exactly challenge her master through organizing strikes and defiant sit-ins. She was alone and dominated by too many powerful forces that made her life of slavery and degradation absolute. So she spent most of the day as a slave, but late at night she would stay up and pray. It was more than praying, but an attempt at reclaiming her humanity, at comprehending the multitude of forces that chained her to earthly relations of slave and master, and in a sense, she tried to discover a level of freedom that could not be granted by a master’s wish.
The Rabaas of Egypt are not hated, they are loathed. They have always been treated as sub-humans that live in their own dirty quarters which are unbelievably neglected shantytowns made up of haggard buildings stacked atop one another.Ramzy Baroud
Regardless of the precision of the details, Rabaa al-Adawiya’s legacy has passed on from one generation of Egyptians to the next. Like her, many of these Egyptians are mostly poor, immensely patient, and are hostage to the same century-old class struggle by which Rabaa was defined.
In some way, the January 25 revolution included millions of Rabaas fed up with oppression and servitude. But the class division that was highlighted after millions of Egyptians rose against the military coup became clearer than ever. These were the poorest of the poor, long alienated and dehumanized by both the ruling class and the conceited, intellectual groupings of self-described liberals and socialists. The unprecedented union between Egypt’s ruling class and anti-Muslim intellectual elite succeeded, to an extent, in blocking our view from the substantial class struggle underway in Egypt, where the poorest communities – yes, workers and peasants – were leading a historic struggle to reclaim democracy from the upper and middle class intellectuals. The former committed hideous murders against peaceful protesters, while the latter group found a way to explain why it was completely fine to mow down thousands of people staging massive sit-ins in Nahda Square, and yes, Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, named after Rabaa.