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In Islam

Not giving up as a sign
of faith

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03 July 2021

Hagar’s race is now part of the pilgrimage to Mecca


Can a woman's rebellion ever coincide with a prophetic spirit so she is able to predict and pen the future? Religions often demand obedience, submission and silence, especially from women, but here we talk about women by combining two other words: rebellious and prophetic.

In reality, rebelling is half of the highest formula proposed by Islam: “La ilaha illa Allah”, there is no god but God. In order to realise faith, one must first reject, deny, battle against everything that creates idols both inside and out, in order to be an authentic believer in one God.

Here follows five portraits of rebellious and prophetic women in Islamic history and tradition.

The first is the mother of the prophet Moses. The Koran tells the story of a mother who is meek and full of love for a child who is destined to be killed. She does not let go, she prays, she cries, but she does not submit. She rebels and is offered to entrust herself to a project apparently against her own reason! From her Lord she received a way to secure her son’s salvation that was against the logic of the world, ordered to “Suckle your child and when you fear for his life throw him into the river” (Koran 28, 7).  An immense and authentic faith led Moses’ mother to commit this extreme gesture; she accepted the proposal and trusted the Voice. This mother was true rebel against the destiny of death and injustice, and to whom the Koran reserves a verb which otherwise only referres to the greatest prophets, that is Awhayna: “We have revealed to the mother of Moses what she had to do” [ibid].

Another great rebel who is mentioned in the Koran is the Pharaoh’s wife, whose husband was the most powerful man of his time. To rebel against him was inconceivable for anyone, but his wife did so. While she may have had everything and could continue to enjoy the riches of the world, she chose to resist the tide, in Moses’ defence, in favour of the oppressed (Koran 66, 11-16). To be taken as an example, according to the Koran, her rebellion is an authentic religious act.

The third rebel whose gestures were prophetic is Hagar. In her situation, after being abandoned by the prophet Abraham, most would have lost their hope and faith, but this marvelous woman did not stop believing. She fought against all despair, and went beyond the limit; she ran to find water for her son Ishmael, who was thirsty, they had been driven away and left together in a barren land without another living soul. According to Islamic tradition, Hagar ran seven times between the uninhabited Safa and Marwa hills. Upon recognising her courage, the God of life caused water to gush under her child’s feet, which saved them. Muslims come from all corners of the earth to Mecca to perform the rite of the great pilgrimage, called upon to imitate Hagar’s steps as an integral part of the solemn religious rite (Koran 2,158). This rite invites believers to run seven times between the two hills now connected by a covered corridor, drinking of the same water still gushing there today at the Zamzam well.

The fourth woman to be mentioned is Khadija, the rich merchant of Mecca who became the beloved wife of the Prophet Mohammad thanks to her rebellion against the customs of the time: it was she who asked the young Mohammad to get married. Fifteen years older than him, and separated with children, she fell in love with her young worker and bravely faced the judgement of the people, defying everyone. However, her real battle and rebellion came about when she believed in and supported her husband and his prophetic message against the corrupt powerful in society, in defence of the oppressed and the lowly, and placed her wealth at the disposal of this monotheistic project. Consequently, she received the honorary title of Khadija al kubra, the greatest.

The fifth prophetic rebel is none other than Mary, the mother of wisdom, of faith and courage. According to the Koranic account, it was she from an early age who had started the battle and search for goodness and light (Koran 19, 16). In the twenty-first chapter, entitled The Prophets, in which the lives of fifteen of them are narrated, comes Mary’s name, appearing as the flower of the prophets.

Mihrab, from the root harb, which translates as “place of battle”. Today, the niche within mosques, where the imam who leads the prayer is hosted, is called Mihrab. In order to see us meditate on this fighting aspect of Mary, the Koran mentions the word mihrab only once and this one time it refers to her (Koran 3, 37). This is very significant. Mary is not the submissive, passive and silent woman; instead, she is the true combatant against all ignorance, injustice, and belief beyond all boundaries and limits. The battle against darkness is necessary for the fulfilment of God’s plan for man, to become enlightened and fulfilled human beings like Mary (Koran 66:12).

By Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh