Women’s prayers in the Islamic tradition

The supplications in the Koran

 Quelle suppliche nel Corano  DCM-004
06 April 2024

 “As Salatu a’mududdin”, prayer is the axis of religion, says Islamic tradition. It is the common point par excellence between all faiths and religious denominations, albeit with different forms, names and practices. One addresses the Creator, the eternal and Wise Spirit of the universe. One prays to ask for support, relief from pain or suffering, healing from an illness, or to grow and have a more enlightened heart, to encounter the divine, or to achieve Peace. 

A very beautiful female prayer is found in the Koran recited by the wife of a Pharaoh, who was a woman of high social, economic and political status.

She was a woman who had everything one could desire for in and from the world, wielding the highest worldly power. Nevertheless, she asks for more. With exemplary and enlightening courage she asks the Lord to save her from the Pharaoh in order to follow the good and righteous path. She does not mind renouncing her power knowing that in the face of divine beauty it counts for nothing: “God has proposed as an example to the believers the wife of Pharaoh when she said: 'My Lord! Build for me near You a house in Paradise, and save me from the Pharaoh and his deeds, and save me from the wrongdoing people.'“ (Quran 66:11). This is a prayer that is more relevant than ever, for it encourages everyone, men and women aloke, to have a lively and awakened conscience, and to choose justice and goodness, even if it means losing a position of prestige.

A second prayer is that of the mother of the child Moses, who wasd desperate for the fate of her son who was in danger of death, to be killed by the powerful and unjust Pharaoh. In silence, she enters into an intimate supplication with her Lord, almost without expressing the words because sometimes the weight of pain takes one's breath away.  The prayer of this great woman is answered in the Qur’an: “We revealed to the mother of Moses: ‘Suckle him, but in case of danger cast him into the waters, and feel no fear nor affliction. Surely we shall render him to thee and make him a messenger” (Qur’an 28:7).

In addition to raising the position of a simple mother to the level of the great female prophet, this prayer, which uses the word awhayna, i.e. “We revealed”, points the way to hope.   It takes a firm faith to perform a seemingly irrational or impossible act: “throw him into the waters” Moses’ mother is told. Nevertheless, she has faith and decides to abandon him in the river in a basket, entrusting him to the Lord’s mercy. An unfortunately this is an all to familiar story; after all, how many mothers today throw their own children into dinghies in the middle of the sea to save them from certain death?

Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (also known as Rabia al- Basri), who lived in the first Islamic century (713 AD) in Basra, Iraq, is known in Islamic tradition as the mother of spirituality. Rabi’a prays with these words: “O my God, whatever You have reserved for me in earthly things, give it to Your enemies; and whatever You have reserved for me in the Hereafter, give it to Your friends. For Thou art sufficient for me. O my God, if I adore Thee out of fear of hell, burn me in hell; and if I adore Thee out of hope of paradise, exclude me from paradise; but, if I adore Thee solely for Thyself, do not deprive me of Thy eternal beauty” (I detti di Rabi'a [The Sayings of Rabi'a], edited by Caterina Valdrè, Adelphi 1979).

Between Islam and Christianity there are close and almost common languages, for example in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi.

In the Islamic tradition in a symbolic way, God is said to have 99 names. The believer is requested to address all of these. In truth, there are many more already within the Koranic text to indicate a multiple and constant presence. The Qur’an (59:22) sees only one source for every appearance of beauty and goodness:

The most beautiful names belong to Him.

He is God! There is no God but He!

He is the One who knows what is hidden and what is apparent. He is the Merciful, the Clement.

He is God, there is no God but He!

He is the King, the Holy One, the Peace, the One who testifies to His own truthfulness. The Watcher, the Almighty, the Mighty, the Most Great.

Glory to God, the Creator. He who gives a beginning to all things; He who moulds. The most beautiful names belong to Him. All that is in the heavens and on earth celebrates His praise. He is the Almighty, the Wise.

That is why the language of St Francis in his praise of God Most High is understandable to Muslims. The names of God evoked by the saint of Assisi are all present in the Koran:

 Thou art holy, One Lord God, who doest wondrous things.

Thou art strong. You are great. You are the Most High.  You are the Almighty King. You are the Holy Father, King of heaven and earth.

You are triune and one, Lord God of gods.  Thou art good, all good, the highest good, Lord God living and true.

You are love, charity. You are wisdom. You are humility.  You are patience. You are beauty. You are security. You are peace.  You are joy and gladness. You are hope.  You are justice. You are temperance. You are all our riches.

You are beauty. You are meekness.  You are the protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are fortress. You are refuge.  You are our hope.

You are our faith. You are our charity. You are all our sweetness.

You are our eternal life, great and admirable Lord, almighty God, merciful Saviour.

by Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh