Fatima is Fatima, By Ali Shariati – Part 1/5
Posted by Parsin on April 30, 2008
The words you are about to read are from a lecture I gave at the Husseiniyeh Irshad. To begin with, I had wanted to comment upon the research of Professor Louis Massignon concerning the personality and complicated life of Fatima. I had wished to refer to the deep and revolutionary influence her memory evokes in Muslim societies and the role she has played in the breadth of Islamic transformations. These remarks were intended particularly for my university students participating in ‘History and Knowledge of Religions’, ‘The Sociology of Religions’, and ‘Islamology’.
As I entered the gathering, I saw that, in addition to the university students, many others had come. This spoke of the need for a more urgent response to the problem. I agreed to answer the pertinent question of womanhood so extremely important today for our society.
Women who have remained in the ‘traditional mould’ do not face the problem of identity while women who have accepted the ‘new imported mould’ have adopted a foreign identity. But in the midst of these two types of ‘molded women’, there are those who can neither accept their hereditary, traditional form5 nor surrender to this imposed new form. What should they do?
They want to decide for themselves. They want to develop themselves. They need a model, an ideal example, a heroine. For them, the problem of ‘Who am I? and who do I become?’ are urgent. Fatima, through her own ‘being’, answers these questions.
I would have been satisfied with giving an analytical description of the personality of Fatima. I found that book shop5 had no books about her and thus, our intellectuals know nothing about her life. I was obliged to compensate for this lack to a certain extent. Thus this present essay is the same lecture-but expanded to include a biography based upon documented, traditional sources-about this beloved person, who has remained unknown or misinterpreted. In this biography, I particularly drew from historical documents. Whenever I reached a problem of faith and explicitly Jafari views, I chose Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shafii sources. From the scholar’s point of view, they are irrefutable.
I cannot say that this lecture is without need of criticism. Rather, the reverse is true. It is in great need-waiting for those with pure hearts, those who like to guide, those who are willing to serve, rather than those who use hostility, abuse and slander.
On this sacred night, it was not planned that such an unsacred person as myself speak. I have gained much from my contact with the work of Professor Louis Massignon. He was a great man and well-known Islamic scholar who had written about Fatima.
I was greatly influenced by her blessed life as well as her effect upon the history of Islam. Even after her death, she kept alive the spirit of those who seek justice and oppose oppression and discrimination in Islamic society. She was a manifestation and a symbol of the Way and essential direction of ‘Islamic thought’.
As a student, I played a small role in the preparation of the great work of Massignon especially at the beginning of the research stage. The documents and information which existed had been recorded over a period of fourteen hundred years. They were written in all languages and local Islamic dialects. The historic implications of various documents and even of local odes and folk songs were studied. I have been asked to summarize this work here.
I said to myself, “I will offer this work here today because it has yet to be published, and the great man who began it, has left this world with this work uncompleted.” People unfortunately do not know about this work. Even Europeans, who are familiar with Islam, do not know about this study. This has also affected our own scholars, who are familiar with Islam through the writings of Europeans, and, therefore, remain uninformed about this work.
I accepted this invitation and I said to myself, “1 will describe the manuscripts to my students, in particular, those who participate in my classes at the Husseiniyeh Irshad. I will give them the scientific and historic results of the deep research of this great man.”
But now I see and sense that this gathering differs. It is not a group gathered for a sermon or a discourse. The women and men who are now here are all intellectuals and educated representatives of the needy of today’s generation in this society. They have not come to hear me speak of Fatima in order to gain spiritual reward from this gathering tonight. They have not come to hear a dry, scientific, historic lecture. They have a newer, more urgent, more alive need to answer the most sensitive question for those who are affected by our contemporary fate: Who am I?
Who am I?
In our society, women change rapidly. The tyranny of our times and the influence of institutions take women away from ‘what she is’. All her traditional characteristics and values are taken away from her until she is made into a creature ‘they want’, ‘they build’. We see that ‘they have built’! This is why the most important and relevant question for the awakened woman at this time is, ‘Who am I?’ She knows full well that she cannot remain what she is. Actually, she does not want to accept modern masks to replace the traditional ones. She wants to decide for herself. Her contemporaries choose for themselves. They consciously adorn their personalities with awareness and independence. They dress themselves. They manifest an essence. They reflect a sketch. But they do not know how. They do not know the design of the real human aspect of their personality which is neither a reflection of their ethnic heritage nor an artificially imposed imitative mask. With which of these do they identify??
The second question which arises from this, stems from the following: we are Muslims, women of a society, who wish to make decisions through reason and choice and to relate them to a history, religion and society which received its spirit and basis from Islam. A woman in this society wants to be herself. She wants to build herself, ‘herself’. She wants to be reborn. In this re-birth, she wants to be her own midwife. She neither wants to be a product of her ethnic heritage nor to adopt a superficial facade. She cannot remain heedless of Islam, and she cannot remain indifferent to it.
Thus, it is natural that this question should arise for the Muslim woman. Our people continue to speak about Fatima.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Muslims cry for her. There are hundreds of thousands of gatherings, prayer meetings, festivals and mourning ceremonies in her memory. There are ceremonies of praise, joy, honor and majesty for her in which her generosity is remembered through unusual customs. They hold rituals of lamentation where they re-create her sorrows and speak ill of and damn those who offended her. In spite of all of this, her real personality is not known.
Yet, in spite of the little Muslims know about her, they accept Fatima, her majesty and power, with their whole hearts. They offer her their hearts with all the spiritual strength, faith and will that a people can have or a human community build.
Wisdom and Love
Each religion, school of thought, movement or revolution is made up of two elements: wisdom and love. One is light and the other is motion. One gives common sense and understanding, the other, strength, enthusiasm and movement. In the words of Alexis Carrel, ‘Wisdom is like the lights of a car which show the way. Love is like the motor which makes it move.’ Each is nothing without the other. A motor, without lights, is blind love, dangerous, tragic and potentially fatal.
In a society, in a movement of thought or in a revolutionary school of thought, men of letters (who are clear thinkers, who are aware and responsible) show, through their works, that there is a way to come to know a school of thought or a religion. They show that there is a way to give awareness to people. The responsibility of the people, on the other hand, is to give their spirits and their strength to a movement. They are responsible for giving the starting push.
A movement is like a living body. It thinks with the brain of scholars and loves through the hearts of its people. If faith, sincerity, love and sacrifice seldom found in a society, people are responsible. But where correct understanding of a school of thought is at a low level (where vision, awareness, logical consciousness and deep familiarity with the goals of a school of thought are lacking, where the meaning, purpose and truths of a school of thought are missing) the scholars are responsible. Religion, in particular, needs both. In religion, knowledge and feelings are not treated as separate entities. They are transformed into understanding and faith by means of common sense and knowledge.
This is Islam. More than any other religion, it is a religion of the recitation of the book, a religion of struggle in God’s Way (jihad), a religion of thought and love. In the Koran, one cannot find the boundaries between love and faith. The Koran considers martyrdom to be eternal life. It blinds one to the pen and writing. If Muslims are unaware of this, who is responsible?
Who is responsible?
Religious scholars! It is they who do not perform their responsibilities in respect to the people. They should give awareness, consciousness and direction to the people. They do not.
All our geniuses and great talents occupy themselves with philosophy, theology, Sufism, jurisprudence, conjugation and syntax. Through all the years of research, thought and their own scholarly anguish, they write nothing other than ‘practical treatises’ on such subjects as purity for the prescribed prayer, types of ritual impurities, rules of menstruation, and doubts which arise in prescribed prayer.
They leave aside writing treatises on how to speak with people, treatises on how to communicate the religious truths and the philosophy of the pillars of the religion, treatises on how to communicate consciousness and awareness to people, treatises on the understanding of the traditions of the Prophet and the personalities of the Companions, treatises on the revolutionary purpose behind Karbala, treatises on the family of the Prophet, and treatises on the faith of the people. All of these treatises are written, but all of them are written without responsibility, without the role of a commander. They pass their responsibilities on to the ordinary speakers in the mosques, not to the religious leaders whose directions for the practice of the faith are followed (mujtahids).
This is why the task of introducing the Prophet’s family, the task of understanding religion and the task of studying the truths of Islam fall prone to the ‘failures of the old schools of religion’. It is for this reason that a group of young people, in order to study Islamic sciences and to carry jurisprudence forward, enter the schools. If talented, through great efforts, they become jurisprudents or mujtahids or faqihs [theologians]. This group is imprisoned as teachers and removed from the community. Those who do not succeed in studying properly, because they do not have the ability, talent or spiritual strength but rather have warm, often artistic, voices, are obliged to propagate and advertise the truths of the religion. The third group, who have neither this nor that, neither the science nor at least a voice, take the third way. They become dumb and speechless. They take themselves to the ‘sacred door’ and move ahead of both mujtahids and speakers in the mosques.
In the midst of this, be just! What will the fate of the people be? What is the fate of their religion? It is not necessary to think very hard. No. Just look.
We know a dream appeared to Joan of Arc, a sensitive and imaginative girl, commanding her to fight in order to have her king returned. For centuries, her dream has given a vision of freedom, of sacrifice and of revolutionary courage to enlightened, aware and progressive French people. Compare Joan to Zaynab, the sister of Imam Hussein, who carried a heavier mandate. Zaynab’s mandate was to continue the movement of Karbala. She opposed murders, terror and hysterics. She continued the movement at a time when all the heroes of the revolution were dead, when the heroism and wisdom of the commanders of Islam at the time of the Prophet were gone. But she has been turned into only a ‘sister who mourns’.
I hear reproachful cries towards the scholars who are responsible for these beliefs, ideas and thoughts of the people. I do not know whether these cries come from the throats of people or from the depths of their consciences.
With what are you busy? From where do you speak? Throughout all of these years, where is one book for people telling them what is in the Koran? In place of praise, eulogy, prayer, poetry, song, lamentation and the love of Rumi, why have you sealed your lips among people? An English speaking person cannot easily understand what the Prophet has said, but can he read all of the works of La Martine, the French lover. What do you say? All the songs of the ancient Greek woman, Bilitis, of dubious morals, can be read, but the words of the Prophet, one saying of the Prophet, cannot be read.
You speak so much about the generosity and miracles of the Prophet’s family but where are the books about them? You recount their miracles on their birthdays and days of their deaths. You have festivals and mourning ceremonies. Where are the treatises for Muslims, enamored of the Prophet, which say who he was and who Fatima was, which say how their children lived and how they thought, which say what they did and what they said?
Our people, who spend their lives in love with the Companions and who cry over the difficulties they faced, who serve them for months and years, who glorify their name, spend money and give sincerity and patience to them, deserve to know the real lives of each one of them. The* lives, thoughts, words, silences, freedoms, imprisonments, and martyrdoms should give awareness, chastity and humanness to people.
If an ordinary person mourns for Hussein and on the anniversary of his death [Ashura] strikes his head with his dagger and bears the pain even with pleasure and still knows Hussein only in an oblique way and misunderstands Karbala, who is responsible? If a woman cries with her whole being, if the recollection of the name of Fatima and Zaynab burns her to her bones and if she would, with complete love, give her life for them, and yet, if she does not thoroughly know Fatima and Zaynab, who is responsible?
Neither this man nor this woman knows one line of their heroine’s words. None of them have read one line about their lives. They can only recall Fatima standing beside her father when someone threw dust on him. They only knew Zaynab from the moment when she left the tents to go to gather the bodies of the martyrs. They only knew her from the morning of the day of Ashura up until noon; from then on they lost her. Their awareness of Zaynab ends the day when her great mandate, the legacy of Hussein, just began. Their knowledge about Zaynab ends here. Then, who is responsible?
And, thus, educated and open minded boys and girls judge the situation and say, ‘What is the use of this religion? What can such a religion do? What knots do all this excitement, lamentation and cries for Hussein, Fatima and Zaynab untie for our backwards, imprisoned people who need awareness and commitment to negate oppression and to seek freedom.
‘What pain does this religion of remorse, these ancient wounds, historic lamentations and curses create for our deprived, illiterate women who want their freedom and clear vision. Does one reach the heart of the problem by doing away with love and hatred? People are busy with feelings which passed centuries ago in foreign lands. They relate to lives passed among strangers. They do not know persecution. They have not sensed the chains of oppression around their necks, nor the pain when falling upon their human shadow. They have never burst in anger nor boiled under the remembrance of the chains which a caliphate one day hung around the neck of a sick person.
They have not thrown up their hands and struck their daggers upon their heads until they leave their senses. They have not seen them when their consciousness returns, when their heart grows quiet, when their sins become pure, when all responsibility falls from their shoulders, when they cheat the scales of divine justice and when they tamper with their deeds for the after life.
As a result, when they have performed enough dirty deeds to compare with stars in the sky, with foam of the sea and with the sands of the desert, when with a small amount of surgery performed by striking their daggers upon their heads, they imagine that they have completely changed their situation and become as innocent as the moment they were born from their mother’s womb. They fed that then even God owes them something.
If people believe that the advantage of following Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) will result in a chemical reaction which accords with the Koran, “God will change their evil deeds into good deeds” [25:71]; if people believe that the soul of this treason which they commit in this world will change its essence in the other world and will take the form of good deeds, then who is responsible?
If this belief in Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), which has for centuries had the strength of a movement desiring justice, seeking freedom and fighting oppression and despotic institutions; if this movement can free awakened and aware people and give them liberty, justice, chastity and independence; if it can change them both socially and individually; and if the movement can bring about an intellectual, revolutionary leadership fighting class distinctions and giving life and consciousness to a society and if they have not shown this to the people, then who is responsible?
If the value, influence and effect of remembering the family of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is transferred from this world to another world and if its effect is only measured after death, then who is responsible? If the promises and covenants of our ancestors to this family have had no effect upon their thoughts, their time, their society; and if their sons and daughters (seeing this ineffectiveness) remain cut-off from these promises and links with this religion and this family, then, who is responsible?
Intelectuals VS. The People
What did they miss? The family of Mohammad:
Is it that this family is without effect or is it that our young generation and our intellectuals are in error? Or have our mothers and fathers failed in their responsibilities? Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is the clearest of truth. He represents the most progressive school of thought which has ever taken human form. It is not a myth. It is a human reality (or should be). It is what could be but isn’t.
And his daughter, Fatima is a perfect example of an ideal woman whom no one has yet become. His grandchildren -Hussein and Zaynab- the sister and the brother, who brought deep revolution to mankind and who fought for honor and freedom and who opposed despotism and oppression.
The house of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is like the Kabah in which the children and the inheritors of Abraham (AS) reside. It is a sign and a symbol. It is Real. It is made of stone whereas they are human beings. The Kabah is the place of circumambulation for Muslims; whereas, the house of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is the destination of every heart which understands beauty, majesty, freedom, justice, love, sincerity, and strength. It is the destination of those who encourage jihad and sacrifice to preserve the lives and freedom of the people.
From another point of view, the palaces of the Caesars (from which, historians say, waft culture, civilization, religion, thought, discipline and art) are turned around. Our intelligent, loyal, lovers of virtue who have known this household-luckless and quiet-have always been sacrificed. Our people have tied eternal links to them. All their faith, longing, thought and feelings have been devoted to them. Their hearts beat for them. Their eyes cry with their sorrow. They sacrifice themselves and their possessions in their way. They withhold nothing.
Look at these poverty-stricken, starving people who show their feelings and the faith which they have in each individual member of this beloved family. What things have they not done and what things will they not do for them?
The spending of money often shows with much clarity the power of faith and sincerity. Let us examine all the time, endowments and money which people have spent for this family. We see that the poverty among people is so advanced that the problems of bread and water, children’s milk and medicine for the hospitals are the most important things in life. Still, any time and under any circumstances which relate to this family, we see that over one million ceremonies are held in their honor.
Over 150,000 clergy and speakers exist for reciting the congregational ritual prayers. There are more than 700,000 descendants of the Prophet’s family who speak at the lamentation ceremonies where eulogists restore the memory of this family. How much is spent for construction of the buildings for the ceremonies related to Hussein [husseiniyehs], on places where the passion plays are performed [taziyahs], on neighborhood clubs where young men form groups which participate in religious ceremonies [hayats], on dastahs [the generic name of the groups]. How much is spent for lamentation ceremonies and food, for that which is held in the name of taxes [khums], for the religious leaders’ share, for that spent in good works and feeding poor people. It is above and beyond counting. This is particularly important when we consider that this country is one of the most economically backward countries. Income, according to head count, is minimal.
If we pay attention, in particular, to the great differences in classes which exists in Islamic societies, we see that half of the capital of the country is in the hands of a few thousand people. We see that two-thirds of whatever there is, is at the disposal of only 10% of the population. We see that, as opposed to the past, capital has been taken from the former landlords and the former merchants of the bazaar and has been put into the hands of new capitalists, new industrialists, modern bourgeois companies and middle men who sell foreign goods or produce new products themselves.
We see that the money has moved from village storage areas, from the shops of the old merchants under the old roofs of the bazaar, from the hands of local handicrafts workers, from the hands of money changers and indigenous professional guilds, from traditional industries and classical professions to the banks, to stock exchange, to foreign companies, to agencies, to distributors, to contractors and to factories. A new class is created. It is characterized by foreignness and modernization. It adores the West. It is not religious. If it had a memory of or inclination towards religion, it has long since been stamped out. Luxury, transience, pretentiousness and foreignness prevail among this class. And their Islam, in the words of Sayyid Qutb, is an American Islam.
People who follow religion without responsibility and without effort, most often give their opinions without acting or investing anything. Intellectuals spend no money. Our young girls and boys have for years given dancing parties in Switzerland, France, England, America and Austria. They have been most generous in their expenditure on such parties.
Men and women of this materialist class go abroad with their money bags overflowing. In the stores and casinos, they put money into the pockets of the capitalists, the milkers of money. They are no more than cash-cows, seen by deceiving Westerners as donkeys with money, donkeys coming out of a backward country. They squander their wealth on expensive dancers. They go slumming and then return to their country until once again they gather up enough money to go back to be milked. They do all this very naturally and without any understanding of their mistake or error even holding their heads high. With lies, people are turned in circles. They call this progress, modern living and a sign of civilization.
At the same time, a small merchant or villager gets ready for his pilgrimage (haJJ) to Makkah or Karbala after a lifetime Of work and anguish. He goes on the principle that this is the only thing in his life which will be both a time of rest as well as pleasure-a journey, a tour, travelling abroad and coming to know other countries. He will see the world and renew his faith, his beliefs and his union with his history. He makes the pilgrimage to his beloved people. He comes to know the remains of his civilization. He sees art which relates to him. Because of his love, the longing of his spirit, and finally, the duty of his religious faith, once in a lifetime, he intends to make the pilgrimage. He takes a minimum amount of money. He pays for his plane ticket and the rest he uses for his expenses there and to buy gifts which he takes back home. What he spends there is the money to rent a tent or to take a bus or to buy a few days of food. The total of all this does not reach the cost of one night of Mr. and Mrs. so and so’s champagne in the Lido or one of their caviar breakfasts in the George V Hotel.
These pseudo-intellectuals who supposedly understand the subtle points of things, who are recently reborn (financially) look down upon a little merchant or a villager who lacks sophistication. All the feelings of such ‘gentlemen’, their knowledge, their class prejudice produce such hatred for the worker and the peasant that even Che Guevara could not stem it.
We see this new moneyed class side by side with our general poverty. Town dwellers and village dwellers have become poorer, more afflicted and more hungry while the class of minor landowners and merchants has become weak and dispersed by the growth of new capitalist classes. The majority have remained in the same class. A minority of people change classes, moving either up or down.
We see only two groups, modern types and traditional types. Those loyal to their beliefs and religious rites in a sense are part of these two groups. The strength of religion and the great expenses incurred in respect to rites and the inaugurating of places for gatherings or buildings for religious purposes-all are a sign that the binding of our peoples’ spirit with the Prophet’s family is unbelievably deep and strong. It shows to what extent faith and sincerity are strong and pure.
It is after considering these things that the question, ‘Who is responsible?’ suddenly drops upon our head like a sledgehammer. A person who has until now followed the problem logically and clearly uncovering all sides of the issue, studying it phase by phase, concludes that all is correct. Take a good look at Islam!
Islam is the last historical, religious school of thought possessing the most perfect Prophet, the Quran, the Companions and their histories as models of life, chastity and civilization. Islam brings law, progress, strength and culture to society. Islam has had a history full of struggle in God’s Way. Its believers show perseverance. They are inspired by freedom and justice. They are an avenging fire for despots and for the prejudiced. They have submitted to the way. Linked to the wrath of Truth, its followers are enemies of anything which conceals the Truth. They are enemies of a politics which reduces one to slavery. They are enemies of economic exploitation and spiritual despotism.
We can see the issue from another point of view. Our people, warm with faith, melting with love, with more than religious belief, with truth in thought, give their love to the Prophet’s family. Their names raise their spirits. The mere mention of them makes blood boil in their veins. In their longing for sacrifice, their zeal flows. They are ready to be martyred out of their love for them. They cry in pain from their sorrow. They are full of sorrow because they were not present on that bloody day of Ashura. Then bloodied tears run. Sometimes, nearly insane, they draw their daggers and strike their heads. They lament all year long. Their sorrow is real. All year they think about those who went before them. Then full of praise for their positions and titles-united as lovers, dressed in black from head to toe, drowned in tears and pain, they long with their whole being to pay with their lives. Their love brings on thirst, restlessness, anguish and it finally consumes them.
From yet another point of view, our enlightened thinkers are sensitive people, awakened, aware of the fate of the world and the fate of their society. They are familiar with the spirit and movement of time. Their timely demands need a boiling faith. They seek out revolutionary thought. They think about freedom, equality and justice for people. They attempt to bring about awareness, and responsibility among their people. They see their people and the religion of Hussein and Zaynab. They see justice, strength, struggle in God’s Way, torture, martyrdom, Karbala…and they wonder…
Why are there no results when each member of that blessed family can inspire life, awareness, and enthusiasm in those who are faithful to these ideas, overflowing with life and liberty? Why do these perfect forms, whose origins lie in the majesty of humanity, not bear fruit?
Then, who is responsible? In one word, the religious scholars. It is they who should have made Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) understandable. It is they who should have taught his thoughts.
In Islam, the scholars are not wise people. They guarantee nothing. They do not have a handful or a bucketful or a truckful of knowledge. Science does not consist of hundreds of pieces of information and knowledge. In their hearts is a ray of light, the light of God. It is not a question of divine science, illumination or gnosticism. It is also not chemistry, physics, history, geography, jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, philosophy or logic, which are all types of scientific knowledge.
A science becomes illuminated with light when its knowledge brings about responsibility, guiding knowledge, and organization of ideas. This is called jurisprudence in the Koran, but today it is known as ‘the science of rules of the divine Law and things related to it’. This science should not remain in or with darkness. Rather, it lightens space and breaks the night apart. It shows the way.
The learned Jafari religious scholar is the vice-gerent of the Mahdi. He takes the religious taxes on his behalf. The most evident of his responsibilities is to have people come to know who the Mahdi is. If a good translation of the Prophet’s prayers is not available, religious scholars are to blame. If people only know a little of the virtues, good deeds and miracles of our Prophet and his Companions, then religious scholars are to blame.