To the Reader
The words you are about to read are from a lecture I gave at the
Husayniyah Ershad. 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 bookstore 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drew from historical documents.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 Husayniyah 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
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 recreate 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
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
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
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 Husayn, 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
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
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 Husayn and on the anniversary of his death
[ashura] strikes his head with his dagger and bears the pain even with
pleasure and still knows Husayn 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
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 Husayn,
just began. Their knowledge about Zaynab ends here. Then, who is
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 Husayn,
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 Muhammad (SAW)
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 Muhammad (SAW), 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
If the value, influence and effect of remembering the family of Prophet
Muhammad (SAW) 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 cutoff from these
promises and links with this religion and this family, then, who is
Intellectuals vs. 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 Muhammad (SAW) 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- Husayn 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 Muhammad (SAW) 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 Muhammad (SAW) 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
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 Husayn [husayniyahs], 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
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 cashcows, 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, traveling 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
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 sledge hammer. 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 Koran, 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
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 Husayn 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 Muhammad (SAW) 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 truck-ful 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