Now, ninety-five days have passed since her father foretold her death, and yet it does not come. Today is Monday, the third of Jumada al-Thani, in the eleventh year of the Hijra, the year of her father’s passing. She kissed her children one by one: seven-year-old Hassan, six-year-old Hussein, five-year-old Zainab, and three-year-old Umm Kulthum. And now, the moment of farewell with Ali, how arduous it is. Ali must remain in this world. For thirty more years! She sent for Umm Rafe, the Prophet’s servant, and asked her:
‘O servant of God, pour water over me so that I may cleanse myself.’
With careful serenity, she performed the ablution and then donned the new garments she had set aside after her father’s death, having worn black since. It was as if she had emerged from mourning her father and was now preparing to meet him. To Umm Rafe, she said:
‘Spread my bed in the middle of the room.’
With a soul unburdened and serene, she surrendered to slumber, facing the Qibla in patient anticipation. Moments, fleeting yet profound, passed by. Suddenly, a lament rose from the depths of the house. she closed her eyes, releasing them anew upon her awaited beloved. In Ali’s abode, a candle of anguish and struggle extinguished its last flame.
Thus, Ali found himself solitary, amidst his children. His wish was for nocturnal interment, unmarked and unknown, far from the gaze of those two sheiks. And so, Ali fulfilled this. Yet, the how and where remain enshrouded in mystery. Is it within her house? Or amidst the tombs of Baqi? The clarity lies only in Ali’s enduring sorrow, tonight, by Fatima’s grave. Medina, swallowed by the night’s embrace, rests, while Muslims slumber. The night’s enigmatic silence attentively listens to Ali’s subdued whispers. Ali, profoundly alone, bereft of Prophet and Fatima, sits, a mountain of grief at Fatima’s earthen bed, hours uncounted.
The night, in its somber quietude, heeds his whispered agony. Baqi lies tranquil, and fortunate, while Medina, faithless and forlorn, is hushed. Wakeful graves and sleeping homes bear witness. The midnight breeze gently carries the words, laboriously drawn from Ali’s soul, from Fatima’s grave to the silent abode of the Prophet:
“Peace unto you, from me and your daughter, who now lies near you, hastening to your side, O Messenger of God. The tale of your beloved has drained my patience, my strength wanes. Yet, in the shadow of your departure and the weight of your loss, I find solace in endurance. I laid you to rest in your cloven grave, embedding you within the depths of my being. “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” The entrusted is returned, the hostage taken, yet my sorrow is eternal, my nights, restless, until Allah guides me to your celestial dwelling. Your daughter will recount to you how your people joined in oppression against her. Ask her persistently, learn the entirety of her ordeal. All this, despite the proximity of your covenant’s passing, your memory is ever vivid. Peace upon you both, a farewell from one neither enraged nor weary.”
After a moment’s pause, the weariness of a lifetime of anguish surged within him. It seemed with each word, torn from his soul’s core, a fragment of his essence was lost. Stricken and forlorn, he lingered, lost in indecision – to stay? To return? How could he leave Fatima here alone, how to return to an empty home? The city, a malevolent specter in the night’s grotesque darkness, lies in wait with countless machinations and betrayals. And yet, how could he stay? His children, the people, the truth – responsibilities awaiting only him, a solemn mission he has vowed to uphold. The pain, so immense, renders his resilient spirit desolate. Torn between decisions, his soul tormented by doubt, to leave or to stay, he feels incapable of either, uncertain of his path. He confides in Fatima:
‘If I depart from you, it is not out of weariness of your company; and if I remain, it is not out of distrust in the promise granted by Allah to the patient.’
Then he rose, stood, and turned towards the Prophet’s home, with an expression beyond words, as though wishing to convey:
‘This precious trust you left in my care, I now return to you. Hear her speak. Insist that she reveals all, recounting every detail of what she endured in your absence.’
Thus Fatima lived, and so she passed, igniting a new chapter in history beyond her death. In every oppressed face that emerged in Islamic history, Fatima’s aura resonated. The dispossessed, the downtrodden, all victims of tyranny and deceit, rallied under her name. Through the ages, Fatima’s memory thrived under the brutal lashes of unjust caliphates and oppressive regimes, filling the hearts of all who suffered.
Thus, in the annals of Muslim nations and among the deprived masses of the Islamic community, Fatima has remained a beacon of inspiration for freedom, justice, and the struggle against oppression and inequality. Speaking of Fatima is a task daunting in its profundity; she epitomized the woman Islam aspires to. Her essence, sketched by the Prophet himself, was forged in the crucible of hardship, struggle, and profound human wisdom.
She exemplified every facet of womanhood – as a daughter before her father, a wife beside her husband, a mother to her children, and a valiant, responsible woman in her era and her community’s destiny. She was an ‘Imam’ in her own right – an exemplary figure, an ideal archetype, a role model, and a witness for every woman charting her own path.
In her extraordinary childhood, her ceaseless struggle on both external and internal fronts – in her father’s house, her husband’s home, within her society, in her thoughts, actions, and life – she defined the essence of womanhood. How do I speak of her? How can words do justice? I sought to emulate Bossuet, the renowned French orator who once spoke of Mary in the presence of Louis. He said, for seventeen hundred years, orators, philosophers, thinkers, poets, and artists have striven to capture Mary’s essence. Yet, despite centuries of endeavor, they have not been able to convey her magnificence as succinctly as in the words:
‘Mary is the mother of Jesus’.
And so I endeavored to speak of Fatima in such a manner, yet found myself at a loss. I wanted to say: Fatima, the daughter of the great Khadijah,
but then I realized that does not encompass all of Fatima. I thought to describe her as:
Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad,
yet again, I saw that this alone does not define Fatima. I attempted to portray her as:
Fatima, the wife of Ali,
but quickly understood that Fatima is more than just this. I tried to express that:
Fatima is the mother of Hassan and Hussain,
yet, even this seemed an incomplete depiction of Fatima. I wished to declare:
Fatima is the mother of Zainab,
but once more, I saw that Fatima cannot be confined to this role alone. No, these are all facets of her identity, yet none solely are Fatima.
Fatima, in her entirety, is Fatima.
“Translation from Dr. Ali Shariati’s book ‘Fatima is Fatimah, ‘with changes'”