Fatemeh Mashouf : How The Prophet’s Daughter Saved Me
I don’t know much about my ancestry, but this I know: If you trace my paternal bloodline, from male to male, you make a full stop at Fatima-Zahra (as), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw). Thus, my middle name is Sadat, to represent my lineage to the Prophet and my first name is Fatemeh, in honor of the Lady of all worlds – Fatima-Zahra (as). This widespread name of Fatemeh and fairly common lineage to the Prophet, though customary, has saved my life again and again.
In middle school, as I tested, questioned, challenged and fought with my identity, I started going by “Tima” instead of Fatemeh. As I made decision after decision, pulling myself away from the straight path, I truly became “Tima.” The nickname became so common that my own grandmother started to call me Tima. To my parents, I was always Fatemeh, though I had forgotten what that meant somewhere between Homecoming and Summer Camp Counselor.
As I approached my last year of high school, my mother said that she was going for the hajj that December in 2004 and that I was welcome to go with her. I decided that I might as well go since it fell on winter break and it was a good opportunity for me to spend time with her. Little did I know that this, perhaps, was the single most important decision of my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not have an epiphany while I was there – the heavens did not open up and doves did not carry me to the Kabbah. That hajj was one of the hardest 3 weeks of my life to date – I spent half the time crying over the political and social injustice surrounding me and the other half questioning everything I had ever known, challenging God to show Himself to me. I did not arrive home that January with clarity of mind and steadfastness of action – in fact, I had no idea what I was going to do next. But I knew that I could not return as Tima and that I was Fatemeh because what I saw and experienced in Saudi Arabia reminded me of the oppression and injustice Fatima-Zahra (as) had experienced – and for the first time, I felt proud to be her namesake.
I struggled over the next couple of years to balance my new identity and my old lifestyle. It never became easy because much of the two were incompatible. I was constantly the rope in a game of tug-of-war – a war that I had myself created and that I was trying desperately to come to peace with. I continued to question not only myself, but God Himself, and challenge Him to show me the right way. But He did not give Himself to me on a platter – He called me back to His house to find more answers. So in 2006, I returned to hajj.
This time, I asked my caravan when we will be planning on visiting the Mosque of Fatima-Zahra, as I had done two years prior. I was told that since I had last visited, it had been destroyed by Saudi. That is when I awoke to realize that Fatima-Zahra’s oppression is not a moment in history but is an active force to this day. I realized that nothing I can complain of in this world will be of any significance in light of her suffering. And at that moment, I felt all the regret of the world for not having seen the value in visiting her Mosque in 2004 – when it was nothing but destroyed ruins and lovers’ tears – to have not realized that it would be my last chance to be that close to her. As not only her namesake but as her bloodline, an attack on her felt like an attack on me.
I returned from hajj in 2006 more determined to live my life with the realization that I cannot continue to regret my ignorance in my youth – that time will continue to pass and my excuses will not justify my delay in seeking the straight path. So I wore the hijab, cut ties with former friends, and said goodbye to much of the social life I had known in hopes that I would be able to create a new lifestyle for myself.
The years passed and I continued to struggle to find my way and stay the course. As Fatemeh, I graduated college, got married, and got my law degree. This year, I decided that it was time to return to hajj as an adult and thank God for everything he has given me.
When I arrived at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, I knew that as a woman, I again would not be allowed to enter the portion of the Mosque which is the original grounds upon which the Prophet prayed. As a woman, I would not be able to reach the Pillar of Forgiveness, the “Piece of Heaven,” the Door of Angel Jibrael, or even the Prophet’s shrine. As a woman, Saudi has decided to deny me this right. But for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, they would allow groups of women to reach just outside the perimeter of this area, with a wall blocking our view. One night, I stood patiently in this swarm of desperate women trying to get just a moment within the Prophet’s proximity.
As I approached this area, crammed and barely able to breathe, I looked over the temporary plastic wall blocking our view to the original Mosque, and saw a hint of the Pillar of Forgiveness – I felt pity for myself and for all women who were symbolically denied our God-given right to access His Mercy. Continuing to imagine what is on the other side of the wall, I asked the Prophet for forgiveness for all that I have done wrong as his lineage – I felt the weight of all my negligence as a Sadat and all the ways in which I had disrespected him and his legacy. So I apologized and begged that when my time of reckoning comes, that he speak well of me to God.
Then I looked to my left and found myself just parallel to the house of Fatima-Zahra (as) which was connected to the original portion of the Mosque. I suddenly felt an overwhelming presence so I asked her for forgiveness and begged that she, too, intercede for me in front of God. But in that brief moment, I realized that Fatima-Zahra (as) had interceded for me nearly everyday since my 2004 hajj and I had not even noticed it. She had reminded me, over and over again, of who I am and who I should strive to be. As her namesake, I could not misrepresent her, even in the face of grave injustice. She had been my source of strength and inspiration in all good that I had done and she had been my reminder and consequence in all bad that I had done. In that moment, all the self-pity I felt as an oppressed woman disappeared with the realization that although Saudi may try to deny me my rights, they had not realized that I had Fatima-Zahra (as) right next to me to teach me of patience, strength, resilience, and endurance. I felt thanks and indebtedness to her for enduring all of life’s struggles and giving her children, Zeinab, Hassan, and Husayn, in the way of Allah for my benefit hundreds of years later.
Coming back from hajj and heading into Muharram, my entire perspective on Karbala has quite literally changed – I do not see Imam Husayn, Lady Zainab, and Ali Akbar from the perspective of a Shia hundreds of years after their death. I see Imam Husayn (as) from the eyes of a mother who lived her life knowing the great sacrifice she would ultimately make through the slaughter of her son. I see Lady Zainab (as) from the view of a mother who nurtured strength, eloquence, and power into her daughter who would have to live through the most tragic of times. I see Ali Akbar from the perspective of a grandmother who would see the likeness of her own father being deprived of water, waiting for his brutal death to relieve him of his thirst.
So today on Ashura, I thank her for all of her sacrifices and the pain that she endured for my benefit. I weep out of the knowledge that she has saved me and I have done nothing for her. I acknowledge that her name is the greatest gift my parents could have ever given me. I announce that I am indebted to her because her memory saved my life and, insh’Allah – just perhaps – saved my destiny.
Fatemeh Mashouf is an employment litigation attorney, and a poet turned children’s book author. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats.