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Mystic Mantra: The earliest Sufi woman

The writer is an alim (classical Islamic scholar) and doctoral scholar with Centre for Media, Culture & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia. Contact him at grdehlavi@gmail.com
Published : Jun 30, 2018, 5:39 am IST
Updated : Jun 30, 2018, 5:38 am IST

When Gabriel (the angel of revelation) brought down the first revelation to the Prophet, he began trembling with great fright and worries.

Sufism (Representational image)
 Sufism (Representational image)

Mysticism in Islam emanated from a cave in Mecca — Hira, popularly known as Ghar-e-Hira — in which the first Sufi mystic, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) chose to seclude. He meditated, reflected and contemplated on the secrets of life and thus attained the closest personal relationship with his most beloved — the most merciful and the most gracious.

But what is largely missing in the current discourse on mysticism in Islam is the role of a woman, Khadija bint Khuwaylid — Prophet’s first wife — who provided all the pre-requisites for his husband in this path — emotional support, spiritual solace and even bearing of financial strains. In fact, it was through the enormous emotional support that the Prophet (pbuh) passed through the hardest phase of the first Quranic revelation. No wonder then, this was described in an amazingly spirited manner by none other than the Prophet’s wife Aisha after the demise of Khadija. She narrates, as reported at length in the very first chapter of Bukhari:

When Gabriel (the angel of revelation) brought down the first revelation to the Prophet, he began trembling with great fright and worries. He wondered what was going to happen next. At this (critical) juncture, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) resorted to his wife, Khadija. He implored: “Cover me, cover me.” She covered him and he restored calm and tranquility. He then enumerated everything that occurred in the caver of Hira to Khadija. He said he faced a sudden intense feeling of fear. Khadija, then, began to calm and pacify him: “God will never disgrace you, because you do good to the kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute (bear the burden of the weak); you speak the truth, serve your guest generously and you assist those stricken with calamities.”

Notably, the two most significant Arabic phrases in this hadith text (“you assist those stricken with”) are: haqq (truthfulness) and nawa’ib (calamities or vicissitudes). According to the interpretation of Al Qastalani — 14th century scholar of hadith and Islamic theology, while haqq connotes a meaning similar to khair (righteousness), nawa’ib implies that the Prophet assisted both the righteous and the unrighteous, because the vicissitudes affect both of them. In fact, this was the mystical inclination from which his four personality traits — morality, reliability, sociability and truthfulness — were borne. Popularly known as “al-ameen” (trustworthy) and al-sadiq (truthful), he was best described by his wife, Khadija, as a person is best known to his wife.

Khadija encouraged the Prophet on the divine revelation that was his first exposure to the ultimate source of spirituality — Prophethood — reassuring him about his humanism. Khadija then took the Prophet (pbuh) to her cousin and a learned Christian of in the pre-lslamic era, Waraqa bin Naufal. Khadija said (to Waraqa), “O my cousin! Listen to what your nephew says.” Waraqa said, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” Prophet then described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same angel (Gabriel) who was sent to Moses...”

Thus, the inspiring spiritual journey of the Prophethood starts off with a woman in Islam — Khadija bint Khuwaylid. In addition, she was a successful businesswoman and one of the elite figures of Mecca. As the saying goes, “behind every man, there is a woman”, it was to her credit that the Prophet had the vital support in propagating a new faith tradition which was vehemently opposed to the tribal bedouin (jahili) society of the Meccan pagans. No wonder, Khadija had the distinction of being the first Muslim woman. A residue of the pre-Islamic Mecca and born in an age known as “the era of ignorance”, she earned the credit for patronising the flourishing mystical movement in the 7th century Arabia.

Tags: prophet mohammad, mystic mantra