By M Yasir Kayani
December 7, 2017
TODAY, this would seem eccentric for people except a few to talk about feminine elements or feminine dimension of Islam. But we must talk about it in order to reverse the balance that has become so disturbed owing to the growing male-dominated ideology or masculine repressive interpretation of Islam that has all but eliminated the feminine dimension from our spiritual life causing serious imbalances in our life, our communities and our world. But, in actuality, this wasn’t always this way. However, in its true spirit of revelation and manifestation, Islam was, and remains, a guidance system that brings the human being into balance and integrates our masculine and feminine aspects into a unified whole. In Islamic terminology, this is the state of the soul at peace, Nafs Al Mutma’inah, where our inner conflicts and contradictions are resolved, our hearts are healed and we come to experience our existence as wholesome beings reflecting the Divine Unity. This is the oneness of Tawheed. This concept of Tawheed, which is so central to Islam, does not mean a theological principle that there is one God. It is actually a verb meaning to make one, that is, to integrate, to bring to unity that which is fragmented. On the human plane it is the act of realizing God’s oneness in ourselves.
Such a state cannot be attained if the feminine aspect of life is not properly integrated and honoured in ourselves and in society. This integration is not possible as long as our paradigm of the Divine is rooted in mostly masculine symbols, language, and meanings. Islam in its original form is rich with symbolism that brings forth the feminine aspect of the Divine to help guide our knowing of God, who is without gender, yet whose qualities are manifest in existence in a symbiotic balance of both the masculine and feminine. So what are examples of the Divine Feminine in Islam? We begin with the most basic and well-known divine quality of Rahmah, which is unconditional love, and is the preeminent divine quality that is accepted universally by Muslims. God’s best known, and most often used name among Muslims is Rahman. This name comes from the root verb R-H-M and it means womb and this of course is a uniquely feminine quality. God is the Divine Womb that encompasses all things and from which all existence comes into being or is birthed.
It’s difficult for us to shift our habitual perspective of God as a He, or male, especially with the limitation of a gendered language like Arabic that defaults to the masculine for indeterminate gender. Yet, if we recall that the feminine embodies such qualities as receptivity, subtlety, surrender, empathy, gentleness, peacefulness, healing, sharing, flowing, reconciliation, loving, tenderness, forgiveness, nurturing, patience, origin and mystery, we will see there are many other divine qualities that are feminine in nature among these are, Peace(Salaam), Faith (Mu’min), Creator (Khaleq), Subtle (Lateef), Gentle (Halim), Wise (Hakim), Inner (Baatin), Living (Hayy), Bestower (Wahhab), Loving (Wadud), Tender (Ra’uf), Forgiving (Ghafur) as well as many others. If we contemplate and reflect upon the Divine Names without our deeply ingrained gender bias, we may open up to understanding feminine aspects of many of Allah’s Divine Qualities. We can look further into some of the symbolism in Quran to explore how feminine symbols are presented to help guide our spiritual development and integration of our souls. Here are two examples: The Mother of the Book (Umm-ul Kitab): This profoundly mystical term is used in the Quran to refer to the source of divine wisdom, and is closest to God’s unknowable essence. It is source from which all revelation emanates directly to the hearts of the prophets. Use of imagery of motherhood, of birthing, of nurturing and caring to describe this metaphysical concept is beautiful and sublime. It takes one to a depth of understanding that divine guidance is motherly in its unconditional loving, its nurturing of our souls, its acceptance of our limitations, and in embracing us with love and forgiveness.
The Houris (Huur-in ‘Een)
This term has become generally accepted as referring to the beautiful virgins awaiting the male believers in Paradise. Although this term is often confused with the male-centric sexual fantasy about the afterlife, the word Huur comes from the root verb H-W-R which has the primary meaning of turning or changing, that is transforming. It also has the meaning of the radiance of the eyes, or eyes that shine brilliantly. It also means to be purified of all faults, to be made fit for the companionship of the prophets! The word ‘Eencomes from the word for eye, ‘Ayn, which also has the meaning of the essence or origin of something. In the Quran this term is used in the context of pairing of souls in the sense of bringing two halves together to make a whole. Contemplation of these verses may open us to understanding of the realization of our full humanness, when we become complete by the pairing of our masculine and feminine dimensions, that is when our physical, active self (masculine) opens up and connects with our inner, subtle self (feminine) which transforms us from fragmentation, suffering, and conflict (Hell), to the peace and bliss of unity (Paradise).
We can see the Divine Feminine in the symbolism of the Prophet Muhammad. He is named in the Quran, and is most commonly known to those who love him in two ways. One is as Mercy to All Worlds (Rahmat-ul Alameen), this womb-like quality is characteristic of the Prophet’s nature and is a feminine quality as we mentioned earlier. The second is as the Prophet of the Mother (Nabiyy-ul Ummiyy), this term is often understood and translated as the unlettered prophet or the gentile prophet but Ummiyy literally means of the mother or the motherly and it refers to the fact that he received wisdom and guidance directly from the source, from the Mother, not from books or from other men.
M Yasir Kayani is Lecturer in Law, Punjab University Jhelum Campus.