[The Most Compassionate, Beneficent, Ever-Merciful and the Womb]
In the Islamic tradition, there are numerous Names of Allah of which 99 are said to be known. Of these 99 Names or Attributes of Allah, two open the Qur’an in the very first line in the first chapter: ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim. The Qur’an begins with, “Bi ismiAllahi ar-Rahmani ar-Rahim [in the Name of God, The Beneficent, The Merciful]…” These two names are also ubiquitously repeated by Muslims when reciting from the Qur’an, initiating prayers, commencing events and gatherings, and more.
Although I am not particularly interested in etymology, I have long been fascinated by these two Names or Attributes of Allah coming from the same root as the word for “womb” and “mercy”—ar-rahm and ar-rahma respectively. Since all of human creation is brought into physical being through a womb I had so many questions: 1) Of all the root words that could have been used to establish the meaning of these opening words of the Qur’an to describe the Creator, why were words that relate to the womb, wom(b)anhood, female anatomy, and motherhood chosen instead of some phallic symbol of power and creation?; 2) How is mercy, beneficence, compassion, and graciousness related to the womb in Arabic?; 3) Was this Allah’s way of elevating the status of women at that time in that time and among the people to whom the Qur’an was originally revealed?; 4) If the female attribute of a womb is related to these two Attributes of Allah, is the womb godly? Is the wom(b)man divine?; and lastly, 5) Could we have all been created from the figurative or even literal Womb of Allah making Allah The Great Mother of all creation?
In the Qur’an (e.g., 4:1), Allah tells “mankind” to revere/fear/remain dutiful to “the wombs.” Many take this to mean actual mothers, familial relationships, and/or woman in general. In that same verse of the Qur’an, Allah also states that all humans were created from a single human being. Most Muslims I have encountered, believe in the creation story of a male, Adam, being the first human to be created by Allah; I was once one of them. However, after researching and critically thinking about the creation story in the context of these two Names of Allah, I began to opine that (if the story is literal) Adam was the first man and first of mankind to be created but not the first human. I began to believe that womankind or a woman was the first human to be created. I wanted to be fair and think that both were created at the same time, but the Qur’an clearly stated that all come from a single human being. Short of this original human creation being some sort of mix of man and woman (as many also attribute to Allah), I sided with that part of me that knew that the all of human creation passes through a womb in this physical world. Unless Adam had that womb, Eve was the first human for me.
Later in the Qur’an, a full chapter (55) of 78 verses is named after one of these two Attributes of Allah: ar-Rahman. Within the first few verses of Chapter/Surah ar-Rahman, Allah speaks to humankind reminding them that Allah created them, the Qur’an, their intelligence, their ability to speak, and even the sun, moon, herbs, and the trees. After arriving at my new conclusions, I began to read more into these first verses, specifically 55:5 where Allah states, “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed” otherwise translates as “The sun and moon (move) by precise calculation” due to Allah. Reading this verse through the lens of a woman with a pretty precise menstrual cycle/course, I saw confirmation of my opinions regarding the close relationship between Allah, the womb, woman, and her menstrual cycle as something divine that mimics Nature (i.e., the moon) or the reverse.
As many Muslims follow prophetic sayings (ahadith) after the Qur’an, I began searching there for a relationship between Allah and the womb. In the Sahih Bukhari collection (Volume 8, Book 73, Number 16-18), I found three ahadith that answered my call. One is narrated by Abu Huraira and states:
“The Prophet said, ‘Allah created the creations, and when He finished from His creations, Ar-Rahm (the womb) said, “O Allah at this place I seek refuge with You from all those who sever me. Allah said, ‘Yes, won’t you be pleased that I will keep good relations with the one who will keep good relations with you, and I will sever the relation with the one who will sever the relations with you.’ It said, ‘Yes, O my Lord.’ Allah said, ‘Then that is for you.’”
There are two more ahadith that are very similar reported from Abu Huraira and ‘Aisha (a wife of the prophet), both of which also confirm the root ar-Rahman and ar-rahm as the same. The hadith quoted above also amazed me because the womb (symbolically or literally) had a conversation with Allah and Allah responded to it and granted the request. The little brat in me stuck her tongue out and smugly (and silently) remarked, ‘Hmph! How many penises and testicles can say that their original one had a conversation with Allah?!’
All of these ruminations took place long ago, thereby helping me to understand why patriarchy, especially in Islam and among Muslims, flexes its muscles so intently. It makes me wonder: What would happen if every Muslim woman read and understood the Qur’an and ahadith from a woman’s perspective and countered every mainstream narrative that sought to reduce the Muslim woman to a second-class adherent instead of a being that is, perhaps, anatomically and/or creatively closer to Allah than her male counterparts?
Jameelah X. Medina, Ph.D., is an educator, author, orator, and business owner residing in southern California with her husband and daughter. www.jameelahmedina.com She is also a contributor to I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 personal essays written by American Muslim women under the age of 40.