Journalist rediscovers the female saints of Islam: an essay

"Trapped in my matrimonial penalty box, I inadvertently became alienated from Islam." How journalist Daliah Merzaban lost and then found a connection to her faith through the female saints.
Cairo, Egypt (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
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On family trips to Cairo, Daliah Merzaban's mother and aunts would visit mosques enclosing the shrines of Sayyida Zainab and Sayyida Nafisa, two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. There, they would pray for suitable partners for their unmarried children.

Merzaban was the subject of those prayers. When she was younger, she was amused. But as she grew older and eventually turned 30, the social stigma of being an unmarried woman grew strong and Merzaban found herself turning away from her religion.

"Trapped in my matrimonial penalty box, I inadvertently became alienated from Islam."

Soon after, when she was 31-years-old, Merzaban had a profound spiritual experience that encouraged her to seek her own answers.

She read the Quran from cover to cover for the first time and her love for Islam was rekindled.

"In the pure spiritual sense, being Muslim meant consciously living in a state of presence with the divine."

Merzaban also discovered the book, Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure by Camille Helminski, which describes the untold stories of Muslim women scholars, mystics, poets and saints. The book was a game-changer. It helped Merzaban to reframe her understanding of the female saints her mother and aunts prayed to for all those years and ultimately inspire her to strengthen her relationship with God.

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