Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Initial Unraveling by Nahida Nisa

"Colour of Dignity" by Elisabeth Slettnes

The creation of Hawwa (translated as Eve) and Adam in Islam differs from the one in Christian religious tradition, in that (1) Hawwa is not said in the Qur’an to have formed from Adam’s rib, (2) nor is woman said to have been created second after man (3) or even Adam disclosed to have been (for certain) the male variant in the couple but for a masculine pronoun utilized of grammatical necessity. God addresses Adam, whose name is interchangeably synonymous with humankind, and tells Adam to live with Hawwa (spouse) in Paradise, but the sex of each respective figure is not revealed. Hawwa and Adam exist simultaneously, androgynous until they eat from the tree, with neither having been created from the other though both are made of the same earth (thus of equal purity), and it is both of them together who are tricked into disobeying God’s command. But Hawwa is often translated as Eve, though this story does not sound like Eve’s.

It sounds like Lilith’s.

If Muslim readership is unfamiliar with the story of Lilith (except for this slight resemblance, it doesn’t exist in Islam by name or detail): she is rumored in Judaism and Christianity to have been Adam’s first wife, created not from his rib after he had already been formed, unlike their Eve, but as an original, from (impure) earth. However, as Raphael Patai explains in his article, “Lilith,” “Adam and Lilith could find no happiness together, not even understanding. When Adam wished to lie with her, Lilith demurred: ‘Why should I lie beneath you,’ she asked, ‘when I am your equal, since both of us were created from dust?’ When Lilith saw that Adam was determined to overpower her, she uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air, and flew away to the Red Sea, a place of ill repute, full of lascivious demons.” (Patai, 1964)

The resemblance to Satan, who refused to bow to Adam, citing his fashion of creation as reason, is chillingly striking. But here it is Adam who commanded submission, not God. And it is through invoking the name of God that Lilith makes her escape to the Red Sea, uniting with demons, one of whom she becomes.

In Christianity, God then creates Eve from Adam’s rib, who naturally does not quarrel with him. In Talmudic tradition, Lilith commands ghostly she-demons that prevent childbirths in human women by causing miscarriages and barrenness: a class of succubae that leave men weak in nocturnal ejaculations. The story of Lilith is the story of a woman who is—quite literally—demonized. And for what? She would not submit to a patriarchal order established by men. Significantly, in these versions of the story, she returns as the serpent to tempt Eve, “corrupting” the “good woman” who does as she is told. Though she returns to God full-circle, Lilith is the first feminist recognized and defined by patriarchy—a seductress who disobeys men and kills infants as she leaves women barren. She is not only a woman, but a woman so beautiful and monstrous that even nature itself condemns her in this barrenness, an unnatural woman: “As Montgomery aptly put it over half a century ago, ‘the Liliths were the most developed products of the morbid imagination—of the barren or neurotic woman, the mother in the time of maternity, the sleepless child.’” (Patai, 1964)

But Hawwa is a Lilith who was never asked to submit to Adam. Hawwa is a Lilith who thus never felt any need to “abandon” him or to depart. Hawwa is a content Eve, fully and rightfully herself with all the powers to her own autonomy. She is recognized as a Prophetess. With the heavy baggage that Lilith carries, even predating Abrahamic tradition, is it entirely understandable that Hawwa has been translated as Eve. She is Lilith’s beginning and Eve’s end. The truth is that Islam’s Hawwa, never asked to submit to Adam, is neither a Lilith nor an Eve. It is possible that both women erupted from the story of the First Woman with the gradual differences accumulated over the retelling of a story for centuries.

Lilith, not entirely human, makes strange and sudden appearances in Muslim theology long after she should have died, though never by that name. When I was young(er) my mother told me a story taking place during the time of Solomon (who had control over humans and jinn [other spirits, made of fire instead of clay]) in which two women fought over the possession of a child. To resolve the issue, the child was brought to King Solomon, who—with the intention of determining the true mother—commanded the child be cut in half. One of the women agreed; the other screamed in agony and exclaimed that she would give up the child so long as it lived. Solomon determined that this was the true

As a girl the story had left me perplexed. Who was this other woman, and what did she want with the child, if she would only kill it
? My mother wondered the same, but had no answers.

And then I encountered this,

“While Lilith and Naamah thus have become unmistakably evil spirits, at least one other time in history they assumed human form—when, in order to try Solomon’s wisdom, they assumed the form of two prostitutes and went to Solomon asking for his judgment in their quarrel over the surviving child.” (Patai, 1964)

… and felt my heart stop. The woman was Lilith!

In Islam she couldn’t have been the original Lilith, I don’t believe, but it makes sense that she was a jinn, not a human woman. There is also the charge that the Queen of Sheba was none other than Lilith, which is far-fetched, and doesn’t fit the Islamic tradition of the story. The Queen of Sheba, according to Islam, is with certainty a human woman, who ruled powerfully—and rightfully, without marrying Prophet Solomon (in the Qur’an), proof that women are entitled to such extraordinary positions.

All I can safely conclude is that Hawwa (or Lilith or Eve) was so torn apart over centuries of patriarchal retellings that she became multiple women with multiple stories, and slandered to have consorted with the devil, all until the introduction of the creation of a second woman out of Adam’s rib as an exemplar of the patriarchally preferred model of womanhood to replace her, or to convince human women that disobedience is demonic. Seeing that the purpose of the Qur’an was to restore truth to the revelations that were corrupted by men, it is likely that previously Eve was lessened and Lilith slandered, but these were naturally patriarchal fabrications. Hawwa was not made from Adam’s rib, and Lilith did not consort with the devil. Submission to Adam was demanded from neither.

Because woman will not submit to man—

I would not have bowed to Adam, either. Nor to Eve. (They were both the same.) How could I when I submit only to God? For Satan it was pride; for me, love. (Or, if it is not, then make it so.) And if this Divine Love is a sin, my Lord, then damn me to Hell! And let me burn with love so ardent that the Fire itself dies in shame!

And Eve says, “Never submit to anyone but God. I didn't.” And Lilith says, “They will slander me. And they will slander you. But remember.”

By Nahida Nisa, a selection from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.

Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor
Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Available late March - pre-order here.

Nahida Nisa enjoys wisteria trees, writing, red lipstick, astrophysics, garden path sentences, deceptive boxes, Islamic architecture, Toni Morrison, and can sing from G3 to E6.


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