Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Daughters of Lilith Can Be Muslim Too by Riem Farahat

Painting by Arna Baartz

 They asked her “how did you free yourself?” 
She answered, “by embracing my own power.

-Yung Pueblo

Once upon a time a man and a woman got married. They found out they were incompatible and had different views on marriage and life. She wanted to be his equal partner, but he didn’t see it this way. She was unhappy, so she decided to walk out and live her life according to her. The end. Except that many years later, people still spoke of her rebellion and her defiance. In a typical fashion, she was vilified and took the blame for everything while no one spoke of her ex. It was said that her wrath was extended to her ex’s new wife and their offspring for many generations to come. People held on to these made-up stories as a reminder of what women are capable of if left untamed and thus needed to be confined and disempowered. Little did they know that through their stories Lilith also became a symbol of what women across cultures are yearning for. She became a symbol of resistance and empowerment.

This is a very short version of Lilith’s story. While she is linked to ancient and old religious scriptures, it is very easy to see that in reality, her story is not so unique but rather one that represents a struggle that many women regardless of their cultural and religious background might identify with, even women from Islamic cultures who were never introduced to Lilith.

Lilith in the Islamic Narrative

Lilith does not appear in the Quran or any known Islamic traditions, which makes her a perfect symbol for modern day women who identify with Islam. Had she been part of an Islamic Narrative that corresponds with the Judaism and Christianity story (where Lilith defies God), Muslim women might reject Lilith completely or might struggle with extreme guilt if they tried to identify with her. Therefore, by stripping Lilith from any ties to Islam as a religion, it allows women to relate to the struggles Lilith faced. Instead of focusing on Lilith as being Adam’s first wife who rejected him and his God, we focus on people’s need to create a fictional female character and punished her for her choices to further demonize and put down women.

Up until a few years ago, there was hardly any interest in Lilith in the Arab / Islamic world. A google search of the word “Lilith” in Arabic hardly give any results. Currently, there are only two books that introduce Lilith’s legend to Arabic readers. The first is a book of poetry “The Return of Lilith” by Lebanese writer Joumana Haddad, published in 2004, and the second is titled “Lilith and the Modern Day Feminist Movement” by Syrian writer Hana Abboud, published in 2007. Abboud recaps Lilith’s legacy from mythology and Jewish scripture, and her importance as a feminist icon from a secular stand while also referring to other goddesses such as Ereshkigal, Hecate, and Ishtar. He also sees Lilith’s legacy as one that goes beyond women’s rights and into a human rights issue, one that could be identified by both men and women. This makes the book it a unique addition to Arabic literature.

Today, there are more search hits on Lilith but these websites briefly recap her story as a Jewish / Christian myth. She was the first women and she disobeyed God, so she became a demon who brings death along with her wherever she goes. It also helps that there are more pop culture references in recent years and Hollywood characters named Lilith, though usually vampires or succubi.

Doing a google search in English for “Lilith” and “Islam” gives a lot more results. This is understandable since Muslim English speakers would be more exposed to the revival of Lilith’s legacy, whether as a demon or symbol of empowerment. While Arabic online results disconnect Lilith from Islam, most English searches don’t. Comments written by Muslims claim with certainty that Lilith is a filthy demonic beast mentioned in Islam but fail to back up their claim with any Islamic references. This raises an important side point on the influences of Judeo-Christian traditions on the general Islamic narrative. In short, some Muslim scholars believe that the interpretation of the Quran was influenced by Judeo-Christian narratives, especially when it comes to women’s rights. For example, in the story of creation, according to Islam, Adam was created first and then Eve. Both were complicit in being expelled from Paradise rather than Eve being a temptress. However, a lot of Muslims subscribe to the belief that Eve was the sole force behind their expulsion. Also, according to one Hadeeth (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) Eve – Hawaa – was created from Adam’s rib. Many scholars believe this to be a symbol of women being breakable if abused and mistreated, while also being protectors of men’s hearts and lives. Many others take this this literally and go as far as believe that the rib’s curve shapes a woman’s judgment.  She is unable to be on the straight-righteous path on her own and always needs a man to guide her. It is argued that the later interpretation is influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions rather than a subjective reading of the Quran and Hadeeth. Because of this, scholars who believe in metaphors also call for an evaluation of common beliefs Muslims carry about women and to introduce ones that truly reflects Islamic doctrine and are female empowering.

One can conclude from this that Lilith is slowly making a jump into the Islamic / Arab world through the English language, but so far, the narrative has been one that seeks to demonize and vilify Lilith and subsequently all women. Because of this, it becomes very important to remind Muslim women that Lilith is not part of the Muslim narrative but perhaps a character who is part of a collective divine feminine. 

My Fascination with Lilith and Her Contribution to My Coaching Practice

I have no idea when it started or when I first heard of her. Perhaps I have I always known about her. When I try to recall the first time I heard of her, my memory goes back to a book I picked up on Eve. Back then I had a fascination, and still do, with Eve as another misunderstood figure. Since Lilith was not part of the narrative that I grew up with, the idea that Adam had a first wife was interesting but irrelevant to me. In 1999, Lilith’s legacy invited me again. This time it was through the Lilith Fair, a concert tour and travelling music festival of female artists founded by musician Sarah McLachlan. It was an incredible day but to me, Lilith was just a name of a fair and a large gathering of mostly women.

Years went by and next thing I know, I started identifying and embracing Lilith. I had a feeling I knew her and rejected most narratives that sought to demonize her. During this time, I also became a life coach and started working with women, and occasionally men, who were feeling disconnected, disempowered and unhappy.  I started seeing parts of Lilith in most of my clients. Actually, rather than seeing parts of her, I saw the void that is created when we disconnect with her legacy.

When we disassociate ourselves from that part of us that represents Lilith, we disconnect from ourselves, with the Universe and with other beings. We start to have a distorted image of ourselves and others. We start to feel extreme jealousy of other women, insecure, hold grudges, and become judgmental. We deny ourselves sexual desires and become fearful and controlling. We are overcome with high levels of anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. We view ourselves as victims and tend to blame rather than take responsibility for our choices. We act unhappy and lost.

By allowing ourselves to identify with and channel the Lilith within us, we open ourselves to a whole new world;

1)     Lilith is determined, sensual, and a natural leader. She is not afraid to embrace her sexuality and enjoy the pleasures of life. She is not apologetic either. What are your views on sex and how has it shaped your life? 
2)     Even though she is said to have played a role in Eve’s descent, Lilith is not interested in competing with anyone. I always envision Lilith and Eve being friendly with each other. Perhaps, they complement each other. The opportunity for this friendship to nourish became none-existent just as many attempts were made to demonize these two women. This serves as a reminder that most societies will always try to separate women by playing them off against each other. There will always be stories circulating that women are the enemies of other women. It is Lilith who caused mothers the pain of losing their new born. It’s another woman who is a home wrecker, i.e. responsible for kicking you out of your version of paradise. Many feminists have also subconsciously played on this narrative when they claimed Lilith was more superior to the submissive Eve. Both are archetypes that are inside of us. Neither is better than the other and both suffered.
 3)    Lilith invites us to embrace our true unapologetic unique selves. Lilith willingly gave up the safety and comfort of paradise, where she felt out of place, and embraced the world of the unknown.   She reminds us that it is up to us to create the life want to have. She didn’t wait for change to happen. Instead, she took matters into her own hand and changed her story. We always have a choice.  Ever when we believe we don’t. What is stopping you from living the life of your dreams?  
4)    Lilith teaches us to know and accept the consequences of our choices and accept responsibility for our actions.  What are you struggling to accept?
5)    Through vilifying women, men suffer too. Both Eve and Lilith were vilified, while Adam was not directly vilified, his mere existence portrays him as weak, insignificant and whinny, with a hunger for power and self-esteem issues. Don’t men deserve a better legacy than this? Perhaps this also time for a sacred masculine awakening.
 6)   People will always talk. Lilith continues to ignore the mass of small-minded people, and instead cares for those who celebrate her. Who are you surrendering your powers to? Thousands of years have gone by, the legacy of Lilith still exists, and her followers keep increasing.
 7)   It is fully alright to be single or lead an unconventional lifestyle despite what society tells us. After all, Lilith chose to walk away from the only existing man because he didn’t suit her.
 8)  Lilith invites us to be guided by our inner voice and wisdom.
 9)   Pick your battles wisely and know when it’s over. Trying to change someone else is not a solution. Instead of spending her time and energy trying to change Adam, Lilith walked away.
 10) Knowledge is power, whether this knowledge is about ourselves, the world around us, or a specific situation we are in. Knowing who we are remains both the most important information and source of knowledge. Otherwise, how do we know what our true desires are if we don’t know who we are? Lilith knew herself and what she wanted. She used the knowledge of knowing the name of her creator to her advantage and empowered herself.  Who are you? Who do you want to be? 
11) Embrace the transformation as an opportunity to grow. A transformation can be a scary time, filled with pain and confusion, but it is also a great time for growth, and a great time to get comfortable with who we are or who we want to be. Lilith willingly went through the transformation when she walked out of paradise.
 12) Lilith must have had tremendous faith to be able to continue. Maybe it was faith in  herself, or God, or another higher power. What do you have faith in? 
13) People will fear that which they don’t understand. People continue to fear Lilith and women in general, yet that hasn’t stopped anyone, especially the legend of Lilith. What would you do and where would you be if you didn’t care about pleasing people? 
14) Lilith invites us to embrace our shadow – the part of us which is unknown – and to embrace the darkness which we are told to reject if we want to be “good” women: Good people don’t have feelings of anger, resentment and guilt. What if having these feelings is what makes us good humans? What feelings are you struggling to embrace?

Lilith is called and seen in different light. She is a succubus. A goddess. A vampire. A patroness. A muse. The first feminist. The first witch. To many others she doesn’t exist, not even as a fictional character. To others, she is just Lilith. Insignificant. Whatever her origin and her existence is, many women feel empowerment by her and draw deep inspiration from her because like so many women and men, she has suffered. She embraced her powers and her weaknesses. She turned hate into a source of existence. Her story of decent is a story of determination and it is in all of us.  Of course, connecting with Lilith is not the only way to a life of abundance and fulfillment, but it is one way that has been largely neglected and kept in the dark. So why not give it a try and connect with the Lilith within you?

An excerpt from the upcoming girl god anthology, Original Resistance: Reclaiming Lilith, Reclaiming Ourselves.

Riem Farahat has a Saudi Arabian father and a German mother. She is a Californian at heart and graduated from California State University, Dominquez Hills with a Bachelor of Art in Psychology. Riem also holds a Master’s degree in Intercultural Conflict Management and is currently a life coach based in Saudi Arabia. As a coach, she works with people in conservative societies to help them embrace their choices, honor their true selves, and take charge of their lives. She can be reached at