The Fragrance of Fatima: My Visit to a Friend of God
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله رب العالمين
والصلاة والسلام على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمهين
And the angels said, “O Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, chosen you over the women of all peoples. Mary, obey your Lord devoutly, worship, and bow in prayer with those bowing in prayer.”
(Qurʾān 3: 42-43)
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While taking a class on Islamic Spirituality at the Hartford Seminary one of my Christian classmates gave a presentation on the famous lover of God, Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawiyyah. Before starting the presentation she sincerely asked the question: “Does it seem contradictory in Islam to have a female saint?” I was shocked at the question and immediately shook my head, seeing no contradiction at all. I looked around at my fellow Muslim men and women in the class and saw some hesitation on their faces. Were they perhaps thinking that there was some sort of contradiction? I do not know for sure what was running through their minds, but it is because of my classmate’s question that I feel the need to write about my extraordinary visit to a walīyah—a female friend of God.
On September 16th, 2006 (Shaʿbān 1427 H.), in Wādī ʿAmd in Ḥaḍramawt a group of friends and I drove for a few hours to visit a special friend of God: al-Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya al-ʿAṭṭās (may God have mercy on her). We desired to seek her out because her great station with God and of her endless devotion to and love of Him, Blessed and Exalted is He, was legendary. She was discovered by a scholar of Ḥaḍramawt who had seen the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and mercy of God be upon him) in a dream. The Prophet informed the scholar of Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya and after telling the scholar where she lived, the Prophet commanded him to seek her out. Shortly thereafter, her name became well-known throughout the region, and even the most well-respected scholars sought her out to ask her for duʿāʾ.
It never really occurred to me before going to Ḥaḍramawt that there existed righteous women worth seeking out, but I learned early on that even though I was living in a very conservative society, the people there nonetheless had great respect and reverence towards women of piety and knowledge. Even though I had heard great things about Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya, I still did not really know what to expect.
After driving several hours through the Ḥaḍramawt Valley, we finally reached the small village where Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya lived. We arrived unannounced, and several children, who I later discovered were the Ḥubāba’s grandchildren (or maybe even great grandchildren, for she was over 100 years old at the time), surrounded us, immediately recognizing us as outsiders. The children ran off to tell the elders of our arrival, and it was immediately known that more people had come to seek the barakah of Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya.
We were greeted warmly by a man in his early fifties who guided us to the Ḥubāba’s house. As we walked up the hill, the excitement and anticipation in my heart began to overflow. I felt something considerable was imminent. We finally made it to the old clay house and we awaited permission to see Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya. We were graciously given sweet tea while we waited. Soon thereafter, permission was granted. As we walked towards her room, I felt a strong spiritual presence overcome me. As we entered her room, ducking our heads to enter through the door (which was quite low by Western standards), there was one of the most astounding human beings my eyes have ever seen. Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya was at such a late stage in life that she could not get up from her bed; but although she rested there weak in body—her spiritual qualities dwarfed all those present.
She was completely immersed in the remembrance of her Lord. I felt from her words and demeanor that it was as if she was standing in the Rawḍa of the Prophet’s Mosque, peace and mercy be upon him. We all lowered our heads in front of this spiritual giant and were thankful for being able to see one of God’s righteous servants. Being in her presence made us all more mindful of our Lord and increased our yearning to seek His face.
What stood out most to me was her eyes (which were a rare grayish-green color). When she looked at me, I felt that her gaze pierced my soul. She had ancient eyes that looked like they had seen more than my imagination could muster. Her eyes were filled with wisdom, knowledge, mercy, and love. I felt something within me change forever after she looked at me.
We all asked her to make duʿāʾ for us, and she gave us all hope and joy when she said, for the first time directing her words to us, saying, “You have attained your goal. You have attained your goal.” The rest of her words the entire visit were just dhikr—being completely engulfed in remembrance of her Lord.
After we left Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya’s house, we all felt changed. Her prayers and her presence gave us more than words can describe. We felt an overwhelming sense of power and mercy. Although since then I have visited many righteous men, there was something absolutely unique about Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya—what “it” is I cannot put my finger on. I was fortunate enough to visit her two more times before leaving Ḥaḍramawt, and will remember her for the rest of my life. I thank God for being able to spend time with a human being like her, and I pray to be united with her in the next life.
Al-Ḥubāba Ṣafīyya passed away in late 2007/1428. Scholars from across the Ḥaḍramawt Valley flocked to her funeral, honoring one of God’s beloved saints. May God be well pleased with her and shower her with His infinite mercy.