Remembering, like the spiritual practice of dhikr [1] feels like the veils have been lifted, the hearts have been polished, or as I like to call it – being welcomed Home[2]. It’s an experience that shifts held perspectives even if they have been ingrained for decades. And in this incident, what shifted and what I innately knew, was that my gender had the potential to catapult me upon the spiritual path - should I choose to embrace it. I recall a saying by the spiritual sages, “A woman has the potential to attain closeness to Allah in 40 days, whilst a man may take up to 40 years.” This potentiality however is only cultivated if the woman recognises that her very power is imbedded in her gender. I’m not referring to the Western feminist idea of power, because if I were to be honest with myself, that has been the greatest barrier to me truly knowing my feminine spiritual potential. But rather I am referring to sitting comfortably, without the need to prove anything, not even to myself, in the quiet certitude that comes from embodying the feminine principles.

The masculine and feminine principles are fundamental governing principles of the universe and are reflected in every single manifestation of nature and of life. They are not gendered per se, and yet feminine principles are prominent in women and hidden in men, whilst masculine principles are prominent in men and hidden in women. These principles are observed all around us in the universe; in the sun and moon, yin and yang, night and day. Their opposites are complimentary and not rivalry, they are in need of each other to attain wholeness, pointing to The One who is without need and is completely Perfect. To embrace the principles requires an inner knowing, free of societal expectations and egoic identification, allowing for a deep inner wisdom to emerge that is imprinted in both body and spirit.

In her book ‘Body of Wisdom,’ Hilary Hart explores nine hidden powers alive in women’s bodies and instincts. She offers a perspective of women’s spiritual power as a missing piece in a world out of balance. That for too long women have been part of a dominant cultural paradigm that enshrines primarily masculine values like will power and self-focus as a means of achievement, and fails to honour the tremendously powerful aspects of our collective feminine nature, like our attunement to relationships, longing, honouring the earth, and a natural capacity to nourish, all of which serve the community of life more than one’s personal goals. She shines a light on the patriarchal aspects of our spiritual heritage that includes an emphasis on effort, ascension beyond the earth, mastering of the body and its needs, and exaltation of physical suffering. This approach is generally antithetical to women’s natural spirituality, as women use their bodies as part of their spiritual path to serve the whole of life. 

The spiritual path is an inner journey that seeks to witness The Divine presence in every moment and in every breath. Through the guiding light and virtuous attributes that adorned the best of creation (saw), the seeker traverses the path of refining the ego. To purify the heart from the debris of the ego is the intent, as the Quran describes the Day of Judgement as “A day in which neither wealth nor children shall be of benefit [to anyone], except one who comes to God with a sound heart.”[3] The Prophet (saw) exemplified this sound heart through his compassion, gentleness, forbearance, forgiveness and love, as Allah refers to him as “ra’oofon raheem” (gently kind, compassionate). 

These praised qualities are recognised as feminine principles which women innately embody should they choose to connect with them. Such virtuous attributes afford women a precedence upon the spiritual path. This favour is necessary given that the sacred human soul is birthed to the world through a woman, nourished from a woman, and raised by a woman. It is imperative that the human soul is immersed in compassion, love and gentleness in its formative years so that its foundations of spiritual virtuous are set for life. Allah in His Infinite Wisdom not only endowed these into the feminine principles but also graced His Divine Name, Ar-Rahman upon the very place where the soul enters its physical journey - “I Am Ar-Rahman. I created the Raham (womb) and derived a name for it from My Name. Hence, whoever keeps it (family ties), I will keep ties to him, and whoever severs it, I will sever ties with him.” [4]

Nurturing family ties within the Islamic tradition is one of the highest acts of worship that is given very little recognition in our modern busy culture. Throughout time and across cultures, women have taken this responsibility by gathering families over meals, conversations and healing disconnected relationships. It is something that women pay very little attention to as they go about serving and nourishing their family, and yet in the light of the above Hadith Qudsi, it is one of the most sacred acts of worship in the eyes of God. Women have cared for elderly family members and young infants alike, and sometimes simultaneously. The challenge that women face is to nourish themselves as they nourish others. There is a way of balance that does not contribute to the depletion so many women feel as they give to others and in so many directions. As Hilary Hart beautifully articulates, “Life is not a battery that gets drained; it is a forest that takes rain and births plants and absorbs sun and gives oxygen and so on… This cyclical, rhythmical, re-birthing quality of nature is so essential to women’s nature.”  

Women are accustomed to cycles and rhythms as their bodies reflect and synchronise with nature. A time where prescribed ritual worship is lifted and replaced with empty space allowing for whatever needs to emerge spiritually to do so. Women have struggled with this emptiness as it has not been honoured as a time of spiritual rejuvenation. We have come to believe that connecting with God requires a ‘doing,’ whilst the feminine is more attuned to ‘being.’ Motherhood is yet another time in a women’s life where spirituality takes on a deeper and more profound meaning. “The monastery of motherhood” is understood in Buddhist teaching as the unique spiritual path reserved for mothers. Through the daily mundane acts of serving and caring for vulnerable infants, the mother enters a state of self-sacrifice and a denial of the ego on every level. She sacrifices time, sleep, wealth and personal aspirations all for the wellbeing of her child. The spiritual discipline emerges from the daily practice of menial tasks that warrant no recognition, leaving little room for the ego to manifest as the mother enters a state of selflessness. The ego shrivels in such a disciplined environment of service and sacrifice without acknowledgment, for such practice evokes spiritual virtues of compassion, love, empathy and gentleness. 

The path to Allah is a uniquely personalised journey between the seeker and The Beloved. Some traverse a path of love, whilst others of service, and others of patience and endurance. Whichever path we are placed upon, the goal is always the same… to witness The Divine Oneness through our lived experience in all that is around us and within us. Women have innately held a deep longing, knowing that the path to God cannot be restricted to ritual practice, to sermons or memorisation of doctrine. They have experienced Oneness through a deep spiritual connection to all that exists, knowing that the heart of the feminine has the ability to witness God through ‘being,’ embodying the spiritual virtuous as it reflects Divine Beauty to the world.

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