Odd it seems: a name closely linked to the deeper realms of Christianity and specifically Marian Catholicism is also connected to Muslims.
The appellation is “Fàtima,” and counterintuitive as it seems, this spot, of one of the Virgin’s Mary’s most famous, powerful, and prophetic appearances, in Portugal (in 1917), was named for a woman who in turn was named for the daughter of the prophet Mohammed when Turks — Muslims — overran this part of Western Europe, as periodically they did.
Fàtima Zahra, often referred to as “the radiant one,” holds a special position in the hearts of Muslims. She is venerated not only for her close relationship with the prophet but also for her profound spiritual wisdom, her dedication to her family, and her unwavering faith.
According to legend, during the Christian Reconquest, the Templar knight Gonçalo Hermingues, also known as Bringer-of-Moors, fell in love with the woman named after the “radiant one,” a Moor captured in the course of an ambush. Reciprocating the love, the young woman — let’s call her “Fàtima II” — converted to Christianity and adopted the name “Oureana.”
The original Fàtima’s life story offers a glimpse into the trials and tribulations faced by early Muslims. Through her life, one witnesses the virtues of patience, resilience, and unconditional love. Furthermore, she is the mother of the two significant figures in Shia Islam, Hassan and Hussain, who played pivotal roles in the shaping of Islamic history.
The reverence for Fàtima transcends personal admiration. Many Islamic traditions and sayings (Hadith) quote the Prophet Muhammad emphasizing Fàtima’s special place in his heart and in the grand scheme of the faith. The name “Fàtima” is of Arabic origin and is derived from the root word “Fatam,” which means “to wean” or “to abstain.” Its literal interpretation is suggestive of a person who is weaned from the ordinary and is distinct in their qualities. While its linguistic roots offer an interesting perspective, the name’s true significance is deeply intertwined with religious narratives, primarily within the Islamic tradition.
Ironic indeed, in that too many of the Islamic faith tended toward conquering, brutality, and the quashing of Christianity — the opposite of her virtues.
In fact, holy objects in Portugal and Spain often had to be buried and otherwise hidden from Muslims who invaded within a century of the death of Prophet Muhammad, starting in 632 AD, when Muslim armies conquered lands stretching from the Iberian Peninsula all the way to the Indus River in the east.
Over the next few centuries, much of Spain and Portugal were under Muslim rule.
The Ottoman Turks, after conquering Anatolia, began their forays into Europe in the 14th century. They took Constantinople in 1453, renamed it Istanbul, and continued their expansion into the Balkans, Central Europe, and even the gates of Vienna, which they besieged unsuccessfully in 1529 and 1683.
One takeover that was fended off came during the famous Battle of Lepanto, when a Pontiff led the Rosary with thousands of faithful and as a result, the much smaller fleet of Italian-European ships were able to hold off invaders.
This puts to the test the idea that current tensions with Israel are solely because Jews took land from them. Muslims have sought to conquer for centuries and are doing so in a subtler way today, their numbers spreading to such an extent in Europe through immigration that the current mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a Sunni Muslim.
And the Rosary is again invoked during prayers to fend off a world war that could be triggered by the Gaza crisis.