Mara-Johanna Kölmel: How does this figure link to your biography, growing up in Iran?
Shirin Fahimi: When I was in elementary school, I was mesmerized by the prophets’ stories, especially the prophet Solomon, who speaks with animals and genies. I was always trying to imagine the very moment that a prophet received a revelation from God. I thought if I try to be a very good Muslim, God will eventually talk to me as well, and I could see the invisible realm and bring changes to the universe with my intentions. On the other hand I was afraid of that very moment of revelation; a moment that I imagined as a rupture to reality. Sort of naively or in my imagination, I understood back then that the revelation could happen to anyone, regardless of their gender. However, when I got older, I realized that my grandmother had a certain way of praising my brother and described him as »you are such a prophet,« while I was never called as such. It was only recently that I realized many mothers admired their sons and grandsons by describing them as being as pure as a prophet, but this did not apply to their daughters.
In my research I found some theories that suggest a distinction between being a nabī (prophet) and being a rasūl (messenger) in Islamic literature. While the position of a nabī, who receives revelation in the dream, is not exclusive to men (a prophet’s mother could be a nabi), being a rasūl mainly refers to prophets with books, who have the responsibility to get involved with the people as a political leader, which are mainly men. So in this context no women have been historically associated with being a rasūl.
Additionally Fatima Mernissi, in The Forgotten Queens of Islam, highlights that although there were so many restrictions against women’s visibility in the political arena, many women still found ways to practice political power. The reason why »no women has ever borne the title of caliph or imam in the current meaning of the word« could be found in the lack of spiritual validation for women in the political system.
All these inspired me to begin a research inquiry on what gaps exist between earthly leadership, in a sense of political power, and spiritual leadership in a sense prophecy. How are these two aspects connected in the Islamic societies historically and in the contemporary sense? Have women always been excluded from spiritual leadership? Having so many women practicing high levels of spiritualism, what makes them being excluded from the archives? Is the female prophecy possible in the Islamic culture? And what does this possibility mean? And what changes does it bring with itself?
For the purpose of my current project Umm al Raml Sand Narratives, I will be experimenting with the augmented reality (AR) platform for this web residency. I would like to make Umm al Raml and her divination appear on the viewers’ devices, in their living rooms, or depending where they place the target image in order to activate the AR.