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119 Conclusion According to early medieval Christian and Shi`ite tradition, God chose Mary and Fatima as vessels for his sublime progeny. Mary, an obedient maiden, gave birth to the God-Man Jesus; Fatima, sharing in the divine nur, held the Imamate within her womb. The attention to two female figures did not stop with theological concerns; hagiographers also chose Mary and Fatima to think about matters of political and sectarian identity . The sacred narratives and hagiographies produced by these authors, most of whom were men, offer historians windows into theology, gender expectations, and notions of the holy. If we read these texts with a critical eye to rhetorical design and cultural context, they reveal a complex construction of feminine images intended for a variety of purposes and audiences. A careful comparison of Mary and Fatima depends on problematic sources. Late antique and early medieval authors proliferated images of Mary and Fatima at times of social, political, and religious change. Christian authors from roughly 200 to 750, for example, employed Mary as a symbol of the orthodox or right church as well as to bolster their Christology. Shi`ite authors used the image of Fatima in a similar way; however, their texts originate from a different time and space. Shi`ite hadith transmitters stressed Fatima’s role in the Imamate, the Prophet 120 Chosen among Women Muhammad’s lineage that held true religious authority among Muslims. Such texts, dating to the eighth and ninth centuries, allowed various Shi`ite groups to express their differences (e.g., on the Imams’ identities ) as well as the emerging distinction between Sunni and Shi`ite. Both Christian and Shi`ite texts thus reveal a process of self-identification wherein male authors rely on feminine ideals as markers of community. Theologians clearly relied on Mary and Fatima to articulate and expand their respective orthodoxies and notions of rightness. By defining first their pure and immaculate nature, authors transformed Mary’s and Fatima’s bodies into sacred containers. Early church fathers such as Ambrose and Jerome explained Jesus’ own miraculous composition as both human and divine by scrutinizing Mary’s body, miraculously pure and intact. In developing their Mariology, theologians developed their Christology. Ambrose transformed Mary into a new Hebrew temple, sealed to all except the High Priest, or God himself. Fatima also served as a sacred vessel, holding the Imam’s nur within her while simultaneously sharing it. Fatima al-Zahra existed as the only female member of the holy family and, like her father, husband, and sons, remained immaculate and infallible. Both Shi`ite and Christian authors also likened their holy women to an ancient container, Noah’s ark; the women’s wombs carried humanity’s true salvation. Mary and Fatima served equally important functions in political and sectarian discourse. With such a rhetorical agenda in mind, hagiographers accented Mary’s and Fatima’s maternal roles. These holy women, as mothers, effectively defined the limits of community and sectarian division . By symbolically adopting believers to their maternal care, Mary and Fatima damned unbelievers to hell. Hagiographers advertised their holy mothers by describing their homey miracles and domestic skill. Both women experienced superhuman parturitions, multiplied food, and interceded for their spiritual offspring. In the early medieval West, Mother Mary identified Franks as orthodox and anointed by God. When the Merovingians converted to Christianity, Mary defended her children against Arian and Jewish contamination. Merovingian priests, bishops, queens, and holy women sometimes defined themselves through Mary: bishops boasted of her relics ; queens dedicated their families and Gallo-Roman populations to her care; and holy women nurtured their communities as pious mothers. Shi`ite authors articulated the Imamate’s divine authority as the community’s leaders by advertising Fatima’s motherhood in much the same way. Fatima gave birth free from pollutants and simultaneously shared in the preexistent nur from which Allah crafted the ahl al-bayt. Shi`ite authors declared their sectarian identity by proclaiming Fatima’s numinous status as the Prophet’s daughter, `Ali’s wife, and the Imams’ mother. She provided the uterine connection, the bloodline, that authorized the Imams’ station as the Shi`ite community’s infallible leaders. The identification with Fatima’s family granted considerable prestige in the struggle between Sunni and Shi`ite sovereignty as well as clerical responsibility in Shi`ite communities. The Shi`a demonstrated its blessed status by describing Fatima’s abasement of `A’isha and distinction as the Prophet’s daughter. For...

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