- Hindiyya, Mystic and Criminal, 1720–1798: A Political and Religious Crisis in Lebanon by Bernard Heyberger
The eighteenth century was a period of decisive changes for the Maronites of Mount Lebanon, mainly caused by the intensified contacts with the Roman Catholic Church. After the Council of Trent (1543–63), the Holy See decided to tighten the ties with the Eastern Christian communities and to bring them under closer supervision of the mother Church, mainly to reform their doctrines, rituals, and organization in accordance with the decisions of the Council. For the Maronites, who acknowledged the authority of the pope, this meant an increased interaction with Rome and with missionary settlements in Syria. This led to an intellectual resurgence among the Maronites from the beginning of the seventeenth century onward, but also to increased Roman interference with Maronite affairs.
In 1736 a council was held in Mount Lebanon with the aim of reorganizing the Maronite Church according to the instructions of the Holy See. The proposed reforms included a major reorganization of the clerical offices, affecting the authority of the bishops and the patriarch, and a limitation of the influence of lay notables on church affairs. The latter measure was especially directed against the shaykhs of the Khazin family, who had risen to prominence in the course of the seventeenth century partly through their connections with French diplomats and merchants, who regarded them as the leaders of the Maronite community in Mount Lebanon.
The Lebanese Council did not immediately bring about the desired results, but rather inaugurated a period of severe power struggles in the Maronite community. In [End Page 619] the midst of these turbulent times, a young girl named Hindiyya emerged in the Maronite community in Aleppo who claimed to have mystical experiences. Hindiyya, who grew up in a wealthy family and had received a thorough religious education from the Latin missionaries, claimed to have visions of Jesus that started in childhood, and evolved into conversations and eventually physical “union.” According to Hindiyya, Jesus assigned her the task to found her own confraternity, and in 1750 she moved to Mount Lebanon to realize this project. From the onset, she was under the tutelage of the Jesuit missionaries, but they started a fierce campaign against her after she dissociated herself from them in Mount Lebanon and denounced her as a fraud and a threat to Church orthodoxy. However, Maronite clerics—especially Patriarch Yusuf Istifan—took her under their wing and enabled her to found her own monastic community in Bkerki, with the assistance of the Khazin shaykhs.
The Hindiyya affair has been studied by Bernard Heyberger in his meticulous Hindiyya; mystique et criminelle (1720–1798) (Paris, 2001). Now a new study has appeared in English by Akram Fouad Khater, under the captivating but perhaps somewhat unclear title Embracing the Divine: Passion and Politics in the Christian Middle East (Syracuse, NY, 2011). This book, too, closely unravels the events of the Hindiyya affair, the many intrigues surrounding her and the texts written by her. Khater situates the events in two broader perspectives that should provide a framework for interpretation. These perspectives are, first, the process of reform that was engendered both by the Holy See and the Maronite clergy, and, second, the impact of gender relations within the Maronite community.
Although these two aspects certainly played an important role in the unfolding of the affair, it seems that they are too broad to give an adequate insight into the course of events. For instance, the process of reform and the interaction among the Maronites, the Holy See, and the Latin missionaries brought forth a new form of religiosity, which gave Hindiyya the opportunity to develop her own visionary spirituality and shape it into a religious order. Still, her emergence can be seen both as a result of this process of reform and as an expression of resistance against the efforts of Rome and the missionaries to impose their...