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Tamam Kahn

"Fatima Sequence"

1.  Scent 


Prophet Muhammad’s wives asked him, “Why do you like Fatima so much?”

He replied: “…Fatima smells like the scent of paradise. The smell of the prophets

is quince, of the houri is myrtle, and of the angels is rose. Fatima has the smell of

quince, myrtle, and rose.”1


Three kinds of beautiful,

the best of heaven; blurred

devotion’s details meet 

Muhammad’s love of 

Women, prayer and 

the perfumes-of-existence…2

and the whole world’s 

neighborhood smells sweet.


             Inhaling  Quince — 

             urgent as sunrise,

             honeyed tonic, golden;

             seeded and re-seeded 

             by love-struck words 

             in each Revelation.


             Myrtle: will grow 

             only if a woman plants it.

             Let’s say, Adam 

             carried the flowers

             from paradise to soothe 

             the grief of expulsion. 

             Let’s say, Eve 

             dug in the roots, 

             propagated, cultivated.


             Rose: linked to the transparency

             of angels, their wings. Washing

             with rosewater, we may

             become reflective, angelic. 


Now introduce the smell 

of goats and sweat,

of camel-dung, piss and dust: 

seventh century stink.


Cover it with the kiss 

of fragrance that is Fatima; 

that smell of

Quince, Myrtle, and Rose—  

all at once. 



houri—female heavenly being known for large eyes, like a young gazelle. 1 Ansari, Encyclopedia of Fatima Al-Zahra, vol. 20, p. 527. 2 Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger, “God has made dear to me from your world women and fragrance, and the joy of my eyes is in prayer.” p. 51.myrtle—Skinner, Myths and legends … p. 51. “To the Persians, Jews and Arabs, myrtle was a symbol of paradise. In biblical stories, Adam chose to take the myrtle plant when he was expelled from the Garden of Eden.” P. 51.

2.  While She Sleeps                                                    

It was a hot day. Umm Ayman looked in the window and saw

Fatima asleep, with the millstone spinning, the cradle holding Husayn rocking itself, and a hand raised in praise. She went to the Prophet and told him what she saw. “Who was grinding, rocking, praising?” She asked. He laughed and told her the names of three angels.1


One grinds.  One praises God.  One rocks Husayn.

Uplifted gesture in the air— what’s this?


Two angels brought by Gabriel— one mills 

the grain for Fatima, one gestures praise.


You see it and you don’t. Not flesh and blood,

nor anything like that. Transparent hands.


Who rocks Husayn? What fingertips can nudge

The cradle? In the room his mother sleeps,


exhausted, fasting, ripe for angel aid.

Her grindstone turns, as if it were a top


and bread could make itself.  Who rocks Husayn?

A touch so light, the child smiles in his sleep.


The outside world is still, the stems of thoughts

lay tucked inside, while Gabriel bends down


to stroke his cheek, his heart-shaped face. Don’t ask

Who rocks Husayn?   That little cup of love. 




Umm Ayman is a long-time family servant or  “client.” She was present at the birth of Muhammad. Husayn is Fatima’s youngest son.Ansārī,  Encyclopedia of Fatima Zahra, Vol 17, pp. 119, 120. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, book 9, vol. 92, #446. Muslim, The English Translations of Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, #1701.

3.  Gift of Prayer                


Daughter Fatima and her husband Ali endured great poverty. They asked Muhammad for assistance after modest prosperity was beginning to transform the community. The Prophet said: Shall I tell you what is better than what you ask? Some words of praise Angel Gabriel taught me.  Say them each thirty-three times. 1 


Shyly, she asks her father for some aid. 

            Her hands are sore from pulling rope – 

                        the blisters she will soak 

and bind, then grind the grain. She wants a maid.


But what if history reads this wrong? Instead 

             she asks him for a wisdom taste 

                          that Names-of-God may grace

ten-thousand actions and the blessings spread.


Forget the maid. His words can give a hand.

             Each Sacred Name contains a light. 

                         He’s bringing them that night:

Subhan Allah, al-hamdu’lillah, and


Allahu akbar – syllables that ring, 

            sing open every lock, that key 

                         to realms that angels see

and hear.  The words, the tongue, the shimmering.




Subhan Allah, al-hamdu’lillah, Allahu akbar are litanies of praise still used in the Islamic world.  Quote from: Ibn Sa‘d, The Women of Medina, pp. 17-19. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. IV, book 53, #344, vol. VIII, book 75, #330.

5.  Within the Cloak  


For many followers of Islam, “the cloak” is a well-known story, marking Fatima and her family as chosen ones, closest to the Prophet. Muhammad sits and invites his family to join him, then praises them. “These are the people of my house, most worthy and deserving.” 1 


He drew his family close, under the woolen cloak.

His men saw daughter, husband, children —

how the little boys sat on his knees. A family


covered with his cloth. His men imagined —

we imagine now — the dream inside that wrap

the wool from Yemen with the scent of him,


enclosing those he loved, his relatives: Ali, the boys

and Fatima, his daughter, with a daughter in her womb.2

Did this scene mean he loved his family  — loved his kin


more than he did his umma, any of his men,

more than the ones who yearned toward him?

Only one cloak, how could it cover them?


But they thought small. Muhammad’s cloak expands to cover all.




umma – Islamic community, implies closeness. Umm is Arabic for mother. 1  Suyuti, Musnad Fatimah, #163, 164. 2  Although his granddaughters are not mentioned here or in any account of this story, included is the youngest, Umm Kulthum, not yet born.  It is possible Fatima was pregnant with her 4th child, Umm Kulthum, aka: Zaynab as-Surghra. “She was born when her grandfather was alive.” (No exact dates are given.) Ansari, Encyclopedia of Fatima al-Zahra vol. V, p. 389.



4.  Request: a pantoum          


Visitors and members of the community in Medina would wait until it was Muhammad’s wife, Aisha’s day to be with the Prophet, then they would visit him in her room and make offerings. This became a point of irritation to the other wives. Then they (the wives) called Fatima, and sent her to the Messenger of Allah to say: “Your wives ask you for fairness regarding (Aisha) the daughter of Abu Bakr.” 1


The wives make a request: 


Since gifts are offered on her day,

Find out: Aisha ranks as best? 

Seems fairness was tossed away.


Since gifts are offered on her day,

good will is wearing thin.

Seems FAIRNESS was tossed away,

one shouts, to fill me in.


Good will is wearing thin,

I, Fatima, am at her door,

she nods to let me in.

I’m their ambassador.


I, Fatima, am at her door,

ask father: Is it fair?

I’m their ambassador!

He smiles, she gives a stare.


Ask father: Is it fair?

Do you love what I love?

he smiles. She gives a stare.

Oh, yes! They’re hand in glove.


Do you love what I love?

He tells me: love this woman

Oh, yes! They’re hand in glove.

I bite my tongue. Reply? I’ve none.


He tells me: love this woman

with father— I’m aligned.

I bite my tongue. Reply? I’ve none.

Seems neutral ground is hard to find.


With father— I’m aligned.

Found out: Aisha ranks as best.

Seems neutral ground is hard to find

when wives make a request. 




1 Bukhari,  Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. III, book 47, #755. Ibn Sa’d, The Women of Medina, vol. VIII. p. 123-126.

Encyclopedia of  Canonical Hadith, G.H.A. Juynboll, p. 197, “Don’t you love who I love?”

Knot Magazine

Tamam Kahn is author of Untold: A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad, 

Monkfish Press, 2010, winner of an International Book Award, 2011. This is a prose 

biography with 70 poems, called a “prosimetrum,” Tamam was invited by the Royal 

Ministry of Morocco to read her poetry, and attended their symposium in Marrakesh 

in 2009. She has just completed a manuscript of poems about Fatima, daughter of 

Prophet Muhammad. She recently read from this at Poet’s House in NYC for The 

Wide Shore, A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry. Tamam has been awarded writing 

residencies at Ragdale Foundation and Jentel Artist Residency.

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