Embracing the Divine: Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East
Hindiyya al-‘Ujaimi was a Maronite visionary woman and nun who changed the face of Middle-Eastern Christianity in the 18th century. Her story reads like historical fiction, but the author has here presented in nonfiction, academic form not only her spiritual story but also the inspiration, rancor, accusations, theological disputes, distortions, and documented support about her multitudinous experiences and those around her Sacred Heart of Jesus religious order.
Was she a saint or sinner? That depends on the speaker. However, what the author wishes to convey is more complex and more important: how Hindiyya’s life caused shock and transformation in religion, gender, religious politics, and history. She managed, with no deliberate effort of her own, to force change in these cultural traditions.
First, we learn of the power struggle with Maronite/Melkite women and spiritual leaders on one side and Latin missionaries, or one could call it the Levantine Catholics – Vatican struggle for supremacy. The role of gender in society and religion is a large issue minutely examined herein as well. From her youngest years, Hindiyya communicates with Jesus Christ and reaches a point where she must speak and write her experiences that were antithetical to traditional dogma and the “unseen and unheard” role of religious women of that time. Jesuits fought for control of her spirituality; later accusations of witchcraft, heresy, or insanity would be followed by inquisitions and prodigious commentary about her life and work.
The intricate details of her visions and messages received from the divine are fascinating, compelling reading that leaves the reader with many questions as well as awe. The reactions and actions of support and adversity enveloping Hindiyya’s world is astounding in depth and controversy. Embracing the Divine is a readable, academic discourse about a holy woman who changed Middle Eastern religion forever.