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Hindiyya al-‘Ujaimi née Hannah was born on July 31, 1720 in Aleppo an Ottoman metropolis Her father Shukrallah Ujaimi and mother Helena Hawwa were merchants and both were from wealthy families. Hindiyya’s determination to interject a feminine voice into the religious sphere of the time was not well received but she persisted despite fierce opposition. Her ability to establish and head the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious order, in 1752 was remarkable for a female during this time. The life of Hindiyya provides insight into the politics of gender and religion that existed in the Maronite and Catholic churches during the 18th century.
Hindiyya was born on July 31, 1720 to Shukrallah Ujaimi and mother Helene Hawwa both devout Maronite Christians. The date of Hindiyya’s death is unknown, as her life was not heavily documented. Similar to other Maronite Christians of the time the Ujaimi’s were merchants who were getting increasingly wealthy due to commercial treaties signed between European powers and the Ottoman’s during 1675. Hindiyya had a brother named Nicholas and sisters although the exact number of siblings is unclear; she was not close to her family as her life was devoted to Christ.
Hindiyya was different from young women her age and was often ridiculed for her decision to abstain from acts she deemed “materialistic” but were considered social norms. She believed she was created to dedicate her life to Christ and spoke to religious figures of visions she had of Christ in which he instructed her to establish a confraternity: “at the age of four or five I would feel in the heart a clear voice telling me that I will establish a confraternity of men and women and that I will be its president, that is its founder…”. As a young woman Hindiyya was sought out by young men and women who admired her devotion, this turned into ridicule once she became of marriageable age and refused to marry. Her decision to remain single and devout her life to Christ was an explicit rejection of social boundaries adhered to by young women her age and displayed how dedicated she was to her goals.
Hindiyya grew up during a time in which Aleppo was experiencing a religious upheaval caused by the expanding and reforming Maronite church and increased Latin missionary activities. Hindiyya’s exposure to this new wave of spirituality contributed to her developing a strong connection to her religion, the wealth of her family also nurtured her religious zeal. Hindiyya had access to various pictures of Christ and other saints imported from Rome and Paris, accessible only to the well off. Hindiyya was also literate and could therefore read and form her own opinion of religious text. The creation of the printing press and the translation of text into Arabic between 1734 and 1744 allowed for religious texts to be heavily circulated and is attributed to the spread of Christianity.
Role of Women
Hindiyya was different from women of her time due to her intense devotion to Christ and religion. The measures she took in an effort to worship Christ and strengthen her relationship were often ridiculed by her mother, siblings, and neighbors who felt she was depriving herself. Her behavior was antisocial and viewed as extreme, she refrained from speaking to her father on a particular instance claiming, “Our Lord Jesus Christ said that whosoever does not leave his father and mother…will not deserve my love ”. Her decision to avoid socializing and participating in social rituals expected of young women her age was seen as rebellious and she was the victim of tremendous ridicule. She was determined to act on the visions she had as a young girl, she sought to establish a confraternity and was determined to surpass the gender roles assigned to women by religious figures.
Hindiyya and the Jesuits
The Jesuits encouraged Hindiyya in developing her spirituality and supported her by sharing stories of other young women who had chosen a religious life over the secular path. The support from the Jesuits lasted until 1748, after this they became alarmed by Hindiyya’s increasing desire to form her own confraternity that required her to leave the Jesuits. The Jesuits attempted to deter her from leaving, they offered her a leadership role as a Jesuit, and she declined the offer.
Religious Order of Sacred Heart of Jesus
Hindiyya established the Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 25, 1752 and a statue of her was erected in Mount Lebanon. Her success is partly due to the support she received from Bishop Jermanos Saqr and three subsequent Patriarchs of the church.
Impact of Hindiyya
The various testimonies of miracles performed by Hindiyya served as a testament to her abilities. Hindiyya was detested by the religious hierarchy of the time who could not accept her claims that she experienced a physical union with Christ. The hierarchy of the organized leaders of the faith viewed Hindiyya’s description of her relationship with Christ as too intimate in nature. Although the religious hierarchy sought to retain male dominance in religion Hindiyya preserved and established a confraternity, she defied gender roles of the time and was a revolutionary figure in the history of the role women played in organized Christianity and the opportunities afforded to them after that point in time.
Khater, Akram. 2005. "A Deluded Woman: Hindiyya al-'Ujaimi and the Politics of Gender and Religion in Eighteenth Century Bilad Al-Sham". Archaeology and History in the Lebanon.
- [Society of Jesus: http://www.sjweb.info]
- [Maronites: http://www.maronite-heritage.com]
- [Maronites: http://www.maroniteunion.org]
- ↑ Khater, Akram. 2005. "A Deluded Woman: Hindiyya al-'Ujaimi and the Politics of Gender and Religion in Eighteenth Century Bilad Al-Sham". Archaeology and History in the Lebanon.
- ↑ "A Deluded Woman: Hindiyya al-'Ujaimi and the Politics of Gender and Religion in Eighteenth Century Bilad Al-Sham". Archaeology and History in the Lebanon.