There is very little information available about this week’s historical figure,* but what information there is makes her a hottie in my book. Fatima, an enslaved North African Muslim woman living in Christian Spain, tangled with the Spanish Inquisition in 1584. No mean feat. It is only through her Inquisition records that we know anything about her. Of course, such documents are rife with issues of unequal power dynamics, which must be kept in mind and navigated; nevertheless, Fatima’s rebelliousness is apparent.
Fatima came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition after a questionable baptism in a hospital in the city of Malaga. According to witnesses, during her time in hospital, Fatima, on death’s door, requested and accepted baptism. However, Fatima did not succumb to the illness, and, upon leaving the hospital, apparently continued to live as a Muslim.
The details of this case are muddy. What is clear, however, is that Fatima maintained throughout her interrogations that she had never agreed to be baptised a Christian, and, if she had, she was not in her right mind (i.e., her illness made her unfit to make decisions of such consequence). What is perhaps most striking about this woman, however, is her steadfast refusal to use her baptismal name (Ana) even when dealing with an institution as powerful as the Spanish Inquisition. Though inquisitors always address her as Ana (with the exception of noting her Muslim name in addition to her Christian one for the record), Fatima never bows to their conventions on this score. She insists instead that she is a Muslim woman, and correspondingly retains her Muslim name, directly flouting the deference expected in such a gendered, classed and cross-religious interaction.
It is of course important to resist the temptation to romanticise such a woman. We can never know exactly what took place while she was in hospital. It may be that Fatima had consented to baptism in order to receive the higher standard of care afforded to Christians. If she did consent, considering the severity of her illness (it was presumed by all that it would be fatal), such a decision might have been a last ditch attempt to save her life. It may be that she unwittingly accepted baptism when illness compromised her mental competence. Or, perhaps, she never had converted, but those at the hospital wished to have an inspiring story to spread around. We can only speculate. Whatever the circumstances though, Fatima, by denying the baptism and by refusing to call herself Ana, seized what power was available to her to stand by her convictions and retain her identity as a Muslim. She was ultimately sentenced to confinement in a convent for religious (Christian) education and 200 lashes. Whether or not she did eventually adopt Christianity is unknown.
*Full disclosure: absolutely everything I know about Fatima comes from Perry’s illuminating article, which is dedicated to interrogating her Inquisition records.
Mary Elizabeth Perry, “Finding Fatima, a Salve Woman of Early Modern Spain,” Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 151-167.