As we approach the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the subtle connection with Islam. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children near the city of Fátima, Portugal, a place named after both a Muslim princess and the daughter of Mohammed.
During the 12th century, Christian armies sought to recapture cities in Spain and Portugal that were being occupied by Muslim forces. In this time period, a knight named Gonçalo Hermigues and his companions captured a Muslim princess named Fátima. Some stories say that after her capture, Fátima fell in love with Gonçalo and the two were soon after betrothed. Before their marriage Fátima was baptized into the Catholic faith and took the name Oureana. The Portuguese cities of Fátima and Ourém are said to be named after this Muslim princess.
What’s interesting is that the Muslim princess was named after one of the daughters of Mohammed, Fatimah bint Muhammad, a woman highly revered in Islam. She was given the title, al-Zahra, “shining one,” and Mohammed once said about her, “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary.” (While Muslims do not hold the same beliefs about the Virgin Mary as Catholics, they still hold her with highest regard.)
According to Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, this connection can be a doorway to dialogue. He noted in a joint prayer meeting in 2014 how, “the Catholic Church recognizes that Muslims honor the Virgin mother of Jesus, Mary, and invoke her with piety…Mary is mentioned various times in the Koran. Respect for her is so evident that when she is mentioned in Islam, it is usual to add ‘Alayha l-salam’ (‘Peace be upon her’)…Mary, a model for Muslims and Christians, is also a model of dialogue.”
Venerable Fulton Sheen draws an interesting connection between Muslims’ reverence for Mary and the daughter of Mohammed and the appearance of Our Lady at Fátima.
“This brings us to our second point, namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this twentieth century, should have revealed herself in the insignificant little village of Fátima, so that to all future generations she would be known as ‘Our Lady of Fátima.’ Since nothing ever happens out of heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fátima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.”
Surprisingly, besides attracting Christian pilgrims, the shrine at Fátima, Portugal, has also attracted Muslims in great numbers. They go to see the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in a city named after one of their most highly revered women.
In the end, the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fátima called Christians to pray for peace in the world. In an age when violence is so often committed in the name of Islam, how much more should we have recourse to Our Lady of Fátima! Let us continue to work for peace in the world and look to Our Lady to be a bridge between Muslims and Christians, begging her to end the hatred that has caused so much violence around the world.