Scheherazade’s Niche
Female Islamic Saints
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A portrait of Om Habibeh with her husband, Aga Khan III.

Om Habibeh (1906–2000), born Yvonne Labrousse, was a French artist and the fourth and final wife of the 48th Nizari Ismaili Imam, Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III. As a young woman, she was a beauty queen, and due to the popularity she acquired, she travelled often. Following her travels to Egypt, she decided to stay in Cairo and convert to Islam, where she met the Aga Khan, whom she would marry. He gave her the name Om Habibeh, “mother of the beloved,” and they were affectionate and highly devoted to each other. Om Habibeh claimed to have learned a great deal on life and artistic and spiritual matters from her husband. She aided him through the ails of age, even sculpting a bust of him in his last years, and never remarried when she became a widow. She would continue to travel and follow in the footsteps of Imams’ family in devoting herself to and advancement of the arts, human rights, and the welfare of women and the poor.

Om Habibeh was affectionately given many titles of respect in her life. Upon her marriage, she acquired the title Begum, a term of respect for noble women in Central and South Asia, and her husband bequeathed her Mata Salamat, “Peaceful Mother,” in 1954, as his father and greatgrandfather did did for their wives. After her husband’s death, she became known as “the Rose,” because everyday, she, or her gardener if she wasn’t present, would place a red rose and recite verses of the Qur’an over his tomb, a sign of affection carried out still to this day. When she passed, she was buried beside her husband in his mausoleum in Aswan, Egypt.

Not necessarily considered a saint