Female Islamic Saints


Om Habibeh smiles and sits on the arm of a sofa. Āghā Khān III sits in the sofa and smiles up to her.
A portrait of Om Habibeh with her husband, Āghā Khān III.

Om Habibeh (1906–2000), born Yvonne Labrousse, was a French artist and the fourth and final wife of the 48th Nizari Isma‘ili Imam, Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, Āghā Khān III. As a young woman, she was a beauty queen, being titled “Miss Lyon” and “Miss France,” and due to the popularity she acquired, she travelled often. Following her travels to Egypt, she decided in the late 1930’s to stay in Cairo, where she converted to Islam and later met the Āghā Khān. They became acquainted and later married in Switzerland in 1944, after which she became called Begum, a title of the Imam’s consort. During his Diamond Jubilee in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, He gave her the name Om Habibeh, after Umm Habībah, a wife of the prophet Muḥammad, and in 1954, he named her Mata Salamat, “Mother of Peace,” as Lady ‘Alī Shāh and Maryām Khatūn were named. They were affectionate and highly devoted to each other and 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.

When Āgha Khān III died in 1957, his grandson (by the son of his second wife Cleope Magliano) Karīm Ḥusayn Shāh, Āghā Khān VI, was willed to succeed him as the Imam, and Om Habibeh was willed to advise him for the first seven years of his imamate. However, she came into conflict with Karīm when she publicly defied him shortly after his ascension to the imamate by following the men’s mourning procession, as she was tired and impatient for the women’s procession. She later recognized that he had no intention to take her counsel after the incident. Despite this, she remained devoted to her family and her faith. She followed her step-grandson as the Imam of the time, and they eventually reconciled and disregarded the issue. She never remarried after becoming a widow, and 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 to this day. Additionally, she established the Om Habibeh Foundation to give economic and medical assistance to the poor in Aswan, where her husband’s mausoleum rests, and she willed most of her possessions to charity in the Āghā Khān Foundation. When she died, she was buried in Aswan beside her husband.

Not necessarily considered a saint.

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