What Motherhood Means in Islam

The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) made it very clear what he thought of mothers. He taught that “Heaven lies at the feet of a mother.” Then there is the well-known hadith about the importance of mothers:

A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?’ The Prophet said: ‘Your mother.’ The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: ‘Then your mother.’ The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: ‘Then your mother.’ The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: ‘Then your father.’ (Bukhari, Muslim).

With great honor comes great responsibility. These words were not said just to make mothers feel good. If anything, they should make mothers even more aware of how important their role is. For a bad mother could just as easily bring Hell to her children. And if children are going to look to their mother for companionship, then she needs to be the kind of person Allah commands her to be.

Both parents are necessary to teach a child what he needs to know to become a mature and righteous adult. And indeed, the Qur’an and Mohammed both stress the importance of honoring our parents. But because of the unique relationship mothers have to their children, they are in the best position to teach them one of life’s most important lessons: how to be loving and caring.

But a mother cannot teach these lessons unless she earns her children’s trust. That is the very essence of the bond between mother and child. If a child doesn’t learn at her mother’s knee what it is to trust another, she will have a hard time trusting anyone, even (or especially) God.

When I had my first child, someone sent me a card of congratulations. But it also contained a prayer that asked God to “help me to be worthy of the trust in those precious eyes.” I framed the prayer and kept it through the births of all four of my children. There were many days when I needed that reminder! It’s a heavy responsibility to be the face of love to a child.

Which brings me to Mother’s Day. I read an opinion the other day that Muslims shouldn’t celebrated Mother’s Day for two reasons: 1) The Prophet (PBUH) taught us only to celebrate two Eids and anything else is an innovation and thus outside of the will of God; and 2) Mother’s Day is a holiday established by kuffar (non-believers) and is therefore haram for Muslims.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not the strictest Muslim in the world. For one thing, I don’t know enough about what is and what isn’t haram. I’ve only read the Qur’an through once so far and I am familiar with only a few ahadith. For another, it is extremely difficult for me to suddenly throw off a lifetime of traditions and experiences and become an entirely different person.

But if I was to just use my common sense, I would say that the Eids Mohammed (PBUH) instituted were meant to be part of our worship of Allah and are therefore religious. Obviously it would be haram for us to celebrate religious holidays that are not Islamic. I completely understand why we’re not to celebrate Christmas or Easter, for instance. But what about secular holidays? If the country we’re living in has holidays that have national, but not religious, significance, what is the harm in at least recognizing them?

I don’t believe in cutting myself off from non-believers by insisting that anything they do is somehow unclean and unrighteous. In my opinion, the more we say to non-Muslims that what they do is wrong, the wider the wedge we drive between us. How is it possible to witness to the truth of Islam when we repeatedly tell non-Muslims that we can’t have anything to do with them or their ways?

I’m not proposing that we should accommodate ourselves to the non-Muslim world. But if we are to encourage non-Muslims to enter our world, where is the sin in showing them that we have beliefs and customs that reinforce, or at least do not negate, some of theirs?

Muslims make a special point of honoring motherhood. So do non-Muslims on Mother’s Day. So why can’t we see Mother’s Day as common ground between us?

It’s true that Muslims believe that mothers should be honored every day and not just one day a year. But by celebrating Mother’s Day, non-Muslims aren’t saying that they only honor mothers on that one day. What they are saying is that mothers deserve a special day of recognition. Is that really an attitude that is incompatible with Islam?

My daughters took me out for brunch yesterday for Mother’s Day. Can you imagine if I had told them that I couldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day anymore because I’m a Muslim? I think they would get the wrong impression of Islam if I did that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t help but think that they came away with a favorable opinion of Islam by the fact that their hijab-wearing mother wanted to share a special day with them.

After all, Mother’s Day is also about my gratitude to God for the children with which He blessed me.





A Close Encounter

I took my grandson to the library the other day and while I was thumbing through the movies, a boy of eight or so came up to me and solemnly said, “Asalaamu alaikum.” At first I didn’t realize that he was speaking to me, but then my brain put two and two together (me, wearing my hijab; he, speaking Arabic, equals Muslims!) and I answered, “Wa alaikum salaam.” Then I asked him, “Do you speak Arabic?” And he answered, “A little.”

“So you’d know what I’m saying when I say ‘Khayfa haluk?”I said.

He quickly corrected my pronunciation. “It’s ‘Khayfa hallak,'” he said. “But, yes, I know what you mean.”

Then he walked away leaving me with the warm glow I always get when I’m greeted by another Muslim.

Later on, when my grandson and I were using the self-checkout, he approached me again.

“Khayfa hallak?” he asked.

“Ana bikhayr,” I answered. “I suppose I didn’t say that right either.”

He grinned.”That’s okay. Not many people know Arabic.”

I introduced him to my grandson, and he nodded at him and said, “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

After he left, my grandson asked me how I knew him. “I don’t,” I said.

“Then how does he know you?”

“He doesn’t. He just knows I’m a Muslim because I’m wearing a hijab and he wanted to say hi.”

I wondered what had made a young boy want to approach a strange lady and greet her, Muslim to Muslim. Was he surprised to see me? Feeling a need to connect to another Muslim? Proud of being one?

All of these, I suspect. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m Muslim, even though I’m wearing a hijab, probably because they can’t believe that a Westerner could also be a Muslim. They don’t trust the evidence that they can see right in front of them. I suppose that makes me a curiosity.

But when I tell other Muslims that I am indeed a Muslim, I’m rewarded with a huge smile and a “Mashallah!”

I wish I could tell them that I’m not a very good Muslim, that they shouldn’t be proud of me. But I know it’s not me that they’re proud of. They’re happy—no, thrilled—that a non-Muslim recognizes the beauty of their religion. Our religion.

And I do. Even though I know I need to improve immensely, I am so grateful that Allah guided me to Islam. I’ve never felt so close to Him. I have always believed that He exists, even from childhood. But Islam has made it possible for me to feel my connection to Him more strongly.

Sometimes, however, I don’t feel the same connection to other Muslims. But the other day in the library, I did. I wish I had asked the boy his name. But I will never forget his shy smile and warm greeting.

“Asalaamu alaikum.”

“Wa alaikum salaam.”