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On TV and in movies, motherhood is about excitement, happiness, and pride. Pregnancy is special and fun, and babies are there to coo and act cute, be dressed up in all sorts of must-have outfits, and be shown off as the ultimate accessory. As always, these depictions are half truths at best.
Motherhood is about submission. And just like with Islam, submission is not just when it is convenient, compatible, or easy. The fruits of your labor take time to blossom. From the first day a woman gets that positive pregnancy test, the trials and tribulations begin. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and heartburn characterize the first trimester. Thankfully, in Allah’s Mercy He has promised in the Quran, “With every hardship comes ease, with every hardship comes ease.” (2:233) So alas, the second trimester brings a period of ease and pleasure. She revels in her changing body and starts feeling the first movements of her child. She feels great after recovering from the morning sickness and starts to plan the future. Then the third trimester starts to threaten this bliss. By 37 weeks her discomfort reaches its peak, and she is ready for that time of ease again. She begins to look forward to the birth and wants to do anything to make it come sooner, not knowing what is about to come. She thinks the birth is the end but indeed it is only the beginning of a life long test of her will.
Ah, and then the birth. For a first time mom, the intensity of birthing overtakes her with a shock and awe far beyond any military campaign. She fights the power of birth until it finally hits her, the baby has to come out one way or another, and none of the options are appealing. When a woman realizes she cannot run away from her birthing time, nor does she really want to, will she be able to submit to Allah’s plan for her. The successful birther is the one who accepts the overwhelming intensity that accompanies the awesome process of bringing new life to the world, and she welcomes it. Birth is truly a rite of passage for women, and the extreme journey cannot be avoided, not with epidurals, c-sections, or doctors. When submission occurs in birth, a woman comes out of the experience with one of the highest levels of empowerment a human can feel. She feels joy and victory in her accomplishment and is prepared for the next journey that has just begun: parenthood.
The moment has finally arrived and she meets her child for the first time. Again, Allah has sanctioned a wonderful moment of ease and unadulterated joy after the hardships of birth. No woman can truly understand the intense emotional response her mind and body has to holding her new born baby until her time comes. Every aspect of the birthing journey becomes trivial and worth every moment with her new baby. After the initial joys, she suddenly becomes submersed in another wave of emotional intensity that threatens to overwhelm her. Again, submission is the key to accepting the instantaneous maternal extinct that Allah has created for her. Rather than fighting the feelings or trying to escape, she must submit and allow herself to cry, breathe, share and finally accept the responsibility that has now been flung on to her.
Yes, motherhood is a responsibility. A HUGE responsibility, and as with most responsibilities, there is pleasure spiked with pain. Allah has just entrusted her with what could be the biggest test of her life. Each stage of parenting comes with its joys and conflicts, victories and failures. Without guidance from her Creator, she may feel lost and overwhelmed and try to chart her own path, which could lead to disaster. Submission to Allah’s will and His purpose for mothers is the key to surviving the many trials to come.
Allah and His Messenger (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) have made it very clear that one of the primary roles of a woman is as a mother and care provider for her children. The emotional well-being, physical health, and religious guidance of the child all rest primarily in the hands of the mother, with the most intense period being from conception through the earliest years of life. Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) responded when questioned about the most deserving of a person’s obedience and kind treatment with, “Your mother, and then your mother, and then your mother, and then your father.” Scholars have explained this 3-times maternal preference due to her role in carrying the child, giving birth to the child, and nourishing the child with her milk. The Quran sanctions 2 full years of breastfeeding as a right of the child on his/her mother (94:6). This is a religious obligation, not a choice, because of its unmatched benefits for the child. Of course the father has a huge responsibility as well, but his primary duty is to maintain the financial support for the family to enable the mother to perform her role more effectively.
Unfortunately, external influences have crept into the Muslim worldview, resulting in Muslim women struggling with their roles as mothers. Many women are told their worth and self-respect come from their degrees and careers. Rather than parents encouraging their daughters to attain degrees for the sake of knowledge, teaching their children, and future security, Muslim girls are told that they must postpone marriage and motherhood to pursue higher degrees and establish high power careers. Not only is this contradictory to the fitrah Allah created, it is also a disaster for marriages, children, and society as a whole. No alternative will ever take the place of the real thing. Daycares, nannies, grandparents, and breast pumps are inferior replacements for the mother. No other person will ever stress and worry over a child like the mother because Allah put that maternal instinct in her, specifically and only for her own child. For a woman who is raised to work, submitting to her role as a mother can be very difficult and sometimes impossible. The sudden shift in life purpose strikes at the root of her identity. Indeed if women focus on the goal, which is to please Allah and avoid His punishment, and to raise the most righteous, healthy children, submission becomes clear and simple. At first it is a struggle, but eventually the mother will cherish the serenity and peace that comes with obeying Allah and providing her child with the best. Isn’t every child worthy of the very best, not just a “good enough” alternative?
Many Muslim women make up excuses, claiming they are somehow exempt from this duty.
Excuse #1: “I am not the type of women who can stay home all day.” First of all, what type of woman is this, the stereotype of a shallow, lazy person who eats bon-bons and watches TV all day? Any woman who does this is not fulfilling her God-given responsibilities as a mother. Between breastfeeding, diaper changing, clothes washing, and cuddling and bonding with her child, she barely has time to rest.Then there is cooking healthy homemade foods, washing dishes, paying bills, and doing all the other chores that are waiting in the background. In addition, there are her duties to Allah. She should pray, read Quran to increase her Islamic knowledge, and start researching and planning for her child’s upbringing. If these tasks are easy and quick for her, she has the time and opportunity to have play groups with other moms to enhance her child’s social skills, take walks and teach her child the names of Allah’s creations, and relax with friends over tea.
Excuse #2: “I will just work part time so I don’t lose my career.” The fallacy of this view is that motherhood is a full time job, not something part time that can be squeezed into a work schedule. Babies need to be breastfed every 2-4 hours for at least 6 months to 1 year. A child’s brain development is greatest from birth to 3 years of age, requiring constant stimulation and interaction. Bonding between the child and mother is a 24-hour process. Allah is indeed the Provider of provisions and He can reignite a career if He wills. So it is not better to please Allah and obey Him if a mother is worried about her future?
Excuse #3: “I will pump when I am at work.” Most working moms rarely make it past 6 months with pumping and breastfeeding. Pumping is an annoying, time intensive process that is not compatible with a busy work schedule. It also decreases milk production so eventually the child will have to be given formula. The plastic materials used in breast pumps and bottles have the potential to be hazardous to the baby; milk storage, transportation, and re-heating also become an issue. Crucial bonding during breastfeeding between the mother and baby is also compromised. Does a woman (or child) prefer a plastic alternative to her soft human touch?
Another often forgotten aspect of motherhood is the energy and strength needed to properly give her child their Islamic rights. When a mother is working, she grows tired and irritable and begins to resent her role as a mother. Most working moms cry every day on their way to work as they deal with the guilt of leaving their child. Motherhood begins to feel like an obstacle in the way of her goals, rather than her goal.
The key is for both men and women to value and respect motherhood in the way it should be. Society does the opposite, valuing financial and career accomplishments more than a well-raised child. What should be important is what Allah values more, not what society values. A support team around the mother should encourage her to the good of her child, not the good of her ego. Husbands should praise and shower the mother with gifts, constantly reminding her that she has the most important job in the world. The Muslim Ummah needs to revive the elevated status of the mother in order to get the Ummah back on track.
Just like with the birth, when a mother submits to her duty in its fullest, she will gain the ultimate validation from the results.
So, my dear sister, submit! For your baby’s sake.