Cherish or Perish: Motherhood in the Modern Age
Category : COVER STORY

In today’s times, we have confined ourselves to a self-defined and narrow definition of motherhood: loving, nurturing, comforting, educating and training children only to earn, maintain and expand their provisions for this short sojourn on Earth. Such a definition overlooks the main and basic responsibility of all parents towards their children: to motivate them to stand as witnesses to Allah SWT in their family and in their society.

The foundations of Islamic civilisation

Recognising Allah SWT as Lord and submitting to Him through following and promoting His injunctions in all aspects of life is the foundation of Islamic civilisation. This is the basic moral foundation, without which material and commercial growth is futile. The essential unit of an Islamic civilization is the family – the mini-civilisation wherein the foundational knowledge that is taught to children is to ‘recognise’ Allah SWT as their Lord and the basic training that is provided to them is to follow and promote the injunctions of Allah SWT in all aspects of life. Thus, family in Islam is the first ‘da’wah lawn’ of Islamic civilisation, which is beautified and solidified through the coordination of fatherhood and motherhood to perform the above-mentioned responsibilities, which were initiated by none other than the first Prophet, Adam (pbuh) and his honourable wife, the mother of humankind.

The very birth of human civilization bears this purpose. Adam (pbuh) and his honourable wife (pbuh), who together are the father and mother of humankind, were first in heaven. They enjoyed the loving and affectionate company of each other and also rejoiced in the serenity, beauty, and grandeur of heaven while following the injunctions of Allah SWT. However, when Shaytan (Satan) tempted them and they ate the forbidden fruit, they begged forgiveness from Allah SWT who forgave them and sent them to the Earth with clear instructions that He would be sending ‘revelations’ for their progeny. Allah SWT made it clear to them that those who would follow His injunctions would be successful and those who would reject would be the failures. Hence Prophet Adam and his respected wife descended to the Earth, but they kept the instructions of Allah SWT in their hearts and minds. They came down with the mission of following and promoting the injunctions of Allah SWT, and with the vision of going back to heaven, their original destination.

Since then, history is witness to the fact that along with the fathers in Islam, the mothers in Islam who are conscious of their true responsibility have always played a prominent role in this civilization-building process of the Islamic Ummah. To illustrate, I share the stories of three mighty women who bore and raised three of the most powerful Prophets of Islam.

Bibi Hajra

Imagine this inconceivable predicament — Prophet Ibraheem (pbuh) left Bibi Hajra with his baby Ismael in a barren and isolated desert, Bakka. Eventually, their meagre provision of dates and water ran off and baby Ismael started crying, being hungry and thirsty. Bibi Hajra did not give up hopelessly in the challenging situation; because her unwavering ‘trust’ in Allah SWT moved her to run ‘to and fro’ the hills of Safa and Marwa in search of water and there Allah SWT accepted her ‘trust’ in Him and her motherly urge and efforts to fetch water for her baby. So the water gushed forth from the dry sand of the desert to which Bibi Hajra tried to store through her hand-made well uttering the words zamzam. Thus Allah SWT helped her and she quenched the thirst of baby Ismael and herself, thanking Allah SWT. Bibi Hajra soon attracted caravan after caravan to that deserted place which soon attained the highest status in the world as the House of God, Masjid al Haram, a vigorous centre for pilgrims, an everlasting symbol of the Islamic civilization. Till today, people retrace her footsteps as part of Hajj. The mother’s love lives on as a legacy.

Let us pause for a few moments and reflect – are we following the example of Bibi Hajra? She had the least basic provisions to survive, yet with the biggest treasure of trust in Allah Almighty she willingly accepted the hazardous challenges ahead of her. I feel sorry for those of us, who, contrary to the example of Bibi Hajra, are seen running to and fro to feed and educate our children, not to make them steadfast and strong to work in the way of Allah SWT and revive the Islamic civilization, but to give up all their life only in grabbing, maintaining, and expanding ‘provisions’. It should not mean that making ‘provision’ is un-Islamic; it is rather a form of ‘ibadah’ if we perform it following the Islamic injunctions. But, is life only a struggle to make and expand provision for its own sake? Is motherhood only nurturing? Is Sa’i between Safa and Marwa a mere walking to fulfil an obligation of Umrah and Hajj or is it a remembrance to ‘strive’ and pursue what Allah SWT expects from us as His agents on this earth? Is not ZamZam water a ‘sign’ of Allah SWT to ponder over His power and mercy and to quench the thirst of those who wander hither and thither in search of Reality and the Truth of God? Motherhood of Bibi Hajra has shown that if believers keep trust in Allah and strive in quest of Truth to follow and promote it, Allah SWT can quench the thirst of the thirsty and can send caravans of people to help, to settle, and to fortify Islam and its civilization. Can we fail to remember here that the last and the seal of the Prophets, the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) descended from the family of Hadhrat Ismael (pbuh), whose thirst was quenched by Zam Zam water, which invited civilization? Oh man, who is behind Zam Zam water? Motherhood!

Umm Musa and Bibi Asiya (RA)

We have another awe-inspiring and spirit-raising example of motherhood – we call them the co-mothers of baby Musa (pbuh) – Umm Musa and Bibi Asiya (RA). Imagine the breath-taking and perplexing scene which took place in real life – at one side of the River Nile, Umm Musa put her hand-made fragile basket in the River Nile wherein baby Musa was placed; and at the other side of the Nile, a few helpers of the Palace of the most tyrannical King of Egypt, the Pharoah, looked at the basket and found a cute baby there and they took him and hurried to present the baby to the loving and kind-hearted Queen, Asiya, the wife of Pharoah. Bibi Asiya (RA) who was barren and wanted to fulfil her inner motherly instinct pleaded Pharoah not to kill the baby, so that the baby could become the comfort of their eyes to which the Pharoah agreed. Then came the question of weaning the baby which Allah SWT solved by sending the baby back to his own mother. Both the mothers – Umm Musa and Bibi Asiya (RA) played their own roles in raising baby Musa. The baby grew into a strong Prophet (pbuh) and invited the then Pharoah of Egypt to Islam who rejected him every time. Bibi Asiya (RA) accepted Islam and suffered inhuman treatment at the hands of Pharoah, but she prayed to Allah SWT to build a house for her in paradise near to Allah SWT and finally Allah SWT invited her to her destined palace in paradise. The Prophet Musa (pbuh), to whom the two mothers rescued and saved, in his turn rescued the Bani Israeil from the tortures of Pharoah and passed over the Red Sea with the help of Allah SWT and made history.

Bibi Hanna and Hadhrat Maryam (AS)

As we move further in history, we see the stirring and stimulating examples of two noble mothers – Bibi Hanna, the mother of Hadhrat Maryam (AS); and Hadhrat Maryam the mother of the Prophet Eesa (pbuh). History of Islam cannot ignore the prayer Bibi Hanna (R) who prayed to Allah SWT when she conceived a child in her womb in her old age: ‘O Lord! Behold, unto You do I vow that the child in my womb is to be devoted to Your exclusive service. Accept it, then, from me. Surely You alone are All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Qur’an, Surah Al Imran, 3:35). This great mother prayed to Allah that she would dedicate the child in her womb in the service of Allah SWT. When Bibi Hanna delivered a baby girl, she named her Maryam, which implies a devotee, a servant of Allah SWT. Baby Maryam under the care of her maternal uncle, Prophet Zakariya (pbuh) grew up praying and worshipping Allah SWT in one of the chambers of the sacred mosque, Masjid al Aqsa, Jerusalem. Then the time came when Bibi Maryam was given the news through the angel Jibreel (pbuh) that she would give birth to a son. It was no doubt shocking for Bibi Maryam because she was unmarried and she was known for her chastity and piety. But when the angel conveyed to her that it was a decree of Allah SWT, she submitted to the will of Allah SWT. Allah SWT blessed her with a unique son without a father miraculously who was none other than the Prophet Eesa (pbuh).

Hadhrat Maryam then brought baby Eesa to the people who accused and slandered her. But Hadhrat Maryam withstood everything and left it to Allah SWT who by His All-embracing power removed all the doubts from the people because Allah SWT made baby Eesa to speak and say: “I am the servant of Allah SWT.” How great these mothers were – Bibi Hanna and Hadhrat Maryam. In their own ways they demonstrated their faith and trust in Allah SWT and also showed unique examples of ‘motherhood’ in Islam – devoting their babies to the service of Allah SWT!

Right here in these stories lies the definition of ‘motherhood’! We like to define motherhood in Islam — a natural compound of two elements — strong trust in Allah SWT merged with motherly warmth and inspiration to let the children serve Allah SWT through witnessing Him as Lord unto humankind. Does not Islam offer the best definition ever of motherhood that blesses mankind an ever-flowing Zam Zam Spring; that sets the sail of a fragile ark in waves of water and that fills such a spirit in a chaste unmarried pregnant mother that she travels all alone from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and gives birth under a palm tree to a destined Prophet who adds another enlivening chapter to the amazing history of Islamic civilization?

The list of the outstanding and phenomenal mothers in Islam is not exhausted yet; we have many more to go. But, at least we should refer here the names of five great mothers who coordinated with each other to take care of the distinct and an exceptional baby who was to be the seal of all the Prophets – baby Mohammad (pbuh). They were – Bibi Aminah (R) who gave birth to the Prophet; Bibi Thuwaybah (R), the freed slave who was fortunate to do the first weaning to the Prophet (pbuh), who later accepted Islam; Bibi Halima (R) who took care of the Prophet for around five years  and later she also accepted Islam; Hadhrat Barakah (R) who took care of the Prophet for a much longer time and she also accepted Islam and gave many sacrifices for Islam; and Hadhrat Fatima bint Asad (R), the blessed mother of Hadhrat Ali (R) who took care of the Prophet (pbuh) with all her motherly warmth. She was one of the first persons to embrace Islam and she also performed Hijra from Makkah to Yathrib. Thus, each of these five mothers proved to be the embodiments of motherhood in Islam in their own way — they gave excellent services to the Prophet (pbuh) when he was a child and they gave several sacrifices after they accepted Islam for building the Islamic civilization.

O ye mothers and would-be mothers of the Islamic Ummah…. yesterday, your great and esteemed ‘moms’ birthed and cared baby Prophets and ushered Islamic civilization and made it blooming –because they made their families the first da’wah lawns by placing a strong trust in Allah SWT, putting in great efforts and giving sacrifices in the cause of Islamic Ummah and devoting their children in the way of Allah. What you today’s ‘moms’ are doing? The contemporary degenerating Islamic civilization is inviting today’s ‘moms’ to re-build and re-vitalize it because if you do not take up this task, you would perish and with you the human civilization at large would perish. This bouquet of ‘mothers’ that is presented to you in this article, each petal of its flowers say – I am not a “Day” to be celebrated just for a fantasy. I birthed; I am birthing and I will birth ‘civilization! Yet, the choice is with you — either cherish me or perish!

 Does not Islam offer the best definition ever of motherhood that blesses mankind an ever-flowing Zam Zam Spring; that sets the sail of a fragile ark in waves of water and that fills such a spirit in a chaste unmarried pregnant mother that she travels all alone from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and gives birth under a palm tree to a destined Prophet who adds another enlivening chapter to the amazing history of Islamic civilization?