Parenthood-and especially Motherhood as an Islamic Value

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Islamic Medicine
Staff member
By Prof. Hassan Hathout

Motherhood occupies a major area in the work of the obstetrician gynaecologist. Motherhood, however, is much more than obstetrics, and it would certainly enrich the Muslim obstetrician to consider motherhood in total Islamic perspective.

Motherhood and Fatherhood are the two aspects of Parenthood and Islam gives parenthood a very high position amongst its values, as evidenced by the following quotations from the holy Quran:

"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to the two parents .Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in tenns of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: My Lord, bestow on them Your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (17:24-25)

"And remember We took a covenant from the children of Israel (stating): worship none but God; and treat with kindness your parents." (2:83)

The linkage of respect to parents and mentioning it second to the worship of none but God is indeed very impressive. The tenderness and compassion in treating them, pictured beautifully as lowering the wing of hurnility out of compassion, as well as the forbidding ofa harsh word or gesture to them, is one of Islam's principal teachings. In the original Arabic text of the Quran these meanings are rendered in such a sweet literary style that can never be approached by translation. The linguistic miracle of the Quran is a fact that only those with the highest command of Arabic can taste. It was the direct cause of conversion to Islam of many Arabs at the time of the prophet, whose major attribute was literary excellence. I often quote an illustrative parable: if I put my finger in acid or alkali it will turn neither red or blue for my finger is not the relavant specific indicator: but a strip of litmus paper is Smilarly, when history tells us about Umar-ibn-al-Khattab, one of the strongest characters in Islamic history, how he was angered for the news that his sister had embraced Islam and decided to punisher her. Blasting his way into her house as she was reciting the Quran, he slapped her on the face and demanded to know what she had been reciting. Upon listening to a few lines of the Quran, his prompt response was to go out in public and announce his Islam. To non-Arabswho came in contact with Islam the attraction was its ideology and teachings. Modern times witness another key, namely the scientific miracle of Islam. The Quran refers to some scientific facts that were completely unknown to humanity at the time of Muhammad, a proff of the divine source of the Quran (see The Bible, the Quran and Science by Dr. Maurice Bucaille).

The sayings of the prophet are many, that recommend parents to our kind care. One day he said: He is indeed miserable. The companions asked: And who is he, messenger of God. The Prophet answered: He who had the chance to witness his parents or either of them in their old age, and missed to secure for himself a place in paradice (by looking after them and giving them due care). (Muslim and Termizi).

"Shall I tell you of the gravest of sins? To associate partners to worship with God. To be ungrateful to your parents and to give false testimony." (Bukhari-Muslim-Termizi)

The compassionate attitude towards parents is ordained even if they are of different religion, and this is not incompatible with the steadfastness of the Muslim in Islam.

"We have enjoined on Man kindness to parents, but if they strive (to force) you to join with Me (in worship anything of which you have no knowledge) then obey them not. You have all to return to Me, and I will tell you (the truth) of all you used to do." (29:8)

"And We have enjoined on Man (to be good) to his parents. In travail upon travail did his mother bear him; and in years twain was his weaning (hear the command): Show gratitude to Me and to your parents. To Me is (your final) goal. But if they strive to make you join in worhsip with Me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in life with charity and consideration, and follow the ways of those who turn to Me (in love): in the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that you did." (31: 14-15)

Asmaa, the daughter of Abu Bakr who was the prophet's closest companion, reported that after the Muslims fled Makka to Madina, her mother came after her to visit her, while the mother was a non-Muslim and technically was in the camp of the enemy and coming from his land. So Asmaa felt uncomfortable about having to accept and receive her mother , and she went to ask the prophet whether the circumstance should perhaps warrant disjunction off her mother. The prophet instructed that she should 'join her' and heed the tie between them. (Abu Dawood The two sheikhs)

Within parenthood, motherhood is given a clearly higher position than paternity. The last verse we quoted from the Quran makes mention to the debt the mother is owed by virtue of carrying through pregnancy to lactation and weaning. A man asked the prophet peace be upon him:

"Out of all people, who is most deserving of my good companionship? The prophet answered: Your mother. Who is next? Asked the man. Your mother! Answered the prophet. Then who? Asked the man. Your mother! The prophet said for the third time. Then who? The man asked impatiently and the prophet answered: Then your father." (The two'sheikhs)

Another of the prophet's traditions says:

"God has made ingratitude to mothers forbidden to you." (Al-Bukhari)

The following question was posed to the prophet by a young man:, 'Messenger of God: I did carry my mother for the distance of two farsakhs (miles) during the fast of Ramadan under such burning heat ( of the sun) that could have roasted a chunk of meat. Do you think I have repaid to my mother my debt of gratitude to her? The prophet answered: hopefully you might have paid for one labour pain." (Tabarani)

To loose the pleasure and contentedness of one's parents is a great deprivation, in Islamic teaching. Some of the prophet's companions sought his advice about a gravely ill young man whom they visited at his death bed, and tried in vain to make him utter shahada (No diety but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God), that Muslims are very keen to say prior to death. The prophet asked them to summon the boy's mother. It turned out that the boy was always rude to her and did not treat her kindly. The prophet asked her: Would you be content if these people made a large fire and threw you son in it? The woman immediately said no. The prophet told her: Then if you Want to save him from fire you must forgive him. The woman declared that she forgave her son, who then became able to utter shahada.

The priority given caring for one's mother is further illustrated by the prophet's answer to a man who complained to him: "I would love to join the army to jihad but I do not have the means. The prophet knew that the man's widowed mother was still alive and he said:

"Seek God in caring for her, for if you do: you are given the rewards of hajj, umra and jihad. " (Anas)

On a similar occasion, a man consulted the prophet on going to jihad.

The prophet, knowing that the man's old mother was alive said: "Then stick to her, for heaven is at her feet." (Nissa 'i)

This hadith is the basis for the famous saying in Muslim culture: "Heaven is at the feet of mothers."

Ihave often pondered with my students on the other saying of the prophet: "from my house to my podium (both inside the Prophet's Mosque at Madina) is one of the gardens ofheaven. A Muslim's feeling as he sits in that place to pray, ponder or recite the Quran, is one of overwhelming spirituality and inner joy. Then as we remember that heaven is also at the feet of mothers we can't help feeling that our speciality as practised in the labour suite, the wards or the surgical compound must bring us closer to God, for it is there under mothers' feet and in their service. The thought adds a unique dimension to obstetrics and the religious implications become very supportive in this tough branch of medicine. Whether at preconception, prenatal and perinatal or later on, the obstetrician gynaecologist (or the subspecialists in the field) should certainly derive special satisfaction from their efforts in the cause of Motherhood.
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