WHILE MASSAGING MY mother’s feet one night to help her sleep, I looked at the cracks and creases of her soles and said: “So heaven is under here?” She laughed me off but was ready to give me a long speech of her turmoil and pain in raising us, hoping that we’d return her favors by respect and kindness instead of a grunt, or by sending a simple smile her way when we saw her in the room.
Now a mother of two children (with number three on the way), I hope for the same and probably more from my own brood, though I struggle far less than my own mother did. Why is it that Islam tells us heaven lies beneath a mother’s feet? It raises mothers to an immense height for all that they endure through the four arduous phases of pregnancy (a fourth trimester?), a painful delivery, and a lifetime of raising children as true Muslims.
But sometimes I wonder: Do we modern mothers deserve this rank? Should we rest assured that we will?
When I was first pregnant, I knew I had to make some changes. The first was to stop listening to music. No longer did I attend to it during my college commute or while I wrote my papers. I tried to remain positive and patient as my body underwent temporary and permanent changes. I would keep a positive environment through how I spoke about my pregnancy and with whom I spoke. Whenever I felt like the fetus was taking over my body, I had to repeatedly remind myself of the amazing, almost sublime experience I was having.
While non-Muslim women might face certain restrictions like not smoking or drinking during pregnancy, Muslim women often come to a subtler set of limits. Think of the kinds of things we listen to, watch on television, the places we go, the social gatherings we attend, and the company we keep. These things should change to keep a simple, Islamic environment for the unborn child. Think of how the Prophet Muhammad never attended festivals and weddings during pagan times. And when as a young man he thought to go, Allah soothed him to sleep until the events passed. This kept him pure even before the announcement of his prophethood.
Most importantly, we should all eat halal, for this has a definite effect on us. We truly are what we eat. The fetus consumes what the mother does and purity itself is at issue. Imagine how many things we eat knowingly and unknowingly that aren’t halal. Pregnancy comes with cravings, but do we really need those fries from the fast food place, which are most likely fried with other haram foods? Always question and ask about where food comes from before letting it come in contact with you.
Apart from food, mothers-to-be can take care of the words that lie on their tongues. Continual recitation of the Quran can be supplemented with dhikr of Allah. Take from the example of Allah’s prophets—the Patriarch Prophet Ibrahim recited: “O my Lord! Grant me a righteous son” [Surat Al-Saffat, 37:100]; and when the mother of Maryam found herself pregnant she said: “O my Lord! I dedicate to you what is in my womb for your special service. So accept this of me for You are the hearer and knower of all things” [Surat Al-“Imran, 3:35].
Devotion and engagement in salah and remembrance will ensure that we be reminded of our place as His servants and that He will help us and ease for us ways to raise our children for what they were made—to be honest servants of our Lord and Creator, Allah the Most High. A mother’s environment, inside and out, has a definite effect on baby.
Labor and Delivery
How great a trial for mothers is labor! And how great a sign and with what profound meaning.
Luckily, we forget it and decide to have more children—although I can’t say the same for fathers. Many mothers opt for taking anesthesia if they aren’t scheduled for a C-section. This eases labor tremendously. However, there are some setbacks in that a mother is at so much ease that she returns to useless talk with whoever is in the room. She might forget to remember Allah at this meritorious time. A woman’s prayers are surely accepted and answered during labor. Even if mothers-to-be take an epidural or have a C-section, it is essential to remember Allah and pray and supplicate Him because this momentous occurrence of childbirth only rarely comes our way and is yet another gift from Allah.
A mother should not forget the Sunnah of tahneek. This may be given to the newborn using something sweet, like a date softened with the mother’s saliva or in water (zamzam, is good) then introduced to the baby’s mouth moving it all around for him or her to taste. More sunnahs include shaving of the baby’s head, giving sadaqa, and having an ‘aqiqa. Pregnancy, from conception to the birth and afterward needs to—and can be—made much more meaningful when surrounded with increased remembrance of Allah and made to meet the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Many may think that pregnancy ends after three trimesters, but there is a fourth—the three months post-partum. Adjusting to baby, no matter how many children you have, takes time. In the same way, breastfeeding is something learned because the instinct of each child is “trained” from point zero.
Mothers today experience new hurdles in breastfeeding because most of their own mothers did not breastfeed. Hence, new moms may come across a lack of family support. It is essential to have a support group for such an important part of a mother and child’s life. These women share an immense amount of knowledge about breastfeeding. Even if breastfeeding is a breeze to some, joining groups like La Leche League can be crucial for some new mothers to keep up confidence and perseverance when it comes to nursing.
Women can begin their own Islamic groups about motherhood geared toward raising children according to the Sunnah. When feeding a baby, mothers ought to ensure they are in the state of wudu (when the postpartum period passes), recite basmala before feeding, and perhaps read the Quran aloud while feeding.
It is tempting to use the 15 to 20 minutes of strictly nursing time to make phone calls or watch television. But this becomes part of our struggle to become those mothers who our children will thank in the future. Reading the Quran could lead to spiritual good in a child and possibly early memorization and recitation. Researchers tell us that the fetus picks up on sounds and, as a baby, is calmer when hearing those same sounds. Why not use this to our advantage and read or listen to the Quran regularly so that it becomes a soothing part of our children’s lives? Since Islam is a way of life, children are ready to begin learning it from before birth.
Breastfeeding has its obvious benefits for the mother as well. The mother-child relationship is more intimate. Physically, the mother’s body more swiftly returns to its pre-pregnancy state. In most cases, a woman is less likely to conceive within the next six to 12 months without using any prevention. A woman also lowers her risk of get-ting certain cancers at a later age. Imagine how much milk a child drinks in six months, or a year, or in the full term of two years as according to the Quran: “and mothers breast-feed their children for two years…” [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:233]. A mother (and the father) receives Allah’s blessings for every drop a child drinks. Thus the bounties of nursing a child go beyond this world.
Keeping an Islamic environment from pregnancy on gives a cradle-to-grave experience of divine light to our children. While the Prophet never gave parenting “workshops” to his Companions, he did leave them (and us) his Sunnah to follow and be successful. When women strive for ideal motherhood by making pregnancy a blessing and exposing their children to Islam through their own actions, Allah will protect them and guide them to become ideal Muslims. Then, maybe all Muslim mothers will be worthy of that high rank among the women of Heaven.