- "Your mother", the Prophet replied on the spot.
- "And who else?" "Your mother", the Prophet repeated.
- "And then who?", insisted the man. "Your mother", the Prophet said a third time.
- "And then?" "Then your father”.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated it]
On the contrary, we seem to be going the other way fast. From the Subcontinent to Iran and the Arab world, the matrix of reverence, gentleness, good humour, balance, patient wisdom, and basic human justice with which the Prophet had single-handedly superseded brute patriarchy, has just about disappeared. Worse yet, these regions now witness a descent into sexist violence of such unprecedented repugnance as even the pre-Islamic pagans – make that the Cro-Magnons – would find blood-curdling. Goya's horrific “Saturn devouring his sons” has become true of our brethren devouring our mothers and sisters. How "arrogant, unblessed"!
Yet a more memorable passage of the Mathnavi is Rumi's quip about the mother:
"What did you call her? Your sweetheart? She is a creator! Almost uncreated!"
Cambridge's imam and one of the foremost living writers on Islam in English, Abdul Hakim Murad [Timothy J Winter], began his essay on feminism: "Islam, Irigaray, and the Retrieval of Gender" with the line "Can men any longer write about women?"
But he epigraphed it with Rumi's verses:
“The Prophet said that women totally dominate men of intellect and possessors of hearts.
But ignorant men dominate women, for they are shackled by an animal ferocity.
They have no kindness, gentleness or love, since animality dominates their nature.
Love and kindness are human attributes; anger and sensuality belong to the animals.
She is the radiance of God, she is not 'your beloved'.
She is a creator - you could say that she is not created”.
Another Persian poet – “Iradj Mirza” - [ date: 1926 ] wrote this moving poetic verse about his mother: "Staying awake, she taught me even how to sleep”.
So, the mother is at the heart of Islam on several levels:
- literally and legally, but also
- poetically and mystically, as a reminder of Allah Most High;
- historically and symbolically, in the persons of the Prophet's wives,
As the Quran [Surah al-Ahzab, 6] says:
"…The Prophet is closer to the believers, than their selves,
and his wives are as their mothers…".
Of all the Mothers of the Believers, there is Lady Khadija:
- the Prophet's first wife and
- 15 years his senior,
- whom he loved and revered the most, and
- who gave him several daughters,
- among them Lady Fatimah al-Zahra - the *woman*, through whom his noble bloodline survives from East to West to this day.
All of our Islam mothers, and Fatimah with them, were scholars, or craftswomen, or merchants as well.
The early Muslims describe Lady Ayesha in glowing terms as the most knowledgeable woman in the history of mankind and this is true, because she was not only the longest [with Sawdah] but also the youngest and most intellectually gifted spouse of the Prophet during his post-Prophethood years.
Etymologically also, the mother is central to Islam in many important ways:
- the Arabic word for mother, ”umm”, is the root of the Prophetic attribute of ”ummi”, all-too-hastily translated “unlettered”;
- it is also at the root of the substantive, which denotes Muslimdom through the ages, *ummah*.
- a word also used for religion and, indeed, any living community including birds and bees.
- It is also homonymic with ”amma”, ”to guide and lead", from which comes the word imam.
Annemarie Schimmel in her 1995 book “Meine Seele ist eine Frau / My Soul is a Woman”
cites Rumi's representation of the mother of the Prophet Musa [Moses]:
- the Prophet was raised in Pharaoh's pagan court,
- far from the Temple,
- his mother is the archetype of human perfection, which was giving birth to the Man of God.
Not unlike Meister Eckhart's quasi-Islamic [but, to Christians, unorthodox] interpretation of Jesus:
- the conception of the fatherless,
- but Synagogue-imbued Christ in Mary.
However, it is the Prophet Muhammad [upon him and all the Prophets peace], who:
- is the jewel in the crown of such filial God-dependency,
- being the most completely deprived of the two normal means of human upbringing: parents and schooling.
- an unschooled orphan, the Prophet was raised by God Himself.
- like a baby latching on to none, other than his mother, who is his whole world,
- ummi stands for Muhammad's utter dependency on Allah, as an incarnate proof of his God-given Prophethood.
The Ummah's own relationship to its Prophet is in every way identical. So is, at a third remote, the congregation's relationship to its imam:
- "Al-Shafi'i is like the sun giving light and warmth to the people", Ahmad ibn Hanbal would say;
- "Our teachers are our spiritual parents, they give us birth in the hereafter", wrote al-Nawawi.
So we can say, in Rumiesque fashion, that:
- our Prophet is our mother,
- our religion is our mother,
- our community is our mother, and
- our teachers are our mothers.
As you treat your parents, so do expect to be treated in your old age. Each knows exactly how they would like their own children to treat them when they become old. This is why any time is good to pause and ponder not how to repay our mothers and fathers, for that would be impossible, but how to meet at least some of our obligations toward them. Perhaps, past experience of Divine generosity gives us hope we shall not be labelled Stone-Hearted in the Book of Life.
As a certain man was circumambulating the resplendent Kaabah in pilgrimage, carrying his mother on his back, he met his teacher and asked:
"Teacher! Have I repaid my debt to her?"
The teacher only replied: "I hope".