Mother’s Day is a somewhat complicated occasion for Muslims, and I suspect, many other people.
The lovely Robert Fulghum, the wise soul behind the “All I needed to learn I learned in Kindergarten” recalls how once in his function as a minister he attempted to interject some grit and reality into a Mother’s Day sermon, only to be told by a member of his congregation that people have gone to hell for saying much less than he did.
In spite of that warning, allow me to venture into the territory of acknowledging yet trying to move beyond the trite and occasionally hollow celebration of Mother’s Day. (And I won’t even get into how Mother’s Day has been co-opted by Hallmark and the chocolate industry.)
It is no wonder that so many traditions, including the Christian tradition,
use the love of a mother for a child (the Virgin for Christ) as a potent symbol of Divine love for humanity.
On one hand, there is the annual observation that in Islam, “Every day is Mother’s Day.”
This has become so trite among Muslims who now joke on Facebook that they are looking forward to the clichés of the above observation.
This remembrance is often amplified by the lovely teaching of the Prophet that states:
The Prophet Muhammad said, may God's peace and blessings be upon him:
Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother (hadith).
These types of statements from the Prophet are often the first sayings that many Muslim mothers teach their children, to make sure that they never forget the Prophetically sanctioned cherishing of mothers.
In other sayings of the Prophet, there are reminders that serving one’s mother takes precedence over almost any other duty, including that of serving one’s father. One of the well-known accounts of the Prophet remembers him listing serving one’s mother three times before moving on to serving anyone else. One companion of the Prophet asked him:
And yet, and yet, somehow it feels hollow to leave it there.
The truth of the matter is that part of the honoring of mothers on one day a year seems connected to taking them for granted the rest of the year. And honoring people for one day a year does not make up for the other 364 days of a year.
Honoring Mother’s Day, and mothers, reminds many of us of the ways in which religious traditions come to honor iconic female saints whose chastity is distinctly beyond the possibility of almost any mortal, male or female. So our religious communities marginalize and oppress women while praising here a Virgin Mary and a Joan of Arc and there a Khadija and a Fatima.
Also, in listening to my friends carefully, I am reminded that for many among us, Mother’s Day doesn’t really feel like a day to celebrate, because:
*For many, their own mother was not someone who provided care and compassion. Honoring those mothers on these days feels like a hollow and obligatory, as opposed to a heartfelt, ritual.
*For many who have no children, not being a mother on mother’s day is a source of immense sorrow and grief for the most important missing part of their lives.
*For many who have lost a child, mother’s day is a day of mourning over a loved one.
*For many single parents, being a mother is a reminder of the unpaid, exhausting, 24x7 job that leaves them drained even as they try to carry on work/school.
*Lastly, many Muslim women have critiqued how almost all the honorific statements in Islam about women are connected to their childbearing and mothering functions, and not to them being women as such.
So, what to do?
Where to go from here?
How do we acknowledge the good work, the immense service that million of mothers provide day in and day out?
And how do we acknowledge that there are some mothers who embody all these lovely qualities of love and services,
that there are some mothers who do not,
that there are many women who are not mothers,
and many mothers who are tired of being taken for granted 364 out of 365 days ever year?
I suggest a move away from the commercialized “Mother’s Day” celebration to celebrating the Ethics of Care.
Let us honor and acknowledge all those who care for others, whether family or simply fellow human beings. Let us recognize compassion put into the service of humanity as what actually takes us not into the unreal, surreal realm of idealized and sanitized motherhood, but simply into the realm of fully and completely human.
When there are mothers who embody this ethics of care, let us celebrate.
When there are fathers who embody this ethics of care, let us celebrate.
When there are women, not mothers, who serve fellow human beings, let us celebrate.
Let me end not in the abstract,
but in the fully particular details of one set of lives, including my own.
Let me celebrate some of the people who in my own life have embodied these qualities:
For my mother, Pouran (pictured at the right), whom I remember as staying awake through the night, keeping vigil by my bedside when I was four and burning of a fever.
For my mother, Pouran, who left behind her family, the home, and the country that she knew,
so that I could some day have a better life here in this country.
For my father, Ali (also pictured at the right), who is my very model of what it means to be not just a man, but a full human being.
For my father, Ali, whose gentleness and compassion I recognize now as the very model of what it means to be a caring father.
For the mother of my children, Holly, who raised a boy under the most difficult of circumstances as a single mother,
putting the welfare of that sweet boy before her own.
For the mother of my children, Holly, who has raised four beautiful children and struggles every day to care for children
while competing in a world where her colleagues have no such demands at home.
For all of them, I say, Happy Mother’s Day, and more than that, Happy Day of Care.
Images are courtesy of Shutterstock and Wikipedia.