Every society is made up of blocks of family units. The stronger each block is, the stronger the structure of the society. Families are thus the building blocks upon which rests the fate of society. For the development of good families, the mother plays a vital role. Many women today have aspirations of progress in their careers, and degrees in various fields. However it is indisputable that the most important achievement of a mother is the raising of sensible, virtuous children who will then move on to build other strong blocks for society. It has been said that it is easy to bear children but it is difficult to raise them well. In that lies the challenge for all mothers.
Islam’s respect for the Mother
A Muslim mother has a valued and dignified role. Her contribution is acknowledged and appreciated. Her unparalleled gifts to the child have been aptly described by Imam Zaynul `Abidin (a) in Risalatul Huqooq – The Chapter of Rights.
It is the right of your mother that you should appreciate that she carried you [in her womb] the way nobody carries anybody, She fed you the fruits of her heart which nobody feeds anybody. She protected you [during pregnancy] with her ears, eyes, hands, legs, hair, limbs, [in short] with her whole being, gladly, cheerfully, and carefully; suffering patiently all the worries, pains, difficulties, and sorrows. Till the hand of God removed you from her and brought you into this world. Then she was most happy, feeding you forgetting her own hunger, clothing you even if she herself had no clothes, giving you milk and water not caring for her own thirst, keeping you in the shade, even if she had to suffer from the heat of the sun, giving you every comfort with her own hardships; lulling you to sleep while keeping herself awake.
The foundation of the family is laid with the decision to marry, and the importance of the mother is evident in Islamic teachings beginning with marriage, conception and then child rearing. The following points illustrate how Islam sanctifies the role of the mother
Emphasis on choosing a good wife
Islam advocates choosing of a wife based on moral characteristics. The Holy Prophet says: Marry into a decent family, for genes have effects. He is also reported to have encouraged Muslims to marry virtuous women in order to have virtuous children He has condemned those who look only for wealth and /or beauty when choosing a spouse.
Respect in this world
A mother commands great respect from her family. She is to be obeyed, and venerated. The Qur’anic verses which talk about the rights of parents include the mother. However the Holy Prophet (s) has enjoined goodness to the mother even before the father. A man once came for advice to him, as to who he should be good to. The Prophet (s) advised him to do good to his mother again. Three times the man asked, and three times the Prophet (s) told him to do good to his mother. At the fourth time, the Prophet (s) told him to do good to his father. This well-known story clearly illustrates the position of the mother in Islam.
Respect in the Hereafter
The famous hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) says: Jannat lies under the feet of the mothers. A woman came to the Holy Prophet (s) and asked why going for Jihad was not obligatory on women. She was afraid that women were barred from achieving the great reward for those who fought and died in the way of the Almighty. The Prophet (s) explained to her that a woman was a fighter in Allah’s way from the time she became pregnant up to the time she delivered, and from the time she began breast-feeding till the time she stopped. If she died during that period, her position would be that of a martyr. To raise a virtuous child is one of the greatest good deeds. It continues to bring reward even after death.
A window of the child to the world
When a baby is born, he is totally unaware of the outside world. The mother plays an important part in introducing him to the world. The outlook that the child will form towards life depends a lot on the mother. His attitude, his views - religious or otherwise- his perspective on life and its goals, will all be gained from her. Eventually he will mature and perhaps form his own changed views, but the initial years and what he learns in them will always have a lasting impression on his mind.
Model for the child
Since the mother is the most important person in the life of a child, she is greatly revered. Her habits and behavior become a model for the child. Whatever the child observes from her, such as her housekeeping habits, her manners, her relationships with others, the way she spends money, and in general her lifestyle, will all undoubtedly affect the child’s character. A mother is said to be better than a hundred teachers. Her emotional strengths and weaknesses are an example for the child, and will be followed for many years to come even though all of it may not be worthy. People have been reported to be following their mother’s ways even when they know the mothers were wrong. It is almost like an unconscious reaction, and it takes effort to behave differently. Thus mothers have an important task of setting forth a good example. It may seem difficult, even impossible. Many mothers think it too great a burden to be acting near perfect all the time, even in the familiarity of their own homes. However it is a good training. What mothers will change in themselves for their children will become a habit, and will lead to a real change. It is not perfection that Islam demands from mothers, but a willingness to accept the responsibility of modeling good acceptable behavior.
Many great people remember their mothers and the role they played in nurturing their greatness. Syed ar-Radhi, the compiler of Nahjul Balgha, mourned the death of his mother greatly. He wrote a poem for her in which he says:
O Mother! I cry and shed tears for your separation hoping that perhaps the burning drops of tears coming out of my sorrowful eyes may melt and remove the mountain of sadness from my heart.
O Mother! You were such a precious jewel and valuable pearl that for getting you released from the plundering enemy’s hand I would have sacrificed everything in my possession as your ransom. But Alas! The death ahs snatched you away from my hand and nothing can be taken back from its deadly claws.
O Mother! If all the mothers of the world would have been righteous like you, indeed the children of the world would not have required the presence of their fathers.
O Mother! All are witness that you were an honorable and noble lady because you have handed over decent and noble children to society.
Excerpts from Meeting the Pious, Ash-Sharif ar-Radi
Shaykh Mutaza Ansari, a great Shi`a Jurist also wept bitterly at the death of his mother. One of his scholarly pupils reproached him, saying it did not befit a learned scholar to agonize so much over the death of his mother. The Shaykh replied: It seems you are not aware of the high status enjoyed by a mother. The proper training given by this mother of mine to me, and the numerous hardships borne by her for my sake elevated me to this position. The initial training given by her to me paved the way for my making all this progress and acquiring this high status in the world of knowledge.