The first contact with a woman is with one’s mother, who suffers in the pregnancy, delivery, nursing and rearing of her child.
History does not recall a religion or a system which honors the woman as a mother and which raises her as Islam does. Islam repeatedly commends the woman, and this comes directly after the command to worship and believe in the Oneness of Allah.
Allah has made honoring one’s mother a virtue and He puts forth the mother’s right over that of the father for what she endures in pregnancy, delivery, nursing and raising her children. This is stated and restated in the Qur’an, in multiple chapters, to imprint this notion in the child’s mind and heart as per the following verses:
And we have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years-give thanks to Me and your parents,-unto Me is the final destination. (Ar-Ra`d 31:14)
And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship and she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty (30) months.(Al-Ahqaf 46:15)
A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) asking: “Who is most deserving of my care?” He said, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” He said, “Your mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” He said, Your mother.” The man asked (the fourth time), “Then who?” He said, “Your father. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Al-Bazzar recounts that a man was circumambulating the Ka`bah carrying his mother. The Prophet asked him: “Have you repaid her?” The man said: “No, not even for one of her moans (i.e. one of the moans of labor, delivery and so on). (Al-Bazzar)
As to be good to her, it means treating her well, respecting her, humbling oneself in front of her, obeying her without disobeying Allah, seeking her satisfaction and pleasure in all matters, even in a holy war. If it is optional, he must have her permission, for being good to her in a type of jihad. Jihad is the struggle (physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, etc.) to preserve the purity and practice of Islam.
A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, I want to fight and I want your advice.” He asked him, “Have you a mother?” The man said: “Yes.” He said, “Do not leave her because Paradise is under her feet. (An-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, and al-Hakim)
Some religious laws before Islam neglected the mother’s relations, making them insignificant. With the advent of Islam, it recommended caring for uncles and aunts, both on the father’s side and the mother’s.
A man approached the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) and said, “I committed an offence, could I atone for it?” He asked, “Have you got a mother?” The man said, “No”. He asked, “Have you got a maternal aunt?” The man said: “Yes”. The Prophet said: “Be good to her”. (At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban, Al-Hakim)
It is amazing that Islam commanded us to be good to a mother even though she is an unbeliever! Asmaa’ bint Abi Bakr asked the Prophet about her relationship to her unbelieving mother who had come to her. He said: “Yes, be on good terms with your mother”. (On the authority of Asmaa’, as related in Al-Lu’lu’ Wal-Marjan)
An indication that Islam cares for motherhood, for the rights of mothers and their feelings is that a divorced mother has greater rights and is worthier of looking after her children than the father. `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`Aas transmitted that a woman asked: “O Messenger of Allah, this son of mine had my womb as a container, my breasts for drinking, my lap to contain him. His father has taken him from me”. The Prophet said: “You have more right if you do not marry”. (Ahmad and Abu Dawud)
Imam Al-Khatabi said in Ma`alim As-Sunnah (Landmarks of Traditions ): ’Container‘ is the name of the place that contains a thing. This means that the mother is worthier as she and the father shared in the begetting of the child, then she was singled out for such things as nursing which the father had no share in. Therefore she deserves to be the first when it comes to disputes about the child.
On the authenticity of Ibn `Abbas who said: “`Umar ibn Al-Khattab divorced his wife from Al-Ansar, the mother of `Asim. He met her carrying the child in Mahser (a market- place between Quba’ and Madinah). The child was weaned and could walk. `Umar held out his hand to take the child from her and disputed about it till the boy cried out in pain. `Umar said: “I am worthier of my son than you”. They complained to Abu Bakr, whose verdict was that the mother should keep the child. He said: “Her scent, her bed, and her lap are better for him than yours until he grows up and chooses for himself “. (Ma`alim As-Sunnah)
The mother who is cherished that much by Islam, and given all these rights has a task to perform. She has to take care of her children, raise them well, implant virtues, and make them loathe evil. She has to teach them to obey Allah, encourage them to defend what is truthful, not dissuade them from fighting for the sake of Allah (one form of jihad) because of the motherly sentiments in her heart but to favour the correct way over sentiment.
We saw a believing mother, Al-Khansa’, in the Battle of Al-Qadisiyyah eloquently urging her four sons to be brave and steadfast. Then as soon as the battle was over and the news of their four deaths came to her, she did not wail and carry on but said with certainty and contentment: “Praise be to Allah who honored me with their martyrdom for His faith.”
Out of Qur’anic guidance, we have been supplied with superb examples of good mothers who had influence and position in the history of the faith in Allah. Moses‘ mother, for example, responded to Allah’s inspiration and calling when she cast the apple of her eye into the river, assured of Allah’s promise: “And We inspired the mother of Moses, (saying): `suckle him (Moses), but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back for you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers.”
And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto you and shall make him (one) of Our messengers. (Al-Qasas 28:7)
There is also Mary’s mother, who promised what she had in her womb to be devoted to Allah, to be pure of any polytheism or worship of anything other than Allah. She prayed to Allah to accept her vow: “so accept (this), from me. Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knowing”. (Aal `Imran 3:35)
When the child turned out to be a female, which she had not expected, it did not prevent her from fulfilling her vow, asking Allah to protect her from all evil: “and I seek refuge with You (Allah) for her and for her offspring from Satan, the outcast” (Aal `Imran 3:36)
Moreover, the Qur’an has made Mary (may Allah be pleased with her), daughter of `Imran and mother of the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him), an example of purity, humility to Allah and of faith in His word:
And Mary, daughter of ’Imran, whose body was chaste, therefore We breathed therein something of Our Spirit. And she put faith in the words of her Lord and His scriptures, and was of the obedient. (At-Tahrim 66:12)
The article is an excerpt from the book “The Status of Women in Islam” by Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is the President of The International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) and the Head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR).