Lessons from a Muslim Mother

Don’t pander to ignorance, she once said.

I was born in Amman, Jordan and was raised by two deeply spiritual Muslim parents. My upbringing was secular nevertheless.

My mother asked me to tag along one day and we headed to the local farmers’ market in our neighborhood in west-Amman. It was a relatively conservative neighborhood by west-Amman standards.

I had just turned 12 or 13 and my sense of machismo was at its peak. My mother was certainly not dressed in an unusual way. On the contrary, her long, smooth hair was perfectly groomed and gliding along with each of her footsteps as always, and she had on a fashionable yet unpretentious casual summer outfit.

I started to feel the stares the moment we stepped out of the car. Somewhat long, fixed gazes that burned my pride like acid water being poured directly down my throat. I finally snapped once I heard an older woman whisper astaghfur allah (I ask God for forgiveness) underneath her breath while still gazing at my mother; if that was an attempt to discreetly scold my mom, she failed miserably that day.

I approached my mother as she was smiling and carefully picking out the pieces of fruit that we needed, completely unfazed by any of the stares or muted grumbles.

Me: Mom..
Mom: What? Go pick out some oranges.
Me: Moooom..
Mom: Whaaaat?!
Me: Everyone is staring at us and I’m sure you can hear what they’re saying. Can you throw on a shawl or something?

I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face that day. A look that was part disappointment, part taken-aback, with a hint of why-you-little-shit. She put down whichever piece of fruit was in her hand gently and cleared her throat.

Mom: Habibi (my dear), don’t ever pander to ignorance. You need to train people to deal with your enlightenment. Otherwise, they’ll be the ones doing the training.

I ended up staring at my mother for a good 10 seconds. I was really just staring into the middle distance as my value system was going into shock and readjusting itself. Her words shook me to the core.

She continued picking out the fruit and finally yelled at one of the grocer’s helpers to deal with the bagging because her “useless son is just standing there”.

More than 15 years later, my wife reminded me of that lesson. But that’s another story.

I think I’m more authentic of a person because of my mother’s words that one day.

Cheers to all moms (and dads, I guess).