Muslim and Feminist: The Value of a Mother
International Women’s Day took place during this week. My oldest daughter went on a school trip to a war ship with a female captain and got to talk to some of the female sailors. I jokingly asked her at some point if she was a feminist and she replied with an incredulous no. That was it. I had one of these moments:
I took the opportunity to lecture her on the rights of women, or the lack thereof and the effects of this on women today.
I’ve noticed a trend today to reject feminism for a number of reasons, whether because it’s considered to be anti-men, go against Islamic thinking, seen to be focussed on first world problems or just generally not cool. I think sometimes Muslim’s reject feminism because they see it as trying to blur the lines between men and women, whereas Islam accepts that there are differences between men and women that are to be respected.
I think people also reject feminism because they perceive it as being about women trying to outdo men, demand more than their fair share or because they can come across in some instances as hating men. After all, men don’t want to be treated as villains by default. If nothing else, they have gained a reputation for being po-faced killjoys.
But my take on feminism is not about man-hating or getting indignant because someone offered me their seat on the train. It is much more basic than that and based on something much more personal. My maternal grandmother died in childbirth over 50 years ago. She lost her child and died herself a few days later. I have never been quite clear about what caused her death (may Allah SWT bless her with the highest ranks in paradise insh’Allah), but the effects have reverberated through generations.
The loss of a woman effects everyone around her, the loss of a mother has an effect that it seems can never be alleviated. The loss of my nan meant that my mum dropped out of school and as an adult could not read or write. She grew up caring for her step-siblings, always feeling unloved and second best. She married at 15 sooner than she wanted to and into a family that could not adequately care for her when she joined her husband here at 18. Not being able to read or right meant that she could not write to her family back in Pakistan without help and would have to ask friends to read the responses that came back.
But the effects of losing her mother in childbirth went deeper than that. She never knew how to love us as children. It was only as adults that we encouraged her to hug and kiss us, but it meant that all of us siblings were quite reserved and cold.
There were so many things that a mother teaches her daughter that she had to learn herself — things like social conventions. When we went to ask for my lovely sister-in-law’s hand in marriage for my brother, mum had no clue what to do. I had to step in with my motor-mouth and ask sis-in-law’s mum what she thought.
I remember getting upset at something my mum said one day — she is very blunt. On seeing my face drop, she regretted what she had said and acknowledged that not having a mum had made her hard in some ways. She thought it had made both her and her older brother cold and a little selfish.
I see my mum with Little Lady, they are best friends and she loves to spoil my oldest daughter. I wonder if my nan would have spoiled me in such a way. I am blessed with every single relationship: parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunties on both sides. I have spent varying amounts of time with my other three grandparents and even met their (now very elderly) siblings, my great uncles and aunts. I know how lucky I am and I value and nurture these relationships. But it’s funny, it seems you miss and long for the one relationship that you have never had.
My nan died a long time ago, deaths in the Western world from childbirth are rarer now. Despite this the World Health Organisation’s latest statistics still tell us that 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. In 2015 that was roughly 303,000 women. Most of these were preventable, but happened due to lack of adequate care and resources.
For me feminism is not about competing with men or trying to prove ourselves superior. It is about basic fairness. For women to have an adequate share of resources to be able to access enough food and medical care for themselves and their children to stay healthy. It is about safety from violence (1 in 3 women have experienced violence in their lifetime from a partner). It is about women having access to at least enough education that they can confidently help themselves and their children.
I have always felt that Islam empowered me as a women. I had to fight my family to access higher education, but I knew that my faith encourages the education of women. I married someone my family were not crazy about, but they and I knew I had the right to choose who I marry (best choice I ever made alhamdulillah). I choose to work and it gives me independence and the freedom to make choices in my life and to help and support others.
Islam honours us and empowers us with amazing women role models: warriors, scholars, philanthropists, rulers and wives, daughters and mothers who have changed the course of history through the way they supported and nurtured the people in their lives.
So I am proud to call myself a feminist — someone who believes in fairness and that treating our womenfolk with kindness and respect creates the foundation for happy families and healthy communities. I hope one day my sons and daughters are proud to consider themselves as people who support and empower women too.
“Fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (revere) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah Ever watches over you.” (Quran 4:1)
“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” (Quran 2:228)
“Whatever men earn, they have a share of that and whatever women earn, they have a share in that.” (Quran 4:32]
“O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the dowry you have given them — except when they have become guilty of open lewdness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them, it may be that you dislike something and Allah will bring about through it a great deal of good.” (Quran 4:19)
The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) is reported to have said: “Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i)
A man came to the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father. (Bukhari, Muslim).
Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manners and kindest to his wife.” (Abu Dawud)