I was recently listening to a series on great women in Islam, and was struck by the great names among scholars who were raised by single moms. Al-Bukhari, Imam Shafi’i, and others set off on their paths of greatness because of decisions made by their mothers. These women were so focused and hardworking that they resolved not to remarry in order to instead devote themselves entirely to their children. They are the silent makers of history, who took little credit for their effort and are never mentioned in books or lectures. But Allah knows them by name, knows the hours they logged, because He chose them to fulfill His plan on earth.
A common thread in these mothers’ stories was that each one had the vision for her child first, and it was she who forged her child’s path early on while the child was too young to decide. Of course, there may have been many more mothers who tried and did not achieve the same results, but in the end the results are never in our hands. Yet perhaps these women managed to strike the right proportions of determination; hard work; vision; and a deep, personal reliance on Allah that allowed them to be chosen as the silent giants of history.
- A Kurdish woman sent her kindergarten son to clean the stables of the Muslim’s knight training grounds, to serve the knights’ apprentices and to watch them and learn. She was the mother of a little boy who would grow up to become Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi.
- Fatima (ra), the daughter of the Prophet, spoke words as she was dying to her seven-year-old daughter Zainab, “Be a mother to your older brothers Al-Hasan and Al-Hussein, and be a mother to all of the believers.” Zainab grew up to be the greatest advisor and advocate for her brothers and father, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and it was her advice to move the capital of the Islamic empire from Madinah to Kufa. Zainab accompanied her brother to Karbala, knowing he and her son would almost surely die there. As a teenager, Zainab established a network of homes for the orphans and elderly in the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Egypt. Who first inspired Zainab to walk down that path?
- Ar-Rumaysaa decided that her four-year-old son could serve no better purpose than to be the servant and personal assistant of the Prophet, and made a selfless decision that would change the life of her son, Anas ibn Malik.
I paused the lecture and stared into the highway lanes in front of me. What mission or vision did I have for my kids? What specifically am I preparing them for? I have general values that I strive for: God-consciousness, social activism, educating others about Islam, good citizenship, and a deep, meaningful relationship with the Quran. But those values are too broad to give me enough guidance on how I should go about my day-to-day parenting, and also do not take into considerations my children’s individual strengths nor my own to inspire truly exceptional lives. Maybe, in my shortsightedness, all I’m doing is attempting to create slightly upgraded versions of my own self?
I’m aware that I should allow my kids to take their own path, and not view them selfishly as an extension of my unrealized goals. I know that pressuring kids to achieve too early and too much often backfires in our culture, and I read way too many parenting and pop psych books for my own good. But, in the process of being nurturing, accepting, and balanced according to lax, modern standards, am I at risk of holding my children back by not preparing them for anything in particular? Am I missing windows of opportunity for memorization and imprinting while I wait for their initiative to kick in in ten years or even much later? And even more humbling, was the unspecific goal of raising good Muslims really making my parenting distinguished from any other dedicated parent?
We say again and again in our speeches and conversations that our community and country needs relevant, American-born scholars, leaders, and great people who can bring about change. I wonder out of which of our homes those people will be born, and which mother and father will have been lucky enough to be chosen to help shape those personalities. I do not have much control over what paths my children choose to take in the future, but I do have control over what path I prepare them for.
If a single mom, armed with only a clear vision, staunch determination, and profuse prayer and supplication, could do it, why can’t I? Instead of spending too much time running after balance and fulfillment in so many areas of life, why not focus on where Allah has put me today? It’s my one chance at motherhood–why not muster every last bit of spunk and determination I have and make the most of it? At the risk of falling on my face and eating my words twenty years from now, I want to try to make something great out of the small souls in my arms. I want to try, all the while pleading with their Creator to raise them just as simply and easily as He has given them life.
Maha is a homeschooling mother of four children (6, 4, 2, and 1) and lives in Michigan. She is an active MAS worker and loves being in nature, writing, and working for Islam. She blogs occasionally at Even Sparrows Pray.