I can’t remember when I first learned that “Paradise is under the feet of mothers.” But I do remember the first time my parents quoted the story when the Prophet was asked who has greater right, the mother or the father, and replied ”Your mother, your mother, your mother, then your father.” This three-fold reiteration of the privileged status of the mother in Islam is central to those endless articles on “Women in Islam,” which tend to collapse the status of women with the reverence for mothers in Islam.
The use of Quranic and hadith sources to highlight the importance of motherhood, which is the subject of books such as Aliah Schleifer ’s Motherhood in Islam is, I believe, important, as are more context-specific studies that look at the nexus of Islam and motherhood in specific societies.
The problem I find is that often discussions about the representations of mothers in Islam get caught up in the familiar argument about whether this overwhelming reverence for the mother is potentially empowering or reductive essentialism. What about women who are not mothers? It’s a legitimate and important question. Another question that might be asked is what happens when this Islamic narrative of revered motherhood collides with the pervasive narrative of the Bad Mother? [Read more...]