Islam accords the highest respect to women, whether they be wives, daughters, sisters or mothers. However, the highest status and respect is reserved for mothers, who are given a higher status than fathers, as evidenced by the hadith quoted above. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) gave precedence to the kind treatment of mothers. The Quran has also instructed Muslims to love, cherish, respect and honor both parents, but specially mothers. One such example is:
A man came to the Prophet and said, “O messenger of Allah! Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me?” He replied, “Your mother”. The man asked, “Then who?” So he replied, “Your mother”. The man asked again, “Then who?”. So the Prophet replied again, “Your mother”. The man then asked, “Then who?”. So he replied, “Then your father” (Sahih Bukhari 5971 and Sahih Muslim 7/2).
Islam recognizes that the hardship borne by the father in raising children is different to the hardship faced by the mother in giving birth and nursing them. This hardship and suffering is unavoidable, irrespective of the wealth or social standing of the woman.
And We have enjoined on man [to be good] to his parents. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him in hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months. (The Quran, Chapter 46 Verse 15).
The alleviation of women due to their role as mothers and caregivers is emancipatory for women because it places the responsibility of earning an income upon the father. Muslim households are traditionally patriarchal with the earning role undertaken by men, but women’s roles are not seen as inferior to men’s; rather they are complementary and necessary for the healthy functioning of the family unit and for the society at a macro-level.
Muslim women are therefore largely insulated from the “Superwoman syndrome”, a term coined by sociologist Margorie in 1984 to explain the situation of Western women who constantly strive to fulfill multiple roles of mother, wife, worker, caregiver, volunteer and many others. Such a role results in unreasonable and unsustainable expectation from women to constantly do more and achieve more, undermining the very important function of motherhood and emphasize the worker and earner roles of women. The project of feminism, in its quest to achieve equality for women, failed at providing women equity for the different, but necessary roles they play at home. Women have become over-achievers in their careers and have risen to greater heights academically and professionally; however, this has corresponded directly to the “outsourcing” of the mothering role to childcare centers, grandparents and nannies. This situation also makes women’s caring and mothering roles “invisible” as they are done within homes and do not have a tangible paid-worker status.
While Islam has provided a very feminist framework in which women are valued as mothers, its application in modern society does not necessarily adhere to this principle. Many Muslim women are recognizing that it has been the interpretation of Islam and the Quran, that have traditionally subjugated women and restricted them from education and employment. There is nothing in the Quran or the examples from the Prophet’s life that oppresses women or stops them from being educated, or even being in paid employment. The Prophet’s first wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her), was a successful businesswoman and also the first Muslim woman. His later wife, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), was an independent woman, an academic, and the most reliable source of hadees and prophetic traditions.
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