Since the beginning of time, women have been unequivocally blessed with the ability to share in the creation of the human race, and have been revered for the tremendous responsibility of carrying life within their wombs. In tandem, some women have pondered on the undisputable weight of this responsibility, and instead have chosen “the road less traveled,” deliberately shying away from motherhood and foregoing its glory altogether. For women, witnessing how life grows within and nurturing that life from the time of conception can be the ultimate spiritual experience. It not only intrinsically ties women to the Divine, but indeed makes paradise itself lie at her feet.
A picture of perfection is painted for the Muslim woman on the beauty of having, raising, and taking care of children, framed with the unquestionable duty to increase the numbers of our Ummah. After all, it is through motherhood that women are elevated in rank above men in the saying of the Prophet (saw):
“A man came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man
said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your father.”
Traditionally though, Islamic culture and society have imposed on women the “religious” obligation to procreate, earnestly pushing for women to marry, bear children, and thus fulfill their “only” purpose. This is why in some circles, it is not uncommon to have female relatives and neighbors inquire about one’s pregnancy status, beginning as early as a week or so after the wedding night. The pressure to conceive can reach alarming highs, especially for older women who are constantly reminded of their “biological clocks.” All too often, this burdening expectation to deliver a healthy bundle of joy can leave the late-pregnant and barren feeling utterly depressed and incomplete.
Therefore, it is no surprise that when women finally figure out the painful, challenging, and outright draining side of motherhood, the choice to have or not to have children is no longer theirs. It seems as if in the blink of an eye, many women suddenly find themselves with little Ahmad, Fatima, and Yusuf (and baby Maryam on the way!), before they can consciously take a step back and analyze what motherhood really entails. What’s more, when women do voice their hesitation to take the plunge into a life of sacrifices, they are immediately cornered and chastised in our communities, with the unsubstantiated argument that choosing not to have children is prohibited in Islam.
Allah says in the Qur’an that we were put on this Earth to worship Him, and His worship can be carried out in various forms. There are several examples throughout Islamic history, when Muslim women (and men!) never married or had children (by fate or choice), often choosing to live a life of scholarship dedicated to the advancement of Islamic knowledge, and the propagation of our deen. Even without a lofty goal such as scholarship, choosing life without children is a valid choice, and as such should be respected without need for justification.
No doubt motherhood can earn women an elevated status in Islam, but entering into it without full disclosure of its headaches and heartaches can sometimes be detrimental to the spiritual growth and well-being of some women, their families, and society at large. The scene that comes to mind is all too familiar: a sheer kaleidoscope of frustrated, irritable, and miserable women in the mosque, complaining about their lives as mothers, yanking their children and crying babies during Friday prayer, obstinately talking about yet another pregnancy and their due date. For some women, motherhood translates into never fulfilling their educational and/or professional dreams, and for others it becomes an undercurrent of longing for companionship, when a couple’s quality time is indefinitely replaced with child-rearing and parenting quarrels. This is especially common in Western countries, where young families must juggle raising children without the support of an extended family structure.
Without mothers in our communities opening up and discussing motherhood realistically and in its entirety, with all its pros and cons, women are left to pursue motherhood blindfolded and beyond the point of no return. Having a forum where women can dialogue about womanhood, motherhood, and the relationship between the two, will foster better understanding about this life choice, leading women to make a conscious, well-informed decision on whether or not having children is their prerogative in this life.
Ultimately, Muslim women should exercise their limited free will as granted to them by Allah, and be given the opportunity to choose motherhood or a life beyond it. Allah, in all His wisdom, says: “Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas Allah! With Him is a great reward.” (64:15)
Enith Morillo is Events and Publicity coordinator for Altmuslimah.