It is difficult on Mother’s Day not to think about the famous hadith where a man asks the Prophet (pbuh) about who is most deserving of his time, to which the Prophet (pbuh) responded, “Your mother.” “And then who?” “Your mother.” “And then who? Your mother.” “And then who?” The Prophet (pbuh) finally said, “Your father.” Indeed, as a young man, I have been taught and accept the extra special station of the mother in Islamic philosophy, even in relation to the father.
This deference given to the station of the mother is more often seen as an indication of Islam’s general respect for the equality of woman, but in observance of the recently passed Mother’s Day, I call attention to the primary lesson I take from this hadith, and the principles that follow from it.
“If he can do it, why can’t she?” “If she can do it, why can’t he?” It seems now that when gendered analysis or considerations is proffered as guidance for anything other than relationship advice, there is an immediate pushback on the idea that gender matters. My contention is that Islamic philosophy should be seen as encompassing the idea that not only does gender matter, but that it is meant to differentiate, and not simply nominally.
A principle which I feel is embodied in this particular hadith is best articulated by the eminent British philosopher Timothy Winter (aka Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad): “Male and Female cannot be Equal, for they are Mutually Superior.” This contention is not one regarding equal status under the law, but one regarding personality and lifestyle. What besides femininity is part of the rank of mother which would compel the Prophet (pbuh) to mention the mother three times before mentioning the father? Surely gestation cannot be the whole story there. Rather, it would seem that maternity must be distinguished from paternity on account of femininity itself.
Among the realizations society has come to over the years is that traits related to gender are not immutable, that to a large extent gender traits are a consequence of social construction. For many, this defeats the idea that gender matters intrinsically. For example, some criticism has befallen the practice of tailoring an infant’s bedroom to gender stereotypes, such as sports paraphernalia for little boys and dolls in pink dresses for little girls. I am more apt to consider the social construction aspect of gender as an indication of the role God has given us in His creation. We are not simply pre-programmed and sent out into the world, but rather are given the task of inculcation, of not just giving birth to boys and girls, but molding men and women. To consider either the process or end-product to be the same would be a mistake.
Apprehension about socially constructed contours of what it means, or what it should mean, to be a male or a female, is well founded. In many instances, our attempts at creating masculine men have resulted in emotionally distant brutes. Elsewhere, our attempts at instilling femininity have often resulted in women with little regard for their personal intellectual development. But just because we have often faltered in our efforts to guide gendered identity does not mean that the concept of normative gender differences should be discarded. I do not seek to advocate dousing little girls in buckets of pink, or sending our young boys to Sparta-like day camp, but I do proffer that there is no place for chivalry without a concomitant femininity, and vice versa. And I proffer that such juxtaposition is an intended consequence of Islamic philosophy, exemplified in the famous hadith.
In such limited space, I do not seek to explore what exactly separates femininity from masculinity, but rather to reiterate that something does, and that it matters. Some differences, biology can explain on a physiological level. Some differences are better explained through sociology. What we can glean from the unique station of the mother though, is the intent in Islamic philosophy to recognize, inculcate, and most of all appreciate the subtlety of God’s handiwork when He “created everything in pairs.” [Quran 51:49]
Once it is decided that raising, molding, and creating men and women is the same process – or that gender is not to come with any differentiated expectations – we will cease to create mothers, mothers, mothers, and fathers. We would then simply have mothers and fathers.
Abrar Qadir is a student at Georgetown University Law Center. Originally from California, Abrar attended the University of California, Berkeley before moving East. Abrar maintains a regular blog at http://www.punjabirefill.com