by Dr. Kimberly Harper
“We are resilient, we are beautiful. We will unapologetically affirm our humanity.” —Kameelah M. Rashad
While continuing to highlight Islamic scholarship in the Black Muslim community in 2018, the Religion section will work to bring Sapelo Square readers stories about the many ways our faith manifests in our living experiences. We will present topics that are specific to the Black Muslim family and parenting experience—dealing with notions of identity, finding a place within the ummah when the ummah does not always make space, having those tough talks about choices and consequences and being true to one’s purpose in life. As one of the newest members of the Sapelo Squad, I envision this as an opportunity to give voice to the struggles and triumphs that accompany the roles we have in life while traveling Allah’s straight path. I start with my own struggle to embrace motherhood.
Finding a Path Forward
Eight months after my first child Naeemah was born, I was in the middle of a meltdown from the sheer exhaustion of being a new mother. In those moments between rocking her to sleep and trying to stay encouraged, I realized the magnitude of the change that had occurred in my life. Her needs trumped my own. I no longer was the center of my universe and no longer did my world revolve around my own spiritual development. Now, I was responsible for another life. After Naeemah finally fell asleep (I should have gone to sleep too), I searched online for something that would spiritually encourage me in this new role.
My search results showed a wealth of resources articulating the special status of parents and mothers in Islam, but there was not a dearth of information or discussion about the transition into parenthood or, for that matter, the different life stages of adulthood whether you are a parent or not.
I also found hadiths about parenting, Quranic ayat about the debt owed to parents and blogs about motherhood. The most popular search result was Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) hadith where he tells worshipers that heaven lies under the feet of your mother. In addition to this hadith, Surah al-Ahqaf (The Sand Dunes) in the Holy Qur’an was equally popular:
And we have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship. And she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him, and the weaning of him is thirty months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forth years, he says: “My Lord! Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my offspring good. Truly I have turned to you in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims (submitting to Your will). —Qur’an 46:15
Seeing Myself in Others
The blogs I came across talked about how to raise Muslim children, but they did not talk about the day-to-day work of motherhood; i.e. nurturing the nafs or the small things that drive you crazy! I needed something that spoke to the emotional, physical and spiritual transitions that I had experienced. I wanted to hear mothers talk about postpartum depression from an Islamic perspective.
I just wanted some raw, honest conversations about motherhood, and I wanted to have those with muslimahs who understood that I needed more than a hadith being quoted to me.
I wanted to know if any sisters had suffered from postpartum, post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the Birth Trauma Association, postpartum, post-traumatic stress disorder, also commonly referred to as birth trauma, is a diagnosis that acknowledges traumatic birth experiences such as emergency c-sections, inductions, long or short painful labors, and stillbirth among other causes. I wanted to hear someone say it’s annoying to hear your name 30 times in one hour when dealing with a toddler. I wanted to know if other new moms experienced loneliness like I did during those first few months.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband, family and friends were supportive and it was not all doom and gloom. I just wanted some raw, honest conversations about motherhood, and I wanted to have those with muslimahs who understood that I needed more than a hadith being quoted to me.
In my search that night, I came across a post on healing-hearts-blog.com that shifted my spiritual understanding of motherhood. The popular post was written by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller:
When she has her first baby, she must manage for another life even more dependent on her personal sacrifices. By the second, third, or fourth child, her days and nights belong almost entirely to others. Whether she has a spiritual path or not, such a mother can seldom resist a glance at the past, when there were more prayers, more meanings, more spiritual company, and more serenity. When Allah opens her understanding, she will see that she is engaged in one of the highest forms of worship, that of producing new believers who love and worship Allah. She is effectively worshipping Allah for as many lifetimes [as] she has children, for the reward of every spiritual work her children do will be hers, without this diminishing anything of their own rewards: every ablution, every prayer, every Ramadan, every hajj, and even the works her children will in turn pass on to their offspring, and, so on till the end of time. Even if her children do not turn out as she wishes, she shall be requited in paradise forever according to her intention in raising them, which was that they should be godly.
Over the years, I have sent this post to friends and re-read it often when the task of parenting becomes overwhelming. As I began to adjust to my new normal, I eventually found some muslimahs who were new mothers, and I joined a few Facebook communities like UmiBaby, Muslimahs Out to Make an Impact (MOMI) and Black Moms in Charge that provided real, practical and supportive conversations about motherhood and spiritual development. Obviously making salah on time, making du’a and reading the Qur’an are the most practical and beneficial steps for spiritual development, but I needed something that spoke to my spiritual needs and the spiritual needs of children.
Now that I’m six years into this thing called parenting and my family has grown to include three children, I can clearly articulate that I needed to see a path forward for myself as a mother. I needed to understand that this new phase was just an extension of who I was and not an ending. But it was hard to see that in those first couple of years, especially when I was knee deep in nursing, trying to decipher the color of poop, and struggling to potty train. Even now, as I type this my oldest is asleep on the floor — exhausted from a stomach virus that has kept both of us up for most of the night and my youngest just woke up asking for crackers. It’s 3:30 a.m! Ya Allah, the work is never done and we are constantly in motion.
When Allah opens her understanding, she will see that she is engaged in one of the highest forms of worship, that of producing new believers who love and worship Allah.
Life is about growth and finding our way and Keller’s commentary helped me see my way forward because it acknowledged the transition that happens when you become a mother. It validated my mourning of my previous life and reminded me that this trial of motherhood/parenthood (nursing, sleep deprivation, etc.) is worthy. This is what I needed to read that night so many years ago. The ebb and flow of existence moves us forward and at times it propels us into new experiences whether we are ready or not. This is what becoming a mother did for me.
Motherhood made me grow. I had to readjust and find new ways of existing within Islam, and it took me roughly a year to find a rhythm that worked. For instance, I had to set aside the image of the perfect Muslim mommy, because she was causing me undue stress; I could no longer compare myself to anyone. I had to give myself grace as I tried to reinvent myself and find a different path forward — a path that honored my old self while giving me space to grow and develop on my own terms.
Dr. Kimberly C. Harper @ronbett75 (Religion Co-Editor) is an Assistant Professor of English and director of the technical writing concentration at her alma mater North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) in Greensboro, NC. She teaches undergraduate courses in technical communication, rhetorical studies, hip-hop discourse, and visual rhetoric.