Motherhood in the Quran
Dr. Maher Hathout, May 14, 2006

The cases of the Mothers in the Quran are always accompanied by a sense of testing, challenge, anguish.For each one of these cases there is a reason for this difficulty.

Mother of Musa (Moses)

"Behold! We sent to thy mother, by inspiration, the message: Throw (the child) into the chest, and throw (the chest) into the river: the river will cast him up on the bank, and he will be taken up by one who is an enemy to Me and an enemy to him': But I cast (the garment of) love over thee from Me: and (this) in order that thou mayest be reared under Mine eye. Quran (20:38-39)

Allah told the Mother of Musa through inspiration to do this unbelievable, challenging, trying and testing act that is to place her newborn son in the chest and throw it into the river to be picked up by the one who is an enemy of
Allah and an enemy of Musa.

How much faith and comfort a mother would have to respond to this call from Allah to throw her son and some people say that after all she did not have a choice because Pharaoh is killing the sons. Nonetheless it is quite
difficult to convince a mother to throw her son to the unknown like that.

Allah did not say that her son will be taken to safety and instead He said that the baby will be picked up by the one who is an enemy of Allah and an enemy of Musa. She must have been a very strong and faithful mother.

In arabic language the word 'fa' means 'immediately' i.e. to place him immediately in the chest and without much delay throw the chest into the river. This shows the sensitivity in the Quran that one cannot prolong the agony because the mother could change her mind.

"Behold! thy sister goeth forth and saith, 'shall I show you one who will nurse and rear the (child)?' So We brought thee back to thy mother, that her eye might be cooled and she should not grieve. Then thou didst slay a man, but We saved thee from trouble, and We tried thee in various ways. Then
didst thou tarry a number of years with the people of Midian. Then didst thou come hither as ordained, O Moses! Quran (20:40)

Musa's sister goes around and finds that Pharaoh's wife picked up the chest and seemed to love the child, the sister came forward like a stranger and said: shall I search out a good wet-nurse for the child so that she may rear the child. She agreed and the sister brought the mother and she openly fed the child.

There is a notion in the story that Allah interferes deliberately just for one purpose that this faithful mother needs to be comforted. This step was not needed but somehow Allah showed the sensitivity and empathy to the
mother that her son will return to her at least under her direct supervision.


Mother of Yahya (John)

(His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before." He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?" He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!'" (Zakariya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights, although thou art not dumb." So Zakariya came out to his people from him chamber: He told them by signs to celebrate Allah's praises in the morning and in the evening. Quran (19:7-11)

Yahya's father Zakariya was an old man and there was a need for an heir to carry the legacy of the message. Zakariya's wife was also old. Allah wanted him to have a very special child. We know that Yahya played an important role in the chain of messengers because he was the one who conveyed the message and also who took care of Isa (Jesus).

But his wife came forward (laughing) aloud: she smote her forehead and said: "A barren old woman!" Quran (51:29)

The trial is not for Zakariya but to his wife, the old woman who has to go through the tribulations to having that child. Nonetheless the father was skeptical of having a child in the old age but on the contrary the mother
was joyful and cheerful about that situation and she came laughing aloud.

She just had a positive attitude about the whole thing and cheerfulness that she could not hide even through this strange situation.

Mother of Isa (Jesus)

Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: "I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah." He said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son. Quran (19:16-19)

She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" He said: "So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us':It is a matter (so) decreed." So she conceived him, and she retired with
him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. Quran (19:20-25)

Maryam's (Mary) trial was also very hard. Maryam, a chaste and a respectful woman of the society finds all of a sudden that she will have a baby. She seeks refuge in Allah to protect her. She was wondering how she can have a child affirming her chastity. Quran explains the miraculous conception. In the pain of labor, Maryam wishes that she would rather die than go through this. Allah comforts and guides her.

"So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'" At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing
thing hast thou brought! "O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!" But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah. He hath given me revelation and made me a
prophet; Quran (19:26-30)

"And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; "(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! Such
(was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is. Quran (19-31-35)

She delivers the baby and goes back to her people. Her people immediately remind her about her pious and respectful family. And Allah made the newborn defend her mother. Baby Isa said he is NOT the son of Allah but the servant of Allah. And Isa said he will be kind to his mother.

We can see the gratitude Baby Isa had towards his mother who went through all these trials.

Foster Mother

And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: "O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong"; Quran (66:11)

Pharaoh's wife prays to Allah that she needs a house in the heaven and she wants Allah to save her from Pharaoh and his doings and from those who do wrong.

The wife of Pharaoh said: "(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for thee: slay him not. It may be that he will be use to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (what they were doing)! Quran (28:9)

One can appreciate her good attitude when she finds the baby (Musa) inside the chest. She says that the baby is a pleasure to her eyes and her mother's instinct starts taking over. She says to Pharaoh not to kill the baby and says the baby might be of benefit to them. Here is the mother's instinct that is saying that they will adopt him as a son.

Kindness to Mother

And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), "Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) Goal. Quran (31:14)

We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth. The carrying of the (child) to his weaning is (a period of) thirty months. At length, when he reaches the age of full strength and attains forty years, he says, "O my Lord! Grant me that
I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou has bestowed upon me, and upon both my parents, and that I may work righteousness such as Thou mayest approve; and be gracious to me in my issue. Truly have I turned to Thee and truly do I bow (to Thee) in Islam." Quran (46:15)

Quran ordains to be kind to one's parents and especially to the mother.

Then, is it to be expected of you, if ye were put in authority, that ye will do mischief in the land, and break your ties of kith and kin? Quran (47:22)

All the family and relationships mentioned in the Quran refer to the womb (rahim). Allah instructs not to break the ties of the womb when put in authority.


Motherhood in Modern times

For the first time in the history, Motherhood has become a matter of question. Throughout the history from Adam and Eve and up until now the motherhood was never questioned. The mother gets pregnant, delivers a baby
and she is the mother of the child but with the advent of modern science, people can tamper with that.

One can commercially contract motherhood and what is known as Surrogacy, which creates horrendous problems that are both moral and practical and has become an issue of debate.

The surrogate mother may have been quite willing to surrender the child upon birth, but she may have become unwilling to do so after birth. This behavioral change is often termed as "maternal instinct," in the pregnant
woman. The result is that they go to the court and usually the courts rule based on the breach of the contract.

Like any pregnancy, it is impossible to predict the outcome. If the surrogate mother delivers a baby with serious disabilities, would the commissioning couple accept an abnormal child?

I have attended many conferences where many Muslim jurists and doctors participated to address the issue of surrogate motherhood and here are the conclusions.

1. Islam does not accept the practice of surrogacy because it is demeaning.
2. If it happens, the (surrogate) woman who delivers the baby is considered as the Mother. None can be their mothers except those who gave them birth (Quran 58:2).

On the positive side, Modern Science established a very interesting point that came as result of stem cell research. Stem cells that are the primitive cells in the embryo that have not gone through the process of cell differentiation and therefore have the potential to give rise to many different kinds of specialized cells. For instance a stem cell could be used to produce liver cells, brain cells, heart muscle cells, blood cells, etc.

Dr. Omar Alfi, a scientist in Genetics explains, "During pregnancy the fetus leaks the stem cells that goes to the mother and becomes part of her."

So each mother is carrying in her the parts of the original material that made her child. Hence with the advent of modern science the mother-child relationship is much more than what we had ever known before. This probably
explains the hadith of the Prophet when he was asked, 'O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, 'Then who?' The Prophet said: Then your father. (Bukhari).


Excerpts from the Sunday lecture addressed by Dr. Maher Hathout at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles on May 14, 2006.