This is a question I have seen discussed recently as Mother’s Day is approaching. Many Muslims, however, may be oblivious to the issue and have no qualms when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day. For many, the idea makes sense, especially given the high position and regard mothers are given in Islam. There are many Quran verses and hadith highlighting the special place parents, and especially mothers, hold:
“Now (among the good deeds) we have enjoined on humans is the best treatment towards his parents. His mother bore him in pain, and in pain did she give him birth.” (Quran 46:15).
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him alone, and treat parents with the best of kindness. Should one of them, or both, attain old age in your lifetime, do not say ‘Ugh!’ to them (as an indication of complaint or impatience), nor push them away, and always address them in gracious words. Lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy, and say: ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they cared for me in childhood.'”(Quran 17:23-24).
“The Prophet Muhammad said, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him: ‘Paradise lies at the feet of your mother'” [Musnad Ahmad, Sunan An-Nasâ’i, Sunan Ibn Mâjah]
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 then asked: Then who? So the Prophet replied again: “Your mother.” The man then asked: Then who? So he replied: “Then your father.” (Sahîh Bukhârî 5971 and Sahîh Muslim 7/2)
So, then, with mothers being in such a high position among Muslims, what would be the problem with celebrating Mother’s Day? It turns out there are two issues: the origins of the holiday, and the fact that nothing similar was celebrated during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
To understand why Muslims should question whether or not they should celebrate secular holidays, first let’s consider what the Prophet and his companions did. In that time, the Muslims turned away from the worldly holidays and only celebrated the two Islamic holidays (Eid): Eid Al-Fitr (end of Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). Here are some well-known hadith regarding holidays:
It was narrated that Anas ibn Maalik said: “During the Jaahiliyyah [days of ignorance before Islam], the people had two days each year when they would play. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Medina he said, ‘You had two days on which you would play, but Allah has given you something better than them: the day of al-Fitr and the day of al-Adha.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, 1134; al-Nasaa’i, 1556; classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani).
Remember the hadith of ‘Aa’ishah in Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim where she narrated that on the Day of Eid , two young girls were doing a special performance for her (singing some songs). When Abu Bakr came to visit the Prophet and found these girls with ‘Aa’ishah, he rebuked them harshly. So the Prophet (who had been facing the wall), said: “Abu Bakr, (know that) every group of people has its Eid (festival). And this is our Eid.”
“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: He who copies any people is one of them.” – Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 32, #4020 – Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar.
For many, these hadith alone are significant enough to discourage from celebrating any secular holidays. But to continue, I think it’s important to take a look at the history of Mother’s Day. Like many secular holidays, Mother’s Day has confusing origins, but has essentially evolved over time to take the form we now see today. Although in recent history Mother’s Day has been closely linked to Christian churches, it also has ties to pagan celebrations in its early history.
The earliest records of celebrations honoring mothers can be traced back to ancient Egypt. At that time, an annual festival was held in honor of the goddess Isis — the “Mother of the Pharaohs.” In ancient Rome and Greece, yearly festivals were held honoring the goddess Cybele, whom they referred to as “Magna Mater” meaning “the Great Mother.” This festival, which the Romans called the festival of Hilaria, was held around March 15-28.
As Christianity grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, the festival of Hilaria became merged with Catholic tradition and evolved into Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. On that day, Christians honored the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, as well as their “Mother Church” (the church they were baptized in). In the 17th century in England, this celebration changed to not only include Jesus’ mother, but all mothers. It became known as Mothering Day, or Mothering Sunday.
Early American settlers from England abandoned Mothering Day (possibly for its contradiction to Puritan ideals), only for it to be picked up again centuries later. Mother’s Day in the U.S. was originally thought of by Julia Ward Howe, who made a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, as a protest against the agonies of the Civil War in which many mothers lost their sons. On a small scale, some celebrated Mother’s Day June 2, though it eventually withered out. The seed Howe planted, however, later grew again 1908. It was at that time the Anna M. Jarvis founded the present day Mother’s Day holiday. The first Mother’s Day celebration was held May 10, 1908 at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, to honor and celebrate the life of Anna Jarvis’ deceased mother, who had been inspired by Howe and always thought there should be a Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis then devoted herself to the creation of Mother’s Day as a national holiday honoring all mothers. However, Jarvis eventually protested the continuation of Mother’s Day due to its commercialization and the flower industry’s exploitation of it. She is quoted as saying of what Mother’s Day had become: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”
Personally, what I take away from this contemplation of Mother’s Day is that mothers should be celebrated and doted on throughout the year, not just on one day a year. As if one day were enough to pay them back for everything they have done for us– certainly not! And instead, what I see is that Mother’s Day has become the day to remember your mom, because you forgot about her the rest of the year. I heard a commercial on the radio today, advertising a gift for Mother’s Day that went something like this: “On Mother’s Day, show your mom you care with . . . (such and such gift).” It suddenly sounded to me like you have to show your mom you care with a gift, because otherwise she wouldn’t know it since you don’t actually show it in other ways– like the only way to show her you care is to buy her a present.
A few days ago I read a very sad article that actually prompted me to write this post. It was titled: “The Most Popular Day for Moms to Cheat on Their Husbands Is . . .” The answer being, the day after Mother’s Day. Although this speaks volumes of the moral disintegration of our society, it also hints to the low place mothers actually hold. For me, the point was summed in their speculation as to why the day after Mother’s Day has become such: “Our society holds motherhood on a pedestal, glorifying it for its virtues and selfless nature, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we don’t do all that much in the way of helping moms escape the drudgery and hardship that come with the deal. Cards and flowers and a nice breakfast are lovely, but do they really make up for the weeks of no sleep, the 6 AM carpools, and the piles of mushy Cheerios perpetually left on the floor?”
My purpose of this post was not to criticize those who celebrate Mother’s Day. My own mom is not Muslim and I think she would be deeply hurt if I suddenly decided to boycott the holiday, at least at this point (I would need time to help her understand my reasons). Rather, my purpose is to make Muslims, and even non-Muslims, re-consider this holiday and what it really symbolizes.
So this Mother’s Day, whether or not you will be celebrating it, maybe think about what your mother really means to you, what she has done for you, what she has sacrificed for you, and make a commitment not to just treat her special one day a year, but all year round.
The details of the history of Mother’s Day was gathered primarily from reading the following online sites: Mother’s Day Central and Wikipedia. More thorough research was also conducted simply to cross-check the facts outlines on these sites.