The Arabic word for mother is Umm. The root letters of umm is alif, meem and meem. Why does this Arabic morphology matter? Because it is profound how the same root letters have given birth to words such as imaam (leader, guide), amaama (front) and Ummah (nation). Another meaning of the word umm is foundation. The Arabic word for mother tells us all. A mother is a child’s guide, leader, foundation and very well capable of nurturing and changing a nation! A mother’s contribution and her influence is greater than that of the father’s (or anyone else’) in a child’s life.
Ibn Maajah recorded Prophet Muhammed (saws)’s advice to men, “Choose for your seeds (a good mother), for indeed breeding is a strategy”. This advice is a clear evidence from the Prophet (saws) that mothers are the foundation of good upbringing of the child. Good upbringing begins by choosing a virtuous woman as a child’s mother who can have a good influence on the child.
This can be further understood from the Hadith of Umar (ra). A man once came to ‘Umar bin Al-Khattaab complaining about his son being undutiful to him. He had brought his son with him and began blaming him for his disobedience, so the son asked: “Doesn’t a son have a right over his father also?” ‘Umar said: “Of course.” The son said: “Then what is it?” ‘Umar replied: “That his father carefully chooses a mother for him, that he gives him a good name and that he teaches him the Qur’aan.” In this hadith of Umar (ra) we see the echo of Prophet’s advice which we mentioned earlier. A good mother is the right of the child given the responsibilities and influence she has towards her child.
The mother’s direct influence on the child begins while the child is still in the mother’s womb. The mother has a unique opportunity that a father does not have. Between about 29 weeks and 33 weeks of pregnancy, the baby becomes capable of hearing the mother’s voice. Studies of newborn behaviour show that babies get used to the melody and voices they’ve heard in the womb. When the baby is born, if he hears sounds he’s heard before birth, it may relax and soothe him. The newborn may also pay more attention to the voice of the mother. Consequently, it is advised to the pregnant Muslim women to recite plenty of Quran so the child gets familiar with the Words of Allah. A bond that begins between the mother and child during pregnancy continues to foster during breastfeeding. The child connects with her mother in a way that he does not connect with others, both physically and emotionally. The better a child’s bond with her mother the more the mother is able to nurture her child.
A mother is also the home maker, she has the opportunity of creating and maintaining an Islamic aura in her home. She is responsible for running the home in accordance to the Shari’ah. This huge responsibility of the mother is manifested in the hadith of the Prophet (saws) who said, “A woman is a guardian over the household of her husband and his children and shall be questioned about them (as to how she managed the household and brought up the children).” [Sahih Muslim]
A mother as they say is the child’s first school. We may even add further that she is the child’s best school. A teacher or book may “teach” Islamic subjects to the child, however, a mother is the one who can successfully nurture faith and guide the child through her actions, good manners and expressing genuine concern for him for the goodness in this world and the next. It is well known that a child learns best when he sees what is to be done rather than being told what is to be done. A baby starts imitating those around him especially his parents and siblings as a necessary part of the development. As a mother usually spends much more time with the child than a father or anyone else the child takes her mother as a role model. The mother thus has a greater opportunity to represent the characteristics of a sincere slave of Allah through her words and deeds throughout the day. As the child explores the world around him he relies on his mother to seek answers to his various curious questions. The mother is thus able to grab this opportunity and is able to guide the child in all walks of life in an Islamic way.
With a bond that is so well nourished between the mother and the child beginning from nine months of pregnancy to breastfeeding years to the early years of child rearing a mother continues to be the model of immense support, influence, guidance and comfort for the child throughout her life.
In the Islamic history, we see amazing examples of the great influence mothers had on their children. Some of these mothers were in fact single mothers. Yet they raised warriors, leaders, scholars and outstanding personalities of the Ummah. Asma’ (ra), Safiya (ra), mother of Imam Shafi’ee and the mother of Imam Rabiy’a are a few of the many golden examples.