Paradise at Your Feet

Today’s snowflake is al-Musawwir, the Shaper, the Fashioner, and the Former of all things, an apt choice for Mother’s Day, since our mothers are often the people who most shape our lives.

There is a common hadith in Islam (albeit not a strong one) that colloquially says, ‘Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.’ In my life, it was always used in the best possible context – as a way to remind us of how important the women in our lives are, how important women had been in the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). Indeed, though the Prophet’s own mother died when he was very young, he was mothered in many ways by the women who were part of his adult life, in particular, his beloved wife Khadija and his dearest daughter Fatima (peace be upon them). In fact, one of the monikers of Fatima was umm abiha, the mother of her father. In this way, the hadith about paradise being at a mother’s feet was always presented to me in a context that helped me to understand that it meant more than just the person who gave birth to you – instead it referred to a larger group of people, the village that raised you and cared for you and helped you to grow into who you were meant to be.

The other day, a client wished me happy Mother’s Day, and thanked me for the work I do in mothering her and my other clients. It’s strange that I had never thought about it in that way, but it is absolutely the essence of the work I do. Freud often spoke of therapeutic work allowing clients to project their issues around their fathers onto their psychotherapists, but my experience has been very much the opposite. I have the deeply humbling privilege of mothering my clients in the example set out by the tradition that I love – with unconditional positive regard, encouragement, support, and faith. And for many of my clients, it is the first healthy maternal relationship they have experienced. In fact, many have had the very same hadith that brings me such comfort and purpose used against them – as a way for the older women in their lives to guilt them into violating their own boundaries, continuing to live in toxic environments, and very much as a form of spiritual abuse.

Hearing that truth for the first time was a jarring experience for me, but an important one, because it reminded me again just how lucky I have been, both in the interpretation of Islam that I have been raised in, but also in how well I have been mothered by so many incredible people in my life. There is not a single day that goes by that I am not deeply grateful for the women who have raised me – the army of Maas and Aunties that kept a watchful eye as I grew and who cheer me on even now; the cousins and friends who were my partners in crime and who grew with me as we raised each other; the women who are in my life now, including so many of my clients, who continue to inspire me with their examples of strength and vulnerability, who are both powerful and fragile and who are learning to own that, as am I.

But on days like today, I am especially grateful to my foremothers and for their prayers. Bibi Khadija (peace be upon her), who was a badass boss lady long before it was a marketable thing, who loved her family and her work and made it clear you could do both; Bibi Fatima (peace be upon her), who was patient and pious but clear about her priorities and unwavering in her certainty about what was right; Bibi Zainab (peace be upon her), who unabashedly spoke truth to power and has been my ultimate model for what Islamic social justice really means. And my own grandmothers, who moved cities and countries and continents to give me this life that I love so much; who spent nights whispering prayers so deep and true that they shaped this reality for me out of nothingness; whose blood and sweat and tears are the wellspring from which I draw all my strength; and who loved me so hard that I cannot even write about them without crying, though they have been gone for decades now. And most of all my mother, who is my beacon of hope and truth, who still prays for me every day and whose prayers I am convinced reach Allah long before mine, because her faith is so strong. More than any other person in my life, my mother has shaped who I am – she has taught me what it means to believe, what it means to hope, and what it means to truly love and I am so so blessed.

It is in honour of these women, knowing the gifts they have left for me and the life they shaped for me, that I mother those that Allah sends my way. I fundamentally believe that it’s the reason why I was given these blessings – so that they can be passed and multiplied. So I want you to know that even if today is hard for you – because your relationship to your mother is difficult or complicated, or because your mother is gone, or because you want to be mother and cannot, or for any of a hundred other reasons – this day is still for you. It is for you as you mother yourself through the hardship, as you love yourself in spite of it all, as you build a community of friends and chosen family that care for you and ease your path. And if that path includes me, I want you to know I am so grateful and I never take that choice for granted.

In my heart of hearts, I always think of Allah as a wizened old woman, her hands wrinkled with time and days spent rolling out roti, her hair orange with mehndi, and her eyes soft. When I am having a dark day, I imagine putting my head on her lap and crying out my troubles, knowing that although I still have to get up and fix them myself, that her love is real and true and lives inside of me, always. If you’re having a dark day, I hope her lap is a comfort to you too, and that you hear her wisdom and her love in your heart of hearts.

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