When I was innocent and new, she cradled me in her arms. As if time had stopped, we rocked slowly, her voice so close I could feel the warmth of her breath.
I can still hear her softly singing: “I love how your arms feel, whenever you hold me.”
A song of romance appropriated for the special love of a mother for her child.
I reveled in the scent of summer bed sheets, listening to cricket’s lullaby while she soothingly stroked my back. She woke me up gently. So lovingly that I knew in my sleep that she deserved a smile, and I woke up smiling, at her.
On summer mornings, she was already downstairs; a cooler packed with fruit, sandwiches and lemonade. Ready for a day at the beach. She watched as we swam and built sandcastle memories of endless summertime days.
Her days, hours, and sleep were ransomed in exchange for our smiles. Like a fountain, she gave and gave. She made me feel special. She made all of us feel special.
The Most Caring
Then before we realized what was going on, I was swept away. Whisked away by friends and fashion and a greed for independence.
It was adolescence, tainted by selfish pursuits. But, she was still there – my mother, believing in me, hoping for me, eager to see me happy. Even when that meant remaining quiet while my ungrateful teenage feet walked all over her.
And then there were the college years. After which, I found a letter she wrote. She wrote it to herself about the day I left. I had been excited to move into the dorms. I couldn’t wait to have my own refrigerator, my own key: freedom.
She didn’t say a detracting word. She helped me through it all, every step of the way, sharing in my joy. But, all alone she wrote to herself of the pain of leaving her first child, miles away. I never knew; too oblivious to realize that my empty room was like a hole in her heart. Days went by and I didn’t call.
Within those college years, I wanted to travel. They reluctantly allowed me to go to Kansas, then cross-country. I sent a postcard or two over the month during which I all but disappeared into the wilderness of the Wild West. It only got worse.
Next, I wanted to go to the other side of the world. I cracked open the nest egg my father had intended for me to use after graduation. I used all of it, drifting along on the currents of my whims without a second thought.
Little did I know, I was pulling on the heartstrings of the one who pulled herself apart to bring me into the world. I wandered away, happy and blind.
I returned months later, inspired. Next stop would be the most volatile section of the planet, embroiled in perpetual conflict.
This time, my parents put their foot down. I couldn’t go, they said. But I was free from compassion for the ones who lived to see me happy. As I sat in the airport waiting for my plane to board, I received a call.
It was my mother. She couldn’t let me defiantly disobey her and put my life in danger a thousand miles away without saying goodbye; without telling me she loved me.
The Most Loving
I imagine it must have been like a knife to my mother’s heart as that plane plunged into the skies. How she survived my disregard for her I don’t know, but I will always know now that her love is unbreakable.
After that, I submerged myself in the study of Islam. Like one thirsty and broken in a desert I drank in the Quran and every book I could find. And it was as if all my life I had been walking in darkness thinking it was daylight. My discovery was eye opening and earth shattering.
Heartbreaking even, for my mother.
After the tornado that was my adolescence, after disappearing into my studies, after wandering the world without a care, I came back. I finally came back.
This time I was beginning to understand that my mother is the single most important person in this world to me. Above friends. Above my studies.
Above my cravings for adventure. But, the very thing that had slapped me across the face and woke me up from my selfish stupor tore an impassable chasm between us.
The Best Supporter
I had to break the news one day. “I’m a Muslim, Mom.” It was awkward, but like she always had, she let me speak, and she listened with care.
She thoughtfully bought clothes for me when something that suited my new, more modest style caught her eye. However, I don’t think she was quite prepared for the day I showed up with a scarf wrapped all around my head.
I can’t remember what she said; it’s all a blur. I suppose I looked too unfamiliar, like someone from a far away land. Not the daughter she had raised. Perhaps it seemed things had gone too far.
I was back, but our family wasn’t the same family. I wanted us to be complete again, like we were when I was small, but instead I threw everything off balance. There was now this oddity, and it was me.
I just couldn’t figure out how to navigate the murky waters between my new faith, and my (new) family life. Overzealous and still a newbie lacking in deep knowledge, I overburdened them with Islam.
Islam had taught me that my mother was the most important person in my life. The one most worthy of my respect, my care, my compassion and whose wishes are most deserving of my honor.
I understood this, but I found myself already on the other side of that huge divide. Trying to express my love across a chasm, my words were lost in the wind. Our relationship was like an untended garden overrun with weeds, and my attempts at repairing it only got tangled up in the mess.
Bridging the Gap
When I decided to marry, my mom said he was a good match for my mind. Even with the approval, the marriage was just another whirlwind of chaos and emotions.
The cultural differences, the particularities, the food, the two very different families hesitantly coming together. Perhaps I could have slowed down and asked what I could do to make things easier.
When I was having my first child, I really began feeling at a loss. I would lie in bed at night, tears streaming, quietly soaking my pillow. Regret and sorrow over all the times I had taken my mother for granted, over all the times I rebelled and disrespected her.
With that first child though, came so much barakah. My daughter’s birth cleared the air and I felt closer to my mother and family. There was a common joy to share. My daughter helped bridge the gap that had seemed so insurmountable. Since then, there has been much more ease, but it’s still not easy.
Islam Taught Me
It was through Islam that I learned to appreciate my mother. She is the most important person to me on this planet. I no longer put my own desires above her, but I have to put the One who created us both above her. The One who gave her to me and me to her. By whose grace I was cradled in her arms with so much love. I’m grateful to my mother for all she has been to me, and to God for blessing me with her.
I feel that whatever I do it will never be enough to make up for my shortcomings. I long to go back to that love we had in the beginning. I want her to look at me and feel love again, not pain. So, I turn to Allah, and I plead for my mother. I pray she’ll be enveloped in His Mercy as I was enveloped in hers when I was young.
And We have enjoined on mankind (to be good) to parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: “Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) Destination. (Quran 31:14)
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)