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Engy Abdelkader

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What Mother's Day Means to One American Muslim

Posted: 05/ 8/11 12:01 AM ET

In its current form, what we know as Mother's Day, is a secular American holiday the celebration of which cuts across religious and cultural lines. This Sunday, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics and others will honor the female caregivers in their lives with varied tokens of appreciation.

In fact, Mother's Day is not an exclusively American holiday but rather recognized in many countries across the world. In Egypt, for instance, "Eid al-Umm" -- which literally translates from Arabic as "Festival of the Mother" -- is celebrated in March. Similar festivals take place in a number of other Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Tunisia, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, to name a few.

This is not surprising, however, since the religion of Islam places high regard to the status of motherhood. Having grown up in an observant Muslim household, my mother often reminded me of this well-known hadith, or narration involving the Prophet Muhammad whom Muslims consider as the seal to God's long line of spiritual Messengers:

"A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and said, 'To whom should I be dutiful?' Prophet Muhammad said, 'Your mother.' The man said. 'Who is next?' Prophet Muhammad said, 'Your mother.' The man further said, 'Who is next?'Prophet Muhammad said, 'Your mother.' The man asked for the fourth time, 'Who is next?' Prophet Muhammad said, 'Your father.'

This particular narration flies in the face of inaccurate characterizations of Islam, and the Prophet Muhammad, as misogynistic. The questioner in this narration is instructed three times to respect his mother, and fulfill his moral and legal obligations towards her, before any mention is made of her male counterpart (e.g. father).

The highly revered mother -- and in fact, woman -- in Islamic tradition is the Virgin Mother Mary. Now, it is interesting to note, that our Mother's Day celebration actually has ancient and historical roots including Christian ones where the day commemorated Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Islamic tradition, the Virgin Mother Mary is considered superior to all the women who lived before or after her as exemplified by the following verse from the Quran (the Muslim equivalent of the Bible and Torah and regarded by the faithful as the literal word of God):

"Behold! The angels said: 'O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee -- chosen thee above the women of all nations." (Chapter 3, Verse 42).

Mary is the only woman explicitly mentioned by name in the Quran, and an entire chapter is named after her: the title of Chapter 19 is "Maryam" which translates from Arabic as "Mary." It relates the story of the Immaculate Conception as well as Mary's labor. The Chapter of Mary also describes the birth of Jesus, who is characterized in the Quran as one in a long line of prophets and messengers from God, including: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses and Aaron.

A modest woman who preserved her chastity and struggled to raise a good son to serve humanity, Muslims -- here and abroad -- regard Mary as a role model who epitomizes motherhood and womanhood. Christians and Muslims share common ground in this regard.

Mother's Day in its current form was founded by Anna Jarvis as a day to honor one's mother. It is significant to note that Jarvis was a pacifist and it is in her spirit that I reflect and share Muslim beliefs about motherhood, and the Virgin Mother Mary in particular, in an effort to achieve greater inter-cultural and -religious understanding to reduce conflict and tension seemingly so rampant in today's society. Happy Mother's Day.

Engy Abdelkader is a new mother, attorney and member of the American Muslim community.