by Fudia Muhammad
My daughter and I recently returned from visiting the country of my birth, Sierra Leone; a small country on the west coast of Africa whose entire population is less than New York City’s. Like most developing countries, there is a struggle to find the balance between making modern advancements to improve the quality of life for its citizens, while at the same time preserving the cultural norms and mores that make a country and its people cohesive and unique. We witnessed examples of this delicate balancing act in many realms, including child rearing.
Since my sister and I were both reared in the United States, my mother never hesitated to share as much as she could about life in Sierra Leone, primarily surrounding the years of her youth. After I had my first child; she reminded me of a tradition that I recalled her mentioning many times prior, but it never meant as much to me as it did when I was a new mother. She said that when she was young, whenever a woman had a baby; a family member – usually a young woman, sometimes in her teens, would move into the home to assist the new mother with her household chores, cooking, and tending to the other children so that the mother could focus exclusively on bonding with, nursing and caring for her new baby. She would remain in the home for at least three months. What a remarkable custom! Now you may be able to get similar assistance in the United States but you are definitely going to have to pay for it.
The United States remains far behind both developing and advanced countries when it comes to demonstrating in a tangible way that motherhood is sacred and family is a priority. Not only do we not expect ANY additional help after having a baby, but if we were working prior to, we are rushed to get back. According to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which DOES NOT cover every American (only around 60%); new parents are entitled to twelve weeks leave, but often it is a combination of unpaid and paid leave. Juxtapose this to Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Norway, Sweden and most other countries who not only offer paid leave, but for a substantially longer period – some up to 52 weeks and beyond. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid maternity leave and it is one of only four countries in the world (Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Swaziland) not to guarantee paid maternity leave.
Mothers must have adequate time to heal, adjust and bond with their babies. This is necessary for the overall health of both mother and baby; but also the overall strength of our families. There is no question about the immediate physical health benefits of maternity leave; but studies of European countries also show that there are long term mental health benefits for mothers who receive “paid” maternity leave. Governmental policies are a clear reflection of the values and priorities that prevail in cities, states and nations.
According to the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the majority of an expectant mother’s maternity leave should actually take place during pregnancy. The Sisters are expected to take maternity leave from the mosque beginning at the third month of pregnancy and ending no sooner than three months after the baby’s birth. This is a total of nine months; six during pregnancy and three after. Why is that? When asked this question via Twitter, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan responded, “Women who are pregnant, as they grow in their pregnancy it becomes uncomfortable for them to sit and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad did not want the sisters to be spectacles of the brothers. It is wise that she’s in an environment where her husband sees her evolving, where her husband loves and nurtures and cares for her – where her friends in the M.G.T. Class come and visit her! And where she’s constantly feeding on The Word without others ‘feeding their eyes’ on her. After birth: That’s a critical time for the mother and the child to begin bonding.”
After all, maternity is defined as “the period during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth.” In this column we regularly emphasize the significance of a woman’s mental and physical state, as well as her environment during pregnancy; and how all of these elements directly impact the baby. If being away from the mosque for two-thirds of the pregnancy is good for the mother and her new baby; then what about time away from work? Unfortunately, the enemy has made it so that it is very difficult (though not impossible) for any household to have adequate income with one salary – many women have to work, sometimes for the entire duration of their pregnancy. This is insane and proof that we do not live in a society that believes family should be prioritized. Nor does this way of life show the proper reverence and respect for the gift of life.
Allah (God) is Al-Muhyi, The Giver of Life. We are NOT self-created. No soul comes into existence without the express knowledge and permission of Allah (God). The gift of life is the single most precious gift that we could ever receive. Our children are from Him – He is The Source. The Holy Qur’an reads, “Allah’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He pleases. He grants females to whom He pleases and grants males to whom He pleases, Or He grants them both males and females, and He makes whom He pleases, barren. Surely He is Knower, Powerful” (42: 49-50).
Great care must be taken during pregnancy to protect the sacred life of the baby. We would have to rack our brains in order to imagine any work environment outside of the home that is conducive for pregnancy; physically and mentally. Stress agitates the mind and the body, which alters our behavior. Stress unchecked contributes to a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure and heart disease. Every woman who does not have the benefit of maternity leave during and after pregnancy is vulnerable to health risks – the level of that vulnerability depends on the demands of her job. Allowing our mothers to be exposed to any such risk should be unacceptable.
With that being said, we would be foolish to expect the United States government to be the moral example for the rest of the world and implement a policy that is fair and just. Therefore, it is up to us to prepare and plan as best we can so that we can implement what the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad desired for expectant mothers. Studies show that “women with unintended pregnancies return to work sooner than those with intended pregnancies.” Therefore, planning and saving is crucial. It is a small sacrifice to be able to offer our mothers-to-be a proper sanctuary where she can co-operate and co-create with The Giver of Life – giving her added serenity and stability; and the best opportunity to give birth to a god.
Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)