3 Prayers for Palestinian Mother’s Day
Being a mother for the first time is such a surreal experience. You need some time to wrap your head around the idea that a little human being has come into this world and is fully and completely reliant on you. While it's a lot of pressure to handle, it's the most beautiful thing to know that you are nourishing and growing this baby and that you are the most essential part of their happiness. As much as motherhood makes you get in touch with your emotions and feelings, it also empowers you, something I’m continually learning. It gives you the drive to push on when you feel like you can't do it anymore. It gives you courage to stand up for what is right.
For me personally, motherhood completely changed me. I was able to love like I have never loved before. My heart was softened, not only for my baby but for anybody who is weaker and less fortunate than I am. It also made me feel with mothers who either had to be separated from their children or were never given the gift of a child.
In the Arab/Muslim culture women are valued for their ability to reproduce and not by their career, or physical or intellectual contribution to society. The belief that God made women for sex, reproduction and the house is, unfortunately, a widespread belief in this culture.
Thankfully, my parents raised us in a completely different way. Growing up, my mother was a full-time working mother who was career-driven, but at the same time, she did not push the responsibility of the family to the side, but gave us the energy and care we needed. She always joked about how my sisters and I shouldn’t think of marriage until we have earned at least a master’s degree and have a couple years of work experience.
My father is also quite progressive in his thinking and would consider himself a feminist. He would always tell us that when his eldest (my sister) was born, he was so happy that he had a girl that he invited people over for mansaf (a meal that is served on the most important occasions). Usually families will only serve mansaf when they have a boy, but my dad wanted to make a point that girls are no less than boys. In all honesty sometimes his feminism is a bit extreme, like when he tries to convince us to break cultural taboos that might be better observed, at least in some contexts. Once he tried to convince my little sister (15 at the time), who went to high school in Amman, that it’s completely fine for her and her friends to go out to the mall wearing shorts! Obviously, this is a big cultural no-no, especially in Amman, and thankfully my sister is smart enough to never do something so preposterous!
To return to my earlier point, our Palestinian culture is very biased towards boys. They have the notion that boys carry the family name, and that they bring pride and honor to the family. On the other hand girls can bring shame and dishonor.
When I was pregnant, my husband and I told everyone that we were hoping to have a baby girl, and it was our attempt to try and break that stereotype of favoring boys over girls. In all honesty, we were really wishing we would have a girl. We were thinking we would raise her to be strong-willed, passionate, career-driven, justice-driven and educated -- the same way my parents raised me. Of course she would love God and her family and be raised with a high moral standard and so on as well. But we also thought the same exact thing when we found out that we were going to have a baby boy. We were a little disappointed that we weren't going to buy the bows and dresses, but we were thrilled anyways.
Of course there are a lot of people who don’t fit this cultural stereotype and don’t believe that boys are better than girls. For example, I have a religious Muslim Palestinian-American boss at work, and when his third daughter was born last year, and I told him that I was pregnant with a boy, he said this to me: “When the baby comes, you are so happy, that nothing else matters. My daughter brings so much joy to me, sometimes I don’t feel like leaving the house in the morning because I just want to play with her and watch her smile.” I thank God for men and women in our culture who value their children regardless of their gender.
As we are getting close to Palestinian mother’s day, there are many thoughts in my mind, many wishes and prayers for Palestinian society. Perhaps you’ll join me in thinking about or praying for these issues as well.
- I pray that our culture would change its view on gender and would love and raise girls like they raise boys.
- I pray that Palestinian culture would not place value on women in terms of their ability to have children, for there are many silent women among us who are barren or still childless and feel shame over something they can’t control. These women are often viewed as useless or are constantly asked about when they will have children in ways that hurt them. I pray for them to know they are valued simply because they are human, made in God’s image, and I pray that they find healing and know God’s love.
- I also pray for Palestinian mothers who have had to be separated from their sons and daughters for political reasons, whether it's because they are in prison, or because they are physically separated as a result of checkpoints and borders. Since having my baby boy, this fear has become more real. I am always thinking of Palestinian mothers who have had their little boys taken to prison because there was stone throwing the night before, and I wonder if this will ever happen to me. May God comfort their hearts and bring peace to our souls.