My 2-month-old baby Tariq had been crying for the past six hours. His rhythmic plea, whah, whah, whah, whah; was a desperate cry for help, an appeal to humanity. I was pacing with my arms wrapped around his soft but strong 12-pound body as he howled; his back arched, face red, eyes pinched and mouth gaping in audible torment.
The dim night light in the open kitchen enveloped the adjoining living room in a brown film, as a fan on the counter hummed at full blast, unable to cut through the heavy humid air. It was 2:37A.M. and a blistering summer night.
I was one of those moms who wanted to do everything right; no short cuts. I took Tariq on long walks in a front carrier and pointed out every flower, every bird, every ladybug I noticed, and told him these were all gifts from God. We spent hours in the rocking chair while I read to him from colorful board books, knowing how precious this time was, and knowing that before too long I will be the one trying to squeeze into his busy schedule. I cuddled my baby, nursed him before he had to cry out of hunger, played with him, and describing every activity I did in that motherly running-commentary fashion the baby books encouraged. My sense of well-being was innately tied to his, and as long as the sun was shining, I was a capable, in control mother, with a happy, well cared for child.
This sense of competence would unravel with the fading of the daylight. It was always the same: my otherwise contented, healthy child would begin to fuss at around 6:00 p.m. and then his irritation would turn into all out war by around 8:00 p.m. and continue into the night. I dreaded the darkness, the backdrop to my weakest moments. After the third hour of trying unsuccessfully to comfort him, I would move beyond rational thought, when all that would seem real was the screaming, when it was the only sound I could imagine. No matter what anyone tried to tell me about how "normal" it was, Tariq's inconsolable crying tormented me with worry and shook my mothering confidence at the root.
Doctors told me all this was "just'"colic. But with my husband working nights, to me it was no less than a test of faith.
That night, as the summer heat wrapped around my body like a heavy wool coat, I bounced Tariq, walked across the living room, and sang every song I knew. Water! The faucet had worked last night, I desperately remembered. I turned on the water in the kitchen sink full blast. The crying ceased. Tariq looked at the sparkling stream in silent surprise. Thank God, I sighed and leaned against the counter. At that moment, he started screaming again; the novelty of the water had worn off.
Tariq continued to scream, as if begging me for help. "Something hurts me, Mommy. Rescue me," I heard him cry to his powerless mother.
As a last desperate attempt and more to calm myself than Tariq, I began to say the call to prayer as loud as I could, Allahu akbar...Allaaaaaaaahu akbar ; "God is greater, God is greater." The profound meaning of these familiar words came alive for me in this moment of need. God is greater than this situation, I thought. God is greater than this moment of difficulty. God is greater than this weakness I feel.
Apparently startled, Tariq stopped crying and looked at me with his round black eyes glistening in the glow of the kitchen night-light.
Ash-hadu aLa Ihlaha illah Allah, I went on: "I bear witness there is no god but God." He is sufficient as a helper, I told myself, He is sufficient as a friend. I was not alone.
I felt the weight of Tariq's head as he rested it against my shoulder while I continued, Ash-hadu annah Muhammadan rasul allaaaaaaaah: "I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God." I let the heavy meaning of this statement sink into my consciousness, now rendered pliant by my new found humility, ready to hear, ready to understand. He is the prophet of God, I silently repeated. What he said was Truth, absolute truth, and I must believe it whole-heartedly.
When Muhammad told a man to stay home from jihad to take care of his mother because "paradise is at her feet," that was truth, and when he advised another to honor his mother three times above his father, that was truth.
Such status cannot be easy to achieve, I realized. Such reverence is earned. There is honor in this endeavor, there is privilege in it. I was joining the ranks of some of the greatest and most important people in human history. I was a mother!
An immense wave of tranquility had drowned my tension. The drone of the fan seemed imposing now in the new stillness of the room. The small couch and chair in the living room, my silent witnesses, were covered with a golden blanket of soft light, thrown upon them by the tiny lamp in the kitchen. Tariq's soft cheeks were pressed against my shoulder and he was sound asleep.
I looked down at my son, the test, responsibility, and gift God had entrusted me with, and was awestruck. There in the dim light with his eyelids closed and laced with long black eyelashes, his pink cheeks bulging into his button nose, and his heart-shaped lips resting peacefully, he was a miracle, a sign of the Divine.
I understood at that moment that to draw closer to the Merciful, I had to strive to eternalize His attributes as much as is possible with my limited human capacity.
This bittersweet journey called motherhood had brought me one step closer to understanding AlRahman, AlRaheem; the All Merciful, the Most Benevolent.For I knew that the immense love, tenderness and compassion that I felt for my son, all my unconditional love, all my limitless giving, was infinitely dwarfed by God's love and mercy. I was just one mother, one insignificant speck in the family of creation, sharing in the mercy bestowed on mothers by God.
Recognizing my smallness erupted in me an epiphany of God's greatness, and the magnitude of His benevolence. While bestowing one part of mercy on the Earth for all mothers to share, He had saved ninety-nine parts for Himself.
I felt hot tears well up in my eyes as I whispered, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, La illah illa Allah; "God is greater, God is greater, there is no god but God," completing the ancient call to prayer as it had been recited by billions before me for the past 1400 years. Yet on that night, I felt these words were spoken especially for me, like a personal letter from a friend.