Strange, but true, birthdays are one of those odd hot button topics that jump up at you once you become a ‘Muslim Mother’.
Along with those fleeting questions about things like allowing my children to watch Peppa Pig (yes) or saying ‘Happy Holidays’ in December (we say ‘Merry Christmas’ too), it’s just one of those things I never thought would seriously feature in my adult conversations.
Growing up, my parents, particularly my mother, made sure that every birthday was celebrated.
It was rarely a huge event, but there was always family, sometimes friends, presents and cake. This is a day to be grateful to Allah for giving you another year, Mama would say, right before I blew out the candles and she made one of those under-the-breath mother dua’s for my protection and goodness.
As I got older, she encouraged me to pledge some action for the next twelve months – one year I remember promising to have a vegetable garden and in another to get some poetry published. Regardless of whether it was a success (the veggie patch) or a failure (getting published), the ritual of making annual resolutions stayed with me and so, in addition to being a day of festivity, my birthday also became a day where I could evaluate the past year of my life and plan for the next – a kind of personal state of the union.
It should have been obvious to me that the reason my birthday was so important to Mama was because it was her ‘Birth Day’ as well. But in reality, it was not until I myself became a mother that I realised what a birthday truly signifies.
Every year, on the day they were born, we share with our children the story of their birth. They aren’t very old yet – six and three – but on that morning, while the sun is still rising, we cuddle up together and tell them how they came to be.
We start at the very beginning – of how they were a soul, created by Allah, Most Loving and Generous, and kept by Him. How we were a pair, living just the two of us in this little home. We share how our hearts felt so full of love they were overflowing, the way a glass overflows when we can’t stop pouring into it and how one day, we put up our hands and asked Allah to send us a child with whom to share all this love which was spilling out – a little person who would be blessed and bounteous, faithful and fun.
And then we tell them how Allah answered our prayers and an amazing thing happened. We explain how they began to grow in my belly. First a tiny little speck and slowly getting bigger and stronger until we could feel their feet kicking and their arms stretching. How we talked and sung and laughed together even before we could see each other. Until finally, one day, some months later, on this very day, the time came for them to be born.
We share with them how we raced to the hospital and our memories of their first moments in this world – how after Mama held them, Abu recited the adhan in their right ear, the iqama in their left ear and with that, their life began.
This is an emotional story because, even as our hearts fill with happiness and joy to remember the miracle of life entering this world, they are also filled with awe and reverence of the knowledge that the very specific time and manner of each and every birth is a Divinely Ordained happening – an event so important, it is written upon the Preserved Tablet, Al-Lawh Al-Mahfooz, and safeguarded in the heavens.
No matter how we may try to speed up or delay the moment, the very second of every arrival is decreed especially and particularly by Allah Most Merciful. I simply could not have been born at any other time, on any other day, on any other place on Earth than the one I arrived in. And because this is the day my Creator chose for me, I honour it.
So that’s how it was that on my birthday – a few weeks ago – I read through every facebook message, said ameen to every dua, opened my presents with great pleasure, and fell asleep with a heart full of thankfulness – and a notebook full of plans.
It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that perhaps you would be grateful. Qur’an 16:78