Mother’s Day: A Brief History and Its Practice

In the Name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

I praise God and ask Him to bless our beloved Prophet Muhammad and those that follow him until the Last Day.


In the United States as in most countries, Mother’s Day is annually observed and celebrated on the second Sunday of May. The centralized activity is gift-giving of some form such as giving flowers, taking one’s mother out to eat, etc. with the intent of demonstrating of form of appreciation towards mothers and grandmothers for their constant efforts.

On the surface, it sounds noble; however, there are questions that need to be answered such as what is the origin of Mother’s Day? Has it evolved or does it have a different connotation in the states compared to other countries? Is it solely religious? Most importantly, can a Muslim participate in such an event?

A Brief History of Mother’s Day

In ancient civilizations, honoring Motherhood was observed consisting of spiritual overtones wherein societies celebrated life-like goddesses symbolizing a motherly form and presence. Maternal objects of adoration ranged from female deities to the Christian Church itself.

Ancient Egypt

Specifically, one of the earliest historical records of a society celebrating a “mother deity” can be found among the ancient Egyptians, who held an annual festival to honor the goddess Isis, who was commonly regarded as the so-called “mother of the pharaohs” was most often depicted sitting on a throne. The story goes that after Isis’ brother-husband Osiris was slain and dismembered in 13 pieces by their jealous brother Seth, Isis re-assembled Osiris’ body and used it to impregnate herself. She then gave birth to Horus, whom she was forced to hide amongst tall grass so as not to be slaughtered by Seth. Horus grew up, defeated Seth, and then became the first ruler of a unified Egypt. Thus Isis earned her stature as the so-called “mother of the pharaohs”.  Those museums that specifically focus on Egyptian history depict Isis (the mother) and son (Horus) in an imagery wherein Isis cradles and suckles her son similar to that of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

Ancient Rome and Greece

Romans imported Egypt’s Isis festival commemorating an important battle and the beginning of winter. It lasted for three days consisting of mostly-female dancers, musicians, and singers. Isis was held in high esteem by the Romans.

While Romans adopted and changed certain elements of Egypt’s Mother’s Day, history shows that Romans had their own roots of Mother’s Day found in the celebration of the Phrygian[1] goddess Cybele, or Magna Mater (Great Mother). Considered a Phrygia’s state deity, she developed a cult that was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE. She was depicted in most of Greek society as a foreign, exotic mystery-goddess, who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following. In Greek religion she had a transgendered priesthood. Cybele stems from the Greek goddess Rhea, who was the mother of most of the major deities including Zeus. Rhea was therefore celebrated as a mother goddess.

The Roman State adopted and developed a particular form of her cult, and claimed her conscription as a key religious component in their success against Carthage during the Punic Wars[2]. Roman literature reinvented her as a Trojan goddess, and thus an ancestral goddess of the Roman people by way of the Trojan prince Aeneas[3]. With Rome’s eventual domination over the Mediterranean world, Romanized forms of Cybele’s cults spread throughout the Roman Empire. The meaning and morality of her cults and priesthoods were topics of debate and dispute in Greek and Roman literature, and remain so in modern scholarship.

The Roman celebration of Cybele fell between March 15 and March 22, just around the same time as the Greek festival in honor of Rhea. Referred to as “Hilaria”, games were held in honor of the mother of the gods. Also customary was a procession through the streets with a statue of the goddess carried at the head, followed by a display of elaborate arts and crafts.


Europe formed its own form of Mother’s Day. Europeans made it a religious event wherein it fell on the fourth Sunday Lent[4]. Early Christians initially used the day to honor the church in which they were baptized, which they knew as their “Mother Church.” This place of worship would be decorated with jewels, flowers and other offerings.

In the 1600′s a clerical decree in England broadened the celebration to include real mothers, referring to the day as “Mothering Day”. Mothering Day became a holiday toward the working classes of England. During this Lenten Sunday, servants and trade workers were allowed to travel back to their towns of origin to visit their families providing a one-day reprieve from the fasting and penance of Lent so that families across England could enjoy a family feast. Mothers were the guests of honor and were presented with cakes, flowers, and visits from their beloved and distant children.

The American Adaptation

While Britain’s Mothering Day continued, first English settlers came to America and discontinued the tradition (keep this point in mind). At least two explanations exist for this discontinuation:

  1. The idea of Mothering Day was for workers to have a day off. That was not possible with the new settlers as their living conditions demanded that they worked without any days off (that is usually the case when people emigrate to another land as conditions are harsh requiring a “swim or sink mentality”).
  2. Mothering Day conflicted with Puritan ideals. The early Puritans fled England to practice a more conservative Christianity without persecution. Pilgrims ignored the more secular holidays and focused instead on a deeper devotion to God.

In 1870, a woman by the name of Julia Ward, author “Battle Hymn of the Republic” had become so distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War that she called on mother’s to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. She called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood[5].

At one point, Howe even proposed converting July 4th into Mother’s Day, in order to dedicate the nation’s anniversary to peace. Eventually, however, June 2nd was designated for the celebration. In 1873 women’s groups in 18 North American cities observed this new Mother’s holiday. Howe initially funded many of these celebrations, but most of them died out once she stopped funding. The city of Boston, however, would continue celebrating Howe’s holiday for 10 more years. The holiday would ultimately cease, but Howe had nevertheless planted the seed that would later be known as our modern day Mother’s Day.

A West Virginia women’s group led by Anna Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s holiday whose purpose was to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War. The group named this event “Mother’s Friendship Day”.

After Anna Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. In 1908, Anna petitioned the superintendent of the church where her mother had spent over 20 years teaching Sunday school. Her request was honored, and on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia and another church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The West Virginia event drew a congregation of 407 and Anna Jarvis arranged for white carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to adorn the patrons. Two carnations were given to every mother in attendance. Today, white carnations are used to honor deceased mothers, while pink or red carnations pay tribute to mothers who are still alive. Andrew’s Methodist Church exists to this day, and was incorporated into International Mother’s Day Shrine in 1962.

In 1908 a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Elmer Burkett, proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was defeated; but by 1909, forty-six states were holding Mother’s Day services as well as parts of Canada and Mexico.

Anna Jarvis quit working and devoted herself full time to the creation of Mother’s Day, endlessly petitioning state governments, business leaders, women groups, churches and other institutions and organizations. She finally convinced the World’s Sunday School Association to back her, a key influence over state legislators and congress. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

What can be concluded?

  • Mother’s Day in the United States is absolutely not similar to the ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek adaptations.
  • America’s adaptation of Mother’s Day is unrelated Christian England’s adaptation of Mother’s Day.
  • The origin of Mother’s Day was based on peace and motherhood and its important role in society. In fact, the former was more so a resistance type of approach towards the establishment of Mother’s Day.
  • Contemporary practice of Mother’s Day is based on the pursuit of peace, reuniting families, and commemorating mothers.

The Ruling

It seems to me that such an event tries to encompass what the Eternal Lawgiver has commanded us in the following verse,

“God commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives; and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive. He teaches you, so that you may take heed.”[6]

Applying this verse with Mother’s Day, we see certain things are commanded:

  1. Establish peace which is a form of justice. In fact, it is one of the most important forms of justice.
  2. Doing good and generosity towards relatives. Spending or dedicating a day with one’s mother is truly one of the greatest forms of good we can do. Simultaneously, it is a form of generosity in our busy, western lives which are constantly consumed with the “me-first” mentality.
  3. Uniting the ties of kinship. Mother’s Day is an opportunity for families to get together which is stressed in various places in our Revelation (i.e., the Qur’an and Prophetic Tradition).

To be clear, we should not forget that everyday should be a sort of “Mother’s Day.” However, some of us at the very least are far from our mothers making it difficult to give her the time and companionship she deserves daily. I am reminded of some Saudi acquaintances living in Jeddah who visit their mother in Mecca every Thursday having a mini-family reunion. Similarly, many Saudis are blessed with the opportunity to have their mothers live with them or be relatively close making it easier to be around their mothers and appreciate the blessings of mothers. In our society, this is a lot more challenging. So days like Mother’s Day gives us this opportunity to reap the benefits of being reminded of the blessings of mothers.

Furthermore, this is a time for us to reflect on the importance of peace on Earth and the spread of goodwill. How fitting that the mother is symbolized in both uniting families and spreading peace as God in His mercy has made her a form of mercy to her children.

A Muslim’s Application of Mother’s Day

If we say that Mother’s Day is allowed in our way of life, then how should it be applied? I have some suggestions that could be of benefit:

  1. Visit her. If this is not possible, then arrange a video phone call. If this is not possible, then call her. I do not suggest email as this is cold and impersonal.
  2. Instead of saying “Happy Mother’s Day” consider simply saying, “I thank God for blessing me with a mother like you.” or something similar.
  3. Give her a simple gift other than flowers expressing your appreciation. The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) has stated:

“Shake hands with each other as hatred and enmity will dwindle (or vanishes); give gifts you will (develop) love for each other and enmity will dwindle (or vanishes)”.[7]

This is applicable if one has a good relationship with his or her mother or if there exists some problems between the two. It is stated in the Qur’an,

“If they (i.e. parents) strive to make you associate with Me anything about which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. Yet keep their company in this life according to what is right…”[8]

  1. Encourage other family members to get together.
  2. Explain to your children why Mother’s Day is something that Islam considers good.
  3. It is encouraged that religious leaders such as Imams, chaplains, and people who deliver sermons remind people of the good behind Mother’s Day; and that Islam encourages us to have unconditional love and respect for our mothers.

I encourage you to consider the following verse:

“Remember when We took a pledge from the Children of Israel: ‘Worship none but God; be good to your parents and kinsfolk, to orphans and the poor; speak good words to all people….’”[9]

In closing, I am aware that some will disagree with my position. I encourage these people to carefully read what I have presented as this is an issue that does not threaten the unanimously agreed upon fiber of Islamic belief. On the contrary, it is a jurisprudence issue that is open to debate and knowledge-based discussion.


God knows best.


[1]Phrygian is an ancient kingdom in the western-central part of Anatolia. Anatolia is located in the western area of modern-day Turkey

[2] The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BCE to 146 BCE. Founded in 814 BCE, Carthage was an ancient area located on the Gulf of Tunis outside of modern-day Tunisia

[3] A famous Trojan hero during his time

[4] The 40 days of fasting preceding Easter Sunday

[5] Her powerful proclamation can be found here

[6] The Qur’an, 16:90

[7] Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik on the authority of `Ata’ b. Abi Muslim al-Khurasani

[8] The Qur’an, 31 : 15

[9] The Qur’an, 2:83



Sports Blogging

Some may consider them to be impermissible based on the following verse in Surah Luqman:

“But there is the sort of person who pays for distracting tales, intending, without any knowledge, to lead others from God’s way, and to hold it up to ridicule.”

Those that use such verses say that these types blogs fall into the category of “distracting tales.”

The reply to this is that scholars differ on the meaning of “distracting tale”. There are those that say it means a drum; while others say it means music and listening to it; while others say it means polytheism. The strongest position is that it refers to those things which take people away from the path of God because the wording is general; and there is no evidence specifying it. This is the position of al-Imam at-Tabari.

Based on this, I find it very far-fetched for one to conclude that sport blogs fall in this category of those things which take one away from the path of God – completely or partially. This means that one would go astray if they participate in such things. The blogs usually consist of discussions ranging from teams’ performances and their activities, players, and other things related to sports. Furthermore, sport blogs were not meant initially to ridicule God or those things which are related to Him.

The only caution I offer is that the language between the bloggers and the ones commenting is clean not consisting of profanity and the like as this is not befitting of a Muslim. I also advise bloggers to be wary of mixing sports figures with religion (e.g., Tim Tebow) in a manner that would cause harm to Islam. Such possibilities would be to criticize someone for being a Christian and not because he is a terrible passer. Lastly, a Muslim must always remember that he or she must have a balanced approach to all things in his or her life.

Based on what I have presented, I find that such blogs are permissible. In fact, it may be a good change of pace for many of us constantly engrossed in work.

God knows best.


Valentine’s Day – An Islamic Analysis

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When a Muslim wishes to look at celebrated occasions in the Unites States, it is obligatory to analyze it according to the complete and unadulterated revelation; Islam is the complete way of life detailing every answer to any situation such as our topic at hand. In this analysis, I will attempt to summarize the history of Valentine’s Day: who was it named after, the reason, and how it was practiced. Then, I will discuss how it is practiced. Finally, I will discuss the ruling of Muslims participating in such an occasion.

Brief History of Valentine’s Day[1]

First Consideration

February was considered in European civilizations as the month of romance; however, the story and patron of Valentine’s Day is unknown. What is accepted is that it is based on Roman and Christian traditions.

As for the name “Valentine”, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. The first is named after a man named Valentine who performed secret marriages for young lovers defying a royal decree outlawing single men from marrying by the then Emperor Claudius II because he opined that single men made better soldiers. Due to breaking this law, Valentine was apprehended and eventually killed.

Second Consideration

The second so-called Valentine is based on a man helping Christians escape Roman prisons wherein they were beaten and tortured.

Third Consideration

Another so-called Valentine is based on an imprisoned man who fell in love with a girl and sent her a greeting indicated his adoration for her.

Fourth Consideration

It has also been suggested that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast in the middle of February to celebrate the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15, a Christian celebration.

What is Lupercalia?

Celebrated on February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, but was outlawed because it was deemed “un-Christian.” However, at the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. Popularity of Valentine greetings began in the Middle Ages and written Valentine’s began to appear after 1400.

From what has been presented, we conclude the following:

  1. The name “Valentine” is based on some sympathetic hero and romantic figure, but the real origin is unknown or disputed.
  2. The practice of Valentine’s Day was based on pagan practices whose objective was fertility and not necessarily love.
  3. Valentine’s Day was initially banned in Christian society. Some time later, it was incorporated into Christian society as an acceptable practice.

The current practice of Valentine’s Day in the United States

Valentine’s Day is practiced on February 14 wherein Americans exchange cards or give gifts to another as an indication of one’s fondness and, in many cases, attraction towards another. In the case of gifts, it can range from giving candy, flowers, jewelry, and even lingerie. Red, pink, and white clothing is worn symbolizing the day. Furthermore, Valentine’s Day is an inclusive occasion consisting of married couples as well unmarried couples: heterosexual, homosexual, and transsexual. It also includes children wherein exchanges of sweets more take place amongst them as an indication of why one child likes or appreciates another.

Islamic Ruling

Muslim scholars of various countries consider the practice of Valentine’s Day to be impermissible in Islam. Common reasons include it being a day of `Eid or an imitation of nonbelievers. In my opinion, I consider Valentine’s Day to also be impermissible. However, I do not agree with those that say it is like making it a day of `Eid. “Eid” is affiliated with a form of worship; and it is not known that Americans make this day a day of worship.

Islam does not encourage pagan practices. Allah states in an-Nahl, verse 90, “God commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive…” Participating in Valentine’s Day consists of accepting a pagan practice. Specifically, the origins of Valentine’s Day, according to some people, are based on doing acts which encourage fertility. This practice is polytheism, and polytheism or encouragement of it in any way is oppression and blameworthy. Thus, the Eternal Lawgiver (Allah)explicitly prohibits this. The objective of such a prohibition is to our benefit from two aspects:

1.  Actualizing a beneficial aspect: The Eternal Lawgiver commands us to actualize submission to Him by declaring our monotheistic belief; and this declaration is done by statements and actions. If performed, then a Muslim practices Allah’s objective of our creation – worshipping Him alone.

2.  Prohibiting a corrupt aspect: Participation in such an occasion implies that paganism is acceptable.

Blocking pretenses is my other reason why I consider this participation to be forbidden. Gift giving is encouraged in Islam. However, the reason and manner it is performed in the states is what makes this impermissible. Most people give gifts on this day as a token of their affection or admiration of another. The problem is that in most cases it may lead to attraction of the opposite (and in some cases same) sex. This gives our enemy (Shaytan) the chance to work on the desires of others possibly causing corruption. Thus, the Eternal Lawgiver blocks this from occurring by declaring this participation impermissible. Allah states in al-Baqarah verse 168-169, “….and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy. He always commands you to do what is evil and indecent….

In conclusion, I encourage my brothers and sisters to consider Allah’s statement surrounding this issue. He says in al-Baqarah verse 170, “But when it is said to them, Follow the message that God has sent down,’ they answer, ‘We follow the ways of our father.’ What! Even though their fathers understood nothing and were not guided?”

Allah knows best.