Muslim mothers

Afshan Rahim, mother of Shrajeel Imam.

The most frightening prayer a mother could pray for their children is the one they need the most. They pray that their child lives a happy, stress-free life. But to be honest, when they pray for their children, it is difficult to think of their well being after seeing what happened to Tabrez (the man who was mob-lynched by a group of Hindutva extremists), Zakariya (the man who is behind the bars since 11 years for the crime he might have not committed), Najeeb (who was abducted by the goons of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and the people who have died in mob lynching so far, not being able to see that anytime soon they can be attacked at their doors. Nights are sleeps-less for mothers in this newly developed India, where Muslims are being killed for their identity. 

Mother’s Day each year is the same, people end up saying that every day should be honored as mother’s day as every mother is special and they deserve all the happiness in the world. But this year, mother’s day was quite unusual in India. On the day when our mothers are supposed to be stress-free and rest for a while, many Indian Muslim mothers did nothing but worry for their children.

Some of these mothers were Seema Usmani and Afshan Rahim. These names don’t seem familiar, do they? Well, how about the names Sharjeel Usmani and Sharjeel Imam? These names sound familiar because right-wing media houses have been labeling them as anti-nationals. They are the voices that were heard by lakhs even when they were tried to be silenced. They are the fearless sons of unapologetic mothers – Seema and Afshan.

Whenever I hear the word mother, I hear trust, faith, goodwill, and peace. An unapologetic mother teaches a child to passionately communicate every word with good intentions and to learn about the idea of justice. Mothers support children in every step they take for a good cause, helping them find freedom by accepting failure as inevitable, makes them believe a dream is achievable, have faith in their success, makes them not fear the darkness because wonderful things do not depend on the presence of light. In short, she makes her child, a revolution in itself.

Beyummah, mother of Zakariya. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

There isn’t any such entity as a bad mother, but for sure there is the entity of unapologetic mothers who raise their kids to be courageous leaders like Imam and Usmani.

I eventually came to understand that the one thing motherhood represents, is sacrifice. These two mothers have sacrificed their sons for a million other sons. For me, Seema Usmani, Afshan Rahim, and every woman who is not afraid of their identity are superwomen. They give birth to true leaders.

I’ve never seen a mother stray away from challenges and one thing I know for sure- no mother is weak. They feel the grief but they never cry in front of the world to hide their weaknesses and show their strength.

In a conversation, Seema Usmani told me, “Sharjeel used to say that there are mothers who have sacrificed their child for the community. They were fearless and unapologetic, be like them. He is neither a thief nor he murdered anyone, he spoke the truth. He took a stand for the community.”

On her fearless son Sharjeel Imam, Afshan Rahim said to me it was his choice to stand up for the marginalized and suppressed communities which led him to charges of sedition and UAPA. “And when it comes to me”, Afshan Rahim claimed, “I am nothing but just proud of my son for whatever he has done and wherever he stands because I know he is standing with the truth.”

She also has immense faith in Allah and hopes that the court would not ignore the truth which happened in media trials when the spineless journalists tried to undermine his strength, “Jab bhi Sharjeel, niklega uska daman saaf hoga in bebuniyaad ilzamaat se.” (Whenever Sharjeel comes out he will be clean from all baseless accusations and slanders made against him.)

After these conversations, I realized that these women are the so-called “just housewives of a Muslim household” who are not afraid or terrified bur fearless, unapologetic, strong, and proud of their sons. This strength of our mothers is the reason the oppressor fears us and tries to suppress us, but they don’t know that our mothers are not just housewives but fighters and they would fight to their bone against injustice because now it is not only their citizenship at stake but also the lives of their children and we all know the strength of a mother when it comes to defending her child.

A universal mother and the secular others - Maktoob
JNU student Najeeb’s mother Fatima Nafees. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

The contributions of unapologetic mothers to society are still being marginalized and ignored. One such ignored mother is Fatima Nafees, whose son Najeeb Ahmad is still “MISSING”, despite “efforts of the government to find him”. Najeeb Ahmed was a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University who went missing in Oct’ 2016 following a scuffle with members of the Akhil Bhartiya Janata Party. The revolution at work begins with a revolution at home and that revolution begins with acknowledging the sacrifices invisible mothers perform to keep alive not just their families but the idea of justice. 

The fact that these children of unapologetic mothers prefer to stand up and speak against the injustice of the past seventy years makes them anti-nationals and a threat to the government, not just the current but all those who did nothing but perpetuated justice.

Then there’s the constant, grinding mental burden that goes hand in hand with being a mother and a Muslim in India in 2020. They also bear the mental load of their children being harmed for nothing but their identity. Trials have been the most important events in the lives of Indian Muslims, but for a mother, it’s not easy to see her child at trial. They have to walk through their own stories and learn what it means to have empty hands with just faith in Allah. Their children may have to endure great trials, walk through dark valleys, and experience greater sorrows.

The mothers of this generation who chose to keep quiet need to realize how they will suffer seeing their child being targeted for just speaking the truth. They must see inside their hearts and ask themselves whether they can be silent when their children’s life is on stake for raising voice against injustice, will their motherhood allow them to stay quiet? A little scratch on her kid and a mother’s world turns upside down. Will it be easy for mothers to watch their children suffer for their identity? They must understand that without their identity, they are without hope.

There is hope amid chaos in the heart of a fearless mother. Every challenging situation is an opportunity for them to trust no one but God for justice. Even in this hour of need for mothers – Seema Usmani and Afshan Rahim, the unapologetic and fearless heart of a Muslim mother only hopes cares and worries for their children.

Zeba Afrin is a law student at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).