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Honour thy mother
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 03 - 2007

By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
The vernal equinox, March 21st, marks the coming of Spring for at least half the earth. In our northern hemisphere, Nature awakens from a long winter's sleep to the budding greens, the blooming flowers, the buzzing bees, and the dancing trees. The ancients were wisest when they chose spring as the beginning of the year. March, named after the god Mars, was the first month of the year before Julius Caesar meddled with the calendar (46BC). Grand festivals heralded the king of seasons, when hope, beauty, and love, fill the air, stirring the hearts of young mortals. How very appropriate to select this day to honour mothers, for there is no love greater than hers, giver of life, blessed by the heavens.
Setting aside a special day to celebrate motherhood has ancient roots. Ancient Greeks celebrated a holiday in honour of Rhea, mother of the gods; ancient Romans dedicated a special day to glorify Cybela, a mother goddess, which fell on March 22-25th. In the British Isles, and Celtic Europe, the goddess Brigid, and later her successor, St. Brigid, were honoured with a Spring Mother's day, connected with the first milk of the ewes.
Beginning in the 17th century the British paid tribute to mothers on the 4th Sunday of Lent, known as "Mothering Sunday." The custom began when apprentices and servants were allowed to leave their employment, and return home for the day to visit their mothers. The holiday died out by the 19th century, but was revived during WW II by the American forces who brought their tradition with them. Credit for the widespread celebration of our time must be given to Anna Jarvis of Virginia, USA. On losing her mother on the second Sunday in May 1905, Anna swore at her graveside to dedicate her life to her mother's project, which was to establish a Mother's Day to honour all mothers, living and dead. Anna gave up her teaching job and spent the next 9 years, writing letters to politicians, clergymen, businessmen, women's clubs, and anyone else who would listen. By 1914, the US Congress issued a joint resolution, signed by President Woodrow Wilson, designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. Several countries followed suit, including Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Australia, among others, who celebrate with the United States. Egypt chose the first day of spring to pay homage to mothers. Spain celebrates on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, also glorifying Mary, mother of Jesus. France feasts on the last Sunday in May with a special cake resembling a bouquet of flowers. Carnations, the favourite flower of Jarvis' mother, became the classic flower for Mother's Day, white, honoring dead mothers, red or pink, living ones. By the time of Anna's death in 1948, 40 countries had adopted Mother's Day. Today, it is practically an international tradition.
Before Anna Jarvis, there was Julia Ward Howe, who first proclaimed a Mother's Day in Boston in 1870. She headed an anti-war movement which called for pacifism and disarmament. The day was marked by women's peace groups, mostly mothers, whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. Some American Women's groups, like the League of Women Voters still organize protests on Mother's Day. To most however, it is a time to extol the virtues of motherhood, and her ever loving heart "A spark of heavenly fire....which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity."
Though there is a lack of clear evidence, that matriarchal societies have existed at some time in the distant past, several matrilineal and matrifocal communities still exist today. In a matriarchy, the power is with the woman, particularly the mothers of the community, as opposed to patriarchal where fathers are the family heads. In matrilineal societies, children are identified by their mothers rather than by their fathers, as is the case with Jewish descent, which is passed by the mother. Matrifocal preserves maternal authority in domestic relations. Several generations of archaeologists have suggested that many ancient societies were matriarchal. Theorists, like Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess, believes there existed a wide-ranging matriarchal society prior to the ancient civilizations we know. Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has argued for a widespread matriarchal culture in Pre-Indo-European Old Europe. J.F. del Giorgio in The Oldest Europeans, insists on the existence of post-glacial female structural tribes in Europe, as well as a matrifocal, matrilineal, Paleolithic Society. Most anthropologists believe that nomadic barbarian invaders caused the destruction of the peaceful matriarchal civilizations.
Some societies today still practice matriarchal principles, among them parts of China, Western Sahara, Guinea, Samoa, and the Guijero tribes of Colombia, Venezuela, and parts of the Caribbean. The patriarchal conquest of matriarchal societies is prevalent in fantasy novels, while goddess worship is a theme often referred to by the likes of James Joyce, Robert Graves, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Elliott. In our modern film saga of Star Wars, the women of Darthonim are portrayed as the ruling sex, and in the comic strip Sinfest, matriarchy is used as a parody of The Matrix.
Whether fact or fiction, women played major roles until the patriarchal system of the last 2000 years diminished them. Motherhood however, could not be touched. It has remained sacrosanct in all societies and in all religions. The noblest and purest of women is Mary, mother of Jesus, in both Christianity and Islam. The role of women in Islam has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by both Western and Eastern minds. Islam reveres women, and most especially motherhood. "To whom should I be kind?" asked Hakim ben Hezam of the Holy Prophet, Mohamed. The answer came, not once but thrice: "To your mother." Only when asked for the fourth time, did the prophet answer: "To your father." It is befitting that mothers should be honoured on a special day, pampered, cuddled, and spoiled for her unconditional love and her never-ending sacrifice, and spring is the befitting season to rejoice and celebrate the purest love.
"Her womb was your abode, her lap your refuge, her existence your protection." So honour your mother on this special day in March or May, and then your mother, and again your mother, on every day -- and then your father.
Paradise is found under the feet of mothers
The Holy Prophet

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