Mother, May I?

 Painting by Ronny Ogwang, Uganda

Painting by Ronny Ogwang, Uganda

S. Nadia Hussain

Mother may I

           take a step

           to set my path upon the world?

Mother may I

            wander on my own

            like my brothers do?

Mother may I

            skip, laugh and smile

            as long as my laughter is not too loud

            nor my smile too wide

Mother may I

            pursue my dreams

            as long as I have not placed them too high?

Mother may I

            take another step forward

            or

            backward

Mother may I

            have the world within my reach

            as long as that reach

            is not outside the boundaries of my home?

Mother may I

            grow beautiful

            to only tempt the eyes of a husband

            and hope that the world is blind to me

Mother may I

            pick up the pieces of glass

            from the floor

            when I try to step forward

Mother may I

            have a man to keep me safe

            always?

            and always

            have something to keep me safe from a man?

Mother may I

            hide my sins from a world

            that only sees my sins?

Mother may I

            have babies to love

            and children to hold?

Mother may I

            not suffer…

            or is that one too many steps

            Am I too quick

            to reach my destination?

Mother may I

            love myself

            without being selfish

Mother may I

            love others

            without losing myself

Mother may I

            never have daughters

            who look up to me

            and ask

            Mother may I?


Behind the Poem

I wrote this poem “Mother, May I?” because it was a game I used to play as a child. There is a game called “Mother, May I?” where someone plays the mother whose back is turned
to the other players. The “Mother” tells a player to take a few steps, and the player must ask, “Mother, May I?” before taking any steps; if they do not then they must stay in place. It’s a bit like the game “Simon Says”.

I thought about how this game reflected upon my life as a young woman, and how frustrated I would feel when it seemed like there were so many rules to being a woman, particularly a South Asian Muslim woman. I felt that my male cousins and other Muslim young men I saw could be free and do what they wanted, but I could not. It seemed like the older I became, the more restrictions were put on me. The restrictions are beyond being Muslim though, as is this poem. It is about being a woman.

As an adult, I feel that I have fought and questioned these restrictions for most of my life. Now I do not ask for permission because I know that these are just constructs that make no real sense to a just and equal society. I hope for a day when our daughters will not have to ask if they are allowed take part in implicit freedoms we should all have, whether we are male or female.


Reprinted from Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art and Voices

From Women in Islam Issue 1 (2014)