Early and Medieval Islamic Views on Maternal Authority in Circumstances of Religious Differences

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Whereas from an Islamic perspective it was God and His message to which Muslims were to offer primary allegiance, kinship ties could potentially challenge that commitment. Islamic ideals, articulated through a variety of literary genres, reflect this tension, pre-senting a prioritization of religious community over family. At the same time, however, kinship sentiments were often used in order to instill religious ideals and identity among communal members. The point is effectively illustrated in early and medieval Islamic perceptions of maternal authority, wherein Muslim mothers are depicted as having a crucial role in nurturing their children’s Islamic identity. In contrasting circumstances, however, when non-Muslim maternal authority was present in Islamic-dominated family settings, an adaptation of norms and regulations became necessary. In this essay, I examine a range of Islamic positions concerning instances when mothers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, could impact the religious inclinations of their children during interreligious conflicts or differences. These positions shed light on an additional facet of Islamic efforts to preserve the religious integrity of Muslim believ-ers, particularly young Muslim children, within a socially diverse religious context. They feature in a variety of literary genres with normative agendas, including the Qurʾān, Qurʾānic exegesis, prophetic traditions, legal compendia, biographies of the early Muslims (ṣaḥāba), and etiquette literature (adab), ranging from the first/seventh to the seventh/thirteenth centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23
Issue number2
StatePublished - 30 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 CSIC.


  • Maternity
  • children
  • medieval Islam
  • non-Muslims
  • normative literature
  • religiously-mixed families

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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