Birth Rituals

“Birth Rituals: Welcoming a Child into the World”

by Maria F. Curtis

Chapter Summary

Maria F. Curtis examines religious practices that accompany the birth of a child in the greater Houston area. Muslim mothers such as Aliya, who traces her Isma‘ili roots to Kenya and India, let us know about the Islamic traditions used to prepare mothers in her family for labor and birth. Erin, a Creole convert to Islam from Louisiana, similarly describes the Islamic teachings that she studies in order to prepare herself to be a mother. Readers are taken to hospital rooms where the words “Allah” and “Muhammad” are whispered into a newborn’s ears. New clothes are purchased; families may make special charitable donations; and a huge feast might be held. Curtis manages to talk to a remarkably diverse group of mothers about how they combine various U.S. cultural traditions with ethnic traditions from abroad to hold baby showers, to name their children, and to care for them in their first forty days of life and beyond.

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Discussion Questions

  • What are the different ways that Muslim American mothers often prepare for the birth of a child? How do they celebrate the birth of a child?
  • What is the religious significance of childbirth and what religious meanings do Muslim Americans give to this life cycle event?
  • How are all of these practices similar to and different from what non-Muslim Americans do to prepare for and celebrate childbirth?

Group Exercises

  • Write a paragraph on how Muslim American childbirth practices are similar to or different from those of non-Muslim Americans. Divide up into small groups and read one another’s paragraphs in silence. Discuss their responses and report out to the larger group.
  • Is there a difference between religious and cultural traditions in childbirth? Consider  holding a formal or informal debate on this question.

Maria F. Curtis (Ph.D., Texas) is associate professor of anthropology and cross-cultural studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She has penned numerous articles and book chapters on topics related to Islam and food, mothering, music, and women’s leadership.

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