The adhān of fajr called outside my hospital window. My contractions were coming hard and fast as I struggled to the restroom, performed wuḍūʾ, and then stood to pray fajr. A delivery nurse stood by as I began my prayer in qiyām and sat for rukūʿ and sujūd. When I said ‘salām’ at the end of the prayer, the nurse hauled me up and out to the delivery room, where, before the sun came up, my son was born.
[PDF of article available with table that I was unable to post in the blog]
Birth is a marvelous and spiritual phenomenon. It is a wondrous thing. The baby’s journey into this dunyā is not easy and there is much that we do not understand. There are fashions of birthing in water, birthing in quiet rooms, birthing with family members present – these fashions seek to find the ‘right’ beginning for this new little life. As long as the umbilical cord is still connected, your blood runs through the body of your baby – what effect does that ritual prayer have on your about-to-be-born child? Only Allah knows, but certainly it is our duty as mothers to provide that prayer for our own soul, and for the beginning of our baby’s life.
As Muslims we must connect our faith to all aspects of our lives, and especially to moments of great import. Our first obligation as mothers is to keep our own spiritual ties tightly bound to our Creator. Labor and delivery can be a challenge to that obligation. As you become more and more engrossed with what is happening to your body, it is easy to forget the One who created you and the baby in the first place. Our obligatory prayer keeps us focused. It keeps us clearheaded and in the knowledge that we belong to God, to Him is our return, and in His hands are all births and deaths.
The obligation of salāh is upon the soldier as the enemy attacks, and it is upon the woman as labor and delivery wreak havoc on her body. The soldier protects the Muslim people, and the mother produces Muslim people. The reward is the same, and the obligations are weighty. If a soldier dies fighting in a sanctioned war, he receives martyrdom, and if a woman dies giving birth, she receives the same lofty status. Ibn ʿUmar narrates that the Prophet (s) said, “A woman from pregnancy to birth to completion is as one stationed for the sake of Allah, thus if she dies during that time she receives the reward of a martyr.” [Majmaʿ al Zawāʾid, vol. 4:17]
The prayer of fear was sent down to allow the soldiers to pray without risking massacre, a woman giving birth, however, is not in danger from outside forces. The danger to her life is from within, not from without. As such, her prayer is still an obligation, but can be adjusted according to her particular medical condition and according to how far along in the delivery process she is.
Beginning and Mid-Labor:
At the beginning of labor, it is usually fairly easy to fit in a prayer between contractions. The problem can be in keeping wuḍūʾ. If the amniotic sac has broken you may be squirting out water with every move. Or you may be bleeding a little as your mucous plug begins to loosen. This blood is not menstrual nor is it nifās. In this case, you perform wuḍūʾ as one who is in a state of ‘continuous ḥadath’ (when that which breaks wuḍūʾ does not stop long enough to make wuḍūʾ and pray).
1. Wait until the adhān of the prayer has begun.
2. Make your intention for wuḍūʾ as one who is ‘continuous ḥadath’.
3. Go immediately to the prayer without talking between the wuḍūʾ and the prayer.
4. Pray your farḍ prayer, or your sunnahs and farḍ (personal choice) with that wuḍūʾ. Even if you are squirting out copious amounts of liquid or blood, your prayer will still count here.
5. For the next prayer you will have to make wuḍūʾ again.
Transition time and/or laboring with an epidural
If your contractions are less than a minute apart, or on top of one another, you may find it difficult to get up and perform wuḍūʾ. An epidural will ease your pain, but prolong your labor making it almost certain that you will have to pray during this time. While the epidural itself should not prevent you from mobility, you may still find difficulty moving around with ease. In addition your doctor may warn you against walking around.
Here there are two options: Either your birth partner can bring you a jug and bowl for a bedside wuḍūʾ, or you can perform tayammum. If water is available, wuḍūʾ should be performed, so if you are physically capable, you should choose the jug and bowl option.
1. Place a towel on the floor and a towel on your lap. Sit on the bed so that your feet dangle over the side.
2. Your partner will pour the water into a bowl – and to make it quicker and easier, you may choose to do only the farḍ aspects of wuḍūʾ (see chart below). You can, of course, do the sunnah aspects of wuḍūʾ as well, depending on how you are feeling. The chart below has each school’s farḍ obligations. This is to help you recognize that which is farḍ for the school of thought which you follow. For all the washing it is only required once (as opposed to three times).
3. Remember to make the intention as one who is in a state of ‘continuous ḥadath’.
4. Since the epidural and/or the severe labor prevent you from standing, it is lawful to pray from a sitting position. So once you have wuḍūʾ, pray the prayer. If you cannot bend to fulfill the movements in a sitting position, you may use only gestures for rukūʿ and sujūd, being sure to make the sujūd lower than the rukūʿ.
Delivery – the pushing stage, but before the head is born
In this stage of delivery it is nearly impossible to go through the movements of wuḍūʾ – so here one should do tayammum. Tayammum is the symbolic wuḍūʾ performed by a Muslim when water is not available, or cannot be used for one reason or another. It is easy and quick to do, thus helping get the prayer prayed.
1. A pillow with dust in it is sufficient to perform tayammum with. (If you hit your pillow in the sun and see dust fly out, that is enough). You may take a pillow from home to prepare for this possibility, or you may use a hospital cushion/pillow (fabric, not vinyl).
2. Method: Once the prayer time has begun:
a. Make the intention to perform tayammum in place of wuḍūʾ, and remove your rings so that the dust can touch the entire hand.
b. Hit the pillow/rug/the place of dried earth or dust twice.
c. Wipe your entire face.
d. Hit it again twice.
e. Wipe your arms to the elbows.
f. (These are the obligatory acts of tayammum upon which all four schools of thought agree, with slight differences in how they are presented – in the Mālikī school of thought, for example, some of the above acts are sunnah.)
3. Pray. You may pray with your eyes only if necessary.
Supplies for praying moms
In this modern day of hospital deliveries and packed bags ready to be grabbed up at a moment’s notice, the praying mother must remember to pack a few things just in case a prayer time begins.
1. Wuḍūʾ stuff:
a. For the hospital bathroom:
i. Plastic slippers that can be easily slipped on and off for use in the bathroom.
ii. A clean towel from home to dry yourself with.
iii. Clean underpants to change into if yours get soiled.
iv. Extra pads that you are comfortable with (the hospital will most likely have some).
b. For a bedside wuḍūʾ:
i. A water bottle or pitcher, and a bowl or pan to catch the run-off water.
ii. Two large towels and one hand towel.
c. For tayammum
i. A dusty pillow or rug.
2. Prayer stuff:
a. An easy on-off over scarf or prayer top that you can easily put on to pray with.
b. Some ‘sleeves’ that can be pulled on so that you don’t have to change out of your hospital gown, or put on an entire jacket. You can either order sleeves already made, or just cut off the feet of some soft socks and take them along. When it is time to pray – especially if you are at the end – a sheet over your body and sleeves on your arms will be a lot easier than putting on prayer clothes or a robe.
The ritual prayer – ṣalāh – is a prayer that is incumbent upon us. While we are relieved of the obligation during menstruation and post-natal bleeding, the obligation of ṣalāh remains upon us at all other times. In sickness, in health, when busy, when free, at the end of our lives and at the beginning of our children’s lives, the prayer is required of each and every one of us. In addition to the requirement, motherhood is a grave responsibility. We are responsible for the physical and spiritual life of the child we carry in our wombs. Our fulfillment of the obligatory prayer is the fulfillment of the base level of that responsibility. During labor and delivery it is advisable to be physically and psychologically prepared for any prayer that might become obligatory. Learn how to do tayammum, bring prayer and wuḍūʾ supplies, and make sure your birth partner is ready to help you.
May Allah make your labor and delivery easy and an expiation of sin. May your child be of those who are happy in both worlds – this and the next. Ᾱmīn.
 Another hadith of a stronger narration is: The Prophet (s) asked his companions: “Who do you count as a martyr among you?” They said: “Who fights and is killed for the sake of Allah (swt),” so the Prophet (s) said: “In that case, the martyrs of my ‘ummah would be few. Rather, the one killed for the sake of Allah (swt) is a martyr, and the one who dies of pleurisy is a martyr, and the one who dies of an abdominal disorder is a martyr, and the woman who dies after childbirth is a martyr.” [Musnad al Imām Ahmad]