ABOUT THE ARTWORK
"Whether we cut the umbilical cord immediately or not changes everything about the way respiration comes to the baby, even conditions the baby's taste for life." —Frederick Leboyer.
In the first moment this baby enters the world, the Adhan, the Muslim call for prayer, is whispered by the father into the right ear. “There is no deity but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” When done at the first possible moment, before examination or words of hospital staff, it follows the Islamic principle that the very first words the baby hears be that of the Adhan. Done before the cord is cut, it also allows that scientific physiology is honoured and full blood runs course to the infant till the cord is white and drained.
From 1950 to 2011 the Pakistani Muslim population of the UK has increased tenfold to a million. The first generation, as is often the case when emigrating to the West from poorer countries, were keen to adopt the medicalised system of birthcare, the "luxury" of doctors and hospitals. Increasingly today Pakistani Muslims are being turned back round to the midwifery model - the original feminine domesticity of childbirth - and the solid science of privacy, which may venture to perhaps resolve some of the reasons why Black and Asian women are twice as likely to die in childbirth.
In this scene recreating a Pakistani Muslim family birthing in a NHS hospital in Northern England, the Qu'ran plays on a speaker. There is bottled zam-zam (holy water from the Gaba). A small coiled twig, called the Flower of Maryam, opens and blooms in water through the labour, a visualisation used by women in the Middle East. She births in an upright position, inspired like many Muslimahs, by the words to Maryam in the Quran: “Shake the trunk of the palm toward you and fresh, ripe dates will drop down onto you.” (Surah Maryam: verse 25). She consumes dates for energy and sustenance, as well as using one for tahneek, the practice of a small piece of softened date being gently rubbed into the baby's upper palate.
Wherever birth takes place, for Islamic family rituals to be performed helps inscribes familial space within a clinical setting. Where it helps protocols such as delayed cord clamping, it optimises iron levels, blood pressure and neurodevelopment, nourishing the health of the infant with long-lasting effects.