"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not."
Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing for her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food.
Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future -- after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.
Pre-Reading Activity The title Beneath My Mother's Feet comes from one of the many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about mothers: "The gates of heaven lie beneath the mother's feet." Elsewhere, another narrator reports that "I asked the Prophet who has the greatest right over a man, and he said, 'His mother.'" Clearly, mothers hold a special place in a Muslim household. Ask students to write a one-page essay about their mothers or another significant female relative. Discussion Topics 1) We learn early on that Nazia likes school and has the respect of her teacher Ms. Haroon. How is her school similar to your school? How is it different? Why is Nazia so devastated when her mother pulls her out of school to work? Discuss the part school plays in Nazia's hopes and dreams. 2) As the book opens, we meet Nazia's neighbors and friends, Maleeha and Saira. As Nazia's circumstances change, she again meets her friends who respond to her in very different ways. When Nazia encounters Saira in the market, how does Saira react and what are her reasons for her behavior? What happens when Nazia asks Maleeha for help? Who is the better friend and why? 3) Soon Nazia must grow up fast to help her family stay together. She longs for her older brother, Bilal, to return home so she can "be a little sister again." What does she lose as she gains more responsibility? What does she find out about herself and the members of her family as each responds to his or her changing circumstances? 4) When her husband is unable to work, Amma must make choices to enable her family to live. How did your perception of Amma change as the book progressed? Discuss the relationship between Amma and Nazia, as well as the relationship between Amma and Abbu. At the end, where does Amma's loyalty lie? 5) Amma's concern for her daughter's jahez is her way of ensuring her daughter's future happiness. How do Amma's perceptions of her daughter's destiny change over the course of the book? Why does she keep the dowry money secret until the very end, even though the family had been reduced to pleading for a place to live? 6) When Nazia becomes friends with Sherzad, she loses some of her innocence as he tells her of his mother and his life of hardship. Why does Nazia risk everything to help Sherzad escape? Do you think Sherzad succeeded in reaching his grandmother? How does Sherzad affect Nazia's understanding of her own mother and her decision to flee? 7) The dowry money will help Nazia, but perhaps the most important gift Amma gives her daughter is her blessing to leave. Why does Amma insist Nazia wait until the morning so that she can accompany her daughter? What does this have to do with "The gates of heaven lie beneath the mother's feet?" Activities and Research 1) Most belief systems have specific guidelines on how to treat mothers. Research and record sayings about mothers in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Compare and contrast the findings. If you like, expand your search to Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism. 2) Nazia's life changes dramatically when her father is injured. Chart her life expectations as the book opens (school, marriage at an early age, living in her uncle's house), then as she and her mother work as masis (continued work, no home of her own, unlikely to be married), and the life she chooses as the book closes (returning to school and all the possibilities that offers). 3) Stage a celebration for Nazia's return to school. Look up recipes and prepare chicken biryani, tikka (grilled spicy chicken), or gosht salan (meat curry) with raita (yogurt sauce) and roti (thin, unleavened bread). With the glossary as a reference, ask students to create signs that teach and illustrate the Urdu words for family members, thanks, clothing items, prayers, food, and greetings. 4) Learn about Pakistan. Ask students to research the history of Pakistan: how it was founded and its significant leaders in the present and recent past. Make a map of Pakistan and include Karachi. Given the clues in the book (near the Arabian Sea), where do you think the Defense district is? Note the border countries and the references in the book to people from those countries including Afghanistan and India. About the Book "Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not." Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing for her jahez, or dowry. Nazia's future seems assured as she is promised in marriage to her cousin. But fourteen-year-old Nazia must grow up fast when her father has an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food. Nazia's mother withdraws her daughter from school to help her mind the children and clean houses. As Nazia's days are swallowed up in endless work, she sees her future slipping away. She is shamed that she and her mother are reduced to cleaning houses and knows this will impact her marriage prospects. Who would want a daughter-in-law who has been exposed to the harshness of the world? Yet Nazia makes a new friend in Sherzad, a young boy who has been given in servitude to a cruel mistress. As more catastrophes fall upon her family -- the loss of her jahez, losing her home, her father's disappearance, and the end of her betrothal -- she finds her own way to freedom as she arranges his flight. Even though her uncle and cousin are again willing to accept her into their family, she now knows that she has choices. With the help and blessing of her mother, Nazia chooses a different path. About the Author Amjed Qamar graduated from Ohio State University with degrees in English and psychology. She currently resides in Ohio and works for the Dublin City School District. Amjed lived in Pakistan for several years and returns regularly. This is her first book. This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Amjed Qamar graduated from The Ohio State University with degrees in English and psychology. She currently resides in Ohio and works for the Dublin City School District. Amjed lived in Pakistan for several years and returns regularly. This is her first book.