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.
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
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
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
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
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