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"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. 


"For 50-60 years we have interrupted the natural physiological process of placental transfusion by implementing immediate cord clamping, an intervention which has no evidence base to say this is safe and on the contrary deprives the baby of approximately 30% of their intended blood volume, including red blood cells, white blood cells, stem cells and other unknown benefits. Research shows that early clamping can cause iron deficiency anaemia which impacts on neurological development and social skills, which in turn impact on each child's long term health and future prospects." -- Amanda Burleigh RGN RM BSc, of "Wait for White"  and Optimal Cord Clamping initiatives, Midwife of the Year -Yorkshire Evening Post 2012 & British Journal of Midwifery 2015. 


View Press Release: Leeds-born artist makes film on streets of Leeds to inspire art about Muslim childbirth 


Photography, director & editing: Natalie Lennard. Leeds Videography: Little Films (James Christopher & Rosie Hardy). London Videography: Beyond Content (Nick Leavesley). Video Models: Lilith Lennard (Child); Jasdeep Chatta and Smera Hussain (Muslim Women Pair); Deeba Amin (Lone Muslim Woman). Image Models: Sweta Gupta (Mother), Belal Sabir (Father), Rebekah Bookless (Midwife), Atia Shah (Relative), Bunty Sona (Relative), Christopher Wilson (Doctor). Voice of Father: Belal Sabir. Voice of  Verse from Qur'an: Bunty Sona. Styling Assistant & Props: Najma Bettendorf. Hair & Makeup: Sadaf Ahmad. Prosthetics: Lifecast. BTS Photographer & Videographer: Tim Charles Matthews. Assistant: Daniel Lennard. Research thanks to: Sheena Byrom, Najma Bettendorf, Rebekah Bookless, Saraswati Patel, Kuldip Bharj, Shaima Hassan, Nicola Mahdiyyah Goodall, Abbie Wild.


'Pakistani Muslim women birthing in Northern England: Exploration of experiences and context', Kuldip Bharj, Sheffield Hallam University (2007)

'Heaven Under Your Feet: Pregnancy for Muslim Women', Umm Hasan Bint Salim (2009)

'A study exploring British Muslim women’s experiences of motherhood while engaging with NHS maternity services', Shaima Mohamed Hassan, Liverpool John Moores University (2017)

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