Islamic Laws

What is the role of Islam towards children?

By: Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Jalali
What is the role towards children? In Islam, marriage entails responsibility, and one of the main responsibilities is raising children. This is not necessarily just an Islamic principle, it is a human principle. For example, every society emphasizes the importance of raising children. It is important because the children of today will be the leaders or adults of the future. Each adult member of a family was once a child that grew up, and the cyclical responsibility of raising a child falls on the shoulders of the respective parents. Now, what is the actual responsibility?
For example, a family may hold certain values. To maintain these values for the future, the family needs to instill them into the children, who are the future. Accordingly, the responsibility is protecting values through raising the children. Values of societies or families may differ.
For example, one family may value money, and another family may value a specific cultural way of life. However, Muslim families should value religion (Islam), which entails many things, such as staying on the straight path, performing obligations, and education. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said to seek knowledge until death. Education is a cornerstone of Islam.
Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the parents (especially the father) to send the children to school. The parent cannot say that I am not responsible! The father is responsible to push the child to go to school and get an education. Why? The child is the future, the future of the family, the future of the society, the future of the nation, and so on. However, a lot of times the parents themselves are not educated.
One must struggle to educate himself or herself and sacrifice (money, time, etc.) to educate their children. Islam emphasizes the importance of raising children in a correct manner. Normally, when a child is born, he or she does not know anything, like a blank slate. Customs, manners, and information are acquired via parents and society. The child adapts to the climate. At the time of birth, the child needs to be fostered with food/nourishment for her physical health as well as with manners for her spiritual health.
Unlike an animal, a human being needs to pay attention to both the physical and the spiritual. For example, a cat may steal food to survive, but a human should not steal because it is detrimental to his or her spirit. The parents must be there to foster the children properly.
Imam Ali ibn Husayn as-Sajjad (may peace be upon him and his family) said that the duty of the father towards the child is to know that he is part of me. (Jalali, page 426). So a father cannot say that here is my son or daughter, and he or she is not my problem. If the child does good or bad, it reflects on the parents.
There are five pillars for raising children that parents should know. Firstly, one should know that the child is a part of himself or herself (you cannot disassociate). Secondly, the parent is the responsible party (you are the adult and even if you are uneducated, you must allow for the education of the child). Thirdly, the parent must teach the child good manners. Fourthly, the parent must teach the child about faith (iman) and beliefs. Fifthly, the parent must teach the child how to worship (shari’ah).
Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family) said that every child is born a Muslim. (Jalali, page 426). That means that if a person is not a Muslim, then at one point he or she changed based on influence (or lack of influence) of the parents or society.
Accordingly, the parent needs to teach their children appropriately (keeping the five pillars in mind) to raise a healthy child (both physically and spiritually). This way, the child may remain a Muslim, Insha’Allah (if God wills). However, parents should teach their children from a young age. They cannot wait too long.
Tahdhib in the context of the wise Qur’an and the ahadith (traditions) means upbringing or raising children. Islam has guidelines for raising children. The wise Qur’an (18:46) states, “Wealth and children are an adornment of the life of the world, but lasting righteous deeds are better with your Lord in reward and better in hope.”
Wealth in itself is not a bad thing, and Allah (all praise is due to Him) states that wealth is an adornment of this world. For example, wealth is used to feed people, to house people, to take care of oneself and family, etc.
Accordingly, wealth can be considered a good thing. However, if one cheats or steals to acquire wealth, then that, of course, is not good and is not the way of the straight path. The deeds of a person have great importance, and if one uses righteous deeds to acquire wealth, then those righteous deeds are actually better for that person than the wealth itself.
The same concept applies to children. Children are adornments of this world, but one must raise them in a good manner (e.g., do not raise them through lying or bad conduct) because the good or righteous deeds in raising children are better for oneself. Children are considered adornments because they represent an extension of the parents.
Parents can vicariously live through their children. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that when a person dies hope goes away or his good deeds cease except if i) good charity work done by that person has a continuing effect, ii) some knowledge was left behind by that person, or iii) a child prays for him. (Jalali, page 427). These exceptions show that an extension of that person is still in this world and, in a sense, that person is really not dead.
Now, in terms of how to raise children, Islam places the responsibility on the parent to raise their children according to the respective nature of a male or a female. For example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said to teach girls surat al-Nur (the twenty-fourth chapter of the Qur’an, titled the Light) instead of surat Yusuf (the twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, titled Joseph (peace be upon him)). Why? Well, surat al-Nur discusses the concept of chastity, which suits the nature of a female, while surat Yusuf mentions a sexually driven situation Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) was placed in, which does not befit the nature of young girls.
However, one should not misconstrue this saying to prohibit women from learning all parts of the glorious Qur’an. The saying emphasizes that one should take into consideration the nature of a child when teaching him or her lessons during upbringing. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) also said that the best of children are girls.
This should not be used in the attempt to prove the inferiority or superiority of one sex over the other. The beautiful saying highlights girls because there is something special about girls. You see, girls give birth and actually raise children. A mother will naturally spend more time with a child than the father. Women have a heavy responsibility, and they are the brains of the household.
Unfortunately, too many cultures and nations treat women badly. Insha’Allah (if God wills), may we all learn from the sayings of the blessed Prophet Muhammad and his family (peace upon them all) who were sent by the Lord, the Master of all the worlds. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that whoever kisses his child gets a reward. Love and affection is important, and by kissing your child, you are worshipping God the All-Merciful.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) also said to teach your child how to swim and how to shoot arrows (archery). At first glance, this saying seems somewhat odd, but with further investigation, truth shines. For example, if one does not know how to swim and falls into water, that person will die. Swimming is a form of self rescue. Also, at the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family), shooting arrows was a main self-defense technique.
Accordingly, teaching your child self-defense techniques (such as maybe karate or kung fu) may be useful in saving his or her life one day. Therefore, parents should teach their children how to rescue themselves. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that a child has rights that a father should fulfill, such as i) to pick a good name for the child, ii) to teach him good manners, and iii) paving a way for his success. One example of paving the way for a child’s success is providing a good education for the child.
Additionally, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said to teach your child how to write (again a reference to education), and when the child becomes of age, find a wife (or spouse) for your child. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said when a child is born, recite adhan (call for prayer) in his right ear and iqamah (second call for prayer) in his left ear. This will protect the child from Shaytan (Satan). Also, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that one should be adil (just) among his children. (Jalali, page 428). Meaning, one should treat them fairly. For example, if you kiss one child, kiss the other child as well. Children will remember how you treated them.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said when a child makes a mess, it is just a mess. Remember that you are dealing with a child, not an adult. We were all children once, and we made messes and mistakes. Treat your child as a child, do not dictate. Of course, however, as the child grows, one must instill values and discipline based on the age of the child. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) also said to love your children, forgive your children, and when you promise something to your children, fulfill the promise. This way, you will give self-esteem to your children.
Also, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (the Commander of the faithful, may peace be upon him and his family) said to be careful when deciding who to hire to breastfeed your child. In the past, when a mother did not properly lactate, a wet nurse would be hired to breastfeed the child. The lesson of the saying is that such milk has an effect on a child, and the source of the milk should be analyzed to avoid any bad effects on the child. Nowadays, however, formulas and powdered milk may be used making the position of a wet nurse obsolete.
Islam insists on good upbringing of children by any means
Islam insists on good upbringing of children by any means that instills self-esteem because children are the future as well as the hope of the parents. For example, Islam insists on choosing a good name for your child. Actually, a child has a right over the parent in which the parent must choose a good name for him or her. The name given to a child does have an effect on the child.
For example, research shows that children whose names were of lower socio-economic status than their siblings scored on average three to five percent less in exams.[3] The name given to a child may impact how the child views himself or herself and may impact how others view the child. Look at Saddam Hussein. The name Saddam means one who beats or crashes. This name may have had a subconscious negative effect leading to the atrocities ordered by that man.
From a practical point of view, a name given to a child becomes part of the child’s identity. If a child is named after a famous person, that child may be more willing to read the biography of that person and may choose, consciously or subconsciously, to adopt similar traits or characteristics. Therefore, if a name has such impact, then a good name should be selected. In some instances, when a person converted to Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) would change his name if it were not appropriate.
For example, he changed a man’s name from Harb (meaning war) to Silm (meaning peace). Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (may peace be upon him and his family) said that the best names for a child are those that denote servitude to God (the Almighty), and the names of the Prophets (peace be upon all of them).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that whoever has four children and has not named any of them after me has oppressed me. Another hadith (tradition) mentions that when Shaytan (Satan) hears someone say Muhammad or Ali, he withers or melts away.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that when a child is born to us, we keep his name as Muhammad for seven days, and then we can change it if desired. (Jalali, page 429). Another hadith mentions that one should choose a name based on the ninety-nine beautiful names of God (the Most Merciful), such as by adding the term abd (servant), or choose a name of the Prophets or Imams (peace be upon them all), and if that is exhausted, one should choose from the titles or nicknames of the Prophets or Imams (peace be upon them all).
Accordingly, based on these ahadith (traditions) and others, families are encouraged to choose good and positive names. Sometimes popular names become so common, families start using combined first names, such as Muhammad Ali, to distinguish children from each other. As an interesting side note regarding names, at the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family), using someone’s kunyah (title based on child’s name) was a show of respect.
For example, it was the sunnah (act) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) to call people by their titles, such as Abu Ali (father of Ali). This concept of kunyah also applied to women (e.g., a woman may be referred to as, for example, Umm Abbas, meaning mother of Abbas). At that time and in that environment, if one did not call someone that is older by his kunyah, it would be considered disrespectful. Getting back to naming children, we see through social evidence as well as the ahadith that giving a child a good name is a matter of great importance. Other important early steps include reciting adhan (call for prayer) in the right ear and iqamah (second call for prayer) in the left ear of a child when she is born as well as performing aqiqah (slaughtering an animal for a newborn child) and shaving the hair of the child on the seventh day after birth.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that everyone should have aqiqah done. The meat of the slaughtered animal (e.g., a sheep or ram) should be distributed as food, except to the parents. The hair cut from the child’s head should be weighed, and the weight in silver (or gold) should be given to the poor.
Also, circumcision for a boy should be performed on the seventh day after birth. These are the first steps in raising a child, and all these elements contribute to the honor, chastity, spiritual life, and physical life of the child. (See Jalali, page 430). A next important step is teaching a child salah (ritual prayer). A hadith mentions that one should tell a child to start performing salat at the age of seven and beat the child if he does not pray. Now, the historical context of this hadith, as in all ahadith, must be taken into consideration. Over 1,400 years ago, beating was common to punish or discipline a child. Also, it was effective in that environment.
Nowadays, the effect of beating a child for punishment or discipline usually does not work. Actually, because of the society, environment, relationships, attitudes, and other means of discipline in today’s world, the beating of a child has negative effects. For example, the child may be taken away from the parents, the parents may get in trouble with the law, the child may acquire hateful feelings or extreme fear towards the parents, etc. If the means do not work anymore, then does it make sense to use them? When reviewing the Islamic record, it is understood that the beating mentioned in the hadith is only a means, not a goal. Islam does not want parents going around beating their children. Effect and applicability must be taken into account.
Accordingly, modern punishments or means should be employed that will have the desired effects to uphold the wisdom of the hadith. So, when you read the hadith, it would be fair to substitute the word “punish” for the word “beat.” Getting back to the wisdom of the hadith, salat is stressed because it is so powerful. It impacts both one’s spiritual and physical life. For example, one needs to take time out of the day and prepare herself to perform salat properly, and there are physical restrictions during the salat. Accordingly, physical discipline is mixed with a spiritual experience. This has an important impact on a human being. People that practice salat at an early age are protected from deviation, and even if they deviate, the seed of salat helps them come back.
If you see your child misbehaving, how do you deal with it? Well, generally, there are three approaches. In one approach, you can just let it be and not do anything. This is an easy way out and usually leads to an undisciplined or spoiled child. Another approach is to use force. Unfortunately, many adults naturally lean towards slapping or hitting their children for quick results without fully understanding the consequences of our time. The best and hardest way to deal with the situation is to educate and/or negotiate with the child.
For example, if the child does not want to do his or her homework and just wants to play, you can try to explain the importance of homework and maybe entice him or her with a reward. Also, there is nothing wrong with being stern to instill values and discipline. Sometimes being stern is important to avoid spoiling the child. Now, occasionally, punishment must be used, such as in last resort cases.
However, in Islam, there are guidelines that should be followed. Imam Ali (peace be upon him and his family) said to raise your child with patience and never beat him more than five times. (Jalali, page 430). Also, while addressing school children, Imam Ali (peace be upon him and his family) said that let your teacher know that if he beats you more than three times, I am going to punish him.
First and foremost, negotiations and reasoning must be used with children at a starting point, and punishment, such as the beating mentioned in the ahadith (traditions), is a last resort. Now, why does the Imam put a short limitation on the beatings? If you are going to use a method or tool to obtain a specific effect, and after using that method or tool for a while, that specific effect is not achieved, does it make sense to continue the use of such?
Even psychology experiments show that if you try to train a dog or animal using a technique and that technique does not work in a relatively short time period, then you have to try a different approach. If you continue to beat a child several times over, then one is no longer using the beating as a means of correction, but the beating becomes a tool of anger, revenge, and/or hostility. The children are not punching bags for adults to let out their stress.
Look how Imam Ali (peace be upon him and his family) treats and respects children. He addresses them specifically as individuals with rights. If the teacher does not respect those rights, the Imam said he will punish him. What a profound and daunting statement. We should think before we raise our hands to hit a child.
Actually, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that you cannot spank or beat a child for something that is not haram (forbidden or unpermitted according to Islamic law). Why beat at all? Well, as explained in previous lessons, one must take historical context into account. Beating was merely a means, not the goal. Today, beating may not be necessary as there may exist a slew of punishment means for correction that may be more effective without causing resentment, fear, and/or hatred (as created within children in today’s society due to a number of factors).
As good Muslims and parents, we should also focus on acts of affection towards our children. For example, we should give gifts to our children. There are ahadith that mention that giving gifts to your children is like giving charity or freeing a slave. Also, there is a hadith (tradition) stating that one should give gifts to girls first.
However, one should be cognizant of not exceeding the limits. Parents should not spoil their children and should not instill materialism. It is the parent’s duty to raise a good individual. Parents should always advise and teach their children. Allah (the All-Wise) provides great points for parents to teach their children in the Qur’an (31:13 and 31:16-19). In these verses, Allah (the All-Generous) speaks of how the honorable Luqman (may we reach his level) advised his son.[4]
At least eleven points of wisdom can be extracted from these verses:
i) Never associate anything with God. Generally, there can be two types of shirk (polytheism). One type is actually worshipping idols or statues, and the other type is when you seek help from someone other than God and you believe that the other being is really the source of the help or power. Yes, we seek doctors and others for worldly help, but they are only means. The true help is the Lord, the Indescribable Source.
ii) Whatever God wants to happen, will happen.
iii) God knows what you do, and He is All-Aware.
iv) Never miss prayer. Proper salat (prayer) will help keep you on the straight path.
v) If you see something that is right, say that is right and follow it.
vi) If you see something that is wrong, say that is wrong and avoid it.
vii) Be patient.
viii) Do not beg from anyone/Be modest in your bearing. Meaning, keep within due bounds and observe reasonable limits regarding your behavior.
ix) Do not be proud of yourself and do not think you are better. Pride is a downfall. Do what you have to do and be thankful.
x) Do not walk exultantly or like a braggart.
xi) When talking, use an appropriate voice and do not yell.
“Indeed the ungainliest of voices is the donkey’s voice.” (Qur’an (31:19)).
These are points of guidance and wisdom we should all teach our children. Insha’Allah (if God wills), may we, as adults, also understand and follow these principles.
Children are in the future to become a good mature member of society
As said before, children are the future. Insha’Allah (if God wills), one can raise a child in a proper manner to become a good mature member of society. The age of maturity may be relative to the society in which one lives. For example, in the United States, the age of eighteen seems to be the threshold of maturity. In Islam, however, the legal ages of maturity for males and females are identified by jurists,[5] and, also, physical features may be considered when determining maturity. When a child reaches maturity, what is his or her role towards society?
A person will become independent in thought and will have to identify his or her role in society. For example, a person will start thinking about what profession he or she should pursue. However, despite whatever the person chooses, bringing peace and safety to one’s society is the main goal. A person in a society wants to be in a safe and peaceful environment to live his or her life and raise a family, and so that person’s role should be to promote stability and peace.
Through our professions and way of living, we should contribute to society and make sure our actions foster a positive environment. For example, how should we live here in the United States? Should we go around breaking laws? If we do, we will be put in jail and disrupt not only the society but our families as well. This does not mean we agree with everything the government does or that we like every law.
However, we can try to change laws and attitudes through rational processes and techniques. Islam is a religion of reason, and the objective is peace and security. Yes, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) fought in wars, but a study of those wars will show the necessity of such for defense and to fight against oppression.[6]
You see, the objectives of war can be to protect and vanquish oppression so that peace and security may be established. The objective of terrorism, on the other hand, is only to instill fear. And even if one argues that terrorists may use fear only as a means for whatever they want, that is not Islam.
Extremism is not the middle road or the straight path of Islam. This is evident by the beautiful acts of the Prophet of Islam towards the different peoples and even his enemies. For example, by studying the agreement between the different inhabitants of Madinah after migration as well as the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, one can see that Islam guides people towards peace and security.[7]
Actually, Shaykh Ja’far Subhani in his biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) mentions that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) stated, “No event during the life of the Prophet of Islam was more useful than the Peace Pact of Hudaybiyah.”[8]
Accordingly, whatever path a person chooses to walk, that person should have the goal of bringing or inviting peace and security to that society. If you are a good neighbor and live peacefully with people, then people tend to like you and accept you. However, if you do not bring peace to a society, people will not like you. That is why terrorists are rejected by society. There is no valid system in the whole Universe that does not aim at establishing security and peace. Islam has certain guidelines for establishing these goals.
For example, one can start by having good manners, akhlaq. By people and families exhibiting good manners, the society can run peacefully in a positive way. These good manners or practice of virtue may deal with all parts of one’s life (e.g., how to talk, walk, sit, joke, treat people, etc.). One can learn about these manners from the numerous books of akhlaq. Also, the Wise Qur’an has verses dealing with good manners.
For example, the Qur’an (24:27-28) states: O you who have faith! Do not enter houses other than your own until you have announced [your arrival] and greeted their occupants. That is better for you. Maybe you will take admonition. But if you do not find anyone in them, do no enter them until you are given permission, and if you are told: „Turn back,’ then do turn back. That is more decent for you. And Allah knows best what you do. The Qur’an (58:11) further states, inter alia, “O you who have faith! When you are told, „Make room,’ in sittings, then do make room; Allah will make room for you.” (See Jalali, page 432).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that the best of you is the person who has the better akhlaq. (Jalali, page 433). Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (peace be upon him and his family) said that associate with others so that when you die people will cry for you and when you leave them people will miss you.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him and his family) said that you should curb your tongue (including not delving into personal matters of others) and do not talk rubbish. Imam Ja’far (peace be upon him and his family) also said that a person who cannot control himself when angry is not a Shi’ah (follower of Ahlul Bayt, the People of the House). We have to deal with all people in the proper manner regardless of their race, color, sex, etc.
However, one should always consider a person’s taqwa, God-consciousness. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said that there is no scale except taqwa. (Jalali, page 434). There are good people and there are bad people. There are good Indians, and there are bad Indians. There are good Arabs, and there are bad Arabs. We should not generalize. Look at a person’s character. However, just because someone does not display good character does not mean we should lower ourselves and treat him or her inappropriately. No, we should always act with decency and proper behavior (which may be relative to the situation).
Yet, sometimes avoiding or dissociating from someone that displays bad character is the proper thing to do. Also, we should not only focus on the character of other people, but we should first try to achieve and maintain a high level of taqwa ourselves. The Qur’an (49:13) states, inter alia, “Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”

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