Pre-Islamic Arabia was very much centered around adult males. Unsurprisingly, then, the society in which they lived was very much rigged in their favor. Women and children were often an afterthought, with few rules in place to ensure their health and wellbeing. This began to change when Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah. Throughout his prophethood, Muhammad would receive multiple messages from Allah detailing what Muslims were to do in order to create a better world for women and children. These passages were later included in the Glorious Quran. Meanwhile, Muhammad's personal teachings regarding the importance of caring for women and children were compiled in the Hadith.
In a previous article, we examined, in great detail, what the Quran and the Hadith have to tell us about women. There, we found that Islam is dedicated to honoring and caring for females of all faiths, despite what anti-Islamic propaganda claims. In this article - the first in a two-part series - we will be discussing the Quran's teachings on children and how they should be treated. We will also be examining relevant passages of the Hadith to see how they compliment and, in some cases, shed further light upon the contents of the Quran. Here is what Islam teaches about children.
We Are Obligated To Care For Children
rly true in the case of poor families, as women generally didn't work at the time. This meant poor families who dedicated their resources to raising a female child could not expect that child to go out and earn enough money to support the family when she became old enough to get a job. As a result, many couples who conceived a female baby did the unthinkable and abandoned it immediately after birth. The baby would perish in the wilderness and the parents, in most cases, would repeat the process until they sired a male who could grow up to support them in their old age. It was a horrible practice and was one of the very first things Allah brought an end to with the Quran. In Surah Al-An'am, we are told the following:
"Say, 'Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited to you. [He commands] that you not associate anything with Him, and to parents, good treatment, and do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them. And do not approach immoralities - what is apparent of them and what is concealed. And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason.'"
- Quran, 6:151
Of all the passages of the Quran - some of which refer to him directly - the above extract must have hit home with Muhammad like no other. Muhammad's father died before he was born. His mother would pass away when he was still a child, leaving him an orphan at just six years old. Although he was a member of the Banu Hashim clan, Muhammad's family was not willing to take on the burden of caring for the young boy. The clan's finances were in disarray and the prospect of an extra expense was enough for many members of the clan to call for the abandonment of the child. Finally, Muhammad's grandfather stepped up to care for him. Upon his grandfather's death, Muhammad was subjected to similar calls to either put him to work or leave him to fend for himself. Muhammad's uncle, Abu Talib, eventually agreed to care for the future prophet and, by all accounts, their relationship was a happy one. However, the poor fortune of the Banu Hashim meant Muhammad was forced to join a trade caravan at an age much younger than most boys started working in Arabian society.
Because of the hardships he experienced as a child, Muhammad knew how vulnerable poor children could be. He was also familiar with the fear a child felt when they were faced the prospect of being left to starve or be eaten alive. Therefore, he likely delighted in bringing the above Quranic extract to his followers. It commands all families, be they rich or poor, to care for their children, meaning no child would have to suffer as he did.
A similar passage of the Quran speaks out about the mistreatment of female children specifically. Found in Surah An-Nahl. It reads:
"And when the news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision."
- Quran 16:58 - 59
Muhammad personally condemned the practice of abandoning or burying children -particularly female children - on multiple occasions. In Sunan Abu Dawood, for example, we find the following Hadith:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: "The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 'If anyone has a female child, and does not bury her alive, or slight her, or prefer his children (i.e. the male ones) to her, Allah will bring him into Paradise.'"
- Sunan Abu Dawood
This Hadith stands out among similar Hadith owing to Muhammad's declaration that a man may be permitted into paradise for not burying his daughter alive. It drives home just how prevalent this practice was in the time of Muhammad. It was so common among non-Muslims that to have a female child and raise her fairly and justly into adulthood was considered an act worthy of entering Paradise. It is important to remember, however, that this reward was likely in place to break a centuries-old cultural tradition. What's more, it achieved this goal and then some. Today, this practice has, thankfully, been entirely stamped out. For this reason, most scholars agree one cannot enter Paradise by simply having and raising a female child. While it is certainly a noble feat, one must abide by the additional principles of Islam if they wish to avoid the Hell fire on the Day of Judgment.
Allah Protects Children And Their Parents
Raising a child alone is incredibly difficult. Even a husband and wife, who have each other to rely on for support, will find parenthood an incredible challenge. Muslim parents, however, will always be able to rely on assistance from Allah to ensure their children reach adulthood safe and sound. The Quran informs readers that Allah will always be with them as they face the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It also advises them to secure His guidance and protection by remembering Him throughout all stages of parenthood. This includes the act of conception itself. In the below Hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad commands his followers to preface the act of sexual intercourse with the following declaration:
"I begin with the Name of God!O God! Protect me from Satan and protect what You bestow upon us (our offspring) from Satan."
- Sahih al-Bukhari
This echoes a similar supplication made by the wife of Imran in the Quran. Imran and his wife entered into old age without ever having conceived a child. This perturbed the couple greatly, particularly the wife of Imran, who yearned to taste the joys of parenthood. In desperation, she cried upon Allah:
"[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of 'Imran said, 'My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.'"
- Quran, 3:35
Allah heard the pleas of Imran and his wife and did indeed bless them with a child. In fact, not only did He bless them with a child, but He blessed them with a daughter who would be elevated among all other females. That daughter was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Throughout the Quran, Mary is praised as the greatest of all women, with frequent reference being made to her purity and devotion to Allah. One has to assume Allah blessed Imran and his wife with such a marvelous daughter owing to their recognition of His important role in the process of conceiving and raising a child. Zechariah, who was tasked with caring for Mary throughout her childhood, also understood the importance of seeking Allah's assistance. In Surah Ali Imran, the Quran tells us of a plea made by Zechariah to ensure Mary would grow up to be devoted to the cause of the believers. It reads:
"So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, 'O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?' She said, 'It is from Allah . Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.' At that, Zechariah called upon his Lord, saying, 'My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.'"
- Quran, 3:37 - 38
Children Are Guaranteed A Place In Paradise
During the time of Muhammad, it was not uncommon for a child to die before reaching adulthood. Even parents who did everything they could to care for their children and treat them with the love and devotion mandated by Islam sometimes lost their children. While childhood deaths have decreased markedly in the millinnea since the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, they do still occur in some tragic circumstances. Parents who lose a child today grieve just as much as parents who lost a child in the time of Muhammad, if not more so considering the relative rarity of such a tragedy today. However, grieving parents of all eras can find some degree of solace in the words of the Quran. In Surah At-Tur, while discussing the joys which await believers in Paradise, the Quran tells us:
"Enjoying what their Lord has given them, and their Lord protected them from the punishment of Hellfire. [They will be told], "Eat and drink in satisfaction for what you used to do." They will be reclining on thrones lined up, and We will marry them to fair women with large, [beautiful] eyes. And those who believed and whose descendants followed them in faith - We will join with them their descendants, and We will not deprive them of anything of their deeds. Every person, for what he earned, is retained."
- Quran, 52:18 - 21
From these verses, we can assume that those who do not live long enough to stray from the commandments of Allah will follow their believing relatives straight into Paradise. Children who perished before being able to confirm belief or disbelief, will not be held accountable for their sins, as Allah understands children act without full comprehension of their actions or their consequences. Much like the earlier examined extract from Surah Al-An'am, the above verse must have hit close to home for Muhammad. Alongside his first wife, Khadijah, Muhammad had two sons. He later sired a third son with Mariaal-Qibtiyya. Tragically, all three of the Prophet's sons died in infancy. A particularly tear-jerking Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari recalls Muhammad's reaction to the passing of Ibrahim, his third and final son.
Narrated Anas bin Malik: "We went with Allah's Messenger to the blacksmith Abu Saif, and he was the husband of the wet-nurse of Ibrahim (the son of the Prophet). Allah's Messenger took Ibrahim and kissed him and smelled him and later we entered Abu Saif's house and at that time Ibrahim was in his last breaths, and the eyes of Allah's Messenger started shedding tears. `Abdur Rahman bin `Auf said, 'O Allah's Apostle, even you are weeping!' He said, 'O Ibn `Auf, this is mercy.' Then he wept more and said, 'The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim! Indeed we are grieved by your separation.'"
- Sahih al-Bukhari
The above Hadith is important as it reminds us that Muhammad, despite his prophethood, was human, just like the rest of us. Much to the surprise of those who witnessed his grief, he mourned the loss of his son just as any other parent who has experienced the trauma of losing a child. However, Muhammad no doubt took solace in the knowledge that his child would enter Paradise and be cared for by one of Allah's greatest prophets. According to the following Hadith, all children who perish before their parents will fall into the care of Abraham while they await their parents' arrival into Paradise:
"Allah's Apostle very often used to ask his companions, 'Did any of you see a dream?' So dreams would be narrated to him by those whom Allah wished to tell. One morning, the Prophet Muhammad said 'Last night, two persons came to me (in a dream) and woke me up and said to me 'Proceed!' I set out with them' He mentioned things and places that he had seen, and then he said, 'We proceeded and we reached a garden of deep green dense vegetation, having all sorts of spring colors. In the midst of the garden there was a very tall man and I could hardly see his head because of his great height, and around him there were children in such a large number as I have never seen. I said to my companions, 'Who is this?' They replied 'Proceed! Proceed!' Then among the things that the two companions said to him was: 'The tall man whom you saw in the garden is Ibrahim and the children around him are those children who die with Al-Fitrah.'"
When the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad, it not only provided a series of legal and theological insights, but it also gave rights to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Its devotion to children was something which was entirely unheard of in pre-Islamic Arabia. While this certainly made it more difficult for Muhammad to convince his peers to embrace the message of the Quran, he stood by the book's insistence that children were to be treated as valuable members of society rather than simply as the property of their parents. In fact, as the many Hadith included above tell us, Muhammad held firmly to the Quran's teachings regarding children and seemed to be very much convinced of the joy of raising a child even before he embarked on his journey of prophethood. We will examine further evidences of this in part two of this series, discussing additional Quranic extracts and Hadith which remind us just how highly regarded children are within Islam.