Children in Islam, Part 1March 31, 2020 2023-08-11 12:52
Children in Islam, Part 1
Children in Islam, Part 1
Islam is the single fastest growing religion in the world. With nearly two billion adherents worldwide, it is expected to overtake Christianity as the leading world religion by the end of this century. Much of Islam’s rapid growth can be traced to its high conversion rates. Every year, more than 30,000 people convert to Islam in the United States alone. However, we cannot understate the important contributions of those born into the Islamic faith. Without them to carry on the traditions of their ancestors, there would be nobody to introduce non-Muslims to the majesty of the Quran.
Allah knows the vital role multi-generational believers play in the spreading of Islam. Because of this, much of the Quran focuses on the importance of caring for one’s children on the physical, emotional, and spiritual level. In an earlier article, we discussed numerous Quranic passages and hadith about children and how they should be treated. In this article, we will be returning to that theme. Below, you will find even more Islamic teachings on children.
Introducing A Child To Islam
There has been much debate among scholars as to when a child should be introduced to religion. This debate is not limited to scholars, however, nor is it exclusive to the religion of Islam. For centuries, lecturers, doctors, and psychologists (to name a few) have been discussing when – if any – is the right time to introduce a child to the concept of God and all that it entails. We could save ourselves a great deal of time, worry, and ink if we looked to the Quran and hadith. There, we can find clear instructions as to when we should introduce our children to religion. In a hadith found in Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, we are told the following:
Sabrah bin Ma’bad al-Juhni narrated that Allah’s Messenger said: Teach a child salat when they are seven years and punish them from refusing it from the age of ten.”
- Jami’ at-Tirmidhi
This hadith tells us clearly when a child should be taught to pray. While they may be introduced to the Quran and its basic tenants at a younger age, a child should not be taught to pray until they are seven years of age. Even then, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ encouraged parents to exhibit leniency. After all, it is a major adjustment to go from not praying at all to praying five times a day. For this reason, the Prophetﷺ instructed Muslims to allow their children a practice period of three years, rather than holding them to the same standards they would hold an adult Muslim, or even an elder child. If a child reaches their tenth year and still refuses to pray as commanded by Allah, then their parents must punish them. It is important to remember, however, that refusing to pray and praying incorrectly are two different things. Some Muslim parents don’t recognize this and are too quick to deal out punishment. If a ten-year-old child is praying incorrectly, they must first be commended for their desire to pray and then taught how to worship in the proper manner.
Although a child should be taught to pray correctly from the age of seven, they should not be held to the same strict laws which adult Muslims must adhere to. Fasting, for example, is not required for young children. A child should only partake in their first Ramadan fast once they have entered adolescence. Any younger than this and the child’s physical development may be slowed, while they will also be at risk of illness and fatigue. We are told children shall not be held to the law of fasting in several hadith. One particularly noteworthy hadith in Sunan al-Tirmidhi recalls a mentally ill woman being sentenced to death for adultery. When the Prophet Muhammadﷺ heard of the woman’s situation, he stepped in and forbid his followers from carrying out the sentence. In admonishing them for their decision, he said:
“The pen is lifted from three people: a sleeping person until he awakens, a young boy until he reaches puberty, and an insane person until he regains his sanity.”
- Sunan al-Tirmidhi
In declaring the woman innocent due to her lessened mental capacity, the Muhammadﷺ also protected children from the laws of fasting (along with sleepwalkers from whatever they may get up to!).
Suckling and Weaning
The vast majority of the Quran is dedicated to spiritual matters. However, there are several passages devoted to the physical care of the human body. Many of these passages relate to caring for children, so that we may aid their physical development and ensure they reach adulthood safe and sound. In Surah Al-Baqarah, for example, we find clear instructions on suckling and weaning, which new parents will no doubt appreciate. The first half of Quran, 2:233 reads as follows:
“Mothers may breastfeed their children two complete years for whoever wishes to complete the nursing [period]. Upon the father is the mothers’ provision and their clothing according to what is acceptable. No person is charged with more than his capacity.”
- Quran, 2:233
According to the above passage, the ideal breastfeeding period is two years. This may seem like a little much in our modern world. Right now, the average breastfeeding cut off is a mere 17 weeks. However, the benefits of adhering to the 24-month breastfeeding period outlined in the Quran are copious. For starters, it ensures your child receives all essential nutrients, which cannot be said of an exclusively solid-food diet. Meanwhile, extended breastfeeding boosts a child’s immune system and drastically reduces the risk of infections and diseases, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Extended breastfeeding has also been proven to reduce the mother’s risk of developing breast cancer. Even the World Health Organization agrees that 24 months is the ideal breastfeeding period!
If you cannot, for whatever reason, commit to breastfeeding your child for two years, there’s no need to worry. Allah knows the challenges new parents face and the difficulties of modern life; Allah is aware that extended breastfeeding can, in some cases, be an untenable hardship. That is why Quran, 2:233 goes on to say:
“No mother should be harmed through her child, and no father through his child. And upon the [father’s] heir is [a duty] like that [of the father]. And if they both desire weaning through mutual consent from both of them and consultation, there is no blame upon either of them. And if you wish to have your children nursed by a substitute, there is no blame upon you as long as you give payment according to what is acceptable. And fear Allah and know that Allah is seeing of what you do.”
- Quran, 2:233
The second half of Quran, 2:233 is a testament to Allah’s mercy and understanding. He does not want to put us through hardships unduly. As such, He will not punish those who decide to stop breastfeeding before the suggested 24-month period has passed. Likewise, He will not punish parents who choose to have their child breastfed – or even raised – by a substitute. As well as providing guidance to the earliest Muslim parents and, indeed, Muslim parents throughout the centuries, the above passage likely provided a great deal of comfort to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ himself. When the Prophet Muhammadﷺ was a newborn, his mother, grieving untimely the loss of the Prophet’sﷺ father, handed the infant’s care over to a wet nurse by the name of Halimah. This was customary for the Arabs of Mecca. The fact that this is mentioned in the Quran informs us that this is a God-sanctioned way to raise infants.
One of the most famous – and, indeed, controversial – characteristics of Judaism is its mandate for infant male circumcision. So much has been written about this practice within Judaism that non-Muslims overlook the fact that it is also required within Islam. Just like their Jewish brothers and sisters, Muslims believe that infant circumcision is an integral part of keeping the covenant Abraham made with Allah on behalf of his people. In Islam, the circumcision of infant males has the added benefit of maintaining ritual purity and good hygiene.
Although the Quran does not make reference to the circumcision of infant males, it is mandated and discussed by the Prophet Muhammadﷺ in a number of hadith. In Sahih al-Bukhari, for example, we find the following hadith:
Abu Hurayra reported: The Prophetﷺ said, “Five acts are a part of natural instinct: circumcision, shaving pubic hair, plucking hair from the armpits, shortening the mustache, and clipping the nails.”
- Sahih al-Bukhari
In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ recalls the circumcision of Abraham. This was, presumably, the very first circumcision to be performed for theological reasons. In describing it, the Prophetﷺ told his followers:
Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Ibrahim, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was circumcised when he was eighty years old. He was circumcised with an axe.”
- Al-Adab al-Mufrad
Now, before we can examine the above hadith, we must acknowledge that it is somewhat contradicted by a similar hadith, which claims the following:
Abu Hurayra said, “Ibrahim, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was circumcised when he was 120 years old. Then he lived eighty years after that.”
- Al-Adab al-Mufrad
While the two above hadith disagree regarding the exact age of Abraham at the time of his circumcision, the consensus among them is that he was in his old age when the procedure took place. This speaks to Abraham’s dedication to Allah. Even today, in a world of medical marvels, any form of surgery is extremely risky when a patient is in their old age. One can only imagine, then, the high risk the elderly who underwent surgery thousands of years ago were exposed to, especially when it was a relatively new procedure, such as circumcision. Despite this, Abraham put his trust in Allah and allowed himself to be circumcised with an axe. Such was his faith in his God that he did not even wait for a potentially more suitable medical tool to be presented or devised.
Just as there is debate as to the exact age Abraham was when he was circumcised, there has been some debate as to at what age a male should be circumcised within Islam. The consensus that newborn Muslim males should be circumcised in infancy does not come from the Prophet Muhammadﷺ alone. Rather, it is an amalgamation of Jewish tradition, the Prophet Muhammad’sﷺ own teachings, and the writings of revered Islamic scholar. One such revered Islamic scholar, Al-Mawardi, had the following to says regarding the time for circumcision:
“There are two periods for it, one at which it becomes obligatory and another at which it is recommended. The first is the time of puberty, and the other is any time before that. The seventh day after birth is chosen as the proper date for circumcision.”
Additional writings encouraging the circumcision of infant males at seven days old include the following:
“I asked Malik about it, and he said: ‘I do not know, but circumcision is an act of purification, and therefore the earlier it is performed, the better to my liking.'”
- Al-Walid I
“Circumcision becomes obligatory when the age of puberty is reached. But it is recommended to have a child circumcised on his seventh day, unless the baby is too weak to take it. Then it should be postponed until the child can go through it.”
Much like Islam’s suggestion to breastfeed children for a period of two years, infant male circumcision has been the cause of much controversy. However, the World Health Organization again largely agrees with Islam’s stance on the matter and recognizes male circumcision as having a number of health benefits. Most notably, male circumcision has been proven to reduce the risk of HIV and AIDS. There is also evidence to suggest it is effective in combating penile cancers.
Muslims famously choose to name their male children after the prophet Muhammadﷺ. It is so popular, in fact, that in 2014 Muhammad was ranked as the most popular name in Britain. It also consistently ranks high in other Western countries, as well as, unsurprisingly, in Middle Eastern lands. Muhammad is such a common name among Muslim males that one could be forgiven for assuming Muslims are mandated to name their male offspring such. In reality, however, it is simply a case of demonstrating love for our Prophetﷺ. That being said, there are several guidelines Muslim parents are expected to adhere to when naming their children.
In one Shia hadith, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ is recorded as saying:
“The children have three rights over their fathers. The first is that they are given good names. Secondly, they are provided good education; and lastly, they help them to select good spouses.”
- Wasail al-Shia
Prophet Muhammadﷺ elaborates upon this in another hadith, also found in Wasail al-Shia. It reads:
“Keep good names, because on the Day of Judgment you will be called by these names only. It will be proclaimed, ‘so-and-so son of so-and-so Rise and get associated with your light, So-and-so, son of so-and-so Arise that there is no light for you that can guide you!'”
- Wasail al-Shia
In yet another hadith found in Wasail al-Shia, it is claimed that the Prophet Muhammadﷺ discusses when it is apt to name one’s male child after him. They say he addressed his followers, and said:
“Whoever gets four sons, and he has not named even one after me has been cruel on me.”
- Wasail al-Shia
Wasail al-Shia provides many additional teachings regarding what is and is not permissible when it comes to naming children. However, we must be mindful of the fact that Wasail al-Shia is a collection of Shia hadith. As such, it isn’t used in Sunni circles. This can be problematic, as Sunni Muslims make up the vast majority of the world’s Muslim population.
Although Sunni Muslims do not prescribe to scripture that is exclusively Shia, the naming rules outlined in Wasail al-Shia still can be applied within Sunni Islam. Many additional rules are also in place to guide Muslim parents in naming their newborns. In many cases, these rules are born out of tradition rather than coming from the Quran or hadith. Nevertheless, they serve a valuable purpose and will give your child a head start in his or her journey to Paradise.
One of the most obvious of these rules is that a child may not be named after any of the names of Allah. These names belong to Allah alone and bestowing them upon anybody else is considered to be a most grievous sin. Likewise, a child may not be given a name which indicates slavery to anybody but Allah. Even well-meaning names, such as ‘Abd al-Nabi or ‘Abd al-Rasool – which mean ‘Slave of the Prophet’ and ‘Slave of the Messenger’ respectively – are absolutely off limits. A parent may not bestow upon their child a name which traditionally belongs to non-believers. These include popular Christian names, such as Peter and George. Even their Arabic equivalents may not be used. In the Western world, many parents choose to name their children after celebrities, such as sports stars, actors, and musicians. While it is not considered haram (forbidden) to give a child a permissible name which just happens to be the name of a famous figure, it is considered haram to give a child a certain name simply because it belongs to somebody in the public eye. If a parent wishes to name their child after somebody they admire, they should choose a prophet or sahabi/a (a companion of the Prophetﷺ). In fact, naming a child after a prophet is actively encouraged in Islam. Prophet Muhammadﷺ himself named his third son, Ibrahim, after Abraham, the father of monotheism.
As well as permitting his followers to name their children after the prophets, the Prophet Muhammadﷺ outlined three other categories of names which were permissible under Islam. The first of these categories includes only two names. They are ‘Abd-Allah and ‘Abd al-Rahman and are considered to be the best names a parent could give their child. The second category encompasses a markedly wider variety of names, including Abd al-Malik, ‘Abd al-Ilaah, and ‘Abd al-Azeez, among many others. These names are favorable as they express enslavement to Allah and to the cause of Islam. Finally, a parent may name their child after the most noble worshippers of Allah. In a way, this could be interpreted as referring to the Prophets of Islam. However, that is already covered by the category mentioned in the above paragraph. For this reason, most scholars agree this category is in reference to the companions of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ and other early Islamic figures. Although they were not prophets themselves, they were among the first believers and were instrumental in spreading Islam across the world. As such, they are more than deserving of having a Muslim child named in their honor.
Christian scripture recalls several instances in which Jesus praises the purity and innocence of children while encouraging his followers to be kind to them. Despite this, the early Christians were largely unconcerned with children and were more focused on nailing down concrete doctrine and practices to separate them from their Jewish ancestors. Islam was the first major religion to specifically mandate fairness and compassion towards children as part of its laws. In doing so, it elevated children in Arab society, stamping out heinous practices, such as the abandonment of infant newborns. In a well-known hadith “Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allahﷺ said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.”
Musnad Aḥmad 7073
The Prophet Muhammadﷺ was also sure to strengthen and introduce a number of laws to ensure children had a clear path to Allah from the moment they were born. These include the ritual circumcision of male infants and the blessed naming guidelines outlined above. These laws have remained unchanged for centuries and should be adhered to by Muslim parents today. By combining the naming and purity laws outlined by Islamic scripture with the core teachings of the Quran and hadith, Muslim parents can virtually ensure their children will grow up to become righteous worshippers and integral components of Islamic society.