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
In pre-Islamic Arabia, there was a great stigma attached to female babies. This was particularly 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.'"
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."
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.'"
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:
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