Islam and children
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The topic of Islam and children includes the rights of children in Islam, the duties of children towards their parents, and the rights of parents over their children, both biological and foster children. Also discussed are some of the differences regarding rights with respect to different schools of thought.
In the Qur'an
The Qur'an uses various terms for children (e.g. Arabic terms dhurriyya; ghulām; ibn; walad; walīd; mawlūd; ṣabī; tifl; saghir), but, according to Avner Giladi, the context seldom makes it clear whether it is exclusively referring to non-mature children, or simply offspring. The Quranic statements about children, Giladi states, are mainly concerned with "infanticide, adoption, breast-feeding, and orphan children." These statements were of a normative-ethical significance for later Muslim jurists who formed the foundations of Islamic legislation.
Muhammad had seven children, three boys and four girls. All his sons, including Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, died in infancy. Because of this, his experience as a father is sometimes described as "sorrowful". Muhammad also had an adopted son, Zayd, who is said to be the object of Muhammad's parental affection. He also had two grandsons, Hassan and Hussein, and three granddaughters, Umm Kulthum, Zaynab and Umamah. In one Islamic tradition, Muhammad ran after Hussein in a game until he caught him. Muhammad used to let Umamah sit on his shoulders while he was praying. When someone expressed astonishment at the Prophet when the Prophet kissed his grandchild, he responded, "what can I do if God has deprived your heart of all human feeling?"
Muhammad has been described as being very fond of children in general. Watt attributes this to Muhammad's yearning for children, as most of his own children died before him. He comforted a child whose pet nightingale had died. Muhammad played many games with children, joked with them and befriended them. Muhammad also showed love to children of other religions. Once he visited his Jewish neighbor's son when the child was sick.
Once, Muhammad was sitting with a child in his lap, and the child urinated over Muhammad. Embarrassed, the father scolded the child. Muhammad restrained the father, and advised him: "This is not a big issue. My clothes can be washed. But be careful with how you treat the child. What can restore his self-esteem after you have dealt with him in public like this?"
- Pre-Islamic Arabia
In pre-Islamic Arabia, like the Jewish and Christian tradition, sexual relations between males and their milk-mothers or milk-sisters are looked upon as incest, also if they were adopted they couldn't breast feed.
- Advent of Islam
The Quran forbade sexual relations between males and their milk-mothers or milk-sisters. According to Avner Giladi, verses 233 of sura 2 (Al-Baqara) and 6 of sura 65 (At-Talaq) aim at "protecting repudiated but still lactating women and their nurslings by guaranteeing them economic support from the father for at least two years and by sanctioning non-maternal nursing when needed."
The Quran in 19 verses forbids harsh and oppressive treatment of orphaned children while urging kindness and justice towards them. Six-year-old Muhammad himself became an orphan after his mother died in 577, and his father died before he was born. An early Quranic verse celebrates God's providence and care towards him(Surat Ad-Duha). Other Quranic verses identify those who repulse the orphan as unbelievers, rebuke those who do not honor the orphans, and encourage the unbelievers to feed the orphans. The Quran speaks of the reward waiting for those who feed orphans, poor and the prisoner for the love of God. It also warns those who wrongfully consume the property of orphans that they will be punished in the hereafter with "fire in their own bellies". The Quran also gives concrete instructions to guardians (Walis) regarding the orphans, particularly on how to protect their wealth and property rights.
Islamic scholar and prominent thinker Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei (1904–1981), who is given the titles Allamah and Sayyid, renowned for his Quranic exegesis, explains that verses 57 to 59 of sura 16 (An-Nahl) indicate how God admonished pagan polytheistic tribes for their sexism:
They used to assign girls to God and for themselves choose whatever they wanted, meaning that they would choose boys for themselves. For the same reason, they used to bury daughters alive. In conclusion, the things they did not prefer for themselves, they would prefer for God almighty. God admonishes them for this statement.
Rights of children
- Children have the right to be fed, clothed, and protected until they reach adulthood.
- Children must have the respect, to enjoy love and affection from their parents.
- Children have the right to be treated equally, vis-a-vis their siblings in terms of financial gifts.
Prophet Muhammad was reported as saying: "Be fair and just in terms of the gifts you offer your children. If I was to give preference to any (gender over the other) I would have preferred females over males (in terms of giving gifts)."
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said that preferential treatment of a child is permitted if he or she is handicapped while others are not. (In Al-Mughni, vol. 5, p. 605, it is stated that special treatment of a child is permissible due to a need, a handicap, blindness, his or her being from a large family, being engaged in studies, or something of the sort, as it is aIso permitted to withhold from a child who would spend what he is given on sinful or wicked things.)
- The child has the right to be not forced by its step parents or its birth parents.
Islam has given parents so much right on their children. But it does not mean that the parents have been given licence to ill-treat their children. Muhammed has said: “Allah has cursed those parents who (by their behaviour) compel their children to disobey them.”
If the parents themselves do not care about the rights of their children; if they do not give proper religious education; if they neglect their character-building; if they put so much burden upon them that is beyond their strength; if they behave towards the children tyrannically - then it is they who are compelling the children to revolt against them; and they will become candidates of the above-mentioned curse of Allah.
- Children have the right to education. A saying attributed to Muhammad relates:
"A father gives his child nothing better than a good education."
- Parents are recommended to provide adequately for children in inheritance.
A Hadith says, “It is better for parents to leave their children well provided (financially) than to leave them in poverty”.
Depriving, or banning the right of inheritance, or other financial gifts during the lifetime of the parents or the preference of a parent for one child over the other is considered according to Islam as an act of injustice. Injustice will definitely lead to an atmosphere of hatred, anger and dismay amongst the children in a household. In fact, such an act of injustice may, most likely, lead to animosity amongst the children, and consequently, this will affect the entire family environment.
But, if a parent granted one of his children financial help to fulfill a necessity, such as a medical treatment coverage, the cost of a marriage, the cost of initializing a business, etc., then such a grant would not be categorized an act of injustice and unfairness. Such a gift will fall under the right to spend in the essential needs of the children, which is a requirement that a parent must fulfill.
- A father is responsible for teaching his children according to Islam as follows:
- Basic information about belief and worship
- Basic information about high moral qualities
- Information on what to be careful about in relations with other people
- Vocational education
Muhammed said: "Everyone of you is a protector and guardian and responsible for your wards and things under your care and a man is a guardian of his family members, and is accountable for those placed under his charge." (Bukhari and Muslim)
"And those who believe and whose offspring follow them in Faith, to them shall We join their offspring, and We shall not decrease the reward of their deeds in anything. Every person is a pledge for that which he has earned." (Quran: 52:21)
Muhammed, in this context, said: "When a believer dies, his work ceases to be except in three areas: a perpetual Sadaqa (charity), some useful knowledge he leaves and a righteous son praying for him." (Muslim)
- Marrying children when they are old enough to get married
One of the rights that children have over their parents is to be provided with marriage when they are old enough, without delaying it. Both the Quran and Muhammed orders that young people and orphans be married when they are old enough.
One day a man came to Umar ibn al-Khattab to complain of a disobedient son. So Umar had brought the boy to him and he blamed him for his disobedience. Then the boy addressed Umar by saying "O Commander of the faithful: Are there no rights for a boy against his father?". Umar said "Yes". Then the boy said "What are these rights O Commander of the Faithful?" Umar said, "To choose a good mother for him, to select a good name to him and to teach him the Quran" Then the boy said: "O Commander of the faithful; my father has not accomplished any of these rights. As for my mother, she was a black slave or a Magian; As for my name, he has named me Jual (beetle); and he has not taught me even one letter from the Quran". Then Umar turned round to the man and said "You came to me complaining disobedience on the part of your son, whereas you have not given him his rights. So you have made mistakes against him before he has made mistakes against you".— Abd-Allah Nasih Ulwan, Child Education in Islam
It should however be noted that this although the above tradition has been found to be commonly attributed to Umar, the story could not be traced or found in any major book of hadith or athar (stories of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad). Therefore, its authenticity is doubtful. However, there are other sound hadiths that support the protection of the rights of children in Islam.
Rights of parents
With regard to Islam, some of the prerogatives of parents with respect to children, and countervailing rights of children are:
- The first and foremost right of the parents is to be obeyed and respected by their children but the parents must give some rights and they should be kind to their children/child.
Narrated Abu Bakr The Prophet said thrice, "Should I inform you out the greatest of the great sins?" They said, "Yes, O Allah's Apostle!" He said, "To join others in worship with Allah and to be undutiful to one's parents." The Prophet then sat up after he had been reclining (on a pillow) and said, "And I warn you against giving a false witness, and he kept on saying that warning till we thought he would not stop. (See Hadith No. 7, Vol. 8)
- The mother has the right to receive the best treatment than accorded to any other person, in addition the mother has the right of custody of the child in general circumstances, at least until she remarries.
Narrated Abu Huraira: A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man said. "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man further said, "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your mother." The man asked for the fourth time, "Who is next?" The Prophet said, "Your father. "
- Parents have the right to be looked after by their children, and to receive physical or financial help as necessary, especially in their old age but also parents must not force its children/child as it is sharia.
All Sunni schools of thought agree that forced marriages are strictly forbidden in Islam, as Islamic marriages are contracts between two consenting parties referred to as mithaq. It has been quoted from Muhammad:
"The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until their order is obtained, and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained."
In addition, Muhammad gave women the power to annul their marriages if it was found that they had been married against their consent.
"When a man gives his daughter in marriage and she dislikes it, the marriage shall be annulled." Once a virgin girl came to the Prophet and said that her father had married her to a man against her wishes. The Prophet gave her the right to repudiate the marriage.
In Islam, marriage is essentially a contract. However, the distinction between sacred and secular was never explicit in Islam. Any action or transaction in Islam has religious implications. It is not quite accurate, therefore, to designate marriage in Islam simply as a secular contract.
For a valid marriage, the following conditions must be satisfied, this is in accordance with all schools of thought:
- There must be a clear proposal.
- There must be a clear acceptance, but silence is taken as acceptance as well.
- There must be at least two competent witnesses. This is necessary to exclude illicit sex and to safeguard legitimacy of progeny. It is recommended that marriage should be widely publicized.
- There must be a marriage gift, little or more, by the bridegroom to the bride.
The Maliki school of thought gives the right of Ijbar to the guardian. Ijbar is defined as the annulment of marriage due to objection by male guardian. According to Malik ibn Anas, children due to their immaturity may choose an unsuitable partner for themselves, hence, the power of Ijbar has been given to the guardian so that he may overrule the child to marry someone he thinks is unsuitable for her. This is the legal right given to the guardian for girls by Maliki school of thought. In addition, Islam requires that parents be followed in almost every circumstances, hence parents may ask their children to divorce a certain person, but this cannot be upheld in an Islamic court of law and is not a legal right of the parent.
Age of marriage
No age limits have been fixed by Islam for marriage according to Reuben Levy, and "quite young children may be legally married". The girl may not live with the husband however until she is fit for marital sexual relations. The Hanafi madhhab of Islamic fiqh maintains that a wife must not be taken to her husband's house until she reaches the condition of fitness for sexual relations. Levy adds:
"In case of a dispute on the matter between the husband and the bride's wali (her nearest male kinsman and her guardian), the judge (qadi) is to be informed and he is to appoint two matrons to examine the girl and report on her physical preparedness for marriage. If they decide she is too young, she must return to her father's house until she is judged fit. Betrothal may take place at any age. Actual marriage is later, but the age for it varies in different lands."— Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam
In Islamic legal terminology, Baligh refers to a person who has reached maturity, puberty or adulthood and has full responsibility under Islamic law. Legal theorists assign different ages and criteria for reaching this state for both males and females. In marriage baligh is related to the Arabic legal expression, hatta tutiqa'l-rijal, which means that the wedding may not take place until the girl is physically fit to engage in sexual intercourse. Some Hanafi scholars hold the opinion that sexual intercourse may take place before puberty, as long as it's not injurious to one's health. In comparison, baligh or balaghat concerns the reaching of sexual maturity which becomes manifest by the menses. The age related to these two concepts can, but need not necessarily, coincide. Only after a separate condition called rushd, or intellectual maturity to handle one's own property, is reached can a girl receive her bridewealth.
Adoption and fostering
Islam highly recommends the "fostering" of children, defined as "assuming partial or complete responsibility of a child in lieu of the biological parents". However, Islam forbids naming the child as one's own, or creating any "fictive relationships". Islamic adoption is sometimes called "fostering" or "partial adoption" and is similar to "open adoption". Traditionally Islam has viewed legal adoption as a source of potential problems, such as accidentally marrying one's sibling or when distributing inheritance.
If a child is adopted he or she does not become a son or daughter, but rather a ward of the adopting caretaker(s). The child’s family name is not changed to that of the adopting parent(s) and his or her guardians are publicly known as such. Legally, this is close to other nations' systems for foster care. Other common rules governing adoption in Islamic culture address inheritance, marriage regulations, and the fact that adoptive parents are considered trustees of another individual's child rather than the child's new parents. Usually an adopted child inherits from his or her biological parents, not automatically from the adoptive parents. If the child is below the age of consent at the time of inheritance (from the biological family), his or her adoptive parents serve as trustees over the child's wealth, but may not intermingle with it.
Adoption was a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia. According to this custom, the adopted son would take the name of his adoptive parent, and would be assimilated into the family in a "legal sense". Islam viewed this practice as "erasure of natal identity". This practice was sometimes done for emotional reasons, such as pity, but adoption was also a means through which slaves were stripped of their identities and given the name of their slavemaster. The Quran replaced the pre-Islamic custom of adoption by the recommendation that "believers treat children of unknown origin as their brothers in the faith".
From verses 4 and 5 in sura 33 (Al-Ahzab) in the Quran, Allah instructed adoptive parents to refer to their adoptive children by the names of their biological parents, if known:
...nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if ye know not their father's (names, call them) your Brothers in faith, or your maulas. But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.— Quran
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