Giving children their rights
By: Sadaf Farooqi
“Stop it, you nuisance!”
Is it not considered ‘normal’ in most societal circles today for adults to address minor children in such a tone, and with derogatory words?
Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can lose their patience with the naughty mischiefs of children very quickly, especially if these children are extremely intelligent, curious, energetic, bold, self-confident and spirited.
Children are a big blessing of God. Having children and raising them righteously lays the foundation of a stable extended family structure.
Whilst most of us are well-aware of and regularly exhort the great rights of parents in Islam, we tend to overlook the fact that little children are also born with definite Islamic rights that we have to fulfill as an obligation. Even the unseen, unheard fetus in the womb has rights, which can delay the distribution of inheritance, as well as affect the rulings regarding divorce in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) handled many situations involving the antics and natural tendencies of infants and minor children with exemplary patience and good-naturedness.
As God has commanded us in the Quran to emulate Prophet Muhammad as a ticket to earning His ultimate pleasure with us in the Hereafter, we should see how the Prophet corrected or reprimanded small children whenever they did something that could, in the modern world, severely test the patience and tolerance of most stressed-out, quick-to-snap adults.
Tolerance for Infant Messes
Babies under the age of one are cuddly, chubby and adorable; bundles of joy that everyone loves to hold, kiss, hug, coo over and carry around.
That is, until they do something smelly and leaky in their diaper.
As soon as that happens, the hitherto adoring adult (especially a male one) who is holding them, immediately scrunches up their nose in disgust and hands them over to the mother or nanny for cleanup.
However, this was not what the Prophet did in such a situation. He would often take infants in his lap, even though in that era there were no leak-proof diapers!
“A boy was brought to the Prophet to do tahnik for him, but the boy urinated on him, whereupon the Prophet had water poured on the place of urine.” (Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad refrained from expressing disgust or immediately denying a newborn baby his lap even when the baby urinated on his clothes! This indicates his exemplarily high level of tolerance for babies’ natural phases, as it is normal for newborns to urinate often.
The lesson for us in this habit of Prophet Muhammad is to not get irritated at the natural, physical messes that babies tend to make (such as nose emissions, excreta, or regurgitated milk), even if the mess gets on our clothes. We should also help clean up the mess without considering it beneath our social dignity to do so.
Tolerating Natural Toddler Antics
Babies grow older to become active and energetic toddlers (known nowadays as ‘preschoolers’), who love climbing on to the laps and backs of adults and playing “rough house”.
It is well known that the Prophet not just allowed children in this age-range inside hismasjid during obligatory congregational prayers, but also patiently tolerated their antics during prayers, even if these antics caused noise or disturbance.
Reported by Abdullah ibn Shaddad from his father:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came out to lead us in either maghrib or ‘isha’ one night, and he was carrying Hassan or Husain. The Messenger of Allah came forward and put (the child) down, then he said takbir and started to pray. During the prayer, he prostrated and made his prostration long.
My father said: “I raised my head and I saw the child on the back of the Messenger of Allah whilst he was prostrating, so I returned to my prostration.”
When the Messenger of Allah finished praying, the people said:
“O Messenger of Allah, during your prayer you prostrated for so long that we thought something had happened or that you were receiving Revelation.”
Nothing at all happened, but my son was riding on my back and I did not want to disturb him until he had had enough. (An-Nisa’i)
This hadith is another great example of how tolerant the Prophet was regarding children’s naughtiness. Imagine a small child in the age-range 2-4 (who can be carried easily) climbing on to the back of a masjid’s imam during prostration nowadays. What do you think his reaction would be?
Yet, Prophet Muhammad lengthened his prostration just to let the child continue his enjoyment and innocent play, hereby causing some concern and undoubtedly a bit of chagrin to the worshippers praying behind him in the congregation.
Using His Hands Gently to Reprimand
Children love physical displays of affection, and like being touched in a positive manner. Instead of subjecting them to long monologues and lectures to correct their mistakes, physically removing them from harm is more effective.
Narrated Abu Hurairah:
“Dates used to be brought to Allah’s Messenger immediately after being plucked. Different persons would bring their dates till a big heap collected (in front of the Prophet). Once Al-Hassan and Al-Husain were playing with these dates, one of them took a date and put it in his mouth. Allah’s Messenger looked at him and took it out from his mouth and said: “Don’t you know that Muhammad’s offspring do not eat what is given in charity?” (Al-Bukhari)
The Prophet taking the date out of his grandson’s mouth himself whilst giving him a short explanation of the reason, deployed the most effective strategy of quickly resolving the situation. Which small child would willingly spit a tasty, sweet date out from their mouth themselves?
Most parents today, however, keep shouting at a small child to not touch an object or to stay away from a dangerous area, all the while being ignored by the child. They then snap and give the child a harsh scolding in front of everyone for not listening to them.
The lesson from this hadith about the correct thing to do in such a situation is for an adult to get up quickly and physically remove the small child from harm, warning them about the reason in brief words.
The hadith below also corroborates this strategy:
“Allah’s messenger was one of the best of men in character. One day, he sent me to do something, and I said: “I swear by Allah that I will not go”. But in my heart I felt that I should go to do what the Prophet of Allah had commanded me. So I went out and came upon some boys who were playing in the street. All of a sudden Allah’s Messenger, who had come up behind, caught me by the back of the neck, and when I looked at him, he was laughing. He said: “Go where I ordered you, little Anas”. I replied: “Yes, I am going, messenger of Allah!” (Abu Dawud)
Prophet Muhammad used a combination of physical touch and gentle reprimanding words to make little Anas realize his forgetfulness. The Prophet knew that it is natural for a little boy to get distracted from an errand by other children’s street games.
This hadith also indicates that when a child passes the toddler stage, it is permissible to train them to do light, easy tasks for adults, but to remember that it is normal for him or her to resist immediate obedience and to get distracted by other children’s play.
Explaining Concisely for Correction
When a child becomes older i.e. beyond the age of 6-7, he or she reaches the age of mentally understanding what is right and what is wrong. When he encountered such a child doing something the wrong way, the Prophet would gently and concisely correct them and explain to them how to do it right, without scolding harshly or making them feel humiliated in front of others.
Umar ibn Abu Salamah reported:
“I was a boy under the care of the Messenger of Allah, and as my hand used to wander around in the dish, he said to me once:
“Mention Allah’s Name (i.e., say Bismillah), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is in front of you.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Little children have short attention spans, high energy levels, and an extremely curious nature due to which they want to explore everything in the world, most of which is still very new to them. However, we can misinterpret their natural actions and reactions to situations in a negative manner, unless we proactively practice patience with their behavior without belittling, rebuking or reprimanding them harshly and unjustly.
Because little children are a sacred trust from God, we should remind ourselves not to be harsh with them. God is not even writing their “sins” yet, even if they deliberately break a precious piece of crockery, or touch anything in our cupboards or drawers that we have kept strictly off limits.
As parents, if we lose patience with our children and treat them wrong, we should immediately and sincerely repent for it before Allah. Parents who do not regret nor repent for the wrongs they committed towards their children when the latter were young, weak and dependent upon them, end up being faced with resentful and aloof offspring in their old age, because their little ones grew up with disturbing childhood memories that morphed into a deep grudge over the years.
By regularly reading and studying the Prophet’s loving and mild behavior with children, we can prevent ourselves from treating children in a manner that could displease God and detriment our relationship with them in the long term.