Mercy at Home
Children are our treasure; we must cherish them as such and nurture them with mercy.
As-Salaamu alaikum and Peace be with you! In Islam, children are a great blessing from Allah Almighty, to be cherished, loved, respected and guided to imbibe the values of Islam. The family is a pre-eminent unit of society and both parents and children are commanded to honour one another. A child is considered as such until he/she hits puberty, after which he/she is considered a young adult.
In the Islamic tradition, believers are constantly reminded of the divine ordinance to be just and responsible starting from one's home to the society at large. Under the leadership of parents and the cooperation of children, a Muslim family strives, on a daily basis, to strike a balance between spiritual and physical needs.
Children are continuously reminded to show respect and reverence to the elderly, while parents are expected to be ceaselessly mindful of what God has entrusted them with, both as a blessing and a big responsibility. Both parents and children need to collectively aim at creating the ambience of harmony and peace at home by being considerate of each one's abilities, needs and dignity. However, peace can only be achieved when love is felt, lived and shown towards one another in words and action.
The Treatment of Children in Islam
Over the past few years, with increasing media scrutiny of Muslims and Islam, greater numbers of incidents of abuse are making the rounds. As appalling as this is, Muslim children are no more likely to suffer mistreatment and abuse than the average child. As an Imam, I get asked questions on the treatment of children all the time. I respond with the authority of the text which all Muslims believe to be divine - the Qur'an as the Word of God Almighty and the Sunnah or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) related as Hadith (collections of the sayings and actions of the Prophet).
Of late, there has been much media coverage of honour killings in Canada and the United States where young girls were slain by their fathers. However, there is no basis for honour killings in Islam. The Qur'an categorically stands against the mistreatment and killing of one's children for whatever reason - fear of poverty, dishonour, disobedience or any such matter:
"Say: Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord has forbidden to you: that you ascribe no thing as partner unto Him and that you do good to parents, and that you slay not your children because of penury - We provide for you and for them - and that you draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed. And that you slay not the life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He has commanded you, in order that you may discern." (Qur'an 6:151) "Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty, We shall provide for them and for you. Lo! The slaying of them is great sin." (Qur'an 17:31)
The Prophet's mission was to call people back to the religion of Abraham and eradicate injustice, slavery and female oppression, amongst other things, to create a just and equitable society. In fact, the killing of the girl child (female infanticide), the predecessor of so-called "honour killings" was banned by the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Around the world, in patriarchal Muslim and non-Muslim societies, females occupy a lower social status and female infanticide, honour killings, forced marriages and dowry deaths are common phenomena. The Qur'an stands firmly against the mistreatment of female children:
"When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on?" (Qur'an 16:58-59)
In fact the constant call and commandment of the Qur'an is mercy. In as much as it is a guide to life in every way and includes commands on political, economic, social and jurisdictional systems, the Qur'an commands human beings to act mercifully. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) constantly repeated the following messages:
"Be merciful to others, Allah will be Merciful to you, and forgive, Allah will forgive you." 1
"The merciful ones deserve the Mercy of the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth so that the One in Heaven - Allah - will cover you with His Mercy" 2
When al-Aqra' ibn Habiss, a Bedouin man, saw the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) kissing his grand son al-Hassan and said that he had ten children and he never kissed anyone of them, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said: "Whoever does not show mercy to others, Mercy won't cover him" 3 Ahmad added: "And whoever does not forgive, Allah won't forgive him" 4
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) - A Model of Mercy
Known before his Prophethood as Al-AmÄ«n (the trustworthy), Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) with his excellent character, gracious personality and soft speech was, and still is, considered by the faithful Muslim as a gift from God. He is a precious gift because he represents mercy. We read in the Qur'an:
"We sent thee (Muhammad) not, but as a mercy for all creatures." (Qur'an 21:107)
"Now a Messenger has come to you from amongst yourselves: it grieves him that you should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers is he most kind and merciful." (Qur'an 9:128)
The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) taught his followers that Islam is about mercy and being merciful. He explained mercy conceptually and demonstrated it practically. Once, he gave an example of the mercy of God by pointing to a woman who had saved her baby from a fire and was hugging her child, thanking God out of sheer happiness. He asked his companions, "Do you think this woman would throw her baby in the fire?" They replied "Certainly not! She would not allow herself to do that." He then said, "Know that Allah is more Merciful to you than this woman is to her baby." 5
Numerous stories mentioned in the Prophet's biographies speak to the embracing of Islam by individuals because of the merciful behaviour of the teachers, including the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and his disciples and companions.
At times, a chance encounter with the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) gave an individual a sense of the spirit of his mercy and compassion. Once, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) saw an old woman carrying a heavy bundle of logs with difficulty. He ran towards her and offered to carry the load for her. He walked with her for a long way without saying much. When they reached the destination, the old woman said she was sorry she was too poor to give him a gift or payment for carrying the logs. He answered her by saying that he had carried her bundle out of pleasure and that he was not expecting anything in return. The old woman was so happy that, although she had nothing material to give to him, she did not want him to go empty-handed. In an era and culture where the sound advice from an elder was worth its weight in gold, the old woman said she wanted to advise him to "Beware of a man named Muhammad!"
The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) smiled at her and asked, "What is wrong with him?" She said, "I heard he is a very bad person. He splits families and says that the statues we worship are false gods and that the only true God we should worship is Allah, the God of Ibrahim." The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) smiled again at her and said, "I am Muhammad! And I do not split families! I call people back to worship the true God, the God of Abraham, and to be good and merciful to one another." The old woman was shocked and surprised. She said, "If you are Muhammad, then Muhammad is definitely a good person. I believe God to be the only deity to worship and I believe that you are the Messenger of God!" Such was his character.
Once, some of his followers, while suffering from persecution and the injustice of the polytheists of Makkah, asked him to curse them. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) replied: "I was not sent by God to curse people, but rather as a Mercy to them." 6
In the Qur'an, Allah, the Exalted also explained to His messenger the main reasons why people followed him. He said:
"It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them. Had you been severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (Allah's) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when you take a decision, put your trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)." (Qur'an 3:159)
Thousands of people pledged their allegiance to God and to Islam because of the Prophet's (Peace Be Upon Him) display of mercy. In 630 C.E., the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) entered Makkah with a large army and conquered it. His former Makkan enemies regretted all their vengeful acts against the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and felt great humiliation, expecting severe retaliation for their past misdeeds. When the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) asked the people of Makkah what they thought he was going to do with them, they said, "You are a noble person and a generous person in forgiveness and a son of a noble and a generous person." He said, "Go, you are free!" The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) then read the Qur'anic verse which explains what Prophet YÅ«suf (Joseph) (Peace Be Upon Him) had said to his brothers when they had admitted their sins and apologized for what they had done to him:
"This day let no reproach be (cast) on you: Allah will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!" 7 (Qur'an 12:92).
In his position of power, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) could have punished or killed the Makkans if he had wanted to, but instead he (Peace Be Upon Him) acted mercifully. He told his companions that no one must harm the people or their property. The people of Makkah then accepted Islam, including the adversaries of the Prophet. Only a few of his staunchest enemies and military commanders had fled Makkah after his entry. However, when they received the Prophet's assurance of no retaliation and no compulsion in religion, they came back and gradually the message of Islam won their hearts. Within a few years, almost all of Arabia had accepted Islam.
Mercy Begins at Home
Mercy is, therefore, a most cherished ideal in Islam. However, it is saddening how little mercy there seems to be in the world, and even within the Muslim community. The recent spate of honour-related killings horrifies us. I am astonished by how some Muslims go against Qur'anic teachings and then blame the world for all the negative press and publicity.
This does not, however, excuse biased press and media reports for spreading Islamophobia through fear-mongering. Yes, it is true that some Muslims commit crimes against persons including women and children, but so do people from other communities, faith-based or otherwise. The criminal has no religion. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) himself said:
"When a person commits illegal sexual intercourse, he is not a believer at the time of committing it; and if he steals, he is not a believer at the time of stealing; and if he drinks an intoxicating drink, he is not a believer at the time of drinking it; and he is not a believer when he commits a murder." 8
Therefore, at the time of committing a sin, the person is not a believer. There must be no condoning of criminal behaviour, regardless of the faith of an individual. Similarly, the notion of selective reporting and collective punishment must be stopped. Muslims will be ready to take responsibility for every crime done by a person who happens to be a "Muslim" when every faith group on earth is ready to take the moral responsibility of the action committed by one of its kind. People commit crimes for a myriad of reasons, none of them sane, none of them sanctioned by any religion (unless taken out of context entirely).
Coming back to the treatment of children and women, one of the hot button issues today is the practice of forcing young girls to wear hijÄb (head cover) or niqÄb (face veil). Faith is a personal matter and choice. As parents, we can teach our children about Islam, but we cannot give them faith. Faith is something that comes from within; therefore, forcing an individual to practice an element of religion goes against ImÄn (faith) itself. The Qur'an clearly says:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion." (Qur'an 2:256)
Parents can educate their children about faith, teach them the practice of faith, and share their experiences and knowledge. Physical force or emotional manipulation was never used by the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to bring people to faith, particularly not children. Denouncing such behaviour, he actually used to say:
"He is not one of us the one who shows no mercy to younger ones and does not acknowledge the honour due to our elders." 9
"The most perfect person in his faith among the believers is the one whose behaviour is most excellent; and the best of you are those who are good to their parents, spouses and children." 10
It is true that Muslim parents face enormous challenges in raising their children in western societies. However, they must recognize that their children find it difficult to reconcile Muslim traditions with the secular Western lifestyle. Parents must understand that children are affected not only by the values and traditions shared in the home, but in the society in which they live as well. In as much as parents expect their children to listen to them, they also need to learn how to listen to their children's concerns. Open channels of communication accompanied by trust and respect are a must, and they must be conducted with wisdom and patience.
There are good and bad elements in all societies and the wise take the best from all. Those parents who feel that Islam is not compatible with the Western environment have a limited understanding of Islam. Islam is a practical religion for all times and all places. Islam is about adjustment, balance and consideration of the self within its environment, without compromising faith, principles and values. Children are our treasure; we must cherish them as such and nurture them with mercy. Only then will we as parents embody the traditions of Islam.
- Reported by Imam Ahmad in Musnad al-Mukthiran mina as-Sahabah: Hadiths: 6255 - 6744
- Reported by Abu Dawud in the book of Good Manners: Hadith 4290 - At-Tirmidhi in the book of Piety and Filial piety: Hadith # 1847 - Ahmad in the Musnad: Hadith #6206
- Agreed upon hadith by Bukhari and Muslim.
- Reported by al-Bukhari in the Book of Good Manners: Hadiths # 5538 - 5554 - Muslim in the book of Virtues: Hadith # 4282 - at-Tirmidhi in the book of Piety and Filial piety: Hadith # 1834 - Abu Dawud in the book of Good
- Manners: Hadith 4541 - Ahmad in the Musnad: Hadiths # 6824 - 6988 - 7329 - 10257 - 18447.
- Reported by al-Bukhari in the book of Etiquette: Hadith # 5540 - Muslim in the book of Repentance: Hadith # 4947
- Reported by Imam Muslim in the book of Piety and Filial piety: Hadith # 4704
- Zad al Maad by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah: 2/162 and ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) by Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri: p. 455.
- Reported by al-Bukhari in Volume 3, Book 43, Number 655
- Reported by Imam at-Tirmidhi and Imam Abu Dawud
- Reported by Imam at-Tirmidhi