And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (Surah Al Anbiya 21:107)
Many Muslims have a reputation for being excessively harsh towards children and beating them for very minor issues. However, this is not always the case and not what the religion teaches. I will try to explain why.
Perhaps part of the reason for this stereotype is because of some undercover filming at an Islamic school or “Medrasa” (meaning “school” in Arabic) as they are often called and the events were presented as if they represent the actual teachings of islam, which they do not.
If you look at what the followers of any religion are doing rather than looking at the actual religious teachings, then you will find many differences. These include other religious schools such as child abuse by Christian priests (you can find out more from here). In fact, many other people who are not very religious have also beaten and abused children as well. Some examples of these include Anne Climbie in the UK (you can find out more from here), Sylvia Likens in the US (you can find out more from here), Junko Furuta in Japan (you can find out more from here) and Asifa Bano in India (you can find out more from here)
Until fairly recently, corporal punishment has existed in various parts of the world including western societies. For example, it was banned in British state schools in 1986.
Teaching is a skill and simply having subject knowledge does not mean that the person knows how to teach it. Nowadays many people in general are not as religious as the people of the past and have less religious knowledge so people who teach this are not always the best of teachers and /or have much religious knowledge themselves. Nonetheless, many Muslims try to send their children to gain Islamic knowledge but sometimes end up sending their children to learn from people who do not have much religious knowledge and are probably teaching in a similar way to how they were taught when they were younger.
So what does Islam actually say about beating children and how did the Prophet PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) deal with children? I will try to mention a few things here.
A very good example of how the Prophet PBUH dealt with children can be seen in his treatment of Anas, may Allah be pleased with him whose mother sent him to be a servant for the Prophet PBUH. He said: I served the Prophet PBUH for ten years, and he never said to me, “Uf” (a minor harsh word denoting impatience) and never blamed me by saying, “Why did you do so or why didn’t you do so?”
Sahih Al Bukhari 6038
This is an example that shows the kind treatment of the Prophet PBUH to children and how he allowed them to have a certain level of independence. In fact it says in the Quran
وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَٰكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَٰلَمِينَ
Anas also reported that Allah’s Messenger PBUH had the best disposition amongst people. He sent me on an errand one day, and I said: By Allah, I would not go. I had, however, this idea in my mind that I would do as Allah’s Apostle PBUH had commanded me to do. I went out until I happened to come across children who had been playing in the street. In the meanwhile, Allah’s Messenger PBUH came there and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind me. As I looked towards him I found him smiling and he said: Unais, did you go where I commanded you to go? I said: Allah’s Messenger, yes, I am going. (Sahih Muslim 2310 a)
Notice how the Prophet PBUH dealt with this situation. He caught his servant playing rather than finishing his errand but he did not rush to blame him or beat him. Instead, the Prophet PBUH questioned him and listened to him. He built up enough trust so that Anas, may Allah be pleased with him realised his mistake and went on to finish the errand.
In another narration by Anas Ibn Malik, he said: the Messenger of Allah PBUH used to come to visit us. I had a younger brother who was called Abu ‘Umair by Kunyah (surname). He had a sparrow with which he played, but it died. So one day the Prophet PBUH came to see him and saw him grieved. He asked: What is the matter with him? The people replied: His sparrow has died. He then said: Abu ‘Umair! What has happened to the little sparrow? (Sunan Abu Dawud 4696)
This also shows that apart from teaching his companions and children, he got to know them by name, which is also very important in teaching, and showed interest in them and concern for them, including children. He did not simply speak, but asked questions and listened attentively, which is also important in teaching. He also asked to check on others.
Another great testimony to how well the Prophet PBUH dealt with children was with the case of Zaid ibn Al Haritha who was a companion and also one of the first people to convert to Islam. Before prophethood, the Prophet PBUH purchased him as a slave. One day his father and another relative candidate asking about him and wanted to take him back. The Prophet PBUH took them to his home and told them to ask Zaid directly if he wanted to come back with them but hee refused. This in itself shows how well the Prophet PBUH treated him as he could have easily left but refused. This is also an example for how children were treated well. Later the Prophet PBUH honoured Zaid may Allah be pleased with him by not only granting his freedom but also adopting him as a son until this form of adoption was prohibited.
These rules not only applied to life in general but also to prayer and etiquette in the mosques as well. An example of this was with his grandsons, Hassan and Husain. In a narration, the Prophet PBUH was preaching, then Al-Hasan and Al-Husain came, wearing red shirts and stumbling in them. The Prophet PBUH came down, interrupting himself, and picked them up, then he went back to the minbar and said: ‘Allah has spoken the truth: Your wealth and your children are only a trial. I saw these two stumbling in their shirts and I could not continue until I had interrupted myself and picked them up. (Sunan Al Nisai 1414).
For the Prophet PBUH his greatest comfort was in prayer but despite this he did not “ban” children from entering the main prayer area or turn them away. Instead he comforted them and made sure that they did not disturb others. There were other narrations where he would carry his granddaughter, Umamah, while praying and either of Hasan or Husain would climb on his back while he was prostrating in prayer. He did not get angry however or send them away for doing that.
The Prophet PBUH also built trust with children and sometimes also gave them some very important duties and tasks depending on their strengths and abilities. An example of this was Zaid Ibn Thabit, may Allah be pleased with him, who had a talent for languages so the Prophet PBUH asked him to go and learn the language of the Jews. He learnt the language so the Prophet PBUH asked him to learn Aramaic.
In another narration, during the Battle of the Trench, there was a strong fighter from pre Islamic times, Amr Ibn Wudd who challenged the Muslims to a duel. The Prophet PBUH asked his companions who would fight him and nobody stood up except Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was a young teenager at the time so the Prophet PBUH told him to sit down and asked again to try and find someone else as he cared about his safety and did not want him to be killed. He repeated this a number of times and nobody else stood up so the Prophet PBUH finally allowed him to fight and Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, won.
There is a narration that some people might misinterpret and /or misunderstand where the Prophet PBUH said: Command your children to pray when they become seven years old, and beat them for it (prayer) when they become ten years old; and arrange their beds (to sleep) separately. (Sunan Abu Dawud 495).
Some people take this verse to mean that heavy beating of children is permissible and /or encouraged but this is not true. There is also a limit to this as the Prophet PBUH said: When one of you inflicts a beating, he should avoid striking the face. (Sunan Abu Dawud 4493)
Linguistically, “beating” has many synonyms such as: blow, strike, hit, hammer, batter, slap, smack and more. These words also have different meanings and suggest varying degrees of strength in the strikes. In boxing, they have even more synonyms such as: “light” jab, hook and “knock out” punch depending on the severity.
Some people also give children a “pat on the back” for doing well and this is a light tap to show appreciation. You could technically say that this a form of “beating” but obviously it has nothing to do with beating.
I am not a specialist on the subject but certainly looking at the various narrations in context, it is clear that the Prophet PBUH was by no means encouraging or endorsing the beating of children. On the contrary, he cared for his companions, gave them importance, built trust with them and searched for and allowed them to develop their own skills and talents. This includes the very young companions including young teenagers and children. Their narrations provide great testimonials for how well the Prophet PBUH treated them. All of these are traits that any good teacher even today should have. If anything, the narration about beating simply suggests a very light /symbolic beating as a last resort as and when needed and should avoid the face.
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