Children’s rights and duties
We were all children once and, one day, our children will become adults. They way they treat us, their parents, and their own children has its foundations in the way we treat our children from birth, through their childhood, and into adulthood.
Children are a blessing, and without question they strengthen the family bond. In Islam, bringing children into the world is a religious obligation, which ensures that the community of the faithful is broadened, and that the family line may continue. Many people look on households where there are no children to be lacking God’s blessing, and every family should look on children as a source of light and joy.
Islam holds children to be both vulnerable and dependent, and therefore in need of protection – spiritually, physically, and materially. Consequently, Islamic law sets out a series of rules and guidelines that parents should abide by to provide their children with the love and support that ensures their development within the faith.
All children born within a marriage are legitimate and their paternity cannot be called into question. Islam does not permit adoption because of the importance of ensuring that family lines can be continued down the father’s (patrilineal) line.
Both parents must be involved in their children’s upbringing. However, the child’s father has primary responsibility in providing for his or her care. Islam recognises that this is not always possible – for instance because the father has died or because the father has insufficient means to provide for the child. Under these circumstances, the child’s paternal grandfather must care for the child. If this is not possible, then the child’s other paternal relatives must take care of him. Finally, if no paternal relatives are able to care for the child, another relative will suffice.
Where the parents divorce or separate, the mother will generally have custody of the children, and maternal relatives will care for the children in the absence of the mother. However, all children who have not reached maturity have the right to a guardian. This can be the father, or an honourable and trustworthy person appointed by the father to protect the child’s interests.
Children have the right to:
- be nourished, clothed, and protected until they reach adulthood
This is normally the father’s duty, although the mother should also take a role in providing physical, emotional, and material support.
- receive an education
Parents must ensure that their children are taught at school or college, and that they receive a good education (including a moral and religious education). Parents should also take an interest in their children’s schooling, spending time with them to help with homework, reading, or project work. Most importantly, the best moral and religious training can often come from the parents themselves – not from teachers, sermons, or well-intentioned advice from friends or family. Parents set the best example, the example their children will follow. A Hadith notes: “The best of you is one who gives a good intellectual and moral education to his children”. Above all, parents should fill their child’s heart with faith.
As mentioned above, parents have a duty to ensure their children’s religious, moral and spiritual development. Boys receive their religious education from their fathers, and girls from their mothers. Children are welcomed into Islam from birth and will begin to appreciate the foundations of their faith at an early age, but their true religious learning only begins at the age of tamyiz (the age of discernment). Religious education is nowadays generally offered as part of the state education system, although some parents prefer their children to attend Qur’anic schools.
- love and affection
All children need to be nourished emotionally as well as physically. They need to be hugged, kissed, and to experience affection, and they need to understand that their parents love them deeply. Once, a Bedouin witnessed the Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) kissing a child. He remarked in surprise: “I have eight children but never kiss them”. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) answered the Bedouin by saying: “What can I do if Allah has emptied your heart of love and compassion?”
Love and leniency, if offered correctly, can be the best methods of raising children. Use strictness rarely as enforcing discipline this way can be counter-productive. But be wary of being over-protective: your children need to find their own feet, and cannot do so if you do not give them the chance to develop as free-thinking individuals.
- be well provided for
Parents, naturally, want to give their children the best of everything where possible. But it is important to remember that material wealth must be tempered by religious devotion. Parents should also not sacrifice their own material well-being for the sake of the children - as the Hadith says: “It is better for parents to leave their children well-provided for financially than to leave them in poverty”. Neither overspending nor miserliness is to be tolerated.
- to be treated equally with their siblings
All children in a family should be treated fairly and with equality. A son should not be preferred over a daughter, nor should a daughter receive more gifts, love, or attention than a son. Parents should also be aware that withholding part of an inheritance from a child is unjust in the eyes of Islam. Injustice, of course, leads to hate, anger, and a discontentment that affects the whole family unit. There are no circumstances when a child can be singled out for preferential treatment – only Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى) can reward kindness, devotion, and a child’s duty.
However, if a child falls ill and cannot afford medical care, or is to marry but cannot afford the cost of a wedding, then parents may choose to provide financial support as this would be classed as providing for the child’s essential needs.
But let us not forget that, whilst the rights of the children are a reflection of the parents’ duties, Islam also provides for the rights of parents, which can be seen as duties required from the children.
Parents do not just provide food, clothing, and shelter for their children. They give them spiritual and moral guidance, and they help them to grow into young adults who are well-equipped to make a valuable and useful contribution to society. To do so, parents often sacrifice their own comforts, sleep, and time to provide for their children, and they work hard to ensure that all their needs are met. The mother has more rights than the father, in recognition of her efforts to bear the child, to deliver the baby, and to nurture the infant. The Prophet (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) declares that a mother is worthy of three times the good treatment that a child offers his father. A Hadith also describes that “Paradise lies under the feet of the mother”. [Ibn Majah]
Parents have the right to:
- be respected and obeyed
Parents always have the best interests of their children at heart, and children must remember that this is the case. Children must not disobey their parents’ wishes, even if they disagree with what they are being asked to do. To act against one’s parents is disrespectful and incurs God’s anger.
- to admonish (scold)
Children must remember that their parents have a duty to protect and encourage their religious and intellectual growth, and to help them grow rounded, well-informed characters. As a result, children should not resent any strictness displayed by their parents; they should instead recognise that their parents are doing their duty, in the best interests of their offspring.
- to be cared for
Just as parents care for children when they are vulnerable, so children, as adults, must care for their parents – financially as well as physically – when they grow old and infirm. The Qur’an says: “People ask you (O Prophet) how should they spend. Say, ‘whatever you spend should be spent on Allah (in good cause), on parents, near relatives, on orphans, destitutes and travellers (who fall short of money in foreign lands)”.
- to be treated with kindess
Children must not be rude to their parents, nor must they forget the sacrifices and support their parents offered them. Parents have a right to be treated with respect, and without harshness.
- to be aided when necessary
It is a fact of life that, the older people get, the less capable they become. Parents have a right to expect support from their children whether in terms of helping with the shopping or cleaning, repairing or decorating property, or any other tasks that the parent can no longer manage by themselves. Children have a duty to help willingly where they can.
It is also worth noting that there are some traditions and rituals that should be completed with the birth of a new child. Generally speaking, the father or appointed legal guardian must oversee the fulfillment of these rituals, which include:
- when a child is born, the Azan (Muslim call to prayer) must be whispered in both its ears;
- chewing some dates or sweets then putting them in the baby’s mouth and rubbing the paste on the child’s palate. This is to train the child to eat;
- cleaning the baby;
- choosing a good name for the child – both parents can choose the name, but if they cannot agree on a name for their child, the father will decide;
- seven days after the child’s birth, the aqiqa ceremony takes place, where a sheep is slaughtered and the child's hair is shaved. Tradition also suggests that a donation of silver equivalent to weight of the shaved hair is given to the poor;
- between seven and fifteen days after the birth of a male child, circumcision (Khitan) may take place. (The Qur’an does not permit female circumcision.)
In Islam, childhood is a special period in every life, but just as infancy gives way to childhood, so childhood must give way to maturity.
Scholars and legal experts do not always agree about the precise age when boys and girls come of age. For girls, the age of majority (bulughin Islamic law) is normally the age when menstruation starts. For boys, the age of majority may be seen as 18, when boys come into manhood. However, sometimes it is enough for the child to declare that they have reached puberty for them to be declared bulugh.