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The topic of Islam and children includes the rights of children in Islam, children's duties towards their parents, and parent's rights over their children, both males and females, biological and foster children. Also discussed are some of the differences regarding rights with respect to different schools of thought.

Children 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 the unmatures.[1] The Qur'anic statements about children, Giladi states, are mainly concerned with "infanticide, adoption, breast-feeding, and fatherless children."[1] These statements were of a normative-ethical significance for later Muslim jurists who formed the foundations of Islamic legislation.[1]

Against children as property

In the pre-Islamic Arabia, the children were considered to be the properties of their fathers. The Qur'an rejected this conception.[2] A. Giladi holds that Quran's rejection of this idea was a Judaeo-Christian influence and was a response to the challenge of structural changes in tribal society.[2]

Against infanticide

Pre-Islamic Arabia

The pre-Islamic pagan Arab society also practiced infanticide as a form of "post-partum birth control".[1] Regarding the prevalence of this practice, we know it was "common enough among the pre-Islamic Arabs to be assigned a specific term, waʾd".[3] Infanticide was practiced either out of destitution (thus practiced on males and females alike), or as sacrifices to gods, or as "disappointment and fear of social disgrace felt by a father upon the birth of a daughter".[1]

Advent of Islam

The Qur'an rejected the practice of infanticide. Together with polytheism and homicide, infanticide was regarded as a grave sin (see 6:151 and 60:12).[1] Infanticide is also implicitly denounced in the story of Pharaoh's slaughter of the male children of Israelites (see 2:49; 7:127; 7:141; 14:6; 28:4 ;40:25). The Qur'an also mentions the story, not intended as an example to be followed, of the killing of an unbelieving young man by khidr. This was done in order to preserve the young man's faithful parents from disobedience and ingratitude which the young man was destined to bring to their life (see 18:74; 18:80).[1]


Pre-Islamic Arabia

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".[1][2]

Advent of Islam

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 and clients". (see 33:4-5, 33:37-40)[2] Adoption was viewed "as a lie, as an artificial tie between adults and children, devoid of any real emotional relationship, as a cause of confusion where lineage was concerned and thus a possible source of problems regarding marriage between members of the same family and regarding inheritance."[2] After the cancellation of the Arabic custom of adoption, Muhammad married Zaynab bint Jaysh, the divorced wife of his adopted son Zayd, thereby confirming the rule that forbids father and son to marry the same woman, Avner Giladi states.[1]


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.[1]

Advent of Islam

The Qur'an forbade sexual relations between males and their milk-mothers or milk-sisters (4:23). According to Avner Giladi, verses 2:233 and 65:6 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."[1]

Fatherless children

The Qur'an in 19 verses forbids harsh and oppressive treatment of orphan's children while urging kindness and justice towards them. Muhammad himself was an orphan and an early Qur'anic verse 93:6-8 celebrates God's providence and care towards him. Other Qur'anic verses identify those who repulse the orphan as unbelievers 107:2, rebuke those who do not honor the orphans and encourage the unbelievers to feed the orphans (see 89:17, 90:14-15). The Qur'an speaks of the reward waiting for those who feed orphans, poor and the prisoner for the love of God (76:8-9). 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".[1][4] The Qur'an also gives concrete instructions to guardians regarding the orphans, particularly on how to protect their wealth and property rights.[4]

According to Avner Giladi, these verses were not only a reaction against the injustice and violence against widows and orphans before Islam but were also meant to strengthen and unify Muslim converts against the growing threat from outside and from within the group.[1][4]

Other passages

Israeli historian and professor Avner Giladi has described Qur'anic passages as predominantly typical of patrilineal societies:[1]

sons (and property) are signs of divine benevolence (e.g. 16:72;17:6;26:132-133; 71:12) but can also be a temptation for the believers (8:28) who, unlike pagans, are to rely on God, not on earthly power (e.g. 3:10, 3:116;9:24; 18:46;19:77). Unlike daughters, whose birth evokes disappointment and protest against God's decree (16:57-59 ; cf. 42:49-50), sons are much desired by the unbelievers.(cf. 7:189-190). Both parents invest much in their children, from the moment of conception through pregnancy and lactation to weaning and upbringing (17:24; 31:14;46:15) and hope to find comfort in them (25:74). Mothers, particularly, love their children (20:40;28:7-13), with some indication of favoring sons. Children are sexually innocent and therefore may be in the company of adults of both sexes even when the latter are not completely dressed (24:31,24:58-59).

Islamic scholar and prominent thinker Allameh Seyyed Muhammad Husayn Tabatabaei renowned for his Qur'anic exegesis explains that these verses (16:57-59 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.[5]
  • Children must have the respect, to enjoy love and affection from their parents.[5]
  • Children have the right to be treated equally, vis-a-vis their siblings in terms of financial gifts.

A tradition reports:

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)."[6][7]

  • Children have the right to education.[5][8][9] A saying attributed to Muhammad relates:

    "A father gives his child nothing better than a good education."[10]

  • Parents are recommended to provide adequately for children in inheritance.[11]
  • Umar in a Sunni tradition summed up some of the rights of children in the following anecdote:
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 for 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".[12]

Interior Canterbury Mosque and New Zealand Muslim boy, 2006.

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.[13]

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).[14]

  • 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.[15][16]

A man came to the Prophet 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."[17][18]

  • Parents have the right to spank those of their children above the age of ten years who neglect in performing Islamic prayers in Sunni Islam.[19]
  • Regarding those who would spank children a fatwa of the Mufti Kafaayatullah provides as follows:
Excluding the face and sensitive parts of the body, it is allowed to beat a child for the purposes of discipline so long as the limits are not transgressed. i.e. to beat the child in a manner that a wound is inflicted, or a bone fractured or broken, or a bruise appears or an internal disorder results (to the heart or brains, etc.). If the limits are transgressed as described above in any way, even by a single stroke, such a person will be regarded as sinful.[20]
  • Parents have the right to rebuke their children to protect them from physical or moral harm.[21]
  • 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.[22]

Muhammad and children

Muhammad established laws and examples (sunnah) in respect of which is obligatory for the Muslim community to follow. His behavior towards children was demonstrably kind. Instances of Muhammad professing affection for children are recorded in hadith(s):

I went along with Allah's Messenger at a time during the day but he did not talk to me and I did not talk to him until he reached the market of Banu Qaynuqa. He came back to the tent of Fatimah and said, "Is the little chap (meaning Al-Hasan) there?" We were under the impression that his mother had detained him in order to bathe him and dress him and garland him with sweet garland. Not much time had passed that he (Al-Hasan) came running until both of them embraced each other, thereupon Allah's Messenger said, "O Allah, I love him; love him and love one who loves him." (Sahih Muslim)

Abu Hurairah reported: The Prophet (Muhammad) kissed his grandson Al-Hasan bin `Ali in the presence of Al-Aqra` bin Habis. Thereupon he remarked: "I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them." Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) looked at him and said, "He who does not show mercy to others will not be shown mercy". (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim).

Another tradition relates his emphasis on treating children with respect and understanding:

Narrated `A’ishah: The Prophet took a child in his lap … and then the child urinated on him, so he asked for water and poured it over the place of the urine. (Bukhari) .... Embarrassed, the father sprang forward. "What have you done, you silly boy" he shouted. His arm shoved forward to grab the child away from the Muhammad, his red face showing his anger. Fear and confusion showed in the face of the child. Muhammad restrained the man, and gently hugged the child to him. "Don’t worry," he told the over-zealous father. "This is not a big issue. My clothes can be washed. But be careful with how you treat the child" he continued. "What can restore his self-esteem after you have dealt with him in public like this?"".[23]



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.[24] 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.[24]

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[25]

  • There must be a clear proposal.[25]
  • There must be a clear acceptance.[24][25]
  • 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.[25]
  • There must be a marriage gift, little or more, by the bridegroom to the bride.[25]

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.[26] According to Imam Malik, 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.[27] 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.[28]

Age of marriage

No age limits have been fixed by Islam for marriage according to Levy,[29] 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.[29] 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."[30]

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.[31] 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. 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.[32]

Orphans and Adoptees

By a verse in the Qur'an, Muhammad 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 (biological) 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 you know not their father's (names, call them) your brothers in faith, or your trustees. But there is no blame on you if you make a mistake therein. (What counts is) the intention of your hearts. And Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (Qur'an [Qur'an 33:4-5])

The guardian/child relationship under Islamic law regarding is slightly different than the guardian/adoptee relationship under the civil law. Islamic adoption is termed kafala, originating from a word meaning "to feed." In essence, it describes more of a foster-parent relationship. Some other Islamic customs surrounding this relationship are:

  • An adopted child inherits from his or her biological parents, not automatically from the adoptive parents.
  • When the child is grown, members of the adoptive family are not considered blood relatives, and are therefore not muhrim to him or her. "Muhrim" refers to a specific legal relationship that regulates marriage and other aspects of life. Essentially, members of the adoptive family would be permissible as possible marriage partners, and rules of modesty exist between the grown child and adoptive family members of the opposite sex.
  • If the child is provided with property/wealth from the biological family, adoptive parents are commanded to take care and not intermingle that property/wealth with their own. They serve merely as trustees.

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Children
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 A. Giladi, saqir, Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill
  3. Donna Lee Bowen, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Infanticide
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Giladi, Avner. Orphans, Encyclopedia of the Quran. Brill, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 By I. A. Arshed. "Parent-Child Relationship in Islam". Retrieved 2007-03-28. 
  6. Al-Sheha, Abdulrahman. Women In the Shade of Islam. pp. 33–34. 
  7. Reported by Imam Bayhaqi
  8. The Rights of Children In Islam
  9. "Imam Al-Ghazali’s views on children's education"
  10. from Hadith collections compiled by Tirmidhi (#4977) and Baihaqi
  11. ibid.
  12. Ulwan, Abd-Allah Nasih (2000). Child Education in Islam. Dar Al Salam. ISBN 977-342-000-0. 
  13. Parents' rights in Islam
  14. Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 48, Number 822
  15. Mother in Qur'an & Sunnah
  16. "Who has more right to custody in Islam?"
  17. Mother in Qur'an & Sunnah
  18. Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 2
  19. 'Disciplining of Children - An Islamic Perspective' by Mufti Z. Bhayat, citing Abu Dawood and Durr-Manthoor
  20. ibid., citing the named author.
  21. ibid.
  22. ibid.
  23. Kassamali, Tahera. Raising Children. Tayyiba Publishers & Distr. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Prof. Abdur Rahman I. Doi Professor and Director, Center for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira, Nigeria. "Marriage - The Free Consent of the Parties". Retrieved 2007-03-28. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 "Hannan, Social Laws in Islam"
  26. Prof. Abdur Rahman I. Doi Professor and Director, Center for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira, Nigeria. "Marriage - Ijbar: A Safety Valve". Retrieved 2007-03-28. 
  27. ibid
  28. "Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 8"
  29. 29.0 29.1 Levy, p.106
  30. Levy, p.107
  31. John Esposito, Islam, Oxford University Press 2003
  32. Masud, Islamic Legal Interpretation, Muftis and Their Fatwas, Harvard University Press, 1996


  • Juynboll (1910). Handbuch des Islamischen Gesetzes. Leyden. 
  • Khalil bin Ishaq. Mukhtasar tr.Ignazio Guidi and David Santillana (Milan, 1919). 
  • Levy, Reuben (1969). The Social Structure of Islam. UK: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Sachau (1897). Muhammedanisches Recht. Berlin, Germany. 

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