WE OFTEN HEAR about the rights of our parents in Islam. Our mothers, our mothers, our mothers…then our fathers—this has been ingrained in our minds from first we could talk. And how important it is that we respect them, serve them, care for them (especially in their agedness) and, above all, honor them.
And it doesn’t stop there. Following their deaths, our duty to them continues with our ongoing duʿa’ for them, ṣdaqah (charity) on their behalf, Ḥajj (Pilgrimage) if necessary, even upholding the visitation of the friends they loved, and honoring those they held dear in life when we have the chance. Such a sweet and civil integration of generations have Allah and His Messenger ﷺ bequeathed to us as Muslims.
Yet too few of us, I think, ponder the rights of children in Islam—more specifically, the rights children hold over parents. The fruit of our marriages, the joy of our eyes, so integral a part of the pleasure of our lives, clearly our children deserve our contemplation as to what we ought to give them if truly we love them and fear Allah. Says Allah u by way of meaning: Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this (dunya) world (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:46).
I. The Five Precedent Preserves
In his book The Rights of Children, A ḥmad Shawqî Ibrâhîm highlights 10 rights of the unborn child (the fetus) over his parents, as well as a child’s rights during and following birth. To put this in context, Islam enshrines five protections endowed to human beings by Allah, and with which He encumbers us to preserve for ourselves and all others: Protection of lineage, self, mind, wealth, and religion. Should we compromise or cause to be lost any one of these, we forfeit (in some measure) earning the pleasure of Allah, for He has obliged us to meet the purposes of each of these rights, and all of them together.
Child-Rearing and Divine Reward
Protection of lineage entails more than raising a pious child. It begins even before that child is born, encompassing the duty of a man and a woman to make of themselves righteous believers, a man choosing for himself a righteous woman in marriage, and a woman so choosing a righteous man. Embedded in this marriage selection must be the sincere intention to have children—whose rights to existence Allah thus hallows even before they are anything to be mentioned.
The child’s right of lineage includes his or her parents’ obligation to rear him to be dutiful and obedient to Allah, His Messenger ﷺ, and his parents, that he might take his place among the righteous of this Ummah.
This is a heavy responsibility on mothers and fathers, indeed, its consequences being as far-reaching as possible. Allah shall question us as to what we did, or failed to do, in the performance of this arduous endeavor on the Day of Judgment. For those human beings whose good accounts on that Day are light, whose eternity thus hangs in the balance, will straight away seek to blame the generations who came before them to save themselves from divine damnation. Children will point to their parents as the ones who deprived them of guidance, who failed to teach them the rights of Allah and the duties of the Children of Adam, leaving them ignorant, to eat and drink from ḥarâm, even as the cattle.
It was only that our forefathers associated gods [with You] from of old, and we were merely their posterity following after them. Will you, then, destroy us for what the real progenitors of falsehood did? (Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:173)
In a famous ḥadîth, the Prophet ﷺ said: All of you resemble a herdsman. Just as a herdsman protects his herd, so you too should protect your households. This responsibility is not just for the masjid imam, or the leader of a people. The Prophet ﷺ enjoins this upon mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and every member of the Ummah who takes up any responsibility, none being greater than family.
Also, Allah states in the Quran:
O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [designated] angels, [dreadfully] stern and severe. They do not disobey Allah in whatever He commands them. [Indeed,] they do whatever they are commanded. [Thus to whomever enters Hellfire, it shall be said:] O you who disbelieve! Make no excuses this Day. Indeed, you are only being recompensed for all [the evil] that you have done [in life]. (Sûrat Al-Ta ḥrîm, 66:6-7)
In addition, the Prophet ﷺ advised his Companions by exhorting them to felicitous marriages and large families, on account of the benefits and bounty that come with affectionate wives and children in numbers: Marry al-wadûd, al-walûd—the loving-kind women disposed to much childbearing.
The Rewards of Raising Righteous Children
The blessing of children is superabundant, plenteous enough to spread happiness to families of mother and father alike. Yet the work of proper child raising is lengthy and arduous in due proportion. By turns, strenuous and complicated, child rearing (rather, the child him- or herself) can sap the hope from a parent’s troubled heart and tax one’s emotional and psychological strength.
Yet the Prophet ﷺ speaks words of high promise to the struggling parent that replenish one’s faith and spirit: If one has three daughters and bears troubles caused by them patiently, Allah will elevate him to the highest level of Paradise. A man heard this and asked him: “O Messenger of Allah! Will he still go to Heaven if he has two daughters [and does the like]?” “Even two,” he answered. They did not ask him about one.”
Indeed, heart and hope spill over for the distressed parent, from the Giver and Withholder of Children and the Dispenser of Punishment and Reward. In one interpretation of the ayah in Sûrat Al-Taghâbun: Your riches and your children may be but a trial, but in the Presence of Allah, they will be the highest reward (Sûrat Al-Taghâbun, 64:15).
II. The Ten Rights of a Child In-Womb
The rights of children persist through life, but they begin in what some scholars have termed the Second Life (see ʿAbdullah Al-Ḥadâd’s The Lives of Man), that is, the life in the womb—the first life being the Covenant of Faith in a Pre-Earthly Existence when Allah drew all humanity forth from the loins of the Children of Adam to swear our belief in His solitary Lordship over us (Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:172). Here, we will outline these 10 rights of the child in-womb, and defer exposition of later rights to future writings, inshâ’Allâh.
1. The Right of Selection Pertaining to Its Mother
The first and most important right of a child is that of its father making a wise selection of its mother. Only Allah knows if a man and woman shall bear children. Nonetheless, a would-be father is obligated to choose a righteous wife—a woman strong in her religion and sincere in her devotion to Allah u—as the would-be mother of his children. For if Allah has decreed for them children, she is the one who shall carry the child inside her and, during this important period and in the crucial formative stages of life after birth, be the primary, molding force in the child’s personality and development. If she is not steadfast in her religion, or if she is faulty in her tarbiyah of the child, that is, in its education and cultivation, this will negatively influence the child’s spirit and disposition, effects that may be devastating, even irreversible.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ admonished Muslims in a famous ḥadîth about marriage: A woman is wedded for four things: Her money, lineage, beauty or religion. Choose the religious, lest your hand be in the dust [or, Choose the religious, and your hands be rubbed with dust. There are two general, different interpretations for this last phrase used by the Prophet ﷺ. The first—lest your hand be in the dust—interprets this as a warning, dust being associated here with destruction. The second—and your hands be rubbed with dust—is thought idiomatically to mean “may you prosper.” For those who deem that this is not a phrase of supplication by the Prophet ﷺ, it may be interpreted as and you’ve dusted your hands with blessing” (Bukhârî 5090 and Muslim 1466).
This ḥadîth connotes a hierarchy as to the reasons that men tend to marry women, the religious quality being the least likely inspiration for men to wed. The categorical endorsement of the Prophet ﷺ to marry religious women is, therefore, a strong commendation to Muslim men to break with this existing norm, and to raise this cause for marriage to their first priority. For it is the bidding of Allah that we spend our lives in the company of the righteous believers and that we refrain from even so much as a wistful glance at the glamorous and prestigious of the world. And no companionship is more regular than that of one’s wife.
Note that the Quran commands the Prophet ﷺ, and by extension all Muslims, to maintain the companionship of those who call upon their Lord [with devotion] in the morning and in the evening, desiring only His Face. Nor shall you turn your eyes from the likes of them, desiring the adornment of the life of this world. Nor shall you obey anyone whose heart We have rendered heedless of Our remembrance, and who follows his whims, and whose disposition is ever [reckless] in disregard [of the truth] (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:28).
2. The Right of Selection Pertaining to Its Father
In the previous ḥadîth, the Prophet ﷺ highlighted religion as the controlling quality to be found in a virtuous woman to choose for marriage. Another report in Tirmidhî (1084), (classified as ḥasan by Al-Albânî) likewise emphasizes the strength of religiousness for men as husbands, but adds to this a broader assessment of character quality.
If there comes to you [someone proposing] to marry (your daughter) one whose religious commitment and character you are pleased with, then marry (your daughter) to him, for if you do not do this, there will be fitnah (tribulation) in the land and widespread corruption. (Sa ḥî ḥ Al-Tirmidhî, 866)
This shows that for the father, the most important thing is his righteousness in religion. But guardians are further urged to discern the suitor’s uprightness, disposition, and manner, including as these relate to his personal and social affairs. The husband is ultimately the decisive authority in the family and with the children. He is the shepherd of the family flock and made responsible for their provision. Allah states:
Now, their (deceased) father was a righteous man; so your Lord intended for both [his sons] to reach full maturity and then to bring forth their treasure [that he had hid for them] for themselves, as a mercy from your Lord. (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:82)
This shows that a righteous father benefits his children. Moreover, the fruits of that tree of righteousness continue to bloom, even long after his death.
3. The Right to Protection from Satan Before Conception
Repeatedly, the Quran warns us that Satan is an avowed enemy to man. He begins his assault on the human being from the very first moment, in the act of conceiving a new human creation. He comes to the father and mother at the time of intimacy and seeks to distract them from invoking Allah. If he succeeds, Satan imparts deception into the life of the unborn.
The Prophet ﷺ, therefore, taught us a supplication to be uttered when we engage in marital relations so as to protect any child that may come of it: Bismillah. Allahumma! Jannibnâ Al-Shay ṭân. Wa jannib al-Shay ṭân ma razaqtanâ. The Prophet ﷺ said:
If one of you has gone into his wife [in intimacy] and has said: ‘In the Name of Allah. O Allah! Avert from us Satan. And avert Satan from what you shall grant us,’ then Satan will not trouble any child destined to come from them [that is, from that coupling].
4. The Right to Be Wished for and Wanted by Parents
We have seen that Allah has established in the Quran that children are among the greatest treasures and blessings of this world (Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:46). Moreover, desiring and having children is the sunnah of the prophets and messengers. Long without heir, the aged Prophet Zakariyyah (A.S) entreated his Lord with utter sincerity, saying: And [mention the tiding of] Zachariah. Behold! He called upon his Lord: My Lord! Leave me not alone [childless] when You are the best of inheritors (Sûrat Al-Anbîyyâ’, 21:89). The story of his entreaty and the Annunciation of the coming of Ya ḥya, John, as a prophet-son is rehearsed also in Sûrat Âl ʿImrân (3:38-41) and at some length in Sûrat Maryam (19:2-15).
The Quran gives us this and other examples of the righteous believers sincerely seeking wholesome, believing offspring through supplication. Even those whom Allah tests by withholding children from them follow this great sunnah of engaging Allah with sincere duʿâ’ for the divine blessing of righteous children.
Thus, if we desire to follow in the footsteps of the prophets, we too must make the same supplications they made and believe with strong imân (faith) that Allah alone is the One who gives and takes, and He alone has the power to grant us righteous progeny. The supplication in Sûrat Al-Furqân summarizes such ardent, salubrious desire when it says:
And they [the Servants of the All-Merciful] are the ones who say: Our Lord! Grant us in our spouses and our children the joy of our eyes. Moreover, make us an exemplar [of goodness] for the God-fearing (Sûrat Al-Furqân, 25:74).
5. The Right to Parents Sincere in Their Intention to Raise One Up for Allah
Indeed, actions are [accounted] but by intention, said the Prophet ﷺ. So significant is this principle in Islam that Bukhârî recorded it as the first reported ḥadîth in his Sa ḥî ḥ compilation. For it means that an action is rewarded, validated, adjudged, issues forth with and is accompanied by its intention. Thus, having children is meant to be something to be intended and pursued strictly for the sake of Allah.
Moreover, we must raise them up to be dutiful and steadfast to Allah—who created them, and to be respectful and obedient to their parents—who raised them and had mercy on them when they were young.
Furthermore, Allah did not intend for our children to be a means of pride or arrogance for us, their families, or any others. Nor is advantage to be taken of children. He gives them to us and takes them at His predetermined time. Thus, to Him alone they belong and to Him alone they are returning.
6. The Right to Life
Islam strictly forbids taking the life of children. Allah says in Sûrat Al-Isrâ’: And you shall not ever kill your children for fear of indigence. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, [the act] of killing them is an enormous sin (Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, 17:31).
When it comes to having children, one should not fear poverty, for Allah is the One who provides. This includes going into the womb to kill one’s child, whether it be for fear of poverty or the displeasure at the encumbrance with children. A life is a life, in womb or after birth.
Islam authorizes the protection of child and mother from any undue hardship, including from arduous acts of worship, exempting mothers from fasting during pregnancy and nursing. Furthermore, care in nutrition and avoidance of exposure to harm during pregnancy is incumbent on mothers—doubly so, for this affects not only the health of the unborn but also of mothers themselves.
7. The Right to Protection and Medication
An extension of the right to life, the right to protection and medication charges a mother with the obligation of not subjecting her child to harm, even potentially. The unborn is a trust (amânah) from Allah. Thus whatever behavior puts a child or mother at risk—be it in doing something or in leaving something undone—the mother is responsible for this before Allah, and He will call her to account for it in the Hereafter.
Muslims are distinguished from many of the religions practiced by people before them by their prophetic instruction to seek out cure—which shows no sign of lack of faith in Allah, but rather honors the rational and action-oriented disposition with which Allah gifted man. The Prophet ﷺ said:
There is a cure for every disease, and when the cure is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah (Bukhârî, 5466). Also: He who sent down the disease sent down the cure (Al-Muwa ṭ ṭa). This serves as general advice for us to provide medicine and remedy to the young and old alike.
8. The Right to Provision
Nafaqah (providing for wife and children) is among a husband’s prime responsibilities. This includes food, drink, clothing, shelter, and medicine. In a beautiful statement, the Prophet ﷺ said:
Most assuredly, you spend not wealth [i.e. provision for your family] sincerely for the sake of Allah save that you are given reward for it—even the morsel you put into the mouth of your wife.
9. The Right to Its Lineage
It is the right of a child that he should carry the name of his father in such a way that it links every child with his or her actual paternity. It is a sin to disconnect a child, or to prevent him or her from knowing, his biological paternity, no matter the circumstances—even if that child is orphaned, or fostered by another.
It is thus a birthright for children to carry their father’s name, for that is the name that one shall be called by on the Day of Judgment. Allah states:
Nor has [Allah] made those whom you call [by name] your sons [through adoption truly] your [natural] sons. All this is merely your saying with your mouths. But God says the [word of] truth. And its He [alone] who guides along the [straight] path. [As to adopted children] you shall call them by [the names of] their [natural] fathers. Such [attribution] is fairest [to them] in the sight of God. Yet if you do not know who their natural fathers are, then still, they are [no more than] your brothers in religion and your wards. But there is no sin [reckoned] against you wherein you err as to this, [their proper attribution to their fathers]. Rather, [you are accountable] only for what your hearts premeditate. And ever is God all-forgiving, mercy-giving. (Sûrat Al-A ḥzâb, 33:5)
This is a particular warning against the falsification of the biological record in favor of the notion of adoption, of the kind that alters the record of a child’s paternity by calling that child by the name of the one who takes up his or her guardianship. Islam is not against taking in abandoned children or orphans. Yet emphatically and categorically, it is against falsifying the biological truth of paternity.
Similarly, it is strictly prohibited for a father to deny the paternity of his child. The bloodline of a family is to be safeguarded in the sense of preserving individual and public knowledge of one’s forebears, descendants, and familial relationships. For this reason, Islam forbids adoption of the kind that falsifies the biological record (but not foster care), and forbids, as well, the abomination of adultery (and other such situations), which may pressure one to conceal paternity.
10. The Right to Inheritance (Mirâth)
One of the greatest rights and duties enjoined by Allah upon humankind is that of apportioning inheritance. Islam clearly preserves this right in the Sharîʿah (Divine Law). In short, Allah preserves an equal portion of inheritance to the unborn in accordance with the prescription of Allah, provided two conditions are fulfilled: First, the unborn child must be born alive from its mother. Second, the unborn child must have already been conceived in the womb of its mother at the time of the death of the person from whom he will inherit.
In this way does Allah, as the Guarantor of their rights, honor and protect children even before their birth. Then whoever fears Allah and the Last Day, let them be mindful of ensuring the rights of children who cannot avail, nor fend for, themselves. Nor are they able to see to their own proper disposition.
And woe to all those who usurp from children their rights or who presume to justify for their own reasons the deprivation of what Allah has bequeathed to these little ones, as part of our blessing, joy, worldly adornment, and our testing.