The Thirteenth General Conference : Renewal in Islamic Thought
A NEW PERSPECTIVE OF THE CONCERN FOR THE MUSLIM CHILD
A NEW PERSPECTIVE OF THE CONCERN
FOR THE MUSLIM CHILD
IRIS SAFWAT M.A.
Member of the International Islamic Committee for Woman
To think about the future means to take care of children because they
constitute the wealth of every nation. For this reason, during the last
decade of the 20 th century, the world's awareness of children's problems
and needs was raised through the work of international organizations
and national committees. Moreover, a number of major conferences
dedicated to childhood was convened.
From 19 to 21 September 2001, the United Nations General Assembly
will organize a special session following up the World Summit for
Children, which, in 1990, had set goals for progress toward the
realisation of childern's rights in the UN member countries. These rights
had been enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989,
which was ratified by almost all of the world's nations.
The coming UN special session on children is going to appraise the
preliminary results of the implementation of the World Declaration on
the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and the Plan of
Action for Implementing the Declaration in the 1990s which was agreed
to at the World Summit Children on 30 September 1990.
Moreover, the League of Arab States, though its Technical Consulting
Committee for Arab Childhood has been preparing the Charter of Arab
Children's Rights, which it is going to submit to the UN special session
In the meantime, the International Islamic Committee for Woman
and Child (IICWC), an organization registered under the umbrella of
the International Islamic Council for Da'wah and Relief, based in Egypt,
has become a member of the above-mentioned Technical Consulting
Committee for Arab Childhood of the Arab league, and is working for
the inclusion of the Islamic view in the Charter of Arab Children's
Rights. In addition, the IICWC is preparing an Islamic Charter of Child
Regarding the Islamic view of child rights and obligations, it is of vital
importance that the governments of Muslim countries as well as
international Islamic organizations unify their point of view related to
the various issues that will be discussed during the afore-mentioned UN
special session on children.
Contrary to previous UN charters and conventions, Islam focuses
rather on responsibilities than on rights. Moreover, in these charters that
are binding on all countries which have endorsed them, cultural
differences and the role of religious are underestimated or even ignored
since Western culture is introduced as the main pattern for all societies.
Also there exists a strong tendency in the Western-dominated UN
organizations to eliminate objections or reservations due to religion.
Since children's well-being is essential for the future of mankind,
Muslim societies have to be aware of the rights and obligations of
both children and parents or guardians that are part of the
Shari'a. Children are considered to be a gift from Allah, who
entrusts them to their parents, relatives, and communities. The
traditional family, based on legal marital ties between a man and
a woman who share all responsibilities, is the best environment for
the upbringing of children, and for this reason, has to be protected
from all destructive influences. There can be no doubt that Islamic
law constitutes the best guarantor for the rights of the Muslim
child and his proper upbringing.
1. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from
an Islamic Point of View:
This convention is the most widely accepted human rights
treaty ever known. It was adopted unanimously by the United
Nations General Assembly in 1989 and has been ratified by almost
all UN member states. The United Nations International
Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) claims that among other
things, the convention is needed because in most societies, there
are no legal or social structures specifically dedicated to children's
However, as early as fourteen centuries ago, Islam laid the
foundations for legal and social structures that guarantee the
rights of the child. In Islam, too, "human rights begin with
children's rights", a motto frequently used by UNICEF, but most
important of all, they do not remain as moral recommendations
only but find their legal safeguards in the Shari'a. Consequently,
child rights are imperative obligations that have to be respected
by individuals, communities, and governments alike. All human
rights and obligations are considered to be divine injunctions, not
man-made provisions that could be liable to change by mundane
Islamic child rights begin before the infant's birth because "life
is a Godgiven gift" and "the right to life is guaranteed to every
human being". (Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, Article 2a)
The unborn child is entitled to protection from harm, and
therefore "any sort of miscarriage which may be caused by
another person is punishable". (al-Marzouqi, p. 250)
Since life starts from the very beginning of fatal development,
abortion should never be used as a means of family planning and
has to be limited to cases where the mother's life is endangered.
According to the Holy Qur'an, Surat al-Baqara, Verse 228, an
existing pregnancy should not be hidden by a woman even if she has
been divorced by her husband.
During pregnancy, as during the whole duration of marriage,
wives should be maintained well by their husbands because pre-
natal health care and good nutrition of the pregnant woman are
necessities for the unborn child's sound development. The
realization of safe motherhood is achieved through the recognition
of women's special health needs that include periods of maternal
leave for working mothers. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that
according to Islamic law, the unborn child is entitled to inheritance,
and in case his father dies, the inheritance is only decided upon after
the child is born.
After the child's birth, he or she should be given a good name,
following the Prophet's (p.b.u.h) Hadith: "It is the child's right to be
given a good name by his father".
Breastfeeding is another important right of the new-born child,
which constitutes an important means of safeguarding child survival
and health and provides perfect nutrition as well as protection from
infection as recent scientific research has confirmed. This right is
enshrined in the Holy Qur'an, Surat al-Baqara, Verse 233:
"The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole
years for him who desires to complete the term if they both decide
on weaning by mutual consent and after due consultation there is no
blame on them if ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring
there is no blame on you provided ye pay (the foster-mother) what
ye offered on equitable terms."
It is worth mentioning that the Convention on the Rights of the
Child (Article 24) recognizes "the right of the child to the enjoyment
of the highest attainable standard of health". In this context, States
Parties should take appropriate measures: (d) "To ensure
appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers".
In addition, "The advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and
environmental sanitation" are mentioned in the same Article (e)".
Or as UNICEF states "If every baby were exclusively breastfed
from birth, an estimated 1.5 million lives would be saved each
year. And not just saved, but enhanced, because breast milk is the
perfect food for a baby's first six months of life- on manufactured
product can equal it".
The reason is that breast milk "contains hundreds of health-
enhancing antibodies and enzymes. It requires no mixing,
sterilization or equipment. And it is always the right temperature."
Moreover, UNICEF demands that "breast feeding should be
sustained until the baby is at least two years old, but beginning at
about six months breast milk should be completed with appropriate
Following Islamic law, breast feeding mothers have to be
maintained by their husbands even after divorce has taken place.
The best and most natural environment for the upbringing of
children is the family. Therefore, the Preamble of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child recognizes "that the child for the full and
harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up
in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and
For more than one thousand and four hundred years, Islam has
protected the family based on marriage and prohibited all extra-
marital sexual relations. By this, the child's right to a legitimate
descent is safeguarded. Within the Muslim family, the best
interests of the child are protected. Both parents are responsible
for rearing their children in the best way, setting up suitable
models of behavior. (See Article 18 of the Convention.)
Children have the right to equal treatment by their parents, and
no child should receive more favour than his sisters or brothers,
except the handicapped child who has the right to special care.
The care for orphans who are deprived of their parents and
probably of their relatives, too, as well as the care for foundlings,
are meritorious acts, as we read in Surat al-Baqara, Verse 220. A
guardian, however, should keep the orphan's property separate
from his own and avoid taking advantage from it. (Surat al-Nisa',
Verses 2 and 5)
But foster children can never be given the rights of natural
ones since Islam has prohibited legal adoption, (Surat al-Ahzab,
Verses 4- 5), in order to avoid "a falsification of the natural order
and of reality... Moreover, the adopted son acquires a claim on
the inheritance of the man and his wife, depriving the rightful,
deserving relatives of their inheritance." (al-Qaradawi, p.223).
Article 20 of the Convention, however, allows care for orphans
according to the Kafala of Islamic law.
Regarding the rights of the child to rest and leisure (Article 31
of the Convention), again, the Prophet's (p.b.u.h.) example can be
cited: He was an affectionate father and grandfather who
enjoyed playing with his children and grandchildren as well as
with those of his companions. Also he favoured sports and the
children's instruction in swimming and riding horses.
Regarding the right to education, it is recognized in Article 28
of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Primary as well as
secondary education has to be made accessible to all children.
In the Islamic context, education has been made obligatory on
every Muslim or Muslima.
Article 9 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam
adopted by the OIC in 1990 lays down that:
a. The quest for knowledge is an obligation and the provision of
education is a duty for society and the state. The state shall ensure
the availability of ways and means to acquire education and shall
guarantee educational diversity in the interest of society so as to
enable man to be acquainted with the religion of Islam and the
facts of the Universe for the benefit of mankind".
b. "Every human being has the right to receive both religious
and worldly education from the various institutions of education
and guidance, including the family, the school, the university, the
media, etc., and in such an integrated and balanced manner as to
develop his personality, strengthen his faith in God and promote
his respect for and defence of both rights and obligations."
Consequently, parents have the right to choose the kind of
education most suitable for their children and to bring them up in
conformity with their religion and culture.
2. The Concern for Adolescents:
The period of adolescence is a critical time of transition from
childhood to adult life. In Islamic law, boys and girls are
considered to be adults when they reach puberty, which obliges
them to fulfil their religious duties, as praying and fasting, etc.,
and grants them full legal capacity. On reaching the age of
puberty, both boys and girls should apply Islamic standards of
behavior and clothing, which is meant to protect them from sexual
deviations. At school and at home, sex education should actively
discourage young people from sexual experimentation and teach
them that any sexual activity outside marriage is harmful and
prohibited by Islam.
According to UNICEF (Facts and Figures 2000), "about half of
the 16,000 people who are infected with HIV (AIDS) each day are
young people between the ages of 15 and 24. HIV infection rates
among teenage girls are often much higher than among teenage
boys, a reflection of girls' greater physical and social
In sub-Saharan Africa, e.g. HIVI/ AIDS is the top Killer, and
almost 15 million people have died from it already, while in other
parts of the world, too, this pandemic is increasing.
Moreover, "about 70% of premature deaths among adults are
the result of behaviours that began during the adolescence years.
Infection with HIV and the use of tobacco or alcohol are among
the leading root causes." (ibid)
As UNICEF's annual report "The Progress of Nations 2000"
states: "Increasing numbers of 15-year-olds are risking their lives
in Europe and North America, where the average percentage of
teenagers who smoke every day increased from 12% in 1994 to
16% in 1998 in 20 countries surveyed. Smoking among girls
increased in all but one country." (p.3) Another serious danger to
young people is drug abuse, which in recent years increased
among adolescents all over the world, due to the criminal
activities of drug-trafficking.
According to Islamic teachings, drug taking is similar to
alcohol consumption, which has been prohibited by the Holy
Qur'an and the Sunna, e.g. in the famous Hadith: "All
intoxicating substances are similar to alcohol, and alcohol is
prohibited." (related by Omar), (Alsharif, p.124)
As stated in Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child: "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures,
including legislative administrative, social and educational
measures to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs
and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant
international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the
illicit production and trafficking of such substances."
Unfortunately, it is not only drugs that are trafficked but
children themselves, as recent incidents in West Africa indicate.
Children are sold by poor parents to labour contractors who make them
work in agriculture and industry or as domestic servants (forced labour).
But worst of all, millions of children get involved in the illegal sex trade
and are forced into prostitution. An increasing market for sex tourism in
countries of the Third World as well as pornography make use of child
prostitutes. These dehumanizing crimes and social diseases are fought
against in the frame of Islamic legislation. On the other hand, children
who have become victims of abuse and sexual exploitation should receive
support and should not be ostracized by society). Articles 34-36 of the
Convention protect children from all forms of exploitation).
Moreover, there exist millions of children living on the streets of
the world's big cities. They are threatened by crime, diseases and
unhygienic environments, and are denied all human rights. The
eradication of deep poverty and social insecurity being at the root of
these problems, is a goal to be reached by all Muslim nations.
From life on the streets there is only a short way to juvenile
delinquency. The rights of every child deprived of liberty are guaranteed
in Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child Regarding the
rights of children in emergencies, it is a fact that they are the most
vulnerable victims of wars, civil strife, and natural disasters. Moreover,
they are often separated from their parents, made orphans, or subjected
to physical or mental violence.
As a great percentage of the world's refugees and displaced persons
consists of Muslims and their children, they need special protection of
their dignity and cultural identity. Thus it is the duty of Islamic
organizations to grant them financial support, possibly from the Zakat
Moreover, widespread armed conflicts in different parts of the
world have led to an increase of child soldiers. For this reason, Article 28
of the Convention on the Rights of the Child demands that "States
Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the
age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those
persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not yet
attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give
priority to those who are oldest.
3. Modern Information Media and their Impact on Muslim Children
At the beginning of the 2l century, the impact of new technologies
and global communications on our lives has reached unprecedented
dimensions. In order to keep pace with the highly developed nations,
Islamic countries are making great efforts for an effective technology
transfer. Scientific breakthrough and innovations, however, have caused
serious mutations in all traditional societies changing people's life-styles
and behaviour patterns.
Modern information media distribute information as well as
entertainment, ranging from the dissemination of useful knowledge, and
objective news coverage to crime, violence, and pornography Since
technology can by used for both morally elevated as well as evil goals, it
is man's duty to select and make the right choice. For this reason, it is of
vital importance to all Muslim societies to find solutions capable of
protecting their children from the dangers of the Information Age
without keeping them away from technological progress and technical
In order to keep abreast of the world civilization, it is necessary to
offer scientific education to young people. Modern educational curricula
have to be devised and the youth has to be encouraged to take up sciences
and technology. Nowadays it is a must to develop the skills of all Muslim
human resources, to stimulate children's abilities to combat deficiencies
in education, and to increase young people's freedom of expression.
On the other hand, the Muslim religious and cultural identity has to
be preserved by applying divine teachings to all matters and by a sound
religious education of Muslim children. It cannot be denied that there
exists the danger of disorientation and spiritual hollowness accompanied
by a lack of values and ethical standards.
Negative influences on Muslim societies via T.V. satellite channels
can lead to a distortion of traditional family concepts. Sex, crime, and
violence, constitute major elements of Western T.V. series and films
endangering children's minds. The same is due to commercial
advertisements. Therefore, it is necessary that parents select and filter
the information provided by the mass media in order to enable the child
to differentiate between ideas that are either compatible or incompatible
At present, violence among children and teenagers is spreading at
schools everywhere. The reason for this dangerous development may be
that many children are no longer taught by their parents and teachers
but by T.V. heroes and by their peers because mothers and fathers let
them spend long hours in front of the T.V. or surfing in the INTERNET,
while teachers have started to fear their students aggressiveness, who
sometimes are equipped with dangerous arms.
According to social research findings violent students are often
boys who have been brought up without fathers. It is a known fact that
boys need male examples, and when reaching the age of six years their
fathers become the most important persons in their lives. But
unfortunately, nowadays many fathers tend to be absent from home most
of the time leaving all educational responsibilities to their wives. In
addition, the number of families headed by women is growing
everywhere. Here again the Islamic model of the family would be a
In many societies, meanwhile, children have become media-kids
namely the so called just-do-it-generation. They have lost all patience
and endurance and expect to have fun all day long. At the same time,
however, they are helpless victims of manipulations, through the media.
Parents can no longer keep a close watch on them and schools do not
teach them how to deal with the new media in the right way.
Consequently, new psychological hazards have appeared e.g. the
"Information Fatigue Syndrome", isolation, and addiction to television
and INTERNET use.
Concerning the protection of children from negative influences
through the media, Article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child should be applied: (e) Encourage the development of appropriate
guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material
injuries to his or her well-being.
An Islamic guideline can be found in the Cairo Declaration on
Human Rights in Islam of the OIC: (Article 22c) "Information is a vital
necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as
may violate sanctities and the dignity of the Prophets undermine moral
and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its
4. The Girl Child
Unfortunately until now, in many societies boys are preferred to
girls. In some regions of the world, son preference has even lead to pre-
natal sex selection, so that when the foetal sex is determined, the abortion
of the female one is decided upon.
Moreover, in poor communities of the Third World, girls are often
given a shorter period of breastfeeding than boys, and later on they
receive less food than their brothers, a harmful practice which leads to
Child labour is frequent among girls from poor families, which
often place a higher value on girls unpaid domestic work or their paid
work outside home than on their education. Therefore, the number of
girls enrolled in schools is still lower than the number of boys. For girls
even the time spent with leisure and play is shorter than for boys Islam,
however, grants girls equal rights with boys and demands from parents
equal treatment of all their children.
As stated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): "If one has three
daughters or three sisters, or two daughters and two sisters, and he
educates them and treats them well, he will go to Paradise." related (by
Thus the Muslim girl child should be given the same nutrition
health care, e.g. immunization, and access to education. In the Islamic
context education has been made obligatory on every Muslim man and
woman, Despite that, in some Muslim populations, high levels of
illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities are factors for
backwardness and stagnation. For this reason, the access of all children
to schooling and graduation without dropping out has to be facilitated by
governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO' s).
The need for improving the educational status of Muslim girls and
women has to be stressed again and again.
On the other hand, the widespread custom of early marriage of
girls sometimes even without their consent, has to be restrained.
According to Islamic teachings, it is not permissible to force girls into
unwanted marriages, and young women can ask for the annulment of
such an enforced marriage contract.
Another harmful traditional practice in regard to girls is female
genital mutilation (FGM), the circumcision of girls which is an ancient
African custom spread in some African countries among all Muslim
Christian, and pagan inhabitants. Most important of all this custom is
not mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, and was not practiced by the Prophet
(PBUH) with his daughters.
Moreover, in some societies girls and women are prohibited from
inheriting from their relatives or owning land. This is contrary to the
rulings of Islamic law, which grants the Muslim women the right to
inherit and to own property. She, however, normally receives a lesser
share of the inheritance than male heirs, since she does not have financial
obligations which are the male's responsibility.
5. Childrens Obligations
Finally it should be added that there can be on rights without
obligations, and that as children are born with inherent rights and claims
to their parents, relatives, and communities, they too, are obliged to
norms of moral behaviour while growing up and after reaching maturity.
According to the Holy Qur'an (Surat al-Isra', Verses 24-23),
parents are to be honoured and obeyed. Disobedience to parents is
considered to be a major sin, second only to ascribing partners to Allah.
Another major sin is the insulting of parents, even those of other people.
The rights of the mother are even stronger than those of the father,
because of her suffering during pregnancy, child birth, and child care
which is illustrated by a famous Hadith, reported by al-Bukhari and
When parents become old, they have a right of being cared for by
their children and should not be taken to Old People's Homes Moreover,
it is of great importance to create in children a sense of respect for elder
people, according to the Hadith: "the one who does not have mercy upon
our young ones and does not know the honour of our elder ones, does not
belong to us." (Reported by Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi).
Even after the parent's death, filial piety is a must, as illustrated by
a Hadith which was reported by Abu Dawud and al-Bayhaqi:
A man from Beni Salama came up to the Prophet and said: O
Prophet of God! Does any filial piety remain for me to show towards my
parents after their death. He said: Yes, Pray for them and implore God
to pardon them, and discharge their will after them. Keep dutiful
towards their relations to whom you would have been dutiful in their life,
and show favour towards their friends. Hassan, p.867) .
At the beginning of the third millennium, Muslim societies are
confronted with a range of new challenges in all spheres of life. In the
social sphere, the maintenance of bonds between the generations and the
protection of the family based on legal marital ties have been challenged
by destructive influences threatening the moral and religious bases of
Since the period of childhood is critical for the whole course of a
human being's life-span, there exists a growing appreciation that Muslim
children need more attention and care than has been rendered to them
until now. The reason for this is the growing interest for children's rights
and well-being as can be seen in international conventions and plans of
action. Islamic organizations are working for inclusion of the Islamic
view in charters and documents on children's rights and obligations.
Moreover, it is important to render support to parents and other
caregivers in fulfilling children's rights and to bring about a positive
interaction between family and school. Children and adolescents are also
in need of being protected from harmful influences of modern mass
media and information technology without keeping them away from
technological progress and skills.
Disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people especially
girls, are in need of special concern and efforts in order to protect their
rights and to develop their capacities. Health care, social, security, and
education of all children have to be enhanced. Moreover those millions of
children who are involved in economic activities to support their families
should be given a second chance of getting an education.
Finally, it should be confirmed that all rights, responsibilities, and
obligations of children are based upon Islamic law and thought.
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