Bringing up a Daughter!
Islamic Perspective and Muslim Societies
Islam is known as an educational, social revolution in Arab that brought about lot of changes to eliminate all type of discrimination and to promote human rights on the basis of equality and equity. But, unfortunately, today there are certain traditional and cultural practices in different Muslim societies, which deprive women of certain rights that are granted by Islam. This discrimination starts even before the birth of a child (e.g abortion in case if the expected child is a girl) and continues throughout the child rearing and afterward. Education, inheritance, freedom of choice and opinion, standard of modesty and tolerance are so much gender based that even a mother desire to have male children for a respectable status in the family. This article will briefly look into some important Islamic perspectives about bringing up a baby-girl into a woman, which are missing in many Muslim societies due to lack of knowledge or lack of sincere intention.
Azher Hameed Qamar (2010)
First published in; PSYKOLOGISK TIDSSKRIFT, 13 March, 2010
Psykologisk Institute, SVT-fakultetet, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway
A ‘Child’, who needs to be protected and nurtured by the elders of the society, is vulnerable because of being an easy victim of discrimination on cultural, social, and religious or gender based prejudices. Thus, child-rearing practices raise a baby girl into a woman that is desired by the family or the culture. Most of the gender-based issues are followed in the name of religion. And more than 80% of the world population is practicing some religion or faith. More than half of the world is following Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and Islam is the second largest religion in the world.1
Gender-based discrimination in many Muslim countries is not Islamic, as it is referred, but it has its roots in cultural and family traditions, or even for certain reasons that include greed for property inheritance, and male-domination. Following are some of the perceptions that can be seen in practice today. 2
- Discrimination on the basis of physical and mental strengths.
- Discrimination on the basis of social and economical status.
- A female child should be trained to serve the male members of the family because an ideal wife is the one, whose love is selfless like mother and whose service is dedicated like daughter (this concept goes for an ideal daughter and an ideal mother as well).
- A female child should learn the submission of her own will. This is the role she has to play towards her parents when unmarried and to her husband when married.
- The real home of a daughter is her husband’s home and she is supposed to leave her parents, brothers and sisters one day.
Before looking into the status of female child in Muslim families, first we have to see what Islam says about bringing up a daughter.
Islam, A Brief Introduction
Islam is based on revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century, which were later recorded in the Qur'an, Islam's sacred text. Quran is the main source of knowledge that is protected by God Almighty Himself.
"No falsehood could enter it (Quran), in the past or in the future; a revelation from a Most Wise, Praiseworthy." (Al-Quran, 41:42)
And Sunnah is the second important source of knowledge. Sunnah is described in Sahi-Ahadiths (Arabic for "narratives" or "reports", a record of the words and deeds of the Prophet).
Being specific to the topic, the following concepts in Islam are important to know.
Non-discrimination in Islam
Pre-Islamic discrimination in Arabia were not limited to Arab or Non-Arab, but also dominated in their whole social life. Sons were preferred on daughters. Burying infant daughters alive was not a crime, rather a traditional act. Birth of a daughter was taken as a curse. Women were deprived of all rights and were no more than slaves, an easy victim of exploitation (Shah, 2006). Islam brought a revolutionary change and abolished all types of discrimination. All men and women are offspring of Adam and Eve, and born with equal religious, social, political, moral rights to spend a free life. Superiority among them is only based on piety and good deeds.3
“O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have divided you into tribes and sub-tribes for greater facility of communication. Verily, the most honored among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Al-Quran, 49:14)
Men and women share the same spiritual nature. They both have the honor to be the trustees of Allah on earth. They are equal in practicing social, moral, economical, and political rights sharing the concerned responsibilities. They are responsible for their good or bad deeds individually and will get equal reward in return. Most pious and virtuous is most loved by Allah (Badawi, 1995). There are many verses in the Quran that declare non-discrimination between genders in whichever aspect.4
Sanctity of life, before and after Birth
“Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind.” (Al-Quran, 5:32)
The life of every soul is sacred, thus abortion is also forbidden, whether it is due to poverty or gender discrimination. Quran called them as losers who killed children foolishly.5 According to most of the Islamic Scholars, life begins at conception and an embryo deserves respect and protection at all stages of the pregnancy. Anyhow, exception is the case, when the life of mother, foetus, or both is in danger, or there is risk of severe foetal deformity.6
‘A Child’ in Islam
There is no numerical age definition of a child in Islam. A child is considered a child till it reaches puberty and maturity. According to the Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam (2004, article 1),
“A child means every human being who, according to the law applicable to him/her, has not attained maturity.” 7
A child is born innocent, without sins and he/she is loving and the most miraculous creation of Allah. The birth of a child should be celebrated. A daughter is a blessing upon parents. At the time of birth, celebration for the new born, reciting Adhan (call for prayer), giving him/her a good meaningful name, giving aqeeqah (sacrifice of goat/s in the name of Allah), circumcision of the male child are the birth rituals in Islam. Breast-feeding the newborn is an obligatory right of every child. 8
Islamic Family System and Parent-Child Relationship
Article 5 of Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990) states the importance of family and marriage in Islam in the following words;
“The family is the foundation of society and marriage is the basis of its formation. Men and women have the right to marriage, and no restrictions stemming from race, color or nationality shall prevent them from enjoying this right.”
Moreover, it is also stated that the Islamic state is responsible to remove all obstacles to marriage, family and welfare.9 Islamic family system assures the rights of parents, children, husband, wife and other relatives with selfless and loving behavior to each other. In fact the family is also the basic unit of Islamic Society (Khan, 2003). Family is a source of joy, love and contentment.10 Family is an institution for socialization of children by providing education, training, and socio-economical protection. Both genders play their role according to the status they have in the family. Quran and Sunnah are the source of guidance to perform their said role in the best interest of family. Islam lays special emphasis on parent-child relationship and specifies rights and duties to provide a firm foundation for an Islamic Family System.
Parent’s Rights and Children’s Obligations
Parents must be respected and obeyed. There is no concept of ‘old houses’ in Islam. Children are responsible to take care of their parents when they get old.
“Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If one of them or both of them reach old age with you, do not say to them a word of disrespect, or scold them, but say a generous word to them. And act humbly to them in mercy, and say, “My Lord, have mercy on them, since they cared for me when I was small.” (Al-Quran, 17:23-24)
Even after death of parents, children should do kindness to them. To do kindness to parents after their death, Prophet advised to invoke blessings on them, forgiveness for them, carry out their final instructions after their death, join ties of relationship which are dependent on them, and honour their friends. (Sunan Abu-Dawud, 40:5143; Sahi Muslim, 45:6513-15) 11
Dignity of a ‘Mother’
“And We have enjoined man in respect of his parents-- his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years-- saying: Be grateful to Me and to both your parents; to Me is the eventual coming.” (Al-Quran, 31:14).
Mother suffers far more sufferings than a father in bringing up the children. Her sufferings start long before the birth of the child. Pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and rearing are the spiritual acts for a Muslim mother. Therefore, mothers are placed in the highest esteem among all relations in the family (Schleifer, 2007). According to a famous saying of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), paradise lies beneath the feet of mothers. A person asked Prophet Muhammad about the most worthy of his kindness among his relatives. The Prophet replied: “Your mother, again your mother, again your mother, then your father, then your nearest relatives according to the order (of nearness).” (Sahi Bukhari, 78:5971; Sahi Muslim, 45:6500) 12
Children have obligations of respect, honor, obedience, kindness, service, and care to their parents. The failure to perform these obligations is a big sin. Even if parents are not Muslims, they have these rights to be honored by the children. Parents can be disobeyed only if they ask something that violates Allah’s Commands.
Children Rights and Parent’s Obligations
Bringing up children well and without any discrimination is the main obligation of parents. It further includes all those rights that are comprised of provision, protection and participation rights. The details of these rights have been mentioned in Covenant of The Rights of The Child in Islam (2004) and almost all rights confirm United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). 13
In Islamic context, father is responsible for food, clothing, accommodation and all other needs of the family. To fulfill these needs, he must not be discriminate among his children for any reason. Mother has an important role of child rearing because she spends most of her time with the children and thus also have the responsibility to educate and train them according to Islamic beliefs and values. Family is the first and foremost social and legal responsibility of a man, also associated with great virtue. 14
Children should be loved and parents must spend their time with them, playing, chatting and having fun. It is exact Islam to be kind to children and teach them with love (Hussain, 2004). Love and kindness for children is a mercy from Allah that He puts in our hearts. 15
All rights about children and liabilities are practiced on the basis of Islamic moral and social system, consequently, forming a society free of social, economical, and sexual exploitation of the children. Summing up, a child must be loved, cared, educated and brought up into a confident, wise enough adult who may spend a free prosperous, peaceful and (morally and physically) healthy life according to Islam. 16
Birth of a Daughter – A Blessing
Before Islam, Arabs were used to kill their daughters and the birth of a girl was considered as a curse. It was a tradition to bury the newborn baby-girl alive.
“When news is brought to one of them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on?” (Al-Quran, 16:58-59)
Islam rejected all these cruel attitudes and regarded the birth of a girl as a blessing from God Almighty. Quran condemns the cruel act of killing girls and holds the doers answerable for their sinful deed.
“And when the female infant buried alive is asked. For what sin she was killed.”
And the Prophet said "Allah has forbidden you (1) to be undutiful to your mothers (2) to withhold (what you should give) or (3) demand (what you do not deserve), and (4) to bury your daughters alive.” (Sahi Bukhari, 78:5975) 17
Hussain (2004, p. 262), quotes a hadith from Tabarani that shows how the parent are blessed on the birth of a daughter and Allah extends His succor to him who will look after her and bring up her.
Bringing up a Female Child
Children are a gift from God Almighty and God Almighty doesn’t discriminate between the two genders. Therefore, in Islam, there is no distinction of bringing up a boy or a girl and the Covenant of The Rights of The Child in Islam (2004), is valid for both genders. That’s the reason verses of Quran and the prophet’s saying regarding children rights, include rights of provision, protection and participation without discrimination. A female child enjoys personal freedom, individual identity, inheritance, freedom of choice and right to health and education. Like boys, girls should also be brought up and trained with pleasure and religious satisfaction. According to many Ahadiths; parents who brought up their daughters in a good way, treat them with love, feed them, educate them, and arrange a good marriage for them, they deserve paradise. Same advice is also for brothers towards their sisters. 18
Likewise all other rights on equality basis, girls do have the right to participate in social, political, and religious activities. There are numbers of examples from Islamic history, where Muslim women took part in political, educational, social, and administrative affairs. They had been subject specialists, scholars, teachers, poetess, lawyers, judge, doctors, soldiers, and administrators (Qadri, 2009, p. 108-114). For financial activities, they are advised not to engage themselves if they don’t have any financial problems. But if the husband or father are not earning enough to meet the needs of the family, they can support them taking part in financial activities.
A girl shares the inheritance from her father and husband. Though she gets the one half as compared to the inheritance of a son19 but she also inherits from husband and enjoys the freedom to use her inheritance according to her own wish, since she does not have any financial liability. Moreover, son is responsible for old parents, sisters, wife and kids whereas daughter has no financial responsibility before or after marriage. Before marriage, father and brothers are responsible for her needs and after marriage husband is responsible. The misconception that ‘Islam prefers men on women’ is a misunderstanding of the Quranic verse that says:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allâh has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.” (Al-Quran, 4:34).
This verse says about the responsibility that a man has more than a woman, and not the superiority. Islam emphasizes on equality but with equity because “Equality might be misunderstood to mean absolute equality rather overall equality” (Abidin, 2007, p. 84).
The minimum age for marriage is ‘when a boy or girl is not a child’ and the definition of child has been described earlier. Marriage is a spiritual, moral and social union of two persons on equality of rights to each other and as partners in life through thick and thin. An Islamic marriage takes place only if 20
- Both the groom and the bride are agreed in the presence of witnesses
- Husband is religiously bound to pay ‘Mahr’ (obligatory bridal money) to the wife that cannot be taken back in any case.
Any forced marriage will be cancelled according to Islamic laws. There are examples in Islamic history when the forced marriages were declared null and void.21 Islam does not consider any woman to be the possession of any man. The Quran describes this as a sacred, loving and calm relation between two genders.22
A Glimpse into Muslim Societies Today
Due to concision requirements of the article, it is not possible to describe all societies and all types of discrimination. Therefore, I will discuss some of the important issues of gender-based discrimination in the Sub-Continent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh). I think, the number of Islamic religious organizations (belonging to different school of thoughts and on different level or priorities) in the Sub-Continent is more than in any other Muslim country. Following are some of the issues, that I have also observed, which highly violate the women rights as granted by Islam.
Desire for a Son
A mother, who is giving birth to daughters, is a victim of emotional and psychological torture by the family and community as well. Her food and health requirements are neglected during and after pregnancy. Whereas, a mother giving birth to a son, is a special one, cared and looked after in the best possible way. Consequently, reinforced by this, a woman desire for a son (Violation of right to life, health, survival, development).
Right to Education
So far the right to education is concerned, situation is getting better for last few years, but still not up to the mark. Girls’ education is not considered as important as that of boys because:
- They are not supposed to do jobs like boys.
- They are not supposed to get the freedom of opinion that education can give them.
- Even religious education is limited to offering prayer, reciting Quran, and acting upon some basic beliefs. That’s the reason women are also not well aware of their rights in Islam.
- The male elders can lose ‘control’ on educated girls.
Freedom of Choice for Marriage
A girl is not supposed to go against the decisions of the family elders about her marriage. Her freedom to choice for her mate is considered immoral. A refusal of parent’s choice might result into severe treatment towards her. She might be tortured psychology and emotionally, or physically. Such cases have also been reported where the girl’s life is at risk, who tries to choose her mate herself. Honor-killings are also one of the aspects of this serious issue. Child marriages, exchange marriages, marrying girls as ransom for murder, using girls for tribal disputes etc are the issues directly violating women rights to life, physical safety, psychological peace, and freedom of choice according to Islam.
Right to Inheritance
To deprive the girls of property inheritance, totally or partially is also a major issue. This is also a reason why the girls are not allowed to choose their mates. Even, culturally it is considered a good action if the sisters ‘gift’ their inheritance to brothers. ‘Marriage with Quran’ (to cover the head of the girl with Quran and teach her the Holy Quran, to remain unmarried afterwards) is also an ‘Against Islam’ act that is done to deprive the girl of inheritance.
These are some of the serious issues, which as a whole violate many important rights granted by Islam and other human right conventions. Islam is very clear about status of woman in a Muslim society on the basis of equality and equity. Unfortunately, there are many human rights activist and organization, who promote their campaign ignoring the Islamic perspectives or rather opposing Islam according to their limited knowledge. I suggest that they must study Islam in a more optimistic way ignoring or arguing those so-called Muslim scholars who presents Islam according to the cultural or traditional needs. I am sure, when common people will get a clear picture of Islam, they will be motivated to honor status of a woman in a Muslim society. And for sure, child-rearing practices will also be influenced optimistically.