CHILDREN. Arabic Aulad. There are no special injunctions in the Qur’an regarding the customs to be observed at the birth of an infant (circumcision not being even once mentioned in that book), nor with reference to the training and instruction of the young; but the subject is frequently referred to in the Traditions and in Muslim books on Ethics. Muslimns have so largely incorporated the customs of the Hindus in India with their own, especially those observed at the birth of children, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish those which are special characteristic of Islam; many of the customs recorded in Herklot’s Musalmans, for example, being merely those common to Hindus as well as Muslims. We shall, however, endeavour to describe those which are generally admitted to have some authority in the precepts of the Muslim religion.
(1.) At the birth of a child, after he has been properly washed with water and bound in swaddling clothes, he is carried by the midwife to the assembly of male relatives and friends, who have met on the occasion, when the chief Maulawi, or some person present, recites the Azan, or summons to prayer. [AZAN], in the infant’s right ear, and the Iqamah which is the Azan with the addition of the words, “We are standing up for prayers” [IQAMAH] in the left ear; a custom which is founded on the example of the Prophet, who is related to have done so at the birth of his grandson Hasan (Mishkat, book xviii. c. iv. 2). The Maulawi then chews a little date fruit and inserts it into the infant’s month, a custom also founded upon the example of Muhammad. (Mishkat, book xviii. c. iv. 1.) This ceremony being over, alms are distributed, and fatihahs are recited for the health and prosperity of the child. According to the traditions, the amount of silver given in alms should be of the same weight as the hair on the infant’s head – the child’s head being shaved for this purpose. (Mishkat, ibid., part 2.) The friends and neighbours then visit the home, and bring presents, and pay congratulatory compliments on the joyful occasion.
(2.) The naming of the child should, according to the Traditions (Mishkat, ibid.), be given on the seventh day; the child being either named after some member of the family, or after some saint venerated by the family or some name suggested by the auspicious hour, the planet, or the sign of the zodiac. [EXORCISM.]
(3.) On this, the seventh day, is observed also the ceremony of `Aqiqah, established by Muhammad himself (Babu ‘l-`Aqiqah in Arabic Ed. Sahih of Abu Daud. vol. ii. p. 36.) It consists of a sacrifice to God, in the name of the child, of two he-goats for a boy, and one he-goat for a girl. The goats must not be above a year old, and without spot or blemish. The animal is dressed and cooked, and whilst the friends eat of it, they offer the fo1lowing prayer:- “O God! I offer to thee instead of my own offspring life for life, blood for blood, head for head, bone for bone, hair for hair, skin for skin. In the name of the great God, I do sacrifice this goat!”
(4.) The mother is purified on the fortieth day, when she is at liberty to go about as usual, and it is on this day that the infant is generally placed in the swinging cradle peculiar to eastern households. It is a day of some rejoicing among the members of the Haram.
(5.) As soon as the child is able to talk, or when he has attained the age of four years, four months, and four days, he is taught the Bismillah; that is, to recite the inscription which occurs at the commencement of the Qur’an: “Bi-‘smi ‘llahi ‘r-rahmani ‘r-rahim.” In the name of God the Merciful, the Gracious. After the ceremony, the child is sent to school and taught the alphabet, and to recite certain chapters of the Qur’an by rote.
(6.) According to the opinion of Sunni doctors, the circumcision of the child should take place in his seventh year the operation being generally performed by the barber. [CIRCUMCISION.] The child is not required to observe all the customs of the Muslim law until he has arrived at puberty [PUBERTY]; but it is held incumbent on parents and guardians to teach him the prayers as soon as he has been circumcised.
(7.) The time when the child has finished reciting the whole of the Qur’an, once through, is also regarded as an important epoch in the life of a child. On this occasion the scholar makes his obeisance to his tutor and presents him with trays of sweetmeats, a suit of clothes, and money.
As we have already remarked, the instruction of youth is a frequent subject of discussion in books of Muslim Ethics. The following, which is taken from the Aklaq-i-Jalali, is an interesting specimen of Muslim ideas on the subject:- The first requisite is to employ a proper nurse of a well-balanced temperament, for the qualities, both temperamental and spiritual, of the nurse are communicated to the infant. Next, since we are recommended by the Traditions to give the name on the seventh day (after birth ), the precept had better be conformed to. In delaying it, however, there is this advantage, that time is given for a deliberate selection of an appropriate name. For if we give the child an ill-assorted one, his whole life is embittered in consequence. Hence caution in determining the name is one of the parent’s obligations towards his offspring.
If we would prevent the child’s acquiring culpable habits, we must apply ourselves to educate him as soon as weaned. For though men have a capacity for perfection, the tendency to vice is naturally implanted in the soul. The first requisite is to restrain him absolutely from all acquaintance with those excesses which are characterised as vice. For the mind of children is like a clear tablet, equally open to any inscription. Next to that, he should be taught the institutes of religion and rules of propriety, and, according as his power and capacity may admit, confined to their practice, and reprehended and restrained from their neglect. Thus, at the age of seven, we are told by the Traditions to enjoin him merely to say his prayers; at the age of ten, if he omits them, to admonish him by blows. By praising the good and censuring the bad, we should render him emulous of right and apprehensive of wrong. We should commend him when he performs a creditable action, and intimidate him when he commits a reprehensible one; and yet we should avoid, if possible, subjecting him to positive censure, imputing it rather to oversight, lest he grow audacious. If he keep his fault a secret, we are not to rend away the disguise; but if he do so repeatedly, we must rebuke him severely in private, aggravating the heinousness of such a practice and intimidating him from its repetition. We must beware, however, of too much frequency of detection and reproof, for fear of his growing used to censure, and contracting a habit of recklessness; and thus, according to the proverb, “Men grow eager for that which is withheld,” feeling a tendency to repeat the offence. For these reasons we should prefer to work by enhancing the attraction of virtue.
On meat, drink, and fine clothing, he must be taught to look with contempt, and deeply impressed with the conviction that it is the practice of women only to prize the colouring and figuring of dress that men ought to hold themselves above it. The proprieties of meal-taking are these on which he should be earliest instructed, as far as he can acquire them. He should be made to understand that the proper end of eating is health and not gratification; that food and drink are a sort of medicine for the cure of hunger and thirst and just as medicines are only to be taken in the measure of need, according as sickness may require their influence, food and drink are only to be used in quantity sufficient to satisfy hunger and remove thirst. He should be forbidden to vary his diet, and taught to prefer limiting himself to a single dish. His appetite should also be checked, that he may be satisfied with meals at the stated hours. Let him not be a lover of delicacies. He should now and then be kept on dry bread only, in order that in time of need he may be able to subsist on that. Habits like these are better than riches. Let his principal meal be made in the evening rather than the morning, or he will be overpowered by drowsiness and lassitude during the day. Flesh let him have sparingly, or he will grow heavy and dull. Sweetmeats and other such aperient food should be forbidden him, as likewise all liquid at the time of meals. Incumbent as it is on all men to eschew strong drinks, there are obvious reasons why it is superlatively so on boys, impairing them both in mind and body, and leading to anger, rashness, audacity, and levity, qualities which such a practice is sure to confirm. Parties of this nature he should not be allowed unnecessarily to frequent, nor to listen to reprehensible conversation. His food should not be given to him till he has despatched his tasks, unless suffering from positive exhaustion. He must be forbidden to conceal any of his actions, lest he grow bold in impropriety; for, manifestly, the motive to concealment can be no other than an idea that they are culpable. Sleeping in the day and sleeping overmuch at night, should be prohibited. Soft clothing and all the uses of luxury such as cool retreats in the hot season and fires and fur in the cold, he should he taught to abstain from; he should be inured to exercise, foot-walking, horse-riding, and all other appropriate accomplishments.
Next, let him learn the proprieties of conversation and behaviour. Let him not he tricked out with trimmings of the hair and womanly attention to dress, nor be presented with rings till the proper time for wearing them. Let him be forbidden to boast to his companions of his ancestry or worldly advantages. Let him be restrained from speaking untruths or from swearing in any case, whether true or false; for an oath is wrongful in anyone, and repugnant to the letter of the Traditions, when required by the interest of the public. And even though oaths may be requisite to men, to boys they never can be so. Let him be trained to silence, to speaking only when addressed, to listening in the presence of his elders, and expressing himself correctly.
For in instructor he should have a man of principle and intelligence, well acquainted with the discipline of morals, fond of cleanliness, noted for stateliness, dignity, and humanity well acquainted with the dispositions of kings, with the etiquette of dining in their company, and with the terms of intercourse with all classes of mankind. It is desirable that others, of his kind, and especially sons of noblemen, whose manners have always a distinguished elegance, should be at school with him, so that in their society he may escape lassitude, learn demeanour, and exert himself with emulation in his studies. If the instructor correct him with blows, he must be forbidden to cry, for that is the practice of slaves and imbeciles. On the other hand, the instructor must be careful not to resort to blows, except he is witness of an offence openly committed. When compelled to inflict them, it is desirable in the outset to make them small in number and great in pain; otherwise the warning is not so efficacious, and he may grow audacious enough to repeat the offence.
Let him be encouraged to liberality, and taught to look with contempt on the perishable things of this world; for more ill comes from the love of money than from the simoom of the desert or the serpent of the field. The Imam al-Ghazzali, in commenting on the text, “Preserve me and them from idolatry,” says that by idols is here meant gold and silver; and Abraham’s prayer is that he and his descendants may be kept far removed from the worship of gold and silver, and from fixing their affections on them; because the love of these was the root of all evil. In his leisure hours he may be allowed to play, provided that it does not lead to excess of fatigue or the commission of anything wrong.
When the discerning power begins to preponderate, it should be explained to him that the original object of worldly possessions is the maintenance of health; so that the body may be made to last the period requisite to the spirit’s qualifying itself for the life eternal. Then, if he is to belong to the scientific classes, let him he instructed in the sciences. Let him be employed (as soon as disengaged from studying the essentials of the religion) in acquiring the sciences. The best course is to ascertain, by examination of the youth’s character for what science or art he is best qualified and to employ him accordingly; for, agreeably to the proverb, “All facilities are not created to the same person”; everyone is not qualified for every profession, but each for a particular one.
This, indeed, is the expression of a principle by which the fortunes of man and of the world are regulated. With the old philosophers it was a practice to inspect the horoscope of nativity, and to devote the child to that profession which appeared from the planetary positions to be suitable to his nature. When a person is adapted to a profession, he can acquire it with little pains; and when unadapted, the utmost he can do is but to waste his time and defer establishment in life. When a profession bears an incongruity with his nature, and means and appliances are unpropitious, we should not urge him to pursue it, but exchange it for some other, provided that there is no hope at all of succeeding with the first; otherwise it may lead to his perplexity. In the prosecution of every profession, let him adopt a system which will call into play the ardour of his nature, assist him in preserving health, and prevent obesity and lassitude.
As soon as he is perfect in a profession, let him be required to gain his livelihood thereby; in order that, from an experience of its advantages, he may strive to master it completely, and make full progress in the minutiae of its principles. And for this livelihood he must be trained to look to that honourable emolument which characterise the well-connected. He must notdepend on the provision afforded by his father. For it generally happens, when the sons of the wealthy, by the pride of their parents’ opulence, are debarred from acquiring a profession, that they sink by the vicissitudes of fortune into utter insignificance. Therefore, when he has so far mastered his profession as to earn a livelihood, it is expedient to provide him with a consort, and let him depend on his separate earning. The Kings of Fars, forbearing to bring their sons up surrounded by domestics and retinue, sent them off to a distance, in order to habituate them to a life of hardship. The Dilemite chiefs had the same practice. A person bred upon the opposite principle can hardly be brought to good, especially if at all advanced in years; like hard wood which is with difficulty straightened. And this was the answer Socrates gave when asked why his intimacies lay chiefly among the young.
In training daughters to that which befits them, domestic ministration, rigid seclusion, chastity, modesty, and the other qualities already appropriated to women – no care can be too great. They should be made emulous of acquiring the virtues of their sex, but must be altogether forbidden to read and write. When they reach the marriageable age, no time should be lost in marrying them to proper mates. (See Akhlaq-i-Jalali, Thompson’s ed.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam