Wisdom from the Sages for Raising Those of Little Ages


Give them a good name: A ‘good’ name is defined as one that has a beautiful meaning and that reflects the child’s Muslim faith.1 Names that denote loving devotion to the Divine — such as Abdullah or Abdur-Rahman — and prophets’ names, are specifically recommended in a prophetic tradition, while some of the worst names are described as Murr (bitterness) and Harb (war).2 While there are a number of other rulings related to the specifics of naming our children,3 the main focus should be on giving them names that are meaningful, connect to beautiful qualities or people, and that give them a strong link to their faith.

Nourish them with halal: The body and the spirit have a profound relationship in the Islamic tradition, as we can appreciate from the many commands in our sacred texts to consume only what is permissible and good.4 Imam Ghazali warns against feeding our children from the haram, as it will physically become a part of them as they grow “and become permeated into the very fiber of the child,” 5 and have a profound effect on their spiritual state. Conversely, when we are careful to nourish our children with only what is halal, it will have a good effect on their spiritual state, and on their inclinations and even their temperament.

Teach them good manners: There are many traditions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ which emphasize the importance of teaching our children good manners, and even that learning such etiquette is from a child’s due rights upon his/her parents.6 Coupled with practical religious knowledge, training our children in etiquette and manners is one of the essential elements of a sound and healthy upbringing. This includes learning refined conduct and speech, as well as good personal habits such as cleanliness, devotion, and discipline. It is said that the mother of Imam Malik would send him to his teacher (Rabi`ah) specifically to absorb from his beautiful conduct, and advised him, “Learn from his beautiful manners (first), and then from his knowledge.”7

Accept what Allah has given you: Instead of forcing our children into a cookie-cutter mold, we should appreciate that each of them has unique abilities and strengths, that we should help develop in a positive way and direct towards good. Allah says in the Qur'an, “To each is a goal towards which He turns him, so compete with one another in doing good works.” (al-Baqarah, 148)

Praise the good and turn a blind eye to bad: Imam Ghazali teaches that when a child does a good deed or demonstrates good character, we should praise and reward them, showing our happiness with their conduct, and to do so in front of others at times as well. On the other hand, if we observe them doing a certain bad action for the first time, we should instead turn a blind eye, and not even let on that we are aware of what they have done, especially if they have made some effort to conceal it out of shame. He contends that constantly exposing and harping on a child’s every bad action may actually make him/her more daring over time, so it is better at times to overlook. However, if we see a wrong action being done a second time or repeatedly, then the child should be corrected in a private setting, in a way that is appropriate for their level of understanding.

Don’t be overly critical: Imam Ghazali warns against criticizing too frequently, and says that in doing so the value of admonition diminishes from the heart of the child. Instead, we should pick our battles and prioritize what is most important to be addressed, and make those times when we speak strongly about something less frequent but more impactful.

Give to them equally: In his book on raising children, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya emphasizes that equal treatment between one’s children is a direct prophetic command, and that favoring one child over another is a type of injustice.8 The Prophet ﷺ said, “Fear Allah and be just between your children.”9 Ibn al-Qayyim mentions an incident in which a man was sitting with the Prophet ﷺ when the man’s children approached him. When his son came to him, the man kissed him and placed him on his lap, while when his daughter came to him, he had her sit beside him instead. In seeing this, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Why can’t you be just between them?”`10

Protect their modesty: Imam Ghazali teaches that the initial signs of a child’s haya’ (sense of modesty or shyness) — such as starting to feel shame at wrong-doing, feeling shy to follow through with a bad deed out of a sense of self-respect, and starting to discern right from wrong — are signs of a child’s blossoming intelligence. They should be recognized as evidence of the purity of the child’s heart, and as an indication that they are now ready to grow and develop through moral and spiritual guidance which parents should actively begin. Instead of teasing or humiliating a child for showing shyness, we should nurture these natural instincts such that they become beautiful parts of the child’s character.

In maintaining a spiritually healthy upbringing for our children, we are obliged to protect them from exposure to things that would damage their haya’. As they begin to understand and absorb more from conversation, they should not sit in the company of older people whose banter may delve into the explicit or inappropriate. Children should be taught to always knock and seek permission before entering upon anyone, in order to shield them from any indecency. They should also be taught not to unclothe in front of anyone, and only in privacy as needed. We too as parents should be conscious of protecting their privacy and emerging sense of modesty and dignity, instead of thinking, ‘he/she is still just a child.’

Do without: Imam Ghazali teaches that children should be brought up with a deliberate de-emphasis on luxury, such as fancy clothing, lavish food, or sumptuous sleeping arrangements, and instead become accustomed to a more ascetic every day life. While we should not go to extremes, teaching our children to do ‘without’ at times — to have less, and to live a simpler lifestyle — helps cultivate the qualities of patience, fortitude, and gratitude.11

Protect them from poetry: Imam Ghazali warns against exposing children to romantic poetry at a young age, and the company of people who claim that such poetry “is an indication of the life of the heart and a subtlety of perception.” This is a particularly interesting comment in light of mainstream entertainment in our times. More often than not, such entertainment contains strong sexual and romantic elements in their storyline or lyrics, and promotes itself as a sophisticated form of artistic expression. Imam Ghazali posits that exposure to these types of things will lead to a corruption of a child’s heart, which should be nourished instead with positive teachings related to God’s remembrance.

Teach, teach, and teach: A prophetic teaching states that we are all shepherds over our respective flock12, and one of the most critical responsibilities we have towards the children under our care is to teach them about Islam. Our children must be taught about God, how to know Him, love Him and worship Him, about essential beliefs and the specifics of religious practice. The popular Arabic expression says, “Knowledge in childhood is like engraving on to stone” and if we want our children to remain strong and steadfast in faith amidst the currents and tides of life, we must engrave the best of teachings on their hearts. We are incredibly blessed with access to so many resources in our times; we must seek out the best of them for our children and help them to feel joy in faith, and confidence in practice.

The Secret: Imam Ghazali says succinctly, “The real secret of (the proper) upbringing of children is in protecting them from bad company.” The qualities and habits of a child’s companions and friends will necessarily have an impression on their own way of thinking and behavior. Finding good friends for our children is one of the best-kept secrets to raising good kids.

Pray, pray, and pray for them some more: One of the most beautiful and impactful things we can do for our children is to continuously pray for their spiritual well being, and happiness in this life and the hereafter. As we strive through physical means to give them the best upbringing, we must also turn to Allah the Most High and seek His constant protection over them, and His help, guidance and mercy on this journey.

May Allah help us to do right by our children, bless our families, and keep us steady and constant on the Straight Path to Him, Ameen!

1. Ibn Abideen, as cited in this very good article on the religiously recommended acts to be conducted after having a baby: http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2011/05/10/what-acts-are-recommended-after-giving-birth-to-a-child/
2. Sunan Abi Dawud.
3. These can usually be found in any book on the fiqh of raising children. Some of the rulings include the prohibition on names that contravene Islamic teachings, or names that are specific to Allah, such as Malik al-Muluk (King of Kings).
4. This relationship between what we consume and our spiritual health is a well-established one. Sh. Hamza Yusuf explains, “There has been a concern about food from the very early period of Islam. Al-Qushayri in his Risalah says that the companions of the Prophet ﷺ were more concerned about their food than about the night prayer (qiyaamul-layl). The reason being (that) if they were eating food that was not good or lawful, there wouldn’t be any night prayer!” (From a lecture transcript that can be found here: http://behalal.org/health/islam-and-health/the-sunnah-and-health-by-shaykh-hamza-yusuf-hanson/)
5. The points and quotes from Imam Ghazali are taken largely from his letter on the principles of raising children.
6. Bayhaqi.
7. Read a short biography on Imam Malik here: http://lostislamichistory.com/the-scholar-of-madinah/
8. Tuhfatul Mawdud bi Ahkam al-Mawlud
9. Muslim.
10. Bayhaqi.
11. For a child born into a wealthy family, Imam Ghazali encourages teaching them that honor lies in giving rather than in receiving, and to shun pride in any of their possessions, be it clothing, types of food they eat, or even their writing tablet and ink. For a child born into more humble circumstances, he encourages teaching them to avoid asking anyone for favors, and to shun covetousness of what others have. In this way, no matter the material circumstances of their upbringing, the child will develop a balanced outlook and attitude.
12. Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, ﷺ, said, “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)


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