Being Fair and Just with our Children

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Regardless of how many children one may have, they can be loved equally in many different ways

Ten year old Tariq has been the light of his mother’s eyes since the day he was born, possessing certain talents and characteristics that only served to enhance the affection of his parents. Foremost of these are his easygoing and pleasant personality, his outstanding academic achievements, and his unmatched physical strength and skills. He has an abundance of friends and is well liked by everyone.

Nabeel, who is 8 years old, had always been troublesome since a very young age. He is temperamental, difficulty to please, and ‘always on the go’. He has not performed as well in school as his older brother and has served detention on several occasions for disruptive behaviour. Nabeel has only a few close friends and find it challenging to make new ones. His parents consider him somewhat of a loner.

Imagine yourself as the parent of these two children (for some, this may not require imagination!)… Now, ask yourself how difficult it would be for you to treat them fairly and justly. Would you find yourself giving more time and attention to one at the expense of the other? Would your fondness for one exceed the feelings that you have for the other? Would you feel any guilt about your feelings and behaviours or would this be a normal part of your life? Have you considered how your actions may affect each of the children? These questions and others are very important to consider given the strong emphasis on fairness and justice in Islam; concepts that should be applied to all aspects of life, especially within the family.

The Islamic Perspective

* The messenger of Allah, Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam, also said, ‘Treat your children equally, treat your children equally, treat your children equally.’ (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, ibn Hibbaan)

* al-Nu’maan ibn Bashir Radhiallaahu anhu said, ‘My father conferred upon me a slave as a gift. He took me to Allah’s messenger (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) to get a witness. The messenger of Allah said, ‘Have you given a gift to every son of yours such as you have awarded al-Nu’maan?’ He, my father said, ‘No.’ The messenger of Allah said, ‘Be mindful of your obligation to Allah and do justice in respect of your children.’ My father came back and revoked his gift.’ (Agreed upon)

* Usama ibn Zayd (Radhiallaahu anhu) narrated: Allah’s messenger (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) used to put me on (one of) his thighs and Hasan ibn Ali on his other thigh, and then embraced us and said, ‘O Allah! Please be merciful to them, as I am merciful to them.’ (Bukhari)

it is obvious from the Ahaadith that Islam emphasises fair treatment towards children. This is particularly true in regards to giving gifts, showing affections, disciplining and spending quality time with children. In the last Hadith, the prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) did not put one child on his lap and the other next to him; rather, he put both Usama and Hasan on his lap and was equally affectionate toward both of them. It is important to understand that one thing we may not be able to control as parents (and as humans) is our heart. We all love each of our children, but the emotions or feelings that we have for one child may be stronger than that felt for the others. This may be due to certain characteristics of the child such as personality, intelligence, or beauty, which have been bestowed by Allah Ta’ala. Although Allah will not hold us accountable for these uncontrollable emotions, He will call us to account for our actions, which flow directly from our free will and the choices that we make. This basically means that although we may feel favouritism towards one child, we can never let this be shown in our behaviour.

Helpful Solutions

You may ask yourself, ‘How can this be possible?’ ‘How could I ever be completely fair and just toward my children?’ As with anything in Islam, the solutions are there:

* A test from Allah – the first solution is to remember that this is a test from Allah Ta’ala. It is one of the many tests in life that we are faced with as humans. It is a test of our piety and our strength of faith. Sincere Muslims will face the challenge eagerly and boldly, remembering the blessings that will be attained from Allah Ta’ala. All actions will be done for the pleasure of Allah and with little selfish motivation.

* Remember the effects on the children – it is important to remember that preferential treatment of one child over another may lead to enmity and rivalry among siblings. Although a certain level of sibling rivalry is normal, it may be exacerbated by the specific ways that patterns interact with their children. Children are generally motivated by a desire to gain attention and affection from their parents, particularly the mother. It is imperative that each child feels loved and understands that he or she is special. Prevention is the best medicine in this case. Responding fairly will also prevent the likelihood that a child will develop low self-esteem and doubts about him – or herself as a person.

* Consider the uniqueness of each child – parents should remember that each child is unique and appreciate the special qualities that each one possesses. Comparisons of one child with another should be avoided as much as possible.

This aspect should also be considered when deciding on what types of activities to do with children, what gifts to give, and how to interact with and discipline them. Factors to consider are personality, temperament, special interests, age, and gender. Fairness and equality do not necessarily mean sameness. The goal should be to balance the scales as much as possible, which, in turn, will instil the value of justice within the children.

Sons Over Daughters?

‘They assign daughters unto Allah! Glory be to Him!; but for themselves, whatever they desire. When one of them receives the news of the birth of a girl, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of the news he received! Will he keep her with dishonour or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision. For those who believe not in the Hereafter is an evil example, and for Allah is the highest example. And He is the Mighty, the Wise.’ (an-Nahl 16:57-60)

A common occurrence that one sees in various parts of the Muslim Ummah is that parents react to the birth of a baby daughter with upset, embarrassment, or even shame (especially with the first child).

There is often hope that there will be many sons to help support and take care of the family. Parents may show preferential treatment from the beginning based solely upon the gender of the child. This is something akin to the jahaliyya of pre-Islamic, pagan Arabia. It is important to remember that this is not part of Islam and that Allah had promised rewards for those who bring up their daughters with love and affection.

‘The one who is tested by (having) daughters and behaves with goodness, shows them the way of religion, and treats them well, it will be a protection for him on the Day of Resurrection.’ (Muslim).

‘Anyone who takes care of three daughters, trains them, marries them, and does good to them, will go to Paradise.’ (Abu Dawud)