by Mehmet Emin Ay, PhD
As is known, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is described in the Quran as a “mercy to the worlds.” It can be understood here that just as he is a vehicle of mercy for the whole human world, he has also been sent as a mercy for the realm of non-human creatures. In fact, at the same time he is the prophet of jinns, a group faithful to him whose existence we know about.
As much as he is the prophet of commanders, administrators, managers and the heads of families, he is also the prophet of the soldiers in the army, the people who are ruled and individuals in the family, which comprises the smallest building block in society. Finally, he is a vehicle of “mercy” for all the animals Allah created to serve man, the poor who comprise the lower class of society, widows and orphans and children. For his sake, people abandoned tormenting animals, looking down on the poor, confiscating the property of orphans and killing children. For this reason, we can say that Muhammad was the “prophet of mercy” for the whole human realm.
We can find the most striking examples of his human aspect outside of prophethood in his relations with children. Far beyond being an ordinary person, he was an exceptional individual who could become childlike with children and he recommended this to others. This difference in his approach to children is, in itself, a subject demanding investigation. On the other hand, the Prophet was a great teacher who pointed out in that period many realities which child psychologists discover and put forth today. With these special qualities, he was a father and grandfather who made a special place for children in his life full of beauty, which needs to examined in every respect, and an educator of children who gained the love of all children of that time.
THE FIRST MEETING WITH CHILDREN IN MEDINA
The year 622… Two men weary from a long and tiresome journey, Muhammad (pbuh) and Abu Bakr, finally reach days later the Muslims from Medina who have come to meet them on the hills of “Seniyyetul-Veda.” Among those coming to meet them from Medina were boys and girls dressed in their best clothing, enthusiastically playing the tambourines in their hands and singing a song of joy, “Talaal Badru Alaina.” At just that moment the Prophet went to the side of the children to show openly that he gave them value and importance and to inform people of this. He asked the children:
“Do you love me?” The children responded in unison:
“Yes, we love you very much, O Messenger!” Then, giving them glad tidings, the Prophet said,
“I swear I love you too.”
These tidings became so powerful and so far-embracing that they encompassed the whole Age of Happiness and included all children… At last children were happy, because they had a “prophet” who valued them, gave them importance and loved them and wanted them to be loved and noticed and watched over.
THE VALUE THE PROPHET GAVE TO CHILDREN
In one hadith (sayings of the Prophet) the Prophet (pbuh) said, “If it weren’t for nursing children, bent-over old people and grazing animals, catastrophe would descend upon you like a flood” (Heysemi, Mecmau’z-Zevaid, X, 227). Thus, he pointed out that “sabiler” (babies in the nursing stage) are the first factor preventing divine wrath. In all of the Prophet’s relations with children it is possible to feel that he gave importance and value to them.
Value given to girls
In some societies boys have been treated as superior to girls since time immemorial. However, this attitude dominated Arabic society during the Age of Ignorance in a more violent way. So much so that this ugly attitude took the form of burying small girls alive in the sand and, increasingly spreading, it began to be seen as legitimate. In line with the verses in the Holy Quran, the Prophet firmly forbade discrimination between boys and girls which was current in the society he was sent to and tried to eliminate the “seeing boys as superior” tradition that had developed among people on this subject. In a short time, as a continuation of ignorance, the idea of “looking down on girls” or “burying them in the sand” was replaced by the understanding that regardless of whether the child was a boy or girl, it would be seen as “a favor and gift from Allah” (Hakim, al-Mustadrak, II, 284). Here the behavior of the Prophet towards his own girls and hadiths in the form of recommendation and command played an important role.
In many hadiths related to this subject, the Prophet made statements with this common meaning: “Whoever has three (or two or one) girls or sisters and treats them well and does not prefer male children over them and educates them in the best manner, Allah will make them a shield against hell and will put them in heaven” (Ibn Mace, “Adab” 3; Tirmizi, “Birr” 13; Abu Davud, “Adab” 130).
This event gives the good news that parents will be rewarded for their compassion and mercy to their daughters:
Aisha narrates: “A woman came to me. She had two girls with her. She wanted something. However, I did not have anything except one date. I gave it to her. The woman divided it into two pieces and shared it between her daughters; nothing was left for her. They left. Later the Prophet came. When I told him about this situation, he said, “Whoever befriends and treats their daughters well like this, the girls will be a shield for them against the fire” (Buhari, “Zakat” 10).
Importance given to the protection of children
Studies on the feeling of “protecting one’s offspring” which is instinctual in all living creatures state that this is one of the most important feelings which have been placed in the human personality. With this hadith, the Prophet puts forth the most satisfactory explanation on the roots of this feeling: “Allah divided His mercy into one hundred pieces. He kept ninety-nine pieces and sent one piece to earth. Due to this piece, animals step carefully so as not to harm their offspring” (Buhari, “Adab” 19; Muslim, “Tauba” 17).
Explaining that the source of this feeling that every living creature has is divine, the Prophet says in another hadith, “those who have to protect their family and children and are killed for this reason are martyrs” (Buhari, “Mazalim” 32; Muslim, “Iman” 226; Tirmizi, “Diyat” 22; Abu Davud, “Sunnah” 29; Ibn Mace, “Hudud” 21; Nesai, “Tahrim” 22-24). Thus, he states that the feeling of “protecting one’s child,” which is an instinct found in humans, turning into a way of behavior will be met with a great reward like “martyrdom.”
Love and interest shown to children
Love shown to children is called “growth vitamin” by child psychology experts; because as a result of investigation and research, they have concluded that no kind of physical environment provided for a child or care shown can ever take the place of love.
On the other hand, in regard to socialization of the child, love that it has or has not seen plays a big role. When these realities are taken into consideration, it is obvious how important the love and interest the Prophet showed to children is from their perspective. The following examples of expressing love are manifestations of pure love in its most natural and plainest form that a father or grandfather can give a child.
Embracing: Recent studies made on the topic of people influencing one another demonstrate that physical touch is extremely effective. It is a fact that children who are still in the emotional development stage of childhood are perhaps most in need of love. It is foremost the duty of the parents to see that this need is sufficiently met. Many examples can be given on this subject from the Prophet’s life:
“I never saw anyone more compassionate to his family than the Prophet. The wet nurse of his son Ibrahim lived in one of Medina’s border neighborhoods. The husband of the wet nurse was a blacksmith. Going there everyday to the smoke filled house, the Prophet would embrace, sniff and kiss the child” (Buhari, “Adab” 18; Muslim, “Fedail” 63).
As was the topic of many narrations of the Companions, the Prophet, sometimes going to Hasan and Hussein and sometime calling them to him, would embrace and kiss them (Buhari, “Fedailu’s-Sahabe” 22; Tirmizi, “Birr” 11; Ibn Mace, “Adab” 3). He was not only showing this behavior for his own children, but for all children.
Ibn Rabia b. al-Haris relates: “My father sent me and Fazil, the son of Abbas, to the side of the Prophet. When we entered his presence, he had us sit on his right and left and then embraced us so tightly, we had never seen anyone stronger” (Ibn Hajer, al-Matalibu’l-Aliyye, II, 441.)
Praying: A prayer heard from their elders is a sign to children that they are loved. This both makes them stronger psychologically and makes them feel loved. Many children of the Companions who received a prayer from the Prophet were distinguished on the material plane throughout their lives, just as they always felt the spiritual joy of it. In particular, Anas, for whom the Prophet prayed for “many children and much property, a long life and the things given to him to be good and blessed,” lived for more than one hundred years and, with the bounty of the prayer, he received many blessings. Aisha related that the Prophet said the prayer of a father for his child was one of the prayers accepted and that he recommended it to those around him. He also made prayers for children who were brought to him for various reasons. The following are some examples:
Usame b. Zaid relates:
“The Prophet would put me on one knee and his grandson Hassan on one knee and, suddenly embracing both of us, he would say, “My Lord! Treat them with your mercy, because I am also merciful to them” (Buhari, “Adab” 21).
Abdullah at-Tamimi’s daughter Jamri relates: “My father would take me to the Prophet and ask him to pray for me. Then, the Prophet would sit me on his lap and, putting his hand on my head, he would pray for me” (Askalani, Ibn Hajer, al-Isabe, IV, 260).
Amr b. Hurais relates: “My mother would take me to see the Prophet. The Prophet stroked my head and prayed that I would have abundance” (Buhari, al-Adab’ul Müfred, 221).
Kissing: A kind of physical contact, kissing is an expression of love that the Prophet frequently resorted to. Sources indicate that he kissed his daughter Fatima and his grandchildren Hasan and Hussein (Abu Davud, “Adab” 144; Tirmizi, “Menakib” 50) and that he recommended it to others.
Seeing the Prophet kissing his grandson Hasan (or Hussein), a person named Akra b. Habis found this behavior strange and said, “I have ten children, but I never kissed any of them.” The Prophet gave this meaningful reply: “The uncompassionate will not be treated mercifully” (Buhari, “Adab” 18; Tirmizi, “Birr” 12).
Joking: It is known that joking is very important for children, who have rich imaginations. In narrations related to this subject, it was witnessed that the Prophet made measured and meaningful jokes that at the same time were full of wisdom and instruction both to his grandchildren, Hasan and Hussein, and to other children:
A Companion named Mahmud b. Rabi related that when he was five years-old, the Prophet took some water from a bucket and tossed it into his face and that he did the same to the other children (Buhari, “Ilim” 18).
Carrying on the back and shoulders: Also a kind of physical contact, carrying children on his shoulders or back was an act frequently performed by the Prophet. In particular, each time he visited his daughter Fatima, he would immediately put Hasan and Hussein, who would come to meet him, on his back as a gesture of affection (Alauddin Ali al-Muttaki, Kenzu’l-Ummal, XVI, 274). Once he prayed with his granddaughter Umame on his back.
Another event relevant to the topic is as follows: Although he recited sixty verses during the first unit of morning prayer, the Prophet completed the prayer by reading one of the shortest verses in the second unit when he heard a child cry. When he was asked why he did that, he gave this meaningful reply: “I heard a child cry and so I shortened the prayer so as not to give the mother distress” (Nasai, Qibla 35).