Presentation at the 20th anniversary of Islamia School in Capetown South Africa 13th August 2004 by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.


Childhood, tufuulat, the period from birth to puberty, is a period of limited ability and responsibility[i]. Infancy is not a useless period. Great things happened to infants. Yahya was given wisdom while a baby[ii]. Isa spoke as a baby[iii]. The fetus is a person addressed as an individual by the Qur’an[iv]. The Qur’an mentioned the following children later became prophets: Ismail, Musa, Yusuf, Yahya, Isa, and Muhammad. A child or an infant is not a miniature adult. It has a distinct personality, identity, needs, and has to be handled differently.



Babies can learn and retain information. The injunction to make adhan in the right ear for the newborn[v] is perhaps an indication of this. Under-estimation of infants is the cause of under-stimulation by many parents. Children are born in a state of natural purity, fitra[vi]. It is the parents who can misguide them[vii]. Good parents and a virtuous social environment will guide them to the good. Inadequate parents and a poor social environment will guide them to evil.


Islamic law recognizes the age of 7 as the age of discrimination, sinn al tamyiiz. Full intellectual maturity is not reached until the age of puberty. Children are therefore ordered to start praying at the age of 7 and are punished for missing prayers at the age of 10. Full legal responsibility is at puberty and by this time they have acquired abstract thinking to supplement the concrete thinking on which children rely.


Social development starts with awareness of the self then the family and the neighborhood. As the child grows older, it becomes aware of membership in larger groupings: the tribe, the nation, the ummah, and the universe. At a later stage it learns about the history and the future. Gender identity is acquired quite early but its meaning and implications become deeper as the child grows. ‘Aqiqat is a social occasion when the newborn is introduced into the community. Development of social responsibility and accountability differ among children. That is why orphans are tested before they are given control over their inheritance[viii].


Personality is the nafs. The Islamic view of personality in based on the Qur'anic concept of nafs. Fitrat to refer to what some call nature; the term nature has atheistic connotations. Each individual has a distinctive fitrat. Nurture introduces even more differences among individuals as environmental factors interact with the basic fitrat. A lot of behavior is copied or is assimilated from parents and other social role models. That is why it is very important to provide children with positive role models. They should never be exposed to negative role models even for brief moments.



Children are born in a pure and natural state, fitrat; it is the environment that shapes them into either good or bad people. The first 7-10 years are the formative period of personality. Influences at this stage of life, positive or negative, have long lasting impact. The age of legal maturity is defined biologically as either 15 years or the appearance of definitive signs of puberty. Attaining the age of legal maturity does not mean attaining wisdom. Many problems arise from high expectations of legally mature but unwise children. Good manners and attitudes are not taught but are shown to children. The social environment that children are exposed to should be carefully controlled.


Children must be guided to understand moral issues. Moral values can be taught by use of stories since young children cannot appreciate abstract notions. Children should be taught the kalima, love of Allah, love of jannat, reliance on Allah, salat, reading Qur'an, attending salat al-jama’at, truthfulness, hard work, love of learning, exploration, bravery, and courage. Selfishness should be discouraged. Children should be warned against sins such as: kufr, shirk, gambling, pornography, and smoking. They should be taught to wear Islamic dress, to use the right hand, cleanliness, and respect for the visitor.



Children are not a tabula rasa. They certainly are born with instinctive knowledge of their creator. However their data bank is limited. Their ability to learn from the environment is also limited. Development is individual and there are no fixed norms. Tarbiyah must be related to the level of intellectual and social development. Genetic endowment determines basic intelligence and its potential or ceiling. Environmental stimulation enables reaching the potential.


Children understand and retain information at a level higher than what most parents imagine. Children are born with an inner drive to investigate, explore and learn from the environment that should be used in the learning process. Learning should be a pleasure. Fear or scoldings are counter productive. A warm and democratic home fosters intellectual growth. The layout, organization and running of the home should be designed to facilitate child development and not for the convenience of adults.


The first intellectual skills that should be taught are language skills. Language influences the way people think. The first words that children learn should emphasize Iman. Complex, detailed, stimulating language should be used. Read to children as early as possible. Early interest in books carries through to adulthood. A second language should be taught as soon as the primary language is stable. A second language is best mastered before puberty. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, is the preferred second language. There should be zero tolerance for colloquial Arabic.



The scope of parental responsibility is wide starting with pregnancy and continuing until puberty and in most cases even beyond puberty. Parents are responsibility for material support of their children and for educating and upbringing, tarbiyat al awlad[ix]. Children must be reared in a family[x]. The Qur’an mentioned love for the child[xi]. Islam enjoins equal treatment of children[xii]. Islam teaches good treatment of female children as a preventive measure against abuse[xiii]. Breast-feeding by the mother, ridha’at, has been emphasized by the Qur’an[xiv]. It establishes both a biological and psychological bond between the mother and the baby. In order to complete the infant’s biological and psychological growth and development, breast-feeding must continue for not less than 2 years[xv].



A child must belong to a set of parents, a family and a community. Lineage is the basis of self-identification and self esteem. The name influences self-concept, identity, and self-esteem. Love for children is natural and ensures protection and for the children. The love for children and their treatment should be the same for all regardless of gender. Parent communication with children must be open, honest, mutual, nurturing, and consistent. Parents must have time to play with their children. Successful parenting requires a high tolerance level for children. Children's actions and behavior cannot be judged by adult standards. Each child is an individual; each is different. Parents should teach the following to children: love of Allah, loving jannat, hating jahannam, salat by age 7, reading and memorization of Qur’an, telling the truth, avoiding kufr and the prohibited, avoiding shirk, rules of dress especially for girls, using the right hand, basmalah before any activity, adhan and its response, avoiding bad company, bravery, and revenge against the transgressors. 



Children should be taught obedience. Obedience is an attitude. It starts with obedience of Allah followed by obedience of parents and obedience of those in authority. It also includes obedience of the physical laws and acceptance of social realities. Disobedient individuals tend to be marginal individuals in society; they may commit crimes and cannot be good and religious individuals with stable family life. Obedience should be taught by example. A wife obeying her husband and a husband obeying his parents are very good models for children.


Disciplining of children must be firm, fair and appropriate. There must be house rules that are not broken. Too much scolding or belittling is child abuse. Children should be treated as individuals. They must be respected as humans with rights, feelings and concerns. As individuals they have a God-given self-worth and an identity that is unique. Children cannot be the same and should not be expected to behave is similar ways. Neither should you expect your children to be exactly like you.


Children must be loved and that love should be shown. Parental love for the youngest children should never be conditional. Preference for either male or female children is an un-Islamic custom.


Building self-esteem in children requires time and effort. Teach them to communicate their feelings. Listen to them. Negotiate and compromise with them in matters that are not strict rules. Your disciplining must be fair and consistent. Give them responsibilities and tasks. Allow them to make some decisions. Have a sense of humor. Give them loving care.

[i] (24:31, 24:59, 40:67)

[ii] 19:21

[iii] (19:29)

[iv] (53:32)

[v] (Abudaud K40 B106)

[vi]  (Bukhari K23 B80)

[vii] (Muslim H6428)

[viii] (MB1199)

[ix] (18:80-81 & 74:13)

[x] (3:47 & 19:20)

[xi] (20:38-40 & 28:10-13)

[xii] (Bukhari K51 B12)

[xiii] (Ahmad 1:235)

[xiv] (2:233 & 46:15)

[xv] (2:223, 31:14, 46:15)

ęCopyright Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. August 2004