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Explaining a Hadith on Disciplining Children

Question: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) advised parents to deter their children from doing wrong and there are many hadiths on how to do so. However, I came across this hadith and am wondering if it’s saheeh: It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Hang your whip where the members of the household can see it, for that will discipline them.”

Answer: Bismi Llahir Rahmanir Rahimi

When properly understood, the meaning of this hadith is a shining light that illuminates the spirit of Islamic principles concerning child development. It in no way advocates for the maltreatment of children. Rather, it is a reflection of the dire need for parents to actively engage in their children’s lives and dedicate themselves towards cultivating ‘little people’ who embody superior manners and outstanding conduct.

This hadith was originally related by the Companion ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him). Imam al-Tabarani included the narration in his al-Kabir and al-Awsat. The scholar al-Haythami classified both isnads as hasan (sound). [al-Haythami, Majma’ al-Zawa’id] Other scholars considered it to be weak. [al-Sakhawi, al-Maqasid al-Husna]

Scholars note that hasan hadiths are authentic enough to be acted upon and used as religious proofs, but they are not at the level of strength as a sahih (rigorously authentic) hadith. [al-Ghawri, al-Muyassar fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith]

The Prophet’s Treatment Towards Children

Many people take this hadith out of its context. The scholar ibn al-Abbari wrote, “The intent of this hadith is not about beating (children) with the whip because the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) never ordered anyone with that.” [al-Munawi; Fayd al-Qadir]

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “He is not of us (the one) who does not have mercy on our young children, nor honor our elderly.” [Tirmidhi]

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself never even hit a woman, a child, or an animal.

The Companion Anas ibn Malik (Allah be pleased with him) helped serve the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for 10 years during his youth. He described his personal experiences with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said:

“I served the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for ten years. He never said to me ‘uff!’ (a word in the Arabic language used to express one’s annoyance). And he never said about a thing I did, ‘why did you do that?’ And he never said about a thing I left, ‘why did you leave that?’ The Messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace) was the best of people in character…” [Tirmidhi]

“I served the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for years. He never insulted me at all. He never hit me at all. And he never scolded me. And he never frowned at me in my face…” [al-Baghawi, al-Anwar fi Shama’il al-Nabi al-Mukhtar]

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the best example for us of how to treat our loved ones and those around us. Allah all-Mighty says in the Quran about the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character. [al-Qalam: 4]

Prohibition of Child Abuse In Islam

As such, this hadith in no way encourages child abuse as it is unlawful in Islam. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “There shall be no harm and no reciprocating harm.” [Ibn Majah]

Similarly, it does not grant parents the permission to unload their anger upon innocent children. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) counseled a man who asked for his advice and he (Allah bless him and give him peace) told him three times “Don’t get angry.” [Bukhari]

Parents who surpass the limitations of the Sacred Law must repent for their wrongdoing out of fear for their Lord as He says, “But those who disobey God and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment…” [al-Nisaa: 14] and when He says, “By thy Lord, We shall question every one of them for what they used to do…” [al-Hijr: 92-93]

Explanation of the Hadith

In truth, this hadith demonstrates the depth of the Prophet’s wisdom, especially in knowing how to deal with children and their various inclinations. The act of hanging one’s belt where children can see it is a measure taken to hopefully prevent children from falling into the vices of their surrounding environment by instilling a sense of awareness in them before they act. [al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir] It is a symbol that prompts remembrance in the child’s mind that he/she has a choice between doing what is right and what is wrong. It is an incentive to urge them towards being well-mannered and to shape them with exceptional character and complete excellence. [ibid]

This is one way, out of the many ways, to aid a child’s recognition in realizing the big picture of this Life. Allah has informed us of the wondrous, bountiful treasures of Paradise if we follow the straight path and the terrifying, eternal burn of the Hellfire if we deter from its course. We choose the lives we live, and our actions will determine how our fate will end.

Teaching a child the principle that there are boundaries in this World is a duty upon all righteous, God-fearing parents. Children depend on their parents and family members to guide them. A child is similar to the blind person outstretching his hand in anticipation that someone will hold it and steer him in the right direction. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler over the people is a shepherd and he is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his family and he is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s household and she is responsible for her flock…” [Bukhari, Muslim]

Rulings Related to Different Disciplinary Actions

There are various opinions of how to discipline one’s children. Some groups advocate physical forms of disciplinary action, while other groups completely oppose of it. The Islamic way is a middle ground between these two ideologies. Parents are only given permission to lightly smack their children in certain circumstances and with restrictive conditions. [Mawsu’a al-Difa’ ‘an al-Rasul]

For example, scholars note that it is permissible for parents to give their child a light smack if they’ve previously resorted to other methods of disciplinary action that proved unsuccessful. Or another example is if the child has reached the age of 10 years and refuses to pray, after the parents have attempted since the age of 7 to exhort and instruct the child to worship the Lord of the Worlds. [ibn Zayn, al-‘Uqubat al-Tarbawiyya al-Mufida]

If giving a child a light smack, one should know that

1. one cannot hit his face;

2. it cannot be a harsh or severe hitting;

3. it must be done with the intent to discipline the child, not out of anger; and

4. one cannot insult, degrade, or verbally abuse the child. Scholars concur that the best place to lightly smack a child is on the two hands or the two feet. [Mawsu’a al-Difa’ ‘an al-Rasul]

Finding the Right Balance

In truth, each child’s reaction to a disciplinary action may be different, and therefore, parents should investigate which forms of discipline are successful for their particular child. One female scholar advised parents to find a method that shows the child that one loves them but wants the best for them at the same time.

After living in the Middle East for almost six years, I have personally seen numerous examples of families who maintain the correct balance. Many of the religious, outwardly practicing Arabs are very forthright in correcting their child’s behavior, while at the same time accomplishing it in a manner that is still gentle and loving. Some use the alternatives of a stern glare, or a strong word, or a moderate spanking if the child is overly disruptive and has been forewarned on several occasions. Children grow up loving, admiring, and honoring their parents to an extent that I’ve never witnessed before in my life.

AlhamduLlilah, it is important to always remember that parents not only receive the reward for rearing their own God-fearing, religious children, but they will also receive the reward for the devout progeny that follow from generation to generation, inshaAllah.

May Allah give us success in raising a generation of righteous children with sound character who possess a strong love and desire to emulate the best of creation, the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace).

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