The glorious sun of Islam dawned at a dismal time of ignorance when newborn daughters were buried alive. Prophet Muhammad(s) came with a religion which not only liberated females from the depths of the earth but in fact raised them to such a status that Heaven could lie beneath their feet. The Prophet(s)declared, “Your best children are your daughters.” No other culture or religion in human history has supported women as much as Islam. Alas, it is our own misfortune if we ignore these pristine teachings and stagnate in society’s customs. In an atmosphere where cruelty and hard-heartedness were prevalent, the Holy Prophet(s) shone as an excellent exemplar for how to behave with people, especially family and children.
Prophet Muhammad(s) would be seen walking the streets with his grandsons riding his shoulders. He would always show them affection and praise them publicly, even if it meant lengthening his prostration while praying in congregation when Imam Husayn(a) sat on his back. Although one may say that this is the status of the Ahlul Bayt (as), indeed the Holy Prophet(s) is a role model for us. The importance of loving children has been greatly emphasised in Islam, as this expression of affection and love is vital in forming the child’s personality and is the foundation for instructing them in later years.
The Holy Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt(as) taught us things fourteen centuries ago which psychologists and scientists are promoting today. An important aspect which is perhaps overlooked is that children learn from our actions, not our intentions. Therefore, it is vital to show them that we love them. According to Dr Gary Chapman, there are five ways one can express love. He calls them the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. Although all of them are necessary, he argues that only one is the language that the individual responds to the most. The child will not feel loved unless he is shown love in his primary language. Moreover, it is only after a child is full of the parents’ love that he will be responsive to their instructions and discipline. To discover an individual’s primary language, one should observe how he expresses love and pay attention to his requests and complaints.
Physical touch refers to actions like hugging, kissing, wrestling for fun, covering eyes with hands, having the child sit in the lap, etc. A tradition of a Holy Imam states, “Kiss your children a lot. For each kiss, you will get a divine heavenly rank which would otherwise take 500 years to achieve.” Imam Sadiq(a) said, “A man who has much affection for his child will receive special mercy and attention from Allah.”
Words of affirmation praise and encourage the child. The Holy Prophet(s) would publicly declare that Hasan and Husayn(as) are the leaders of paradise. He also states, “If you like someone, express your feelings to him. This expression of love brings you closer to each other.”
Quality time refers to any activity with focused and undivided attention, like playing with children. Imam ‘Ali said, “One who has a child has to behave in a childlike manner in training his child.”
The Holy Prophet(s) said, “Love your children and have mercy on them.”
Gifts are freely given and express love for the recipient. However, they can be ordinary and hand-made. The important thing is that they represent the parent’s presence for the child.
Acts of service mean the little and big things done willingly, like staying up and helping children with a project, mending their clothes or cooking their favourite meals. The Prophet said, “The rights of the child over the father consist of teaching him writing, swimming and shooting and he should only feed him clean and lawfully earned food. Even an act such as breastfeeding has the immense reward of freeing a slave. Likewise, pleasing one’s daughter earns one the reward of having freed one of the slaves from the line of Isma’il.
It is narrated that the Prophet Musa(a) asked God, “O God! Which act is the best one according to you?” God replied, “Loving children is the best act.” Another version adds, “As children are God-fearing in essence and love Me. When a child dies, I will mercifully make him enter Paradise.”
This beautiful tradition demonstrates the importance of loving children in the view of God. Although it is a natural instinct to love them, parents will be motivated to love children even more and will not feel they are wasting their time and efforts in caring for them. Rather, they will consider it an act of worship. Indeed, love is an individual’s innate need. God has created us so that we desire to receive love as well as give it. Love is not exclusive to a specific time or place, or an age of a person. At all times, all humans everywhere desire love. If one’s need for love is not fulfilled at home with family then one will search for it elsewhere; the need will not disappear.
Love is a child’s soul food, and plenty of it is needed. Hence, the parents’ behaviour should convey this love to the child. Children who are loved will have confident personalities that are not easily swayed when life presents challenges because they have strong foundations. On the contrary, a child who does not receive love will be inclined to temptation. He may even find it difficult to love others. Consequently, no quality can create happiness and calmness in a child like love and no quality can trouble a child like the lack of affection from her parents. Therefore, children who feel loved will try to please their parents and stay away from actions that will displease them, both in childhood and when older. Perhaps this is why the first stage of childhood (until age 7) is primarily for showing love to our children. Then, when they are confident in that love, the parents can instruct them. The child will then obey the parents for he will wish to please them. Love and affection thus not only satisfy the needs of the child but assist them in practising obedience.
When a man came to the Prophet(s) and said, “I have never kissed my child,” the Prophet replied that this man was a resident of the fire of Hell. No doubt, just as too little love is destructive for the child, too much love is also harmful. The Imams instruct us not to exceed limits and incline to excesses. Rather, we should endeavour to raise our children by practising the middle way.
However, what is perhaps most important is that it is through the parents and their love that the child reaches the True Love, which is God, al-Wadud (the Loving One). When children receive love they learn how to love back, yet, that is only the foundation for showing them the path to love God, His Messenger and the Ahlul Bayt(as).
According to the traditions of the Infallibles, young children think their parents are their lords because they give them sustenance. Parents should thus introduce God to children as the one who helps them and grants them all blessings. The Holy Prophet said: “Love God because He has done good to you and He has bestowed favours upon you.”
All individuals have an innate need for love, so they would undoubtedly desire to love what is perfect and most beautiful. Ibn Arabi says: “Nothing other than God has ever been loved. It is God who has manifested Himself in whatever is beloved for the eyes of those who love. There is no being except that it loves. Thus, the whole universe loves and is loved and all these go back to Him.”
Indeed, the concept of love plays an important role in our religion, especially the Shi‘i faith. Hopefully, parents are successful in instilling the love of God, the Prophet and his Household in their children.
Kubra Rizvi is an Honours Psychology graduate from
Loyola University Chicago. She writes and lectures on
various religious topics.