Amatullah Abdullah brings to our attention the need of children for role models and not critics. Prophet’s (sa) dealings with children is an example for us to follow.

Children are a great blessing of Allah (swt). With their tender hearts, they can be moulded into righteous people only by means of a positive approach. Islam considers children to be an Amanah (trust) given to the family, and says it is Fard (obligatory) for the family to raise children in a righteous manner. One child should not be favoured over another. In Islam, both male and female children should be treated equally and should be loved and cherished. Children have certain rights over their parents: it is the family’s obligation to shelter, feed, clothe, educate, support, nurture, and love them.

The Prophet (sa) is the model for the whole humankind. His attitude towards children was always compassionate and merciful. Being fond of children, Prophet Muhammad (sa) showed great interest in playing with them. His involvement in children’s games shows us the great importance of playing with our children. He played with the children, who had come back from Abyssinia, and tried to speak in Abyssinian with them. It was his practice to give lifts on his camel to children, when he returned from journeys.

Prophet Muhammad (sa) never held back his love for children and always expressed his fondness of them. Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated: “I went along with Allah’s Messenger (sa) at a time during the day but he did not talk to me, and I did not talk to him, until he reached the market of Banu Qainuqa. He came back to the tent of Fatimah (rta) and said: ‘Is the little chap (meaning Hasan (rta)) there?’ We were under the impression that his mother had detained him in order to bathe him, dress him, and garland him with a sweet garland. Not much time had passed that he Hasan (rta) came running, until both of them embraced each other. There upon Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: ‘O Allah (swt), I love him; love him and love one, who loves him'” (Muslim).

Anas Ibn Malik (rta), the servant of the Prophet (sa), had another recollection: “I never saw anyone, who was more compassionate towards children than Allah’s Messenger (sa). His son Ibrahim was in the care of a wet nurse in the hills around Madinah. He would go there, and we would go with him, and he would enter the house, pick up his son and kiss him, then come back.” (Muslim)

The Prophet’s (sa) love for children was not restricted only to his children and grandchildren. The scope of his mercy and affection embraced all children. A Hadeeth narrated by Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta) shows this humane aspect of the Prophet’s (sa) personality: “Allah’s Messenger (sa) used to put me on (one of) his thighs and put Hasan Ibn Ali (rta) on his other thigh, and then embrace us and say: ‘O Allah (swt)! Please, be merciful to them, as I am merciful to them'” (Bukhari).

Some people, who were not able to understand the power of expressing love to children, wondered, why the Prophet (sa) played with children and took such an interest in them. Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated: “Allah’s Messenger (sa) kissed Al-Hasan Ibn Ali (rta), while Al-Aqra` Ibn Habis At-Tamim was sitting with him. Al-Aqra said: ‘I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.’ The Prophet (sa) cast a look at him and said: ‘Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully.'” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (sa) was always concerned about everyone’s feelings. The following Hadeeth narrated by Anas Ibn Malik (rta) proves his thoughtful character: “The Prophet (sa) said: ‘(It happens that) I start the prayer intending to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I shorten the prayer, because I know that the cries of the child will incite its mother’s passions.'” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (sa) was always patient and considerate with children and took great care not to hurt their tender feelings. Abu Qatadah has narrated: “The Messenger of Allah (sa) came towards us, while carrying Umamah the daughter of Abi Al-`As (Prophet’s (sa) granddaughter) over his shoulder. He prayed, and when he wanted to bow, he put her down, and when he stood up, he lifted her up.” (Bukhari)

Umm Khalid has narrated: “I (the daughter of Khalid Ibn Said) went to Allah’s Messenger (sa) with my father, and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: ‘Sanah, Sanah!’ (Abdullah, the narrator, said that ‘Sanah’ meant ‘good’ in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of prophethood (between the Prophet’s (sa) shoulders), and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: ‘Leave her.’ The Prophet (sa) then invoked Allah (swt) to grant her a long life thrice.” (Bukhari)

In another narration, we see the Prophet’s (sa) tolerance towards children. Aisha (rta) has narrated: “The Prophet (sa) took a child in his lap … and then the child urinated on him, so he asked for water and poured it over the place of the urine” (Bukhari). No hue and cry was raised, nobody was embarrassed or reprimanded.

The following is yet another saying of the Prophet (sa), which proves that Muslims should be conscious about treating their children justly: “Fear Allah (swt) and treat your children [small or grown] fairly (with equal justice).” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Once, as Muslims were preparing for the battle of Badr, Zaid Ibn Thabit (rta), not yet thirteen, walked up to the Prophet (sa) and said: “I dedicate myself to you, Messenger of Allah (swt). Permit me to be with you and to fight the enemies of Allah (swt) under your banner.” The Prophet (sa) commended him for his courage but refused to enlist him, because he was still too young. It was his caring and tender nature never to burden anyone beyond his capacity.

The above Hadeeths illustrate the Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) attitude towards children, which should be followed by the whole humankind. He emphasized the importance of showing compassion and kindness towards children and with his own example instructed about the significance of expressing love to them. This is the only way to earn our children’s respect and everlasting love. The Prophet (sa) never lured any child with material belongings or reprimanded any kid to show, who is the boss. Why then every single one of them grew up to love him? There are great lessons for all parents and elders in the Prophet’s (sa) remarkable yet simple strategies of handling the youth and children. He spoke the language kids wanted to here – a language of patience, understanding and respect.