To Smack or Not to Smack?

16 April 2005

Adapted from an article by Nazia Jalali

For Muslim fathers and mothers, divine instruction is simple. Firstly, we must understand that the raising of children is a sacred trust that Allah (swt) has given to us. Mothers and fathers are duty-bound to bring up and educate their children in the best manner, teaching them right and wrong. The aim of this careful nurturing is that upon reaching the age of maturity (baligh), they become responsible and productive members of society.

But what does this nurturing practically entail? The mere mention of the word discipline makes some parents cringe, as they conjure up images of bruised and battered children. In reality, there is a difference between discipline and punishment.

What is discipline?

Discipline is the training to build appropriate behaviour in youngsters, such that a link is built in their minds between their conduct, and a notion of right and wrong. For the child, thoughtful and careful discipline should lead towards them understanding that their behaviour has boundaries, which when crossed may result in punishment. Punishment on its own, not set in a clear framework of discipline, is an act of chastisement that does not explain to the child why their action was wrong.

What are the limits of punishment according to Shari’ah?

The example of the Prophet (saw) needs to be kept in mind. The Prophet’s (saw) treatment of children was always loving and encouraging. While it is generally accepted that the Prophet (saw) never physically rebuked any children himself – that is, he never smacked a child. Mild physical punishment is allowed in Islam, but not in a way that causes harm – and there are many alternatives to even the mildest smack.

How are boundaries set?

Muslim parents should establish the basic criteria of haram (not allowed) and halal (allowed) for their children. By doing this you encourage your child to link their behaviour with the pleasure and anger of Allah (swt). This paves the way for the child to have a strong sense of accountability to Allah (swt) – something that every Muslim needs to posses in their lives.

Who should best discipline them?

It is essential for both parents to be involved in disciplining their children, and in this regard, consistency is essential. If there is inconsistency between mother and father, discipline becomes almost impossible to establish, and the child will quickly learn to play one parent off the other.

At what age should I start to discipline my child?

The earlier the better! Some parents feel that very small children are too young to grasp rules, let alone understand anything you say. However, these early years are in fact crucial to establishing a good pattern of behaviour. The important thing is to understand child development, so you know what you can realistically expect from a small child.  There are many good books to help you – or you can ask your health visitor, or nursery teachers.

Giving Rewards

If your child is rewarded for a good action, by giving them a treat or praising them, they are more likely to do it again and will therefore develop a good habit. It is better to notice and comment on good behaviour (drawing attention to it) than on bad. However, rewards should not become bribes.

The importance of spending ‘family time’

Fundamental to the effective disciplining by a father of his child is the nurturing of a strong relationship between that father and child – a relationship based on love, kindness and mutual respect. A child is more likely to obey a father (and mother) they love and respect and whom they will want to please. 

Tags: ,