Teaching Permitted and Prohibited Relations to Muslim Children and Teenagers
By Muhammad Reza Mutahari
True understanding of Divine precepts is considered as an important factor in the religious training of Muslim children. If we intend to bring up our children in a way which would encourage them to observe Divine precepts, we should instill these Divine instructions at an early age, in order to prevent crisis at puberty. Girls and boys should be slowly introduced to their specific roles and treated differently in order to prevent problems at the time of puberty. The emphasis laid on this issue, in the case of girls is far greater than that of boy, because girls reach adolescence earlier than boys.
In Islamic teachings due attention has been paid to this issue and it has been recommended to treat boys and girls differently as early as their 6th birthday. In Islamic traditions, recommendation has been made that a non mahram (prohibited) man or boy should not embrace or kiss a 6-year-old girl. Women too, should refrain from kissing boys who has passed their 7th birthdays. It has also been advised to separate children’s sleeping arrangements from their 6th birthdays. Observing these principles helps children to fit gradually into their respective roles as men and women. However, family is responsible for providing the groundwork for the growth of innate characteristics of boys/girls in their early childhood, in order to lead them to a course which has been prudently destined for them by the decree of God.1 In bringing up children, we should ponder on whether we are the ones who mold them as faithful believers or it is up to them to become such? The exact answer to this question may be the decisive factor in adopting the appropriate attitude towards children in all aspects, including encounters with the opposite sex.
Only in the case of active participation will children inwardly respond to educational practices. If we want children to respond to regulations, values and virtues, we should provide them with the opportunity to ponder on the subject and give the issue time to take root in their minds and thoughts. Because the most important factor in self-training is the interest of children themselves.2
Adolescents and young people should have strong positive opinions of themselves in order to be capable of self control. Because they suffer from the misconception that others should always be in control, they should be brought up in a way that even in unsupervised situations, they would maintain their virtues and refrain from slipping and going astray. Therefore, children should be prepared and guided in such a way that even if they plunge into an ocean of sin and error, they would come out clean and pure, like a duck, which comes out of the water dry and untouched. Thus, children should see God everywhere they are and at all times hear the warnings of their inner-selves.
Islamic religious injunctions have made certain provisions and have put limits to be observed concerning Muslims’ conduct and clothing. The least of these limits include observing Islamic dress codes and guarding relations with the opposite sex.
Concerning the issue of relations between boys and girls, and observing its limits, first of all, we should be well informed about instructions of religious laws and avoid going to any unnecessary extremes. Secondly, bring up children in a manner which would give them self-control and inner strength independent of their parent’s external control. It is at this point that the true meaning of Bibi Zahra’s (SA) words become fully revealed, when she describes the appropriate behavior of a woman in relation to a (non mahram) thus: “A woman shouldn’t set her eyes on a ‘non mahram’ and a ‘non mahram’ should not set his eyes on her.”
Such an example is only relevant to those who have attained a certain degree of self-development which allows them to comprehend fully the depth of Hazrat Zahra’s (SA) message.
Teaching and observing religious injunctions are not the sign of backwardness or limiting children, rather, it indicates the care and concern of the family for the limits of social behaviors.
Parents’ personal interpretation of regulations and limits interfere with religious law, and leads to a contradiction that confuses children. Islam is an easy religion, it isn’t a rigid faith, and shouldn’t be made difficult for children.3 From the point of view of the Qur’an, observing ‘taklif’ (obligation) isn’t hard at all. On the contrary, observing them and relishing the pleasure of worship and prayer as well as the delight of obedience fills the believer with a sense of satisfaction, unlike any other worldly pleasures.
The All-Knowing Allah doesn’t impose any ‘taklif’ on man which isn’t for his benefit. God doesn’t make anything forbidden (haram) or permissible (halal) without a proper reason. If He declares it legitimate, He has man’s benefit in mind, and in case He makes it ‘haram’ (prohibited), then again it is for man’s own good. As a general rule there is no religious precept in Islam which is not based on wisdom and there is no obligation (taklif) which isn’t in the best interest of man. All Divine regulations have been established on the basis of man’s real needs . A good and happy life and finding salvation isn’t possible without observing these regulations. Every single one of these religious precepts respond to a need among the needs of mankind.
Messages & Results
-- It is advisable to start at an early age to introduce and train boys/girls to religious issues.
-- Avoid imposing difficult obligations on boys/girls before they have reached the age of obligation (taklif). Because they may grow to dislike them.
-- Religious and moral training should be flexible enough to suit the ability of children before the age of religious obligations (taklif).
-- In teaching religious issues, we should observe Allah’s instructions only and keep away from our own wrongful interpretation or misguided training that are passed on in the name of Islam.
-- Prepare and guide young persons in such a way that gives them self-control and gives them worth, value and self-control. They should be brought up in a manner that in all circumstances they maintain their faith, which would prevent them from going astray.
-- Help children to understand that observing good conduct and limits of relations between ‘mahram’ and ‘non mahram’ isn’t a sign of backwardness of the family. On the contrary, it indicates concern and attention of the family towards the limits of social behavior of children and ultimately the faith of children.
-- Without exception God doesn’t impose any harsh ‘taklif’ and Divine regulations on anyone which are not based on man’s real needs.
-- Imam Khomeini (RA) was very sensitive and careful towards all matters, including relations between boys and girls at the age of ‘taklif’ and the precise training of religious issues to children from early childhood.
1. Parents’ Guidance (Persian book), Vol. 1, p. 77.
2. Natural Education in Contrast to Artificial Education (Persian book), pp. 188-189.
3. Along with Sunshine, Vol. 1, p. 191.