Question:What is your view on physical punishment (hitting or spanking) as a way of correcting children’s behavior? Is it okay to spank or hit a child when he makes a mistake? I am confused. Sometimes we get the answer that it is okay and other times that it is not okay. If it is not okay, how do you explain the hadeeth my husband refers to in which the Prophet SAAW says to teach your children to perform salah when they are seven years old and to hit them if they do not perform it when they are ten years old?
Answer: This is a very important question, particularly in the context of North America. To answer this question we have to talk about several points:
- The proper understanding of the hadeeth of the Prophet SAAW
- Other sayings of the Prophet SAAW related to this matter
- Whether or not the Prophet SAAW ever used hitting or physical punishment as a way of correcting children’s behavior
- The North American environment
Let us discuss these points in detail insha’a Allah.
First, the proper understanding of the hadeeth that your husband referred to is in relation to a man and his wife.
This hadeeth appears in Sunnan Abu Dawud as well as in the Tirmidhi collection of hadeeth, with minor variations. The lessons derived from this hadeeth are as follows:
- Salat is a very important ritual of purification in Islam. As a matter of fact, it is the most important pillar, after the shahada, because it links the weak creatures (humans) with their Creator, the Almighty.
- Training our children for salat should be taken very seriously. It may take up to three years to train them to observe salat regularly and to try their best to perfect its performance. Before parents even consider using physical punishment, they must ask themselves whether they have first spent sufficient time and energy using other, more effective training and tarbiyah methods—such as modeling the behavior they want to see in their child or gently advising the child—or whether they are using physical punishment on the spur of the moment to take their anger out on the child.
- In extreme cases, after parents spend up to three years properly training the child, and the child is still regularly missing salat or not performing it properly, parents may punish the child physically by hitting him lightly so he can understand the weight of his mistake.
- According to Islam, the responsibility of administering physical punishment must come only after intense and proper training have failed and after other methods of correcting behavior have failed. Even then, certain conditions must be fulfilled when the physical punishment is administered. The following are some of these conditions:
- Never hit the face
- Avoid using your own hand; use a very light object such as a natural toothbrush (miswak)
- Hitting should be very light and must never leave any mark on the child’s body
All of these conditions indicate that the hitting is very symbolic; it is meant to show that you are disappointed in the child. Again, when parents resort to this technique, they must ask themselves whether they observed all of the above conditions or simply acted out in a fit of rage.
Second, let us look at other sayings of the Prophet SAAW related to this matter.
“It was reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah RAA that the Messenger of Allah SAAW said: ‘The strong person is not the one who wrestles but is the one who controls himself in a fit of rage.'”
“Abu Mas’ud Al-Badry RAA reported: ‘I was beating my slave with a whip when I heard a voice behind me saying: ‘Abu Mas’ud, be mindful.’ I did not recognize the voice due to my anger. As it approached me, I found that it was coming from the Messenger of Allah SAAW who was saying: ‘Abu Mas’ud, be mindful. Abu Mas’ud, be mindful.’ I threw the whip from my hand. The Prophet SAAW said: ‘Be mindful Abu Mas’ud. Verily Allah has more dominance over you than you have over your slave.’ Then Abu Mas’ud said: ‘I would never beat my servant in the future.'”
The above ahadeeth indicate that the prophet Muhammad SAAW clearly instructed his companions not to use force against anyone, especially children and women. Parents should always find other disciplinary measures and never resort to hitting or using force with their children.
Third, let us examine whether the Prophet SAAW ever used hitting or physical punishment as a way of correcting children’s behavior.
“It was also reported by ‘Aisha RAA that: ‘the Messenger of Allah SAAW never hit with his hand either a servant or a woman, but of course he fought in the cause of Allah. He never took revenge on anyone for the torture inflicted upon him, but of course, he exacted retribution for the sake of Allah when the injunctions of Allah were violated.'”
It is very clear from the above hadeeth that the Prophet of Allah SAAW never used force against children or women. As Muslims, we should do our best to take him as our ultimate role model; “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have the best example to follow for he who hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much.”
Finally, let us discuss the situation in North America.
In some provinces in Canada as well as some states in the United States of America, punishing children physically is against the law. It is considered child abuse. The authorities could penalize parents who use such methods by taking their children away from them and placing the children either with the Children’s Aid Society or in a foster home. I do not think that any wise Muslim parent is willing to take the risk of having his child raised by a non-Muslim institution. The harm and consequences of such an act are unimaginable and should not be entertained in any way, shape or form just because the parent cannot control his or her anger.
In addition to the above arguments against using hitting or spanking to correct a child’s behavior, it is clear that parents who do this are setting a bad example for their children. They are sending the message that yes, you can settle conflicts and differences by force. The children may use force against their own younger siblings since their parents feel it is an acceptable method.
There is another very important point we would like to add here. It is related to the low self-esteem of children who are insulted at home and hit or beaten by their parents. As Muslims, our goal is to raise a confident Muslim generation that can stand tall against the monumental challenges that will face it in North American society. We want a generation of proud, strong, confident Muslims. Using force as a means of tarbiyah will never produce such a generation.
We would also like to remind parents that using force against your children simply to vent your anger is a very serious mistake. Parents should never use force as revenge against children. After all, one of the names of the Last Day is the Day of Qesas (retribution or paybacks). On that day, everyone will have to pay back any rights they may have unjustly taken from somebody else. Even a horned sheep that attacked a sheep without horns during this life will be avenged by the one who was attacked. Thus, if parents hit or beat their children unjustly, they will be held accountable and may have to pay back such deeds to their children on the Day of Judgment.
Parents who think that beating their children is their birthright are seriously mistaken and are definitely committing a serious sin. Hitting children to correct their behavior is a responsibility to be exercised only in extreme cases and only as a last resort, after all other methods and techniques have failed. In addition, when a person severely misuses responsibilities such as this one, the responsibilities should be completely taken away from and not used by that person.
 Agreed upon
 Consult our books entitled Parenting in the West, Muslim Teens and Parenting Skills Based on the Qur’an and Sunnah.
 (Q33, V21)