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  Respect for the Girl Child  
In an era of post-modernism where gender equality is promoted in every sphere of life the plight of the girl child remains similar to that which had been prevalent in non-civilised communities. Today female foeticide is a major problem while the right to life is the most fundamental of human rights. Pre-Islamic Arabian society had a common practice of female infanticide. The solution given to such an acute problem in the Arabian society was by according respect to the girl child. Her status was elevated. There are numerous Hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) which describe that several companions before embracing Islam had themselves indulged into this crime. The Holy Qur’ân has warned of a grave consequence in the hereafter when the girl-child who was buried alive will be given a chance to speak for herself. It has also shown a tendency of abhorrence at the mere feeling of sadness at the birth of a female child though the custom of female infanticide had acquired social acceptance in certain Arabian society. The Holy Qur’ân condemned it like any other murder. It says in Surah al-Takweer (81:8-9): ‘When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed?’ Further the Holy Qur’ân criticises in a more severe tone the parents who reject the girl child. It says in Surah al-Nahl, 16:58-59: ‘When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief. With shame dies he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on?’
Child abuse is another major problem faced by the contemporary world. Child abuse is a comprehensive term which practically includes the various forms of abuse suffered by the child. Again here the worst sufferers are the females. Child abuse is defined as inordinate physical violence; unjustifiable verbal abuse; the failure to furnish proper shelter, nourishment, medical treatment or emotional support; incest; other cases of molestation or rape; and the making of child pornography. Islam provides the fundamental basis which can be applied in different societies according to their needs. The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are such that, if applied in today’s time, can solve the problem of girl child abuse. It is interesting to note that the sensitivity on the issue of child rights in the western countries was acquired in the late 19th century when Great Britain formulated a national law to protect children from cruel treatment in 1884. Islam gave Child Rights over fourteen hundred years ago. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favour his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise.’ These commands cover various forms of child abuse and can be taken as a remedial measure.
The importance of ‘values’ in influencing human behaviour and actions is universally acknowledged. Islam worked out such ‘values’ with respect to girl child as could motivate a believer to respect and honour girl child. For instance, the Prophet once said: ‘Girls are models of affection and sympathy and a blessing to the family. If a person has a daughter, God will screen him from the fire of the hell owing to his daughter; if he has two daughters, God will admit him to Paradise; if he has three, God will exempt him from the obligations of charity and jihad.’ Such sayings are numerous and practically give all the due rights to a girl child. At places the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed companions: ‘Do not hate girls, they are comforter and much precious.’ The Prophet’s example of his kind and loving treatment with his own daughters remains a model for Muslim fathers. His love and care for the girl child could be seen with his behaviour towards Umamah, his daughter Zainab’s daughter. It is reported: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to perform the prayer while carrying Umamah. When he stood up, he took her up and when he prostrated he put her down.’ Moreover, his treatment of other children was also of love, concern and care. It is reported that once he was sleeping covering his face in the house of Aishah. It was the day of Eid and young girls were singing. Abu Bakr came into the house and told the girls to stop. Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘Let them sing, it is the day of Eid for them.’ His loving gesture towards the girl child could be traced from the incidence when he was entering the town of Madinah, after emigrating from Makkah. Some girls of the Ansar were singing with joy in front of their houses. When he passed by, he said: ‘O girls! You love me.’ All said: ‘Yes, O God’s Messenger.’ Then he said: ‘I love you also.’ So also is the incidence with one of the companions, Khalid bin Saeed. One day he came to him with his little daughter, Hasna, who was wearing a red dress. The Prophet said, ‘Sana!’ She was born in Abyssinia and in their language, Hasna was called Sana, and he called her Sana in that context. He had a seal of Prophethood at his back and it looked like a lump. She began to play with it so Khalid told her off but Muhammad (peace be upon him) stopped him and let her play.
Islam raised the status of the girl child by providing her with the right to life and further, the right to education, care and support on equal footings with boys. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has equated the good treatment with the girl child with safety from Hell. He said: ‘If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hellfire.’ And that, ‘whosoever supports two daughters till they mature, he and I will come in the day of judgement as this. (he pointed with his two fingers).’ The Prophet’s counsel to his followers and his own model of behaviour towards the girl child carry its relevance today. Values such as these promoted by the Holy Qur’ân and Sunnah will help solve the problems faced by the girl child. In today’s society of materialistic, capitalistic, hedonistic mindset, it is only through such values that a revolution can be brought and the girl child can receive her fair share of dignity, respect and rights.
[The writer is a Research Scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh and is now a volunteer in the Ladies’ Wing, Islamic Research Foundation, Mumbai]
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