After thanking Allah and praising Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings
be upon him.), I wish to express my appreciation for the opportunity to articulate the moral imperative that the religious
perspective lends towards ending violence against children.
Religion has always been central to people's lives in Africa. All ethnic
groups in Africa have a way of acknowledging the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Islam, Christianity, Protestantism
and Traditional religions play a pivotal role in African society.
Christianity recognizes the child as a person and holds that both children
and adults are equal in the Kingdom of God. Jesus (pbuh) taught that unless a person becomes humble like a child, he or she
will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When children were brought to him so he could pray for them, the Disciples wanted
to prevent their approach to him, but Jesus (pbuh) told them to leave the children alone, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs
to those who are like children. Surely, the Protestant view of children is consistent with that of Jesus (pbuh). In Traditional African religions, children are cherished and are seen as a
source of joy, not only to the immediate family, but to the entire community.
In Islam, children, both male and female, are treasured and are to be protected
and nurtured, fed, clothed, housed, educated and loved. Children are a trust given to their parents by Allah, and parents
and family members are responsible for this trust on the Day of Judgment. The Muslim father is required to support his children
and the Muslim mother is required to shape their first impressions for them. Both parents are responsible for the development
of excellent character by instilling Islamic moral and ethical principles in their children.
It is mentioned in the Qur`an :
"O ye who believe, save yourselves
and your families from the fire whose fuel is men and stones". [Sura 66: Verse 6]
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) loved children and set a shining example of how
they are to be treated and protected. When he (pbuh) said, "Fear Allah and treat your children fairly (with equal justice)",
he made the treatment of children a part of being conscious of one's duty to Allah.
It is mentioned in the Hadith that :
"You are all patronizers and are
all responsible for your dependants. The father patronizes his family, and is responsible for his dependants. The woman patronizes
her husband's wealth and children and is responsible for her dependants. And the servant patronizes his master's wealth and
is responsible for his dependants. Are not all of you patronizers and responsible for your dependants".
Islam put an end to the barbaric practice of infanticide and elevated the
status of female children and women to unparalleled respect and dignity.
Sadly, abhorrently, in today's world children are subjected to numerous
forms of violence: violence in the home or family; violence in schools and educational settings; violence in orphanages and
other institutional settings; violence in work situations; violence in the streets, child prostitution and the trafficking
of children for sexual exploitation, and child pornography and the violence of using children as combatants in armed conflicts.
Clearly, unequivocally, Islam stands firmly against prostitution, pornography,
sexual exploitation of children, mistreatment of orphans and the use of children in armed conflicts. The Prophet (pbuh) said,
"Treat your children fairly." and repeated it three times to emphasize its importance.Let us look at Islam's position on the treatment of orphans, an emerging segment of Africa's
population due to AIDS and poverty related behavior.
Islam teaches that the right-minded people should use their own money and
property to help orphans, homeless and poor children until they are old enough to support themselves. Under Islam, mistreatment
of orphans is one of the gravest sins. Allah says in the Book:
"Nay! but you do not honor the orphan, Nor do you urge one another
to feed the poor" , [89. 17,18]
"And you eat away the heritage, devouring (everything) indiscriminately",
"And you love wealth with exceeding love. (89: 20) And, again,
As for the orphan, do not oppress him (rather pay him the due of kindness and loving care". [93: 9].
The Prophet (pbuh) said, "The best house is the one where orphans
are cared for and treated most honorably and kindly."
Regarding prostitution, the Prophet (pbuh) said, "Force not your maids
to prostitution (when they desire chastity)". With regard to child labor, Islam does not teach that a child is obligated
to work to provide food for his or her parents or siblings. Rather, Islam gives children the right to be cared for, properly
brought up and educated.
Despite the efforts of the Office of the Special Representative of the
Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, and the ratification by 31 African states of the African Charter on the
Rights and Welfare of the Child, children continue to be used in armed conflicts in West Africa and Great Lakes Region. Under
Islam, children are not to be harmed during wartime, no less used as soldiers in armed conflicts.
To be fair, we must acknowledge that despite the unequivocal teaching of
Islam that children are to be cherished, cared for and protected economic hardship and political oppression can result in
practices that are harmful to children.
One such reality is the practice of poor parents who leave their children
in Qur'anic schools, unable to provide for their support. In some instances the Qur'anic teacher is left solely responsible
for feeding, clothing, housing and educating these children, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, without any support whatsoever
from any source. The result is the children are forced to beg for their sustenance. Though begging is totally unacceptable,
as cited in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) "that it is better for any of you to carry a load of firewood on
his own back than begging from someone else." [Riyadh-us-Saliheen, Chapter 59, Hadith 540] The circumstances that produce
the begging are real and warrant examination and proactive resolution. I submit to you today, that the most effective way
to end this practice is by including Qur'anic schools in the World Food Program protocol that support the creation of canteens
to supply school children with breakfast and lunch. At the present time, this support is available in Senegal only to the
public schools that teach French and secular studies. Qur'anic schools are excluded from the protocol. Provision of breakfast
and lunch to these children would single handedly significantly reduce and ultimately eradicate the practice of begging by
these students. Precedence for this kind of approach to addressing the economic aspect of a practice that is deemed harmful
to children can be found in the example of institutions in Medina-Baye that struggle to provide basic needs to their students.
Similarly, the provision of food for these children, combined with the
training of students in marketable skills that will make them eligible for employment will significantly reduce and ultimately
eradicate the practice of beggary through adult-hood.
In closing, religion can be a powerful force for good and against evil
in the world. In Africa, the evils of violence against children, in whatever horrible form they manifest, must be fought against
by every societal entity and certainly by the religious traditions that define and inform African society.
May Allah bless and protect the children and bless all of our efforts
to end violence against them. *****