Could you give information about parents equal treatment to their children and children's rights over their parents?

The Details of the Question
Could you give information about parents equal treatment to their children and children's rights over their parents?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Equal treatment is a matter which the Prophet (pbuh) emphasized about disciplining children. It is a criterion which applies both to the children in the same family and children educated by the same teacher at school. That is to say; parents are forbidden to discriminate between their children such as boy-or-girl, older-or-younger, this-or-that; similarly teachers are forbidden to discriminate between their students such as rich-or-poor or relatives-or-strangers.

Numan Ibn Bishr narrates: “My father had granted some of his property to me. My mother Amra Bintu Rawaha said ‘I will not accept it unless you tell the Messenger of Allah about this grant’. Upon this, my father took me to the Messenger of Allah in order to tell him about the grant.

Having learned the matter, the Messenger of Allah asked: ‘have you got any other children?’ My father said ‘yes’ and the Prophet asked again: ‘Did you also grant to your other children like this?’ My father said ‘No’. Upon hearing this, the Prophet said: ‘Fear Allah! Be just to your children!’

My father left and returned the grant” In other narrations of this hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said: “Treat equally to your children.” “Return it.” “Do not make me a witness about it, I cannot witness unfairness.” “It is not right, I only witness the truth.” “Make someone else witness about it.” “One of the rights of the children on you is to treat them equally.”

According to the explanation by Tirmidhi, depending on this hadith, Islamic scholars stated that everything that is visible, even the kisses given to children, must be equal, just like the case of “Ihsan and Atiyya.” (1)

While the Islamic scholars reached this conclusion, they must have depended on the hadith of the Messenger of Allah “Allah likes you to treat your children equally in every matter including kissing.” (2)

The order for teachers to treat all their students equally is deduced from the following instruction of the Prophet: “A teacher who takes over the education of three children from this ummah will be resurrected amongst the traitors unless s/he teaches them all together without discriminating between the poor ones and the rich ones.” (3)

The reason why children must be treated equally gives significant hints about precautions to prevent children from committing crimes. In the case of Numan Ibn Bishr, which we narrated above, while prohibiting Numan from treating his children differently in granting, the Prophet asks: “Would it not please you if your children treated you justly in respect and obeisance to you?” When Numan said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!”, he said: “Then make someone else witness about it!” In another narration, the following is stated: “Just as it is your right to receive equal treatment from your children, so too is it their right to receive equal treatment from you.”

In this sense, assuring children’s respect to their father and protecting the love and cooperation between siblings and the elevated relationship called “family relations” primarily depends on this equal treatment. As a matter of fact, in the story of Joseph in the Quran, Allah attributes the reason of hatred and jealousy among brothers to their father Jacob’s showing more affection and interest to Joseph. Such feelings led the brothers to commit the crime of throwing Joseph into the well and then brought on sadness and grief which caused their father to lose his sight.

It would be useful to remember the following hadith at this point: “May Allah make His mercy wide upon the father who helps his children to treat him well.” (4)

Islamic scholars who consider treating children equally wajib make this conclusion: “Equal treatment is a necessary element of wajib, because breaking off relations between siblings and violating right of parents are two things which are forbidden (haram) in Islam. In this sense, anything that leads to these two harams is also haram. And making discrimination between one’s children is something which leads to these two harams.” (5)

Another Islamic scholar evaluates the matter of equal treatment on a larger scale and says: “Order in both the World and the Hereafter depends on justice. Discrimination between children (between siblings) causes mutual hatred and enmity; and it also causes some of the siblings to love their parents while causing the others to hate them. This situation brings about unfairness both to the parents and their children.” (6)

In this sense, treating children unequally both at home and school is the beginning of a process which will lead children to various crimes. The Chapter “Yusuf” gives nice messages regarding the issue.

It is always the best for a father to treat his children equally. However, when a father does not treat his children equally, for instance, when he gives one of them more property than he gives to the others, one should not say to him ‘You are doing haram.’ Indeed, one is free to spend his property on anything halal as he likes. One can give someone a car, a house to another one or something else to someone else. Therefore, it is possible to think that why it should be haram to give them to one of his children.

However, as stated in the hadiths above, it can cause jealousy and resentment between siblings.

In summary, there are two main views on this matter:

1- A father has to treat his children equally; otherwise, he becomes a sinner.

2- Although equal treatment to children is a favorable behavior, a father cannot be forced to do so. That is to say, if he does not treat them equally, one cannot say to him ‘You are committing haram.’ As a matter of fact, the Prophet did not prohibit it, but he said he disliked it. In this sense, it is not as bad as haram. It is makrooh, which is abominable yet permissible.

On the other hand, it is also fard for children to respect their parents and not to grieve them. We must be very careful in order not to grieve them. We should not make things worse while trying to better them. We are going to be parents, too.

1-For references and more information see Hz.Peygamberin Sünnetinde Terbiye (Discipline according to the Sunnah of the Prophet), p. 172-177
2- al-Jamius-Saghir, 2, 297
3- Ibnu Sahnun, ibid., p. 353
4- al-Jamius-Saghir, 4, 29
5- Ibnu Hajar, Fathu’l-Bari, 6, 141
6- Munawi, Fayzul-Qadr, 5, 557

Prof. Dr. İbrahim Canan

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