On May 14, 2008, Shaykh Hassan Ai Cisse addressed a huge, international audience that had gathered to witness his appointment as Ambassador of Good Will for the Promotion of Child Survival and Maternal Breastfeeding. Standing before the hundreds of people who filled the largest ballroom in the Meridien President Hotel in Dakar, Senegal, the Shaykh demonstrated a deep sense of humility and gratitude to Allah. Referring to the advice of his grandfather, Shaykh Ibrahim Niass (RA) to the respective presidents of Russia and Yugoslavia many years ago, he stated that he would gladly exchange all of the prestigious titles mentioned when he was introduced for the title of “farmer.”
When speaking about the privileged position that God has given to the children of Adam, both before and after their birth, Shaykh Hassan Ali Cisse reminded the audience of God’s advice to human beings to choose their partners according to the best criteria of Islamic behavior, and underscored the importance of raising babies in an Islamic environment. Then, referring to both the physical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding mentioned by the scientists whose remarks preceded his, the Shaykh described the social benefits of breastfeeding by relating the history of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) freeing of a captive and all the members of his tribe because Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and the captive had both been breastfed by Halima Sadiya, who was their mutual foster mother.
Shaykh Hassan Ali Cisse then addressed the many friends, relatives, students, government officials, representatives of several United Nations organizations and members of the print and broadcast media with the following specific Islamic references:
“The recommendations of the scientists to breastfeed for six months is very convincing and I congratulate them for making a cogent case for it, based upon scientific data. My remarks will be based on the recommendations of Islam, as evidenced in the Holy Qu’ran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad(SAW).
God says in the Qur’an: The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child; nor father on account of his child. If they both decide on weaning by mutual consent after due consideration there is no blame on them. If ye decide on a foster mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided ye pay her what ye offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well all that ye do. 2:233.
In a hadith regarding the conversation of the Prophet(SAW) and Salaama, the foster mother of his son, Ibrahim, in which she inquired on behalf of her women companions why the Prophet(SAW) always seemed to make the men happy and not the women, he (SAW) replied: Does it not please any of you that if she is pregnant by her husband and he is satisfied with that she receives the reward of one who fasts and prays for the Sake of Allah? And when her labor pains come, no one in the heavens or on earth will be able to measure the favors God has reserved for her? And when she delivers, not a mouthful of milk flows from her and not a suck does she give, but that she is rewarded for every mouthful and every suck? And if she is prevented from sleeping at night, she will be rewarded like someone who has freed 70 slaves for the Sake of Allah? When she asked who those women are, the Prophet(SAW) replied: I am talking about women who accept the recommendations and acknowledge the good actions their husbands do for them.
Similarly, let us mention the sermon of Saydina Ali Abu Talib, who said: Every night, One voice reminds our people of the order to avoid the prohibited things. Had there not been animals that graze, children who suck and old people who pray all night long, you would have been punished in various manners.
The teachings of the Holy Qur’an are numerous and instructive. In Surah Al Isra, God says: We have honored the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors above a great part of Our Creation. 70:17. This illustrates that God has chosen the children of Adam as His representatives (Khalifats) on earth.
In addition, in Surah Baqara, God says: How can ye reject faith in Allah, seeing that ye were without life and He gave you life; then will He cause you to die, and will again bring you to life, and again to Him will ye return. 2:29.
Allah(SWT) protects the child throughout the gestation process, from the drop of sperm through the clot of blood, until his birth. In Surah Al Mu’minun God says: We created man from a quintessence (of clay). Then We placed him as (a drop) of sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed is Allah, the Best to create. 23:12-14.
God glorifies Himself for the best of creation, that is, the human being. Everything on earth and in the heavens have been created for the benefit of the children of Adam, as indicated in Surah Al Jathiyah: It is Allah Who has subjected the sea to you, that ships may sail through it by His command, that ye may seek of His Bounty and that ye may be grateful. And He has subjected to you, as from Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth. Behold, in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect. 45:12-13. In order to benefit from these privileges, human beings need some special prenatal and postnatal care. They need parents who take care of them, as well as families, communities and governments. In each entity, Islam has given children an important position that requires promoting their welfare, health, education and happiness.
All of these arguments are in favor of exclusive maternal breastfeeding for at least the first six months. The Holy Qu’ran recommends breastfeeding for two years, for mothers who are able to do so, and fathers who are able to support them or foster mothers for the entire two year period. Science and modern medicine have confirmed the Qur’anic teachings about the value of exclusive maternal breastfeeding.
Any abandonment of the child is considered a sin, for Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has taught that there is no bigger sin for a human being than abandoning someone for whose care he or she is responsible. With regard to children, the Prophet(SAW) said, Every parent is a shepherd who will account for their herd on the Day of Resurrection. Every woman is responsible for her home, which includes her children. God will question them, so we should educate and instruct our sisters well.
Saydina Ali Abu Talib used to refer to Sura Al Tahrim in order to recommend the instruction and education of children as the only means of saving oneself from Hellfire. In it, God says: O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is men and stones, over which are (appointed) angels stern (and) severe, who flinch not (from executing) the Commands they receive from Allah, but do (precisely) what they are commanded. 66:6.
Prophet Muhammad(SAW) used to eat with children in order to teach them good manners. He addressed one child who behaved badly while eating, telling him to pronounce the Name of God before eating and to eat the food directly in front of him with his right hand.
Imam Ghazali teaches that children are like immaculate white paper and that any black spot on it comes from their educators. Children have the right of parental love. Whoever denies them of it denies themselves of God’s Love.
Let us give the example of the Arab who, upon seeing the Prophet(SAW) embracing his grandson, Hassan, stated, ” I have ten children, but I have never embraced any of them.” The Prophet(SAW) made him understand that those who have no mercy on others will not receive any mercy from God. In a hadith, the Prophet(SAW) said: Have mercy on those under your control and the One above will have mercy on you.
The Prophet(SAW) could frequently be observed playing with the children. One day, Saydina Umar ibn Al-Khattab found the Prophet’s (SAW) grandchildren sitting on his back and said, ‘You have an excellent horse.” The Prophet(SAW) answered: They are also excellent riders. The Prophet (SAW) used to hold conversations with children who spoke foreign languages. One day, he (SAW) was offered some garments and he called one girl by the name of Oumu Khalidin, addressing her as, “sana sana,” which means beautiful in one of the Abasha languages. The Prophet(SAW) used to ask a young boy named Abu Umair about his pet bird. All of these anecdotes illustrate the Prophet’s (SAW) love for children.
Other examples can be found in the Prophet;s(SAW) actions during ritual prayer (salat), which is the most important of the five pillars of Islam. Whenever the Prophet(SAW) heard a baby cry during the salat, he would shorten the duration of the prayer so that the mother could comfort the baby. During one prayer, the Prophet(SAW) bowed low (sujud) longer than usual. When people asked him why he had done this, the Prophet(SAW) answered that he did not want to deprive his grandchildren of their pleasure of sitting on his back.
One day, the Prophet(SAW) was offered something to drink. After he had drunk, he said to the child sitting on his right: I usually give to the person on my right; would you allow me to make an exception and serve the adult on my left? The child answered, “I cannot give up my right to someone else.” The Prophet(SAW) served the child before the adult. This demonstrates that children have the right of expression.
When Saydina Uma ibn Al-Khattab walked toward some children, he noticed that all of them, ran away, except Abdulaye ibn Zubayr. He wanted to know the reason, and asked Abdulaye Ibn Zubayr, who answered, ” I have not offended you, so I do not see why I should run away. The street is wide enough for you to pass without my obstructing you.” Once again, the right of the child to express himself has been established. One of the Prophet’s (SAW) Companions, Abu Said Al Qudri, upon seeing some children approaching, told them: I am honoring you as one of the Prophet’s (SAW) protected ones. The Prophet(SAW) has recommended reserving privileged places in our meetings and keeping the hadiths for you.
These are the recommendations of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet(SAW). It is clear, therefore, that anything we are doing for the welfare of humanity in general, and children in particular, has been recommended by Islam for centuries, through Prophet Muhammad(SAW).”