Muslim parents have the duty to teach their children correct behaviour, both by word and example. The issue of whether and when to use corporal punishment is important both because of the need to fulfil that duty and because corporal punishment is outlawed in some places in the West. Parents in those countries must be aware that if they hit their children, the authorities can take their children away. Thus it is imperative for Muslim parents to understand and use the Prophet’s method of teaching children, which condoned hitting only as a last resort. It was reported that he himself (peace and blessings be upon him) never hit a child.
The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal Nadvi, Imam of Calgary Mosque, Alberta, Canada, and former professor at King Saud University, Riyad, Saudi Arabia, states: “This is a very important question. Actually, we are living today between two extremes: one group of people has gone to the extreme in the methods of discipline and punishment that they right away use beating as their first priority and the first way to discipline the child. On the other hand, another group of people has gone so loose in this regard that they ignore the issue of disciplining at all and they keep spoiling the child without giving him or her any kind of warning when he or she does a mistake. In Islam, both trends are not acceptable.
As far as the stance of Islam on hitting children is concerned, Islam strikes a balance between the above mentioned trends. We have to understand two things in this respect:
1. Islam considers hitting the child as a form of discipline and not a form of punishment and show of resentment.
2. If one happens to use physical discipline, it has to be the last resort when all other means prove to be of no avail.
One of the hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that talks about this issue reads as follows:
“Teach your children to pray when they are seven; discipline them if they don’t when they reach ten; and arrange their beds separately.”
So, it is clear that physical disciplining comes as a last resort in the method of teaching.
Further, Islam instructs us about the way of using physical discipline. We have to avoid the face, sensitive areas, private parts; we have to use physical discipline very carefully in a way that does not leave any marks or causes any pain. It is just a symbol of warning and not a form of showing resentment, as we said.
As for the second part of the question, verbal abuse is totally rejected in Islam. We are instructed by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to mind our words and never insult any person or call him or her names. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “I am not used to insulting people or calling them names.”
Ibn Khaldun stated that excessive violence to the child accustoms him to weak will, cowardice, and escaping from life requirements. He said, “The one who was brought up by violence and submission…[will be] displeased, inactive, and lazy. It will force him to lie and be cunning for fear of hands stretching to subdue him. It will teach him trickery and deception, which will become habits and manners and will spoil his humanity.”
We have the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in how to teach our children right from wrong. His methods included using positive spoken direction; pointing out the wrong deed by gentleness; pointing out the wrong by gesture (such as gently turning the child’s head away from something); rebuking (without abusing); deserting the wrong doer (this last was used on adults); hitting (following the guidelines above); and using an admonishing punishment.