In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Views of Childhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Abortion in Islam
  • Age of Criminal Responsibility in Islamic Tradition
  • Birth Rituals in Islam
  • Breast-Feeding
  • Capital Punishment and Young Offenders
  • Children’s Rights in Islam
  • Circumcision
  • Religious Education in Islam
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Gender and Sexuality in Islam
  • Hijab
  • Islamic Childhood in the West
  • Parenting in Islam

Childhood Studies Islamic Views of Childhood
Masoud Rajabi-Ardeshiri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0062


Perhaps, of outmost importance, it has to be acknowledged that the very concept of “Islamic childhood” is a problematic concept due to the wide range of cultural, economic, and social diversities that exist within the Islamic countries, and the fact that the so-called Islamic childhood is constructed and reconstructed, being influenced by such a diversity of powerful factors. Despite this, the influence of Islamic religious tradition and more specifically the Sharia law on cultural understandings and practices of childhood as well as its long-term and ongoing influence on family laws within the Islamic context provides a strong rationale to comprehend Islamic childhood as a meaningful concept in the wider area of childhood studies. Informed by such understanding, this article—as an ongoing work—more specifically looks at aspects of childhood within the Islamic context, where the Islamic tradition arguably provided a common cultural and religious ground by which childhood—to some extent—is experienced in similar ways among Muslim children. It is believed that such an influence is not restricted by physical boundaries, and its significance could be to a large extent experienced within Muslim immigrant communities in the West. At the current stage, the work is mainly concerned with themes on Islamic childhood that are more known to the audience, due to larger media coverage and their relevance to children’s rights rhetoric. In the long term however, the author hopes to provide a wider understanding of Islamic childhood by looking at aspects of childhood within the Islamic context that are less known, but equally important in terms of contributing to global understandings of childhood. More importantly, it is important to realize how religious understandings were reflected differently in childhood cultures within the Islamic countries and to explore children’s agency in this regard.

General Overviews

Within contemporary debates on Islamic childhood, two main discourses could be distinguished. On the one hand, traditional Islamic schools of thought as documented by al-Azhar University publications in collaboration with UNICEF on Children in Islam (2005) regard children’s status as highly valued in Islam and argue that the Islamic tradition has been one of the most progressive traditions in terms of children’s rights and their status in the society. In particular, arguments were developed that from its outset, Islamic tradition has highly valued children’s rights to education, health, care and protection, etc. On the other hand, the secular discourse on Islamic childhood well established in Ebadi 2008 asserts that gender discrimination and some of the maltreatments and abuses prevalent in Islamic societies against children have their roots within the Islamic jurisdiction, particularly reflected in Islamic family law. Rajabi-Ardeshiri 2009 looks at contemporary understandings of children’s rights within the Islamic context, and more ethnographical and historical works on the subject are also conducted in Gilʾadi 1992 and Fernea 1995. Parker-Jenkins 1995 advocates for the cultural needs of children from Muslim ethic minority backgrounds to be acknowledged within the public education sector in the multicultural West. Rajabi-Ardeshiri 2011 highlighted the impact of religious understandings in the social construction of Islamic childhood, and the author conducted fieldwork in a northern city in the United Kingdom exploring children’s rights and agency within the context of mosque schools.

  • al-Azhar University, and UNICEF. Children in Islam: Their Care, Development and Protection. Cairo, Egypt: al-Azhar University, 2005.

    A collaboration between UNICEF and al-Azhar University in Egypt, the book provides a thorough debate on children’s rights in the Islamic tradition, including their rights to care and well-being, education and health as well as children’s rights to protection from physical and sexual abuse. Book in Arabic.

  • Ebadi, Shirin. Children’s Rights. Tehran, Iran: Roshangaran, 2008.

    Reviews children’s rights in the Islamic context with a particular focus on Iran and provides a critical analysis of the body of laws and legislations that influence children’s rights within an Islamic context. Book in Farsi.

  • Fernea, Elizabeth Warnock, ed. Children in the Muslim Middle East. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.

    Looking at the social history of childhood and inspired by a social constructionist approach, the work seeks to explore social, cultural, and religious elements that shaped childhood in the Middle East historically. The work also looks at rapid changes that reconstructed childhood from the 18th century and the impacts of colonialism on childhood and family in those societies.

  • Gilʾadi, Avner. Children of Islam: Concepts of Childhood in Medieval Muslim Society. New York: St. Martin’s, 1992.

    One of the first comprehensive works on the construction and conceptualization of childhood in medieval Muslim society. Using a historical-philological methodology, the book studies perceptions and images of children, with adults’ attitudes toward them, as well as concepts of childhood as reflected in legal, theological, philosophical, ethical, and medical writings.

  • Parker-Jenkins, Marie. Children of Islam: A Teacher’s Guide to Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils. Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham, 1995.

    Looks at educational needs of Muslim pupils in the United Kingdom. The work provides a historical review of Muslim communities in Britain and develops a debate on aspects of Islamic tradition that requires attention by teachers and school authorities. The author argues that the cultural needs of children from ethnic and religious minorities should drive educational practices within modern multicultural societies.

  • Rajabi-Ardeshiri, Masoud. “The Rights of the Child in the Islamic Context: The Challenges of the Local and the Global.” International Journal of Children’s Rights 17.3 (2009): 475–489.

    DOI: 10.1163/157181809X445331

    Reviews the Islamic as well as secular discourse on Islamic childhood, and analyzes the historical developments that traditional discourse on Islamic childhood has undergone following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989 and the ways that such a change has been reflected in the Islamic declarations and conventions on the rights of the child within the Islamic context. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Rajabi-Ardeshiri, Masoud. “Children and Conflict: Exploring Children’s Agency at UK Mosque Schools.” International Journal of Children’s Rights 19.4 (2011): 691–704.

    DOI: 10.1163/157181810X522306

    Looks at mosque schools in the United Kingdom and children’s experiences of it in a northern city in the United Kingdom. The work also provides a theoretical discussion on Islamic as well as secular view points on the rights of the child within the Islamic context. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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