Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How can a father treat his children equally when there are individual differences between them?


There is no doubt that each individual has his own character that Allah has given to him. Although there are characteristics that are common to all human beings, people vary with regard to the way those characteristics are combined. My question is with regard to children: how can a father deal fairly with those differences and treat his children – male and female – equally when each of them has a different attitude and character that make the parents more favourably inclined towards some rather than others?.

Praise be to Allaah.


Allah, may He be exalted, created His creation and caused
them to vary in characteristics, nature and attitude. This is something real
and visible, and these differences are common throughout the world. Even
within one family differences may be seen between the children. There is
great divine wisdom in that and it is indicative of Allah’s great power. 


It cannot be denied that  a father will feel more inclined
towards the child who has good characteristics, whether physical or in his
attitude, or is of a nature to which people are attracted, such as if he is
cheerful, easygoing and kind. The fact that a child is male does not
necessarily mean that a parent will be inclined towards him; rather we find
that many fathers are more attached to their daughters, and so on. 


The father cannot be blamed for such inclinations, but it is
not wise to express that in front of the children, because of the negative
results that stem from that. But if he has only one child, then he may
express all his feelings and no one will blame him for that. 


Many parents do not realise that showing preference to the
child who is distinguished by good and attractive characteristics may be
harmful to that child who is so distinguished. That may lead to making him
proud and big headed, or it may lead him to become lazy or idle and rely on
others to meet his needs. There is no doubt that such a child will never be
of benefit to himself or to his parents or the rest of his family. 


The family in which the parents -- especially the father --
favours one of the children over the others causes many negative
consequences, such as the following: 

The other children will be
discouraged from succeeding or advancing in both religious and worldly terms

It may cause them to suffer
psychological or physical illness.

It may lead to resentment
against the favoured sibling, which may go as far as murder! 

Parents who favour some of their family over others are
playing a role in the break-up and destruction of that family, because that
favouritism sows the seeds of enmity, resentment and destructive envy among
their children. So those who are less favoured may gang up on the one who is
favoured over them, and even against their parents. The one who ponders the
story of Yoosuf (peace be upon him) and sees what they did to him and his
other brother will clearly see that what we are saying is true. Allah, may
He be exalted, has told us the reason why they did that to their brother
Yoosuf. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“When they said: ‘Truly, Yoosuf (Joseph) and his brother
(Benjamin) are dearer to our father than we, while we are ‘Usbah (a strong
group). Really, our father is in a plain error.

9. ‘Kill Yoosuf (Joseph) or cast him out to some (other)
land, so that the favour of your father may be given to you alone, and after
that you will be righteous folk (by intending repentance before committing
the sin)’”

[Yoosuf 12:8, 9].

There is no doubt that Ya‘qoob (peace be upon him) was not
mistreating those other sons of his; the only thing that made them do that
was his feelings of love towards his son Yoosuf (peace be upon him). So how
about the case of brothers whose father has wronged them by giving to one of
their brothers what he did not give to them? 


One of the most well-known ways in which parents favour some
of their children over others is with regard to giving, which is something
that is forbidden according to the laws of Allah. Among the bad effects that
result from this kind of favouritism is that it causes children to be
disobedient towards their parents, so that they do not all treat their
parents with the same level of respect and kindness. Our Prophet Muhammad
(blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) drew attention to that and
clearly stated that favouritism in giving is wrongdoing and unfair. 

It was narrated that al-Nu‘maan ibn Basheer (may Allaah be
pleased with him) said: My father took me to the Messenger of Allaah (peace
and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allaah, bear
witness that I have given such and such of my wealth to al-Nu‘maan.” He
said: “Did you give to all your children the same as you have given to
al-Nu‘maan?” He said: “No.” He said: “Let someone else bear witness to that
for you.” Then he said: “Would you not like all your children to honour you
equally?” He said: “Yes.” He said: “Then no (I will not bear witness).”  

Narrated by Muslim (3059). 

Just as Allah, may He be exalted, has forbidden this
favouritism among children in giving, He has also forbidden something else,
namely making a bequest to any one of them. He has forbidden making a
bequest to an heir (one who automatically inherits according to sharee‘ah).
All these rulings are in the best interests of the family and lay the
foundations for family unity, not division.  


The father should realize that not one of his children is
perfect. If he favours one of his children for some reason, if he is
fair-minded he will also find that the child has some other, negative,
characteristics. The opposite may also be said of those whom he does not
favour: many of them may have many positive qualities. A child who is loved
for the way he moves and speaks may not be able to help the family by buying
groceries from the store, and he may not be good at welcoming and serving
guests. Parents should pay attention to that. They should encourage the good
characteristics of their children and help them to develop them, and not
expect the others to be the same. Each person will be helped to do that for
which he was created. One of them may love to work, another may love to seek
knowledge; a third may love to deal in trade. Some of them may have
characteristics that are not found in others. The wise father tries to
develop that and makes them complement one another. If he praises the
positive characteristics in one child, he should also praise the positive
characteristics in others, so that there will be no destructive envy or
resentment among them, by Allah’s leave and with His help. 


By the same token, parents should also beware of scolding
children for their mistakes and demanding that one child be like his brother
So and so. Rather he should mention to him relatives or neighbours of the
same age, or encourage him to develop good characteristics whilst
discouraging bad characteristics, without mentioning anyone in particular,
because comparing him with a sibling who is better than him in this case
would generate enmity and resentment between them. 


It is not fair for the father to treat the disobedient one
among his children the same as he treats the one who obeys him, otherwise
the obedient one will not have any advantages. He has to make it clear that
the one who does good -- such as helping his mother in the house or
memorizing Qur’aan -- will have a reward, whereas the one who behaves badly
will be deprived of it or penalized -- according to whatever misdemeanours
the children may commit. Of course, we do not mean here that he should give
him a gift -- we have explained above that doing that is haraam; rather we
mean that he should praise him by saying good things, or giving him more
pocket money, or he can let him play a permissible game for longer than the
one who misbehaved, and so on. This is the fairness that we encourage in
parents; not treating all of them -- those who behave well and those who
behave badly -- in the same manner, otherwise it would be unfair to the one
who is obedient. 

The father has the right to withhold from the one who is
stubbornly disobedient the money with which he commits sin; in fact it is
obligatory for the father to do that, so that he can prevent his child from
doing that which angers his Lord, may He be exalted. 

Shaykh ‘Abd-Allah al-Jibreen (may Allah have mercy on him)

The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said:
“I will not bear witness to unfairness,” meaning that if the father was more
inclined towards one of them, then he may be called unfair or unjust, but it
may be that doing that is permissible if the one whom he favours is
righteous and the other one is an evildoer and sinner. If he tries to set
him straight and fails, and the child becomes disobedient and defiant
towards his parents and disobedient towards Allah, turning away from Him and
from worship, and indulging in consuming intoxicants and committing evil
deeds and sins, and his parents cannot set him straight --- in that case,
there is nothing to stop the parents (treating their children differently).
In that case it is permissible for them to overlook the issue of equality
and not treat him the same as others. Rather they should be strict in
dealing with him, even if they deprive him of their care or spending on him,
or they penalize him in a way that will bring him back to the right path,
with the help of Allah. 

Duroos al-Shaykh Ibn Jibreen


Another matter we advise parents to do is to direct their
children’s feelings towards the one among their siblings who deserves
compassion and love. For example, one of the children may have a disability,
so the parents should direct their children to show compassion and love
towards their sibling before themselves. In this way they will ensure that
the one who has the disability will be given his share of compassion, and
they will ensure that there will be no ill feeling between them and their


No matter what the differences in the characters and natures
of the children, fairness between them in visible matters is something that
is prescribed in Islam. If the father pays the marriage expenses for one of
them, he should also do that for each of them who wants to get married. If
he pays for the medical treatment of one of them who falls sick, he should
do the same for whoever needs treatment. If he contributes to the education
of one of them, he should do the same for the others too -- so long as it
falls within the category of permissible education. The same may also be
said with regard to maintenance and clothing. He should treat all of his
children fairly with regard to this matter. But we do not say that it should
be the same; rather it should be fair. What we mean by that is that he
should give each of them what is sufficient for him. Indeed, some of the
salaf were of the view that it is mustahabb to be fair with children in the
matter of kissing them! 

Imam al-Baghawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said,
commenting on the hadeeth of al-Nu‘maan ibn Basheer quoted above: 

There are many lessons to be learned from this hadeeth, such
as: it is mustahabb to treat children equally in gift-giving and in all
kinds of kindness, even kisses, whether they are male or female, so that
there will not be anything in the heart of the less-favoured one that will
keep him from honouring the parents. 

Sharh al-Sunnah, 8/297

 It was narrated that Ibraaheem al-Nakha‘i said: They
regarded it as mustahabb for a man to treat his children equally even with
regard to kissing. 

Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah,

Similarly, he should not favour any child over another. This
does not mean that he should have the same feelings towards all of them,
because that is something that the father does not have control over. Rather
he has control over being fair towards them in outward matters, as is the
case with one who has more than one wife: he is not forbidden to love one of
his wives more than another, but at the same time he is enjoined to treat
them fairly with regard to that which he has control over, namely being fair
with regard to outward matters such as maintenance, spending the night with
them, and clothing.  

We ask Allah to enable you to do that which pleases Him, and
to help you to achieve fairness among your children. 

And Allah knows best.


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