Yesterday in our homeschool Quran class, my son’s new material was this ayah:
ٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌۢ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِى ٱلْأَمْوَٰلِ وَٱلْأَوْلَـٰدِ ۖ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ ٱلْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُۥ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَىٰهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَـٰمًا ۖ وَفِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرِضْوَٰنٌ ۚ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ.
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” (Surat Al-Hadeed, 20)
As we discussed the tafseer of this beautiful ayah, my son remarked, “You know, Mama, today there’s a lot of competition between people for wealth, but not so much for children anymore. In the past, yes. Children brought شرف (honor). But now, most people think having kids is too hard so they don’t try to have too many.”
I agreed with him.
Recently, a female friend and I were talking about life, and she said, “Is that really all there is to life? Getting married and having children so you can spend all your days and nights for years taking care of them? I’d probably lose myself.”
In our modern world, this is a popular sentiment.
Marriage is seen as a burden.
Children are seen as shackles.
And our “true selves” are seen as being buried beneath the heavy weight of these things.
In the past, most people didn’t think this way at all. People’s lives centered around marriage and children. This is what they looked forward to and considered the joy of life. This is what infused life with meaning and significance.
In the Quran, Allah informs us about the attitudes of past peoples and tribes regarding children. Throughout human history, having children was considered a status symbol. Many children brought you major bragging rights. People put much hope in their children, and strove to have as many offspring as possible in order to be seen as successful and strong in society. Some went too far.
This is why Abu Labah was mocked by Allah in the Quran, in the ayah,
مَآ أَغْنَىٰ عَنْهُ مَالُهُۥ وَمَا كَسَبَ
“His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained.” (Surat Al-Masad, 2)
Mufassirun explain that “what he gained” in this ayah refers to his many children.
Abu Lahab, the uncle of Rasul Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم and one of the biggest enemies of Islam, used to laughingly say that if there really was a Day of Judgment, he’d save himself from the Fire with his money and children.
So human beings can sometimes over-value having children, going so far as to think children will be a method of salvation.
But with the advent of liberal modernity and the hyper focus on analytic thinking, we see a sharp increase in individualism and self-centeredness. Having children is under-valued. People now would rather travel, sight-see, go on “adventures” and “have experiences” than settle down and have children. Fun over responsibility.
Yet the fitra is still there, a feeling of longing to give and receive love and take care of another.
So for many people, especially secular liberals of the west, the instinctive need to love another is misplaced from children onto pets. Some modern people adopt animals, mostly cats or dogs, and see these pets as their “children.” They literally call their pet their “fur baby.” They also refer to themselves as a “cat mom” or “dog mom.”
Having pets is not haram or problematic of course, but the point is the perception. The idea that these pets are your “babies,” replacing real babies altogether.
The pendulum has swung too far on the other side. With modernity, some have gone to the other extreme, under-valuing children and going so far as to wonder why they should even bother having any kids at all.
The real purpose of our life here on this earth is to worship Allah and to meet Him with a sound heart.
Allah tells us in the Quran,
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنْسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
“And I did not create the jinn and humans except to worship Me.” (Surat Adh-Dhariyat, 56)
And describing Yawm Al-Qiyamah, Allah says,
يَوْمَ لَا يَنفَعُ مَالٌ وَلَا بَنُونَ. إِلَّا مَنْ أَتَى ٱللَّهَ بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
“The Day when neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit. But only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.” (Surat Ash-Sh`araa, 88-89)
And in Surat Al-Kahf we see:
الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا
“Wealth and children are the adornment of this worldly life, but the everlasting good deeds are far better with your Lord in reward and in hope.” (Surat Al-Kahf, 46)
As Muslims, we know that marriage and children are important and a blessing from Allah.
We are not confused about our true underlying purpose. The goal in this dunya is to worship Allah and do as many good actions as we can.
Marriage and children are one of the main routes to worshipping Allah and doing good deeds. It’s also part of our natural human makeup, the in-built hard-wired desire to marry and build a family and leave a legacy.
We neither over-value nor under-value having children. We give family and children their due importance and priority, attuned as we are with our fitra through Islam, undeterred by the selfishness of modernity.
By Umm Khalid