By Ammar Awais
Corporal punishment means using physical force to cause someone pain as a form of disciplining.
It typically includes slapping, hitting, shaking, and other means of physical chastisement. Although various jurisdictions in Pakistan such as Islamabad and Sindh have formally banned the use of corporal punishment in all educational institutions, the extent to which the law is being followed is questionable.
Children are routinely subjected to corporal punishment in our schools and Madrassahs, often with dire consequences. In extreme cases, students have been severely injured or even killed due to physical torture by their teachers. However, even where the punishment is mild, it can have seriously adverse effects upon the child.
For example, corporal punishment can:
- Dissuade children from learning and restrict their desire to intellectually grow and develop.
- Make children suffer from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
- Develop violent tendencies in children, and make them susceptible to a desire for “vengeance” against the established system.
The consequences of corporal punishment are even more pronounced in Madrassahs where it can promote a false image of Islam – one associated with harshness and cruelty – among the children. It can mar their belief in God and instill evil thoughts about Him.
Most dangerously, perhaps, acts such as whipping or spanking can be used as a tool to normalize abuse, paving the way for sexual harassment of children, as has been witnessed in Madrassahs, churches, temples, and other places of “religious” learning around the world.
What makes the hitting of children in our educational institutions even more objectionable is that the name of Islam is wrongfully used to derive support for this practice. Although a Hadith permits the parents – and not teachers – to “beat” their children if they don’t offer Salah by the age of ten years, this advice is symbolic when viewed in the light of broader Islamic teachings on the treatment of children.
We learn from Aisha (rta) that the Prophet ﷺ never hit anyone – let alone children, towards whom he always displayed utmost affection and kindness. He used to devote his precious time playing with children and making them ride on his camel. He would even lead the prayer with his little grandchildren climbing over him, and would shorten the prayer when he heard a child crying in the mosque.
His respect for children – and regard for their self-esteem – was such that he would make it a point to greet them first whenever he met them on the streets.
Although there were no formal educational institutions in Arabia at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, his general attitude towards children makes it unimaginable that he would have endorsed the senseless hitting of children at places of learning. The following Hadith explains how the Prophet ﷺ and his Sahabah might have responded to the culture of corporal punishments prevalent in our educational institutions today.
“Ibn Abbas (rta) narrated that some of the prisoners from the Day of Badr did not have any ransom, so the Messenger of Allah ﷺ made it their ransom to teach the children of the Ansar how to write. One day, a boy came crying to his father, who said: ‘What is the matter with you?’ He (i.e. the boy) said, ‘My teacher hit me.’ He (i.e. the father) said: ‘The evil one is seeking vengeance for the well at Badr! By Allah, you will never go to him again.’” (Ahmad – classified as Hasan)
The following points are worth noting from the above Hadith:
- Learning is a sacred act, which makes it worthwhile to acquire beneficial knowledge even from one’s enemies. However one’s intention should be purely for Allah’s (swt) pleasure and protection of children needs to be ensured.
- Hitting students is a characteristic of those who harbor ill-will against Islam. The Ansari Sahabi in the above Hadith described the teacher who beat his child as Khabees – translated above as “the evil one”.
- Children should be taught not to ever conceal from their parents any instance of physical punishment or abuse out of fear or shame.
- It is highly undesirable to send our children to teachers who might resort to beating them. Parents should take concrete steps if they learn of any such instance – just as the Ansari Sahabi swore never to send his child to the abusive teacher again.
- Parents should be vigilant when they notice any physical marks on the child’s body or shift in mood and behaviour or his insistence on not going to school or any such class. Gently ask them their ‘why’ and investigate the matter with patience and empathy
Mercy is an integral part of Islam. Allah’s (swt) throne says “My mercy overcomes My wrath.” Our prophet Muhammad (sa) is known as Rehmat ul Alimeen (Mercy for mankind). The first audience of the Quran, our beloved Sahabah have countless stories of mercy that they learnt from Islam and altered the world we live in.
It is thus clear that Islam rejects the culture of corporal punishment prevailing in our schools and Madrassahs which needs to be immediately rectified if we are to progress as a society. While it is important to amend our legal framework to outlaw corporal punishment, and routinely hold the perpetrators accountable, meaningful change can only come once the parents refuse to tolerate “beatings” in classrooms and strongly advocate for an environment where their children can learn with dignity and freedom.