For many of us, it can be quite difficult to find a role model for our younger children to genuinely connect with. It is common to speak about great traits of popular adult figures of the past, such as the loyalty of Abu Bakr and Khadijah, the intelligence of ‘Umar and Alisha, or the bravery of Salahuddin and Nusayba. However, have we educated our youth about the young children around the Prophet, who went on to become pillars and legends in our Islamic heritage?
Our Prophet had profound compassion and mercy for children even before they were born. Aishaonce asked the Prophet whether he had encountered a day harder than the day of the battle of Uhud. Recall that this was a day in which the Prophet’s helmet was smashed on his head, blood covered his face, his tooth had broken and rumours spread that he was killed.
However, to Aisha’s surprise, the Prophet answered that there was indeed a harder day. It was when he went to Ta’if looking for an alternative place to settle after being driven out by his own people in Makkah. The people of Ta’if not only refused to take him in, but abused him, and left him badly injured. How did the Prophet respond to this horrific experience?
It was said to the Prophet:
?“Muhammad, Allah has listened to what the people have said to you. I am the angel in charge of the mountains, and Allah has sent me to you so that you may order me with what you wish. If you wish that I should bring together the two mountains that stand opposite to each other at the extremities of Makkah to crush them in between [I would do that].”
The response of our Prophet is a primary and astonishing example of foresight:
“No, rather I hope that Allah will bring from their descendants, people who will worship Allah alone without associating partners with him.”
This was the vision of the Mercy to Mankind, whose actions were encapsulated with great foresight and care. In this case, this hope in Allah was manifested through a man by the name of Sufiyan b. ‘Abdallah al-Thaqafi, who not only became a Muslim, but a companion of the Prophet, whose Hadiths can be found in the famous Shih of Imam Muslim and the 40 Hadith collection by Imam al-Nawawi.
There are three particular great individuals from Islamic history who I would encourage our readers to learn about, who were young children around the Prophet, but went on to become the most influential companions of Prophet.
Anas b. Malik
Anas served the Prophet for ten years, from the age of 10 to 20. What made him so special, is that no other companion brought forth a unique insight into how the Prophet was both at home and outside to the public. And as a result, he spoke authoritatively on questions about the Prophet’s daily routine and habits.
Anas experienced and brought to life the key characteristic of ‘Rahma’ the Prophet embodied. As a child, he witnessed his brother, Abu ‘Umayr, lose his pet sparrow which he loved dearly. In such cases, many of us would say, “To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.” But, the Prophet understood that part of the healing process of losing someone beloved to you is to talk about them.
The Prophet said to young Abu ‘Umayr:
“O Abu ‘Umayr! What happened to the little sparrow?”
Such experiences added an additional dimension to the characteristic of mercy the Prophet (?) embodied. You and I can read and relay the Tafsir of the following Qur’an verse, but without such examples, be unable to connect to this Prophetic approach in the way Anas (Ra?iAllahu?Anhum) was able to.
“And by the Mercy of Allah, you [O Muhammad] dealt with them gently.”
‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar
Ibn ‘Umar was the son of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, and similar to Anas, was 20 years old when the Prophet passed away. He also migrated to Madinah at the age of 10 and spent the following ten years with the Prophet.
The Prophet would often engage people through thought-provoking questions. On one occasion, he compared believers to a green tree in which leaves do not fall. No one knew what type of tree was being described except young Ibn ‘Umar, who narrated the following.
“I intended to say that it was the date palm tree, but I was a young boy and felt shy [to answer].”
He later explained this to his father, who encouraged him to speak next time. We can see from this example self-confidence and self-esteem were characteristics developed within both the young companions by the Prophet and his senior companions.
‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas
Ibn Abbas, who we view as a wise authority in the field of Tafsir, was only 13 years old when the Prophet passed away. Unlike Anas and Ibn ‘Umar, he only lived in Madinah for less than three years, but within these few years, he was able to learn and understand the Qur’an like no other. He was very beloved to Prophet, as can be seen in the following Hadith in which he was embraced in a loving manner:
“The Messenger of Allah embraced me and said: ‘O Allah, teach him wisdom and the [correct] interpretation of the Book.’”
It was also through this loving manner that the Prophet taught belief to Ibn ‘Abbas as a 9-year-old child. We know that children learn better when they are happy and enjoying themselves, and in the following Hadith, we can see that the Prophet taught Ibn ‘Abbas some of the most fundamental principles of Tawhid whilst riding on a mount.
“One day I was [riding] behind the Prophet and he said: ‘O boy! I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be mindful of Allah and Allah will protect you…’”
The key message I hope our readers can benefit from is that the greatness of the companions cited in this article did not develop from nothing, but from a lifelong process. The Prophet prepared them in their most pivotal moment; all three individuals were entering their adolescence. This is a time in which they could start practising and implementing what is taught, and grow up attached to these fundamentals. By the time they became men, they understood what they were doing and what their purpose in this world was.
In fact, the Prophet showed us that such teachings are more important to young children than adults. How is this the case?
If a person is taught these fundamental beliefs from a young age, they become intertwined with their flesh and blood. If they are left without them, their thoughts and behaviours will become more rigid, no matter how much a person tries to convince them later. The earlier a transformation happens, the more long-lasting, effective and stable it can be.
So, when you are thinking about potential role models for children, have a scan through history. Relate such examples like these young companions, which children can make a connection with and can extract characteristics and lessons to apply to their lives bi’idhnillah.