Childhood and Youth
(ṭifl, ghulām, fatan al-fatā)
This article comprises the following sections:
- Definitions and usage
- From birth to puberty: ṣabī, ṣaghīr and ṭifl
- Sexual unawareness as a marker of ṭufūla
- Female adornments children are allowed to see
- Puberty as the onset of adulthood and a suggestive gloss of Q 12:31
- Fatā/t as “raw youth”
- Fatā/t as “slave” and fatā as “selfless”
- Ghulām as “male child,” “young adult,” “male,” and “servant/slave”
- Ghulām as a trope for future virility or diehard youth
- Ghulām as “pre-pubescent youth” throughout the Qurʾān
- al-Ashudd, or maturity after childhood
- The lingering of youth into a man’s thirties, forties and fifties
Definitions and usage
The Qurʾān refers to
- infancy and childhood with the root ṭ-f-l (infinitive noun ṭufūla) in the nominal form ṭifl (infant, child) (Q 22:5, 24:31, 40:67) and its plural aṭfāl (Q 24:59);
- infancy, childhood and boyhood with the root ṣ-b-w (infinitive noun ṣibā) in the nominal form ṣabī (infant, child, boy) (Q 19:12, 19:29);
- “young age” with the root ṣ-gh-r (infinitive noun ṣighar) in the adjectival form ṣaghīr (little) (Q 17:24);
- boyhood, girlhood and young adulthood with the root f-t-w/f-t-y (infinitive noun fatāʾ) in the nominal forms fatā (Q 12:30, 18:60, 18:62, 21:60), fatayān (Q 12:36), fitya (Q 18:10, 18:13), fityān (Q 12:62), and fatayāt (Q 4:25, 24:33);
- “lad” and young adulthood with the root gh-l-m (infinitive nouns ghalam, ghulma and ghulūma) in the form of ghulām (Q 3:40; 12:19, 15:53, 18:74, 18:80, 18:82, 19:7-8, 19:19-20, 37:101, 51:28) and its pl. ghilmān (Q 52:24).
The rest of this article details the lexical and exegetical applications of the above categories.
Only secondarily relevant here, as markers of childhood, are the references to children as wildān (Q 56:17, 76:19)—a plural denoting the adolescents of Paradise (q.v.) synonymously with ghilmān, or examplars of defenselessness (Q 4:75, 4:98, 4:127)—and yatīm (Q 6:152, 17:34, 18:82, 76:8, 89:17, etc.), pl. yatāmā (Q 2:83, 2:177, 2:215, 2:220, 4:127, etc.), orphans. Both of these categories, along with all the roots and cognates that denote offspring and children in general or specific sub-topics such as pregnancy, embryonic formation and growth, delivery and birth, nursing and sucklings, adoption and infanticide, filial piety etc. (w-l-d, dh-r-r, n-s-l, b-n-w, ḥ-m-l, w-ḍ-ʿ, r-ḍ-ʿ etc.) are covered in other articles (see cross-references at the end of entry).
From birth to puberty: ṣabī, ṣaghīr and ṭifl
The root ṣ-gh-r in reference to childhood occurs only once in the Qurʾān, as a descriptive denoting generic young age in the verse … and say: “O my Lord, grant them mercy just as they nurtured me when I was little (ṣaghīran)” (Q 17:24). Nurturing (tarbiya) is defined as “making something reach its completeness little by little” (Bayḍāwī, sub Q 1:2), the terminus ad quem of completeness being puberty and marriage as indicated by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, in the two hadiths: (i) “Whoso fosters two girls (ʿāla jāriyatayn) until they reach puberty shall appear on the Day of Resurrection together with me”—and he joined his two fingers (Muslim, al-Birr wal-ṣila wal-ādāb, faḍl al-iḥsān ilā al-banāt); (ii) “Whoso fosters three girls (banāt), educates them, marries them off, and treats them excellently, earns Paradise (Abū Dāwūd, Adab, faḍl man ʿāla yatīman; Ṭabarānī, Awsaṭ 5:90 §4760; cf. Ḥasanī, Tahdhīb al-akhlāq, pp. 83-84 bāb fī tarbiyat al-awlād; Suwayd, Manhaj al-tarbiya, p. 28).
Ṣabī (boy) occurs twice, in reference to the two Prophets who were first cousins—Yaḥyā and ʿĪsā , upon our Prophet and them blessings and peace—and in the order of their birth: O Yaḥyā, take hold of the Book with strength. And We brought him wisdom as a boy (Q 19:12); Then she pointed to him [ʿĪsā]. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a baby boy? (Q 19:29). Lexicons define ṣibā generically as “young age” (ṣighar al-sinn, Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs 3:331), and more specifically as either pre-pubescent boyhood (man lam yablugh al-ḥulum, Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṣ-b-w) or infancy before weaning (man lam yufṭam baʿd, Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs, sub ṣ-b-w).
The gloss of ṣabī as “pre-weaning infant” applies in the case of ʿĪsā, who spoke from the time of birth (Q 3:46, 19:24, 19:29). Its gloss as “pre-pubescent boy” is supported with non-Prophetic exegetical reports about Yaḥyā being given teaching knowledge of the Torah at age three (Muqātil, Māwardī, Samʿānī, sub Q 19:12) according to Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/620-688) (Wāḥidī, Kirmānī, sub Q 19:12), and replying to little boys who invited him to play: “I was not created for play” (ʿAbd al-Razzāq and Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 19:12). And speaking to people from the cradle and as a mature man (kahlan) (Q 3:46), “That is, he spoke in the state of childhood with the speech of sages, not with that of boys; and he spoke in his maturity (kuhūla), not with the speech of sages but with that of Prophets” (Tustarī, Laṭāʾif, p. 101).
The root ṭ-f-l occurs four times, always as a noun (Q 22:5; 24:31, 59; 40:67) denoting a specific phase of childhood, from the moment of birth, … then We/He bring/s you out as a child (ṭiflan)… (Q 22:5, 40:67), until puberty (ḥulum): And when the children (al-aṭfāl) among you reach puberty… (Q 24:59). “The noun ṭifl applies until puberty” (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 24:31). Thus ṣibā, ṣighar and ṭufūla are all synonymously defined as the pre-pubescent period from birth to boyhood or girlhood.
Sexual unawareness as a marker of ṭufūla
Another verse describes the category of ṭifl as those who are as yet sexually unaware: … and let them not reveal their adornments (zīna) except to their husbands or their sons… or a child (al-ṭifl)—those that have not yet discovered the bare parts of women (ʿawrāt al-nisāʾ)… (Q 24:31). “What is meant by al-ṭifl here is little boys (al-ṣibyān al-ṣighār)” (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 4:75) and the clause those that have not yet discovered… is an epithet (naʿt) for a child (Ṣāfī, Jadwal, sub Q 24:31). The latter term “means the genus and is used in lieu of the plural” (Bayḍāwī, cf. Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb, sub 24:31) as in the verses … then He brings you [pl.] forth as an infant (ṭiflan)… (Q 22:5, 40:67), or “can be used both as a plural and as a singular” (Mātūrīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 22:5), among more than three dozen verses using plural-sense singulars (al-wuḥdān bi-maʿnā al-jamʿ) (Ibn al-Rāzī, Laṭāʾif, pp. 69-70) and including the feminine gender (Khafājī, Ḥāshiya, sub Q 40:67).
Those that have not yet discovered the bare parts of women means “they do not know what women are, due to their immaturity and pre-pubescence” (Tafsīrs of Mujāhid, Ṭabarī, sub Q 24:31). In legal parlance, “what is meant by the ‘discovery’ is the ability to recount whatever he sees in women” (Jamal, Futūḥāt, 4:121) “with respect to private parts” (Damīrī, Najm, 7:26).
Female adornments children are allowed to see
Ibn ʿAbbās glossed zīna in Q 24:31 as hennaed palms, rings and kohl (Baghawī, sub Q 24:31). It was also defined as “the adornments worn beneath [clothes], such as a necklace, anklet, armlet and bracelet, whereas what shows is the clothes and the face” (Zajjāj, sub Q 24:31), “or the parts [of the body] where they [i.e. adornments] are worn” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 24:31). The verse makes female jewelry and accessories a subset of female nakedness that has to remain covered as much as the body itself. That they are alluring to sexually active males is supported by the divorced oath-breaker hadith: “Messenger of Allah, I had sworn divorce from my wife, then I lay with her before expiating.” “And what made you do that?” “I saw her anklet (khalkhāl) in the moonlight” (Nasāʾī, Ṭalāq, ẓihār; Tirmidhī, Abwāb al-ṭalāq wal-liʿān, mā jāʾa fīl-muẓāhir yuwāqiʿ qabla an yukaffir; rated as ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ). (See Gold and silver, Veil)
Puberty as the onset of adulthood and a suggestive gloss of Q 12:31
The equivalency of ṣighar with the time before and up to puberty can be inferred from the use of the expression “she reached kibar” (akbarat) in the sense of menarche because that signals her exit from childhood (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 12:31; Lisān, sub k-b-r) (see Menstruation). This expression gave rise to the notorious gloss of akbarnahu in Sūrat Yūsuf—And when she heard of their scheming she sent for them and prepared for them a banquet on couches. She gave each one of them a blade and said: “Come out and let them see you.” When they saw him they extolled him and sliced their own hands and said, “Allah forbid! This is no mortal! Truly this is no other than some gracious angel!” (Q 12:31)—not as the usual “they extolled him” but as they menstruated (ḥidna) (Azharī, Tahdhīb 10:211-212 from Ibn ʿAbbās and Mujāhid; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Thaʿlabī, Zamakhsharī, Rāzī, etc., sub Q 12:31). This gloss makes girls of the reportedly forty female guests of the governor’s wife (Samarqandī, Samʿānī, etc. sub Q 12:31; Thaʿlabī, Qaṣaṣ, p. 110), all entering menarche at once when they saw Yūsuf—upon him peace.
Others viewed this interpretation as ungrammatical in light of the attached—and vowelized—object pronoun hu in akbarnahu, while the verb supplied for the gloss ḥiḍna (they menstruated) is intransitive: since one cannot say ḥiḍnahu (they menstruated him), how can one explain the disappearance of the object pronoun? The argument that the h is a “phonetic quiescence” (waqfa/lil-sakt; e.g., Q 2:259 yatasannah, Q 6:90 iqtadih, Q 69 kitābiyah, ḥisābiyah, sulṭāniyah, etc.) was rejected in light of its being vowelized in all the Qurʾānic readings (Ṭabarī, Zajjāj, Kirmānī, Ibn ʿĀdil, etc., sub Q 12:31; Ghumārī, Bidaʿ, p. 72). The Qadi Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Bayḍāwī’s (d. 708?/1308?) resolution was that one can indeed gloss akbarnahu as ḥiḍnahu with an object pronoun whose referent is either the way Yūsuf came out in such spectacular fashion or his very person, in the causal sense of ḥiḍna lahu, “they menstruated because of it/him” (Bayḍāwī and Qūnawī, sub Q 12:31).
In the absence of signs such as pubes or sexual discharge the vast majority of the jurists (including al-Awzāʿī, Ḥanafīs, Shāfiʿīs and Ḥanbalīs) set puberty at age 15 at the latest for both boys and girls; Abū Ḥanīfa (80-150/699-767) set it at 18 and 17 respectively; Mālikīs generally set it at 18 for both, although their views range between 15 and 19 (al-Mawsūʿat al-fiqhiyya, 2:16-17, sub sinn al-bulūgh; Zuḥaylī, Fiqh 4:2966).
Fatā/t as “raw youth”
The nouns fatā/fatī (masc.) and fatāt/fatiyya (fem.)(see “Definitions and usage” for frequency of Qurʾānic mentions) are synonyms with the non-Qurʾānic shābb and shābba(Farāhīdī, ʿAyn 8:137; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ 6:2451)—as are their respective infinitive nouns (al-fatāʾ: al-shabāb, Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, subfatā) in the sense of “inception” (al-shabāb: al-fatāʾ wal-ḥadātha… awwal al-shayʾ, Zabīdī, Tāj, subsh-b-b)—and denote“araw youth” (fatī ṭarī min al-shabāb)(Rāghib, Mufradāt; Zamakhsharī, Asās,subf-t-y) that typifies earnestness (jidda)(Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs 4:473).
The Qurʾān indeed refers to youth in the sensesof raw earnestness, and exclusively as nouns,in the following forms:
- fatā(masc. sing.), “boy/young man” or “servant-boy/slaveboy,”in reference to (i) the Prophet Ibrāhīm(q.v.) in the verse They said, “We heard a young mansaying something about them, whom they call Ibrāhīm” (Q 21:60);(ii) the Prophet Mūsā’s servant-boy accompanying him and carrying their provisions on their trip to meet with al-Khiḍr (see Anonymous mentions) (Q 18:60, 18:62); and (iii) the Prophet Yūsuf—upon our Prophet and upon all of them blessings and peace—in the gossip of the Egyptian townswomen,… the governor’s wife is enticing her servant-boy against his will; she has become possessed with love! (Q 12:30).
- fatayān(masc. dual), “two boys/young men,” in reference to Yūsuf’s two cell-mates (Q 12:36);
- fityaand fityān(masc. coll. pl.), “boys/young men,”referring respectively to the Sleepers of the Cave (Q 18:13) and to Yūsuf’s pages (Q 12:62);
Fatā/t as “slave” and fatā as “selfless”
Fatayāt (fem. pl.), “girls,” also denotes slavewomen metaphorically, in the same way fatā denotes both boys and slaves (Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz, sub Q 24:33), as does ghulām, in the verses, Any one of you who has not the affluence to be able to marry believing freewomen (al-muḥṣanāt=lit., chaste women) in wedlock, then of your believing maidservants among those that your right hands own... (Q 4:25); … and do not force your maidservants to practice fornication if they wish to achieve chastity, pursuing in that the fleeting goods of this world… (Q 24:33). Thus, in the metaphorical sense of slaves, fatā, fatāt and ghulām can also be used of adults.
The Sunna and subsequent usage confirm the meaning of fatā/t as slave: “Let none of you say ʿabdī, amatī, but rather fatāy/ghulāmī, fatātī” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Gharīb; Ibn al-Athīr, Nihāya, sub f-t-y; see next section). “Allah called Ibrāhīm a fatā because he dedicated himself wholly to Him, relinquishing himself, his spouses, his property and his offspring, leaving everything to the One Who owns everything” (Sulamī, Futuwwa, p. 5). It may be in the latter sense and that of “one qualified for fatwā” that “al-Qutaybī [i.e. Ibn Qutayba] said: ‘The fatā is not in the sense of an inexperienced young man (al-shābb wal-ḥadath) but in that of an accomplished and prudent man (al-kāmil al-jazl min al-rijāl)’” (Azharī, Tahdhīb 14:328b, sub fatā), which yielded futuwwa, “lexically: liberality and generosity; in the convention of the people of truth: to give priority to others over oneself in this world and the next” (Munāwī, Tawqīf, sub futuwwa).
Ghulām as “male child,” “young adult,” “male,” and “servant/slave”
With thirteen mentions (see “Definitions and usage”), ghulām is the most frequent of the five Qurʾānic terms for “child,” followed by fatā (ten mentions). It is also the most interesting in that there are four distinct linguistic definitions of its primary meaning, three of them mutually contradictory in their time-specific parameters:
- A male child from birth and up to puberty/adolescence (Lisān; Wasīṭ, sub gh-l-m; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 3:40): “gharrara al-ghulām is said when his first teeth emerge” (Ibn Sīdah, Muḥkam; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Zabīdī, Tāj, sub gh-r-r). This definition has strong Qurʾānic support (see two sections down) and is further supported by the Prophetic address of under-age boys such as Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿUmar b. Abī Salama, Rāfiʿ b. ʿAmr al-Ghifārī and others as yā ghulām! (Ḥumaydī, Musnad 1:432 §488, 1:486 §580; Aḥmad, Musnad 12:307 §7352, 33:452 §20343). “Why can we say ‘a five-foot boy’ (ghulām khumāsī) but not “a six-foot one” or “a seven-foot one”? Because by then he has become a six-foot man beyond the defining criterion of childhood (ḥadd al-ṭufūla), and this is the rule which rare exceptions do not invalidate” (Ibn Qutayba, Masāʾil, p. 237).
- A young adult with budding facial hair (al-ṭārru al-shāribi) (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Fāris, Mujmal; Ibn Sīdah, Muḥkam; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub gh-l-m) and ghulma, ightilām or ghulūma, “lewdness” (shabaq, Rāghib, op. cit.; Tafsīrs of Rāzī, Qurṭubī, Abū Ḥayyān, etc., sub Q 18:74), “marriage-lust” (shahwat/shiddat ṭalab al-nikāḥ) (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarsī, Ibn al-Jawzī, Qurṭubī, etc. sub Q 3:40) “in men and women” (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, sub gh-l-m). Applied to a drink, ghalama means it has become alcoholic (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub gh-l-m). The stem itself “denotes youth and sexual arousal” (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub gh-l-m): the morphologist Ibn al-Ḥaddād al-Saraqusṭī (d. 400?/1010?) defined ghalima in his encyclopedia of verb forms as “being in a state of heightened sexual excitement” and cited adjectives bearing the same sense applying both to males (ghulām ghalīm wa-mughtalim) and females (jāriya ghillīma wa-mughtalima) (Ibn al-Ḥaddād, Afʿāl 2:32b).
- A male from the time of birth to that of death (Ibn Sīdah, Muḥkam, 5:316a, sub gh-l-m). It is in the latter sense that the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—more than once called Abū Hurayra “the Daws lad” (al-ghulām al-Dawsī) (Ḥumaydī, Musnad 2:281 §1176; Ibn Abī ʿĀṣim, Āḥād 5:223 §2752; Nasāʾī, Kubrā 5:374 §5839; Ṭabarānī, Awsaṭ 2:54 §1228). This was a double endearment in light of the report from Ibn ʿAbbās that when 400 of the Daws tribe came to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—he said: “Welcome to the most handsome-faced, the sweetest-mouthed, and the most reliable of people!” (Ṭabarānī, Kabīr 25:173 §12948).
- A male servant or slave of any age (Wasīṭ, sub gh-l-m). This sense is illustrated by hadiths such as, “Let none of you say ʿabdī, amatī, but rather fatāy, fatātī, ghulāmī” (Bukhārī, ʿItq, karāhiyyat al-taṭāwul ʿalā al-raqīq; Muslim, al-Alfāẓ min al-adab, ḥukm iṭlāq lafẓat al-ʿabd wal-ama) and “No harm if you cannot! It is only your ghulām and your father,” spoken by the Prophet to his daughter Fāṭima who was struggling to cover her hair with a scant garment as he and a slave he was donating to her were entering her room (Abū Dāwūd, Libās, fīl-ʿabd yanẓur ilā shaʿr mawlātih). A longer version of this report suggests the slave was a young boy and possibly pre-pubescent (Jaʿfarī, Juzʾ Ibn ʿAmshalīq, pp. 60-61 §27). Yet other reports suggest that the wives of the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—allowed their adult male slaves to see their hair (kāna al-ʿabīdu yadkhulūna ʿalā azwāj al-Nabī: ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Muṣannaf 8:412 §15742 from Mujāhid; fa-takshifu lahu al-ḥijāb: Bayhaqī, Sunan 7:95 from al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad).
Ghulām as a trope for future virility or diehard youth
Some consider only the “young adult” gloss of ghulām as the literal one, and the rest metaphors used “proleptically” for infants in anticipation (tafāʾulan) of their future virility, and “ampliatively” for men over fifty in the charitable presumption of their remaining sexually active (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr; Samīn, Durr, Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb; all sub Q 3:40; Jabal, Muʿjam, sub gh-l-m) just as wildān, newborns, refers metaphorically to adolescents in Paradise (Q 56:17, 76:19) “in an extended sense” (Jabal, Muʿjam, sub gh-l-m).
Ghulām as “pre-pubescent youth” throughout the Qurʾān
Alternately, Yūsuf—upon him peace—as the ghulām in the well (Q 12:19), the ghilmān (Q 52:24) and wildān of Paradise are all deemed to be “ten years old or younger” (Jabal, op. cit.), as were, more or less, the orphaned ghulāmayn whose concealed treasure al-Khiḍr protected (Q 18:82)—the legal designation of orphanhood ending at puberty (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub y-t-m)—and the ghulām killed by al-Khiḍr—upon him peace—(Q 18:74, 18:80), who had not reached puberty according to the majority (Shirbīnī, Sirāj, sub 18:74). This interpretation puts all the above passages in line with the remaining eight Qurʾānic mentions of ghulām, all of which concern boys yet to be born to the Prophets Zakariyyā (Q 3:40, 19:7-8) and Ibrāhīm (Q 15:53, 37:101, 51:28), and to Maryam (Q 19:19-20)—upon our Prophet and them blessings and peace. This makes all thirteen instances of gh-l-m and its cognates in the Qurʾān refer to pre-pubescent youths exclusively.
However, Tābiʿī exegetes’ views as to the age of Yūsuf at the time he was thrown into the well vary between six and eighteen (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 12:15), the recognized versions being twelve and seventeen (Samʿānī, sub Q 12:15); but twelve is more likely the time he saw his prophetic dream (Samʿānī, sub Q 12:4), exegetes most frequently citing seventeen as his age at the well (Tafsīrs of Mujāhid, sub Q 12:101; Ṭabarī and Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 12:100; Thaʿlabī, Qaṣaṣ, p. 104; Baghawī, sub Q 12:101; Zamakhsharī, sub Q 12:15; Rāzī, sub Q 12:21; etc.). Various ages are also related for the pagan ghulām slaughtered by al-Khiḍr (al-Ḥasan and al-Kalbī said he was a grown man and a highway robber: Shirbīnī, Sirāj, sub 18:74).
al-Ashudd, or maturity after childhood
The Qurʾān refers to the phase in life of “seasoned maturity” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 6:213) or “maximum strength” (tanāhī quwwatih, Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 46:15) with the colloquial plural noun al-ashudd (sing. shudd, unused in Arabic according to Azharī, Tahdhīb, 11:265) derived from the stem sh-d-d which denotes strength (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 3:179), invariably as the direct object of the verb “to reach” (balagha), in eight verses signalling growing from childhood into maturity (Q 22:5, 40:67, 46:15), orphans (Q 6:152, 17:34), the Prophets Yūsuf and Mūsā—upon them peace (Q 12:22, 28:14), and the two orphans helped by al-Khiḍr—upon him peace (Q 18:82). It is variously defined as puberty or, more plausibly, as the age of 33 since it is immediately followed by “forty” in the verse …until, when he reaches his maturity and reaches forty years… (Q 46:15, Ṭabarī, Tafsīr), thus, “from about seventeen to about forty” (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 12:22). It is followed by old age in the verse …then until you reach your maturity, then for you to become old men (shuyūkhan)… (Q 40:67). Another gloss for ashudd is “from eighteen to thirty” (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 22:5).
A contemporary historian, ʿAlī al-ʿImrān (b. 1390/1970), published a biographical dictionary of 147 Muslim scholars listed in chronological order who died between the ages of 15 and 40, entitled al-ʿUlamāʾ al-ladhīna lam yatajāwazū ʿsinn al-ashudd (Scholars who did not live past the age of maturity), beginning with the Companion Muʿādh b. Jabal (18bh-18/604-639) and ending with the hadith master ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Duwaysh (1373-1409/1954-1989), may Allah have mercy on all of them.
The lingering of youth into a man’s thirties, forties and fifties
As in their representation of the four or five stages of existence of the human soul from spiritual pre-existence to everlasting Paradise (see Birth, section on “The Decree, Resurrection, and Embryogenesis”), scholars have put forward various synopses of the Qurʾānic and linguistic parameters of childhood and youth. All concur that people are “young” for at least three decades, and some extend this to four and even five:
- An early schematization was offered by the Hashemite philologist Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb [the name of his mother] al-Baghdādī (d. 245/860) as cited by the Indo-Yemeni lexicographer Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1790) in Tāj al-ʿarūs: "Muḥammad b. Ḥabīb said, 'The time of ghulāmhood (ghulūmiyya) is from birth and lasts seventeen years; then comes the age of shabābhood (shabābiyya), from 18 to 52; then one is a shaykh (old man) until he dies. It has also been said shābb is from puberty to age 31; it has also been said from 16 to 32. Thereafter one is a mature man (kahl).'” (Tāj, sub sh-b-b)
- The Egyptian Ḥanafī jurisprudent Zayn al-Dīn b. Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad, known as Ibn Nujaym (926-970/1520-1563), offered the following sequence:
- The embryo in the mother’s womb, if born male, is called ṣabī—and rajul (man) as in the verse of inheritance [Men have a share of what the two parents and close relatives leave behind… (Q 4:7)]—until puberty, then ghulām until age 19, then shābb until age 34, then kahl until age 51, then shaykh to the end of his life; thus, lexically. In sacred law he is called ghulām [from birth] to puberty, thereafter shābb and fatā until age 30, then kahl until age 50, then shaykh (Ḥamawī, Ghamz 3:309-310).
- The Gujarati encyclopedist and qāḍī ʿAbd al-Nabī b. ʿAbd al-Rasūl Ahmadnagarī (1116?-after 1183/1704?-after 1769) defines youth (shabāb) as the period of young adulthood and adulthood straddling puberty and maturity (i.e., age ten or fifteen to forty). He speaks of a “phase of growth (numūw) from the beginning of life until nearly thirty years of age,” followed by a “static age” (sinn al-wuqūf) in which growth no longer takes place although youth continues, and so until forty, at which time begins “maturity” (kuhūla), followed by “old age” (shaykhūkha) (Aḥmadnagarī, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm, sub sinn).
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