Children
(dhurriyya, nasl, ibn, banūn, walad, awlād, mawʾūda)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

“Children” are defined here as “sons” and “daughters,” the male or female offpsring or descendants of a man and a woman or of a human community, cited either in the identifying filiations “child of” (ibn Maryam Q 2:87 etc.; ibnat ʿImrān Q 66:12), “your/their children” (wa-abnāʾukum Q 4:11, awlādihim Q 6:137, etc.), “begotten child” (walad 56 times, walīd/wildān seven, mawlūd three), “my/our/her/his/their issue” (dhurriyya, Q 2:124, 2:128,  3:36, etc.)—or in absolute terms, as in “offspring” (nasl 2:205; dhurriyya, Q 2:266; banī/ūn 3:14, 18:46, 26:88, etc.). This identifier applies regardless of age and indefinitely; one can be called someone’s son, daughter, child or offspring from birth to death and through patrilineal posterity. For “child” in the sense of young age, see Childhood and youth.

Definitions and usage

The Qurʾān refers to children with six main nouns from the roots b-n-w, w-l-d, dh-r-ʾ, n-s-l, ʿ-q-b, and w-ʾ-d in the following forms:

  1. masc. sing. noun ibn (son), masc. pl. banūn, abnāʾ, dim. bunay, fem. sing. ibna, bint (daughter) and fem. pl. banāt, originally banawun (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 1:303, sub b-n-w; Rāghib, Mufradāt sub b-n-y) or banayun, denotes “that which is begotten from something, such as the child of a human or other being” (Ibn Fāris, op. cit.), “so called because he is an edifice (bināʾ) for his father” (Zabīdī, op. cit.);
  2. sing. and coll. masc. noun walad/wuld, “begotten son/daughter,” (child, issue), “which comprises male, female, singular and other [i.e. dual and plural]” (Ibn al-Ṭayyib, Taḥrīr p. 219; cf. Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 8:71, sub w-l-d), “young and old” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub w-l-d), as does, gender and agewise, its pl. awlād (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:11), synonymous with walīd (male newborn, young male slave), fem. walīda, pl. wildān/walāʾid in the sense of mawlūd/mawlūda, “newborn,” stem w-l-d, yielding the verb walada/t, aorist y/talidu, “he/she begets”, infinitive nouns wilādan and wilādatan, passive verb wulida/t, aorist y/tūladu, “he/she was born” (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, 2:553; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 6:143);
  3. coll. fem. sing. noun dhurriya/dhirriyya (issue, male and female progeny), from dh-r-r, whence the trans. verb dharra, “strew with one’s fingertips,” and dh-r-ʾ, whence the trans. verb dharaʾa, “to create, seed” (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, sub dh-r-r and dh-r-ʾ) which should normally yield dhurrīʾa, lit. “small ants,” whence “human progeny” (nasl al-insān) or “a man’s children” (walad al-rajul) (Zabīdī, Tāj, sub dh-r-r);
  4. coll. masc. sing. noun nasl (lineage, male and female offspring) from the root n-s-l denotes “lively offspring” in the sense of the product of parturition together with a sense of speed; nasala means both to walk fast or run and to detach oneself from a source, as does the newborn (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 5:420; Ibn al-Ḥaddād, Afʿāl, 3:130; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub n-s-l);
  5. masc. sing. noun ʿaqib/ʿaqb (heel, patrilineal posterity), pl. aʿqāb, from ʿ-q-b, a root with two meanings, “delay followed by succession” and “harsh difficulty,” yielding the verb ʿaqaba, yaʿqub, to succeed, infinitive nouns aqban, ʿāqibatan and ʿuqban, the v. ʿaqqaba, to return on one’s steps, infinitive noun taʿqīban, and the v. ʿāqaba, to consequently punish, infinitive noun ʿuqūbatan;
  6. the fem. sing. noun mawʾūda is a passive form from the verb waʾada, yaʾidu, infinitive noun waʾdan in the same sense as waʾīd, a newborn female buried alive (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 81:8; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, 2:526; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 6:78) by her father, usually at birth (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 8:97, sub w-ʾ-d), or by her mother on pain of divorce (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 6:140). The root w-ʾ-d signifies the weighing down of one thing upon another—such as the earth weighing down on, or oppressing her (Ibn Fāris, op.cit.; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 81:8)—like the root ʾ-w-d which yields āda, yaʾūdu as in Q 2:255 (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub 2:255, cf. Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ʾ-y-d).

The first two of the above six roots occur far more frequently than the rest: 177 and 102 times respectively. The second of these includes the cognates for parents (e.g. wālid, wālida, wālidān), giving birth (walada) and being born (wulida), and new mothers (wālidāt), which are covered elsewhere, as are the terms for small children (fatā/t, ghulām, ṣabī, ṣaghīr, ṭifl) and their cognates (see cross-references at the end of this entry).


Ibn and its cognates

Ibn, as mentioned, means son “and applies to the son’s son ad infinitum” (Wasīṭ). This is the prevalent meaning for ibn and its cognates in the Qurʾān and it applies mostly (22 times) to the Son of Mary, ʿĪsā ibn Maryam (Q 2:87, 2:253, 3:45, etc.), followed by other sons and daughters (of the Prophet—upon him and all the Prophets and Maryam be blessings and peace, Q 33:59; of Ādam in reference to Cain and Abel, Q 5:27; of Nūḥ, Q11:42, 11:45; of Lūṭ, Q 11:78-79, 15:71; etc.), including spurious filiations (ʿUzayr and Christ as the “sons of Allah,” Q 9:30; the Jews and Christians as the “sons of Allah,” Q 5:18; jinns and angels as “sons and daughters of Allah,” Q 6:100, 16:57, 17:40, 37:149, 37:153, 43:16, 52:39). The Indian linguist and exegete Ḥamīd al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Farāhī (1280-1349/1863-1930), otherwise known for his controversial views on certain aspects of the Qurʾān, contributed insights on the corruption of the terms for slave and servanthood into spurious sonship and the terms for divine lordship into spurious fatherhood in Judeo-Christian scriptures (Farāhī, Mufradāt, pp. 249-252).

Another frequent meaning for ibn is as plurals in the names of two collectivities. Banū Isrāʾīl, used 41 times, six of them apostrophically (see Calling to Allah), to refer to the entire community of the Children of Israel (q.v.) at various times in history. Banū Ādam is also applied collectively to signify all humankind (q.v.); it is used seven times, five of them apostrophically.

When a man is ascribed to anyone other than his father (e.g., his grandfather, uncle, or mother) the alif must always be written in the Arabic script of ibn, which in English can be rendered by writing out “ibn” in full rather than “b.” (Bujayrimī, Ḥāshiya, 1:22). In practice, this normally arises when a patronymic becomes an inherited family name, in which case it is capitalized as “Ibn.”


Seven Qurʾānic constructs of ibn as tropes: “son of the road”

The term ibn and its cognates possess a range of meanings out of which the Qurʾān fashions stylistic devices meant to emphasize one or more particular aspects that include semantic precision, concision in syntax and morphology, dramatic effect, and multiplicity of references in the following forms and places.

First, ibn is frequently used figuratively in the expression “son of the road” (ibn al-sabīl) as a generic plural “meaning travellers (Q 2:177, 2:215, 4:36, 8:41, 9:60, 17:26, 30:38, 59:7), thus named because of his being always on the road, and never pluralized because it [ibn] is a metaphor here; it is also said to mean a guest” (Kirmānī, Gharāʾib 1:194); “it is also said he is called ‘son of the road’ because its making him come into sight resembles birth, so sonship applies to him metaphorically” (Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 2:177).


“Son of my mother”

A second stylistic use of ibn is in Son of my mother! (Q 7:150, 20:94), the distressed plea raised by the Prophet Hārūn to his brother the Prophet Mūsā, upon them be peace, who was yanking him by his hair and beard with his right and left hands respectively (ʿUlaymī, Fatḥ, sub Q 20:94). It is read yā ibna umma in six and yā ibna ummi in four of the top ten mass-transmitted Qurʾānic readings (q.v.). The Kufan parsing understood it as ibna ummāh from which the final alif and quiescent hāʾ were dropped; the second reading understood it as ibna ummī from which the pronoun yāʾ was dropped, leaving behind a kasra, both versions having the same meaning (Khaṭīb, Qirāʾāt 3:167-168). While not figurative, the expression nevertheless carries rhetorical propitiatory force: “it is customary for Arabs to act gentle and soften up at the mention of their mother” (Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 7:150), among other meanings tied to mercy and the human condition of Prophets (see Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 7:150; Burusawī, Rūḥ, sub Q 20:94).


Sons as a reminder of how Allah saved the Israelites from Firʿawn

Third, in several passages the mention of “sons” serves to emphasize, using the intensive forms yudhabbiḥūna and yuqattilūna abnāʾakum (massa­cring/indiscriminately killing your sons), the persecution of the Israelites’ sons and womenfolk by Firʿawn and his people and, by extension, the momentous divine gift of their deliverance from them (Q2:49, 7:141, 14:6, cf. Q 7:127, 28:4, 40:25).


Sons as a warning about the primacy of love for Allah over offspring

Fourth, “sons” serve as reminders both of the worldly blessings bestowed by Allah Most High (Q 16:72, 17:6, 26:133, 71:12) and of the obligatory primacy of love for Him in the hearts of the believers over all others, especially that of sons, among other such blessings  (Q 3:14, 9:24, 18:46, 58:22). For fathers and sons (the top two blessings: Q 4:11), wealth, brothers, spouses, tribes, and suchlike shall be of no avail (Q 20:131, 21:35, 26:88, 31:33 [w-l-d], 60:3 [w-l-d], 70:11, 80:34-36) in and of themselves on the Day of Judgment , being a worldly test (fitna) (Q 8:28, 64:15) and beguilement (Q 23:55-56) possibly leading to perdition at that time (Q 3:180, 74:11-17) (see Reward and Punishment, Trials and Strife).


Sons as markers of the hubris of pagans and the bad faith of Jews and Christians

Fifth, “sons” serve as an identifying marker, together with wealth, of the hubris of the rich, naysaying disbelievers in connection with the values highlighted in the previous paragraph: Because he has wealth and sons, when Our verses are declaimed to him he says: “Tales of the ancients!” (Q 68:14-15).

Sixth, “sons” as a paradigm of something instantly recognizable, similarly serve as an identifying marker of the bad faith of Christians and Jews, those whom We brought the Scripture, especially their clergy (Ṭabarī, Makkī, sub Q 2:146), since they can and do recognize it, i.e. the Kaʿba as a divinely-ordained qibla  or the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, whose characteristics are found in their own Booksjust as surely as they recognize their own sons (Q 2:146, 6:20) (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Naḥḥās, sub Q 2:146). The Companion ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām b. al-Ḥārith of the Banū Qaynuqāʿ (d. 43/663), a rabbi who converted to Islam, reportedly stated that he recognized the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, as divinely mandated more surely than he could know that his own son belonged to him (Thaʿlabī, Kashfsub Q 6:20, Ibn Ḥajar, ʿUjāb 1:398-399).


Sons as the marker of the Prophet’s self-confidence and truthfulness

Seventh, “sons”, together with womenfolk,  serve as probative marks of Prophetic self-assurance in the challenge of mutual imprecation (mubāhala) that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, issued to the Christian delegates of Najrān who were questioning his truthfulness (Ṭabarī, Ibn al-Mundhir, Naḥḥās, Tafsīrs sub Q 3:61; Ibn Hishām, 1:573-584): Say to them: Come, let us summon our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then imprecate one another and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars (Q 3:61). The co-option of uninvolved sons and womenfolk as contenders that were directly involved showed his readiness to expose his most beloved intimates to the risk of divine curses and signalled his assurance about his own truthfulness (Nasafī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:61), to the extent that sons and womenfolk were mentioned first in the verse, highlighting the fact that a man usually puts their lives before his own and sacrifices himself for them (Ījī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:61).


Filiation, step-filiation, foster-milk, adoption, marriage and vestimentary laws

The next four sections examine various filiation-related rulings on legal marriageability (see Marriage and divorce), intermixing with sons, stepsons and nephews, women donning or doffing the veil  before son and other male relatives, and the termination of Jāhiliyya practices related to adoptive fosterage as described in several mutually complementary verses.


The prohibition for a son to marry his father’s former wife

The verse And do not marry any whom your fathers married among women, except for what has already happened; verily it is an indecent act, an abomination and an evil practice! (Q 4:22) makes it a lifelong, irrevocable prohibition for any son to marry their father’s widow or divorced wife ever, because although a stepmother and stepson are not related by blood she resembles his own mother (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:22). Although common in Jāhiliyya times, such a marriage is an enormity like  adultery and fornication (zinā) (Baghawī, Sharḥ 10:304-305) and a capital offense (ḥadd; see Legal punishments):

My uncle Hushaym came by after the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, sent him on a mission with a detachment. I asked him, “Where are you off to?” He said, “The Prophet sent me to a man who married his father’s wife after him; he ordered me to strike his neck and seize his property” (Aḥmad 30:526 §18557; Nasāʾī, Nikāḥ mā nakaḥa al-ābāʾ; Tirmidhī, Aḥkām, fī-man yatazawwaj imraʾat abīh—rated as ḥasan; Dārimī, Nikāḥ, al-rajul yatazawwaj imraʾat abīh; cf. Abū Dāwūd, Ḥudūd, fīl-rajul yaznī bi-ḥarīmih).

It has been pointed out that the ḥadd of zinā would have been stoning, not the sword, and that the property of someone who is executed for zinā is not seized but left to his inheritors—two proofs that such a marriage actually constitutes apostasy (Ṭaḥāwī, Maʿānī, 3:149; Lakhmī, Mukhtaṣar, 4:29-30; cf. Ṭabarī, Tahdhīb, 2:574; Ibn Ḥazm, Muḥallā, 11:256, Ḥudūd, ḥukm man waṭiʾa imraʾat abīh aw ḥarīmatih…).


Unmarriageability of sons, milk-sons, stepdaughters and daughters-in-law

Forbidden to you are your mothers, your daughters… a brother’s daughters, a sister’s daughters, your milk-mothers who nursed you, your milk-sisters from nursing, the mothers of your women, the stepdaughters under your ward born of your women with whom you conjugate—but if you have not conjugated, then it is no sin for you—and the life-mates of your sons who are from your loins… (Q 4:23). The prohibition in question is of marriage (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 4:23). The above verse likewise makes marriage prohibited forever and in absolute terms between a man and his daughters, his nieces on both sides, his milk-mothers and sisters, and his daughters-in-law, while union with either a woman’s biological mother or her daughter also becomes ever prohibited once he has cohabited with the woman; this includes his slavewomen’s daughters (Kiyā, Aḥkām, sub Q 4:23; cf. Zuḥaylī, Munīr, sub Q 4:23). Milk parentage creates the same interdiction of marriageability as biological parentage in light of the hadith, “Nursing makes categorically forbidden whatever lineage makes categorically forbidden” (Bukhārī, Shahādāt, al-shahāda ʿalā al-ansāb wal-raḍāʿ al-mustafīḍ; Muslim, Raḍāʿ, taḥrīm ibnat al-akh min al-raḍāʿa).

A textual crux puzzled the linguist-exegetes from the perspectives both of grammar and of jurisprudence in the above-mentioned verse. Can the mothers of your women be explicated jointly with the stepdaughters, i.e. both being equally qualified by the phrase of your women with whom you have coupled? The non-canonical reading “the mothers of your women with whom you have coupled” (from ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, Ibn ʿAbbās, Zayd b. Thābit, Ibn ʿUmar and Ibn al-Zubayr: Khaṭīb, Muʿjam 2:47) would seem to suggest so; but the verse was not glossed thus by anyone, and such a gloss is precluded by the fact that they do not share the same legal status at all. A mere marriage contract suffices to make the mother-in-law unmarriageable forever whether or not cohabitation has ever taken place. The same does not apply to the daughter of a wife if the marriage with the latter was unconsummated (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf 2:50-54; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr 3:219-221; Samīn, Durr 3:643; all sub Q 4:23), as per the hadith to that effect which, although its chain is weak, was applied by the majority:

Once a man contracts a marriage with a woman and consummates it, it is illicit for him ever to marry her daughter; but if he does not consummate it, he may marry her daughter; and once a man contracts a marriage with a woman, whether he consummates it or not, it is unlawful for him ever to marry her mother (Tirmidhī, Nikāḥ, mā jāʾa fī-man yatazawwaj al-marʾa thumma yuṭalliquhā qabla an yadkhula bihā: hal yatazawwaj ibnatahā am lā?).


Relaxation of purdah before fathers, in-laws, sons, stepsons, and nephews

The verse …and let them cast their veils over their bosoms and not reveal their adornments except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons,  their brothers, their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons… (Q 24:31) is discussed at length elsewhere (see Childhood and youth). Of note here is that the sequence of categories in the verse is given in descending order of permissible visibility from husbands—who may see all—to other male relatives who are also permitted to see, but to a decreasing extent: fathers, then fathers-in-law, then sons, then stepsons, then brothers, then fraternal nephews, then sororal nephews (Ibn al-Faras, Aḥkām 3:369). All “fathers” and “sons” in the verse include those thus called through milk fosterage, while “brothers” includes agnate half-brothers (Hītī, ʿArāʾis, pp. 169-170).

A similar descending-order sequence applies in the verse There is no blame on women in respect of their fathers or their sons or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their women relatives or any slaves they own… (Q 33:55). The term fathers includes uncles, and there is consensus that they share in the permissibility (Samʿānī, sub Q 33:55); however, they are not mentioned explicitly because although they are unmarriageable relatives, their sons are not (Ṭabarī, Zamakhsharī, Abū Ḥayyān, sub 33:55). This verse was revealed after the “Verse of the Veil” (Q 33:59)—although the latter comes before it in the ʿUthmānic Codex (see Order of Suras)—and refers by consensus to the permissibility of doffing the veil when with the relatives and slaves in question. The women meant are the wives of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Ṭabarī, sub Q 33:55) and, by extension, all Muslim women (Makkī, sub Q 33:55).


Abolishment of the Jāhiliyya mores of adoptive fosterage

The verses …nor has He made your adoptees your true sons. That is your own saying, the words of your mouths… Proclaim their real parentage. That will be more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if you know not their fathers, then (they are) your brethren in the faith and your clients… (Q 33:4-5) establish that adoption does not constitute filiation, and that an adoptee can never be called a son but must always be ascribed to his biological father.

The verses confirm explicitly the appellative and proscriptive rules implied in two other verses: sons (other than milk-children; see Breastfeeding and Shawkānī, sub Q 4:23)—are defined as those who are from your loins (Q 4:23) and Muḥammad was never the father of any of your men… (Q 33:40). By saying men, the latter verse excludes all the Prophet’s adult daughters (Ruqayya, Zaynab, Umm Kulthūm, Fāṭima) and infant sons (al-Qāsim, ʿAbd Allāh, Ibrāhīm) (see Ibn Isḥāq, 1:272; Ibn Hishām, 1:190-191).

All four verses found a landmark demonstration in the divinely ordained marriage of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, with Zaynab bint Jaḥsh (32bh-21/591-642) after her divorce from his adopted son Zayd b. Ḥāritha (47bh-8/576-629)—known since his adoption as Zayd b. Muḥammad (Ṭabarī, sub Q 33:5)—as mentioned in a fifth verse, …So when Zayd no longer had need of her, We gave her in marriage to you so that there should be no fault in the believers concerning the wives of their adoptees once they no longer had need of them… (Q 33:37). Zaynab’s remarriage and its related rulings shattered three inveterate Jāhiliyya mores: (i) naming adoptees as the children of adopters, (ii) their inheriting from adopters, and (iii) the proscription (as incestuous) of an adoptee’s ex-wife as a match for his adopter (Marāghī, 22:11-13, sub Q 33:37).


W-l-d as “begotten,” “giving birth,” and “being born”

As already mentioned, walad (begotten son or daughter) and its cognates all denote procreation and begetting (Jawharī 2:553; Ibn Fāris 6:143). Unlike those of ibn, figurative expressions of the stem w-l-d are few, examples being kalām muwallad for “neologism” and tawallada for “arise” (Farāhīdī 8:71; Ibn Fāris 6:143). The Qurʾān, in its denunciation of Christianity , excoriates only the term walad explicitly, since it is both more literal and more explicit than ibn in denoting sonship (Farāhī, Mufradāt, p. 249): sixteen of the 29 verses in which walad has the sense of “son” and three of the nine verses that include verbal forms of w-l-d condemn the claim that Allah begot a son. The most momentous such passage is undoubtedly the Sura of Purity of Faith (al-Ikhlāṣ): Say: He is Allah, One; Allah, the Ever-Besought of all. He did not beget and was not begotten. And there never can be any match for Him. (Q 112).

The rest of these 38 verses concern inheritance rulings (Q 4:11-12, 4:176) where walad denotes both male and female child inheritors; accounts of children born to Prophets and others who figure in sacred or sapiential narratives (Q 3:47, 6:101, 11:72, 19:15, 27:71, etc.), and reminders of the transience of worldly prosperity, where children are coupled with wealth (māl) (Q 18:39, 19:77), a frequent pairing in the Qurʾān (3:10, 3:116, 8:28, 9:55, 9:69, 9:85, 17:64, 34:35, 34:37, 57:20, 63:9, 64:15, 71:21).


Dhurriyya as children or past and future generations

As already shown in the second section, the noun dhurriyya and its two stems dh-r-r and dh-r-ʾ have connotations of diminutiveness (as in dharr, small ants; see also Atom) and seeding as well as strewing (dharaʾa). The Qurʾān reflects these and adds other meanings such as scarcity and weakness, as seen in the following examples.

  • The coll. indef. fem. sing. dhurriyya appears eleven times in ten verses, either unqualified in the sense of successive generations (Q 3:34), ancestors (Q 7:173), a small minority or simply children (Q 10:83 per Ibn ʿAbbās in Ṭabarī and Mujāhid in his Tafsīr respectively); or qualified by ḍuʿafāʾ/ḍiʿāfan (weaklings) in the sense of helpless women and children (Q 2:266, 4:9) and by ṭayyiba (pure) in the sense of a posterity (Q 3:38, 13:38); or in construct form in the sense of ancestors (Q 6:133), generations after the Flood (Q 17:3), and Prophets’ generations from Adam to Yaʿqūb, upon them peace (Q 19:58).
  • The coll. fem. sing. dhurriyya appears seventeen times in sixteen verses together with the possessive adjective my, our, his, her, or their to refer to the posterity of Prophets, especially Ibrāhīm (Q 2:124, 2:128, 6:84, 14:37, 14:40, 29:27, 37:77, 37:113, 46:15, 57:26), and that of Maryam bint ʿImrān (Q 3:36), all humankind (Q 7:172, 17:62, 36:41), the believers (Q 52:21), and Satan (Q 18:50).
  • The coll. fem. pl. noun dhurriyyāt appears four times, always with regard to the believers (Q 6:87; 13:23; 25:74; 40:8). The plural denotes the sum total of each believer’s dhurriyya added to other believers’ dhurriyya in Paradise as reflected in the gloss, “Allah, blessed and exalted is He, will surely raise up the posterity (dhurriyya) of the believer with him to be at his level” (Ibn ʿAbbās in Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 52:21, on the irregular reading dhurriyyātihim x2). Asked whether the deceased children of polytheists would also enter Paradise, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, replied: “And the children of  polytheists, too” (Bukhārī, Taʿbīr, taʿbīr al-ruʿyā baʿda ṣalāt al-ṣubḥ; Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim, Qadar, maʿnā “kullu mawlūdin yūladu ʿalā al-fiṭra”).


Nasl and ʿaqib as “human race” and “posterity”

Similar in meaning but much less frequent is nasl, which occurs as a noun twice in the Qurʾān … he hastens about the earth to spread corruption in it and to destroy tilth and stock (nasl) (Q 2:205) and Then He made his progeny (nasl) from an extract of base fluid (Q 32:8). It is glossed in both cases as posterity and offspring, synonymously with walad and dhurriyya, including, in the first verse, the offspring of livestock (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub 32:8); this has given rise to a wide disparity in overly specific translations for Q 2:205 between “destroying crops and cattle” and “destroying crops and killing the human race.” Both scenarios (livestock and human beings) are supported in circumstance-of-revelation reports, the latter more probably so (Ibn Ḥajar, ʿUjāb 1:519-523).

The noun ʿaqib/ʿaqb means “heel” literally and “patrilineal posterity” metaphorically (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ʿ-q-b), as in the phrase and he [Ibrāhīm] made it a word abiding forever in his posterity (ʿaqibih) (Q 43:28), where it means “descendants” as do nasl, dhurriyya and walad (Tafsīrs of ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Zajjāj, Ṭabarī, etc., sub Q 43:28). Nasl, ʿaqib, banūn, āl, qarāba, and other terms denoting family relationships nevertheless differ widely in their precise usage in jurisprudence (see Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 43:28).


Mawʾūda as the killing of daughters

The Qurʾānic term mawʾūda is a feminine singular noun that appears only once, in the verse and when the baby girl buried alive shall be asked (Q 81:8). The verse is understood in the context of other verses all denouncing waʾd, filicidal practices victimizing girls, referred to as unthā (female) (Q 16:57-59) and awlād (children) in this context (Q 6:137, 6:140, 6:151; 17:31). All the above verses are glossed as referring to the killing by burial of girls (Makkī, Ījī, sub Q 6:137; Ṭabarī, Zamakhsharī, Nasafī, sub Q 6:140; Wāḥidī, Samʿānī, Baghawī, sub 17:31, etc.) and not of boys (Rāzī, sub Q 2:49). A gloss on the second group of verses, claiming that the killing of awlād referred to “a man’s customary votive sacrifices of one of his boys if this or that many were born to him, as ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib had sworn over ʿAbd Allāh,” has been red-flagged as originating with the chronicler-exegete Muḥammad b. al-Sāʾib al-Kalbī (d. 146/763) who was notoriously unreliable (Thaʿlabī, Baghawī, Rāzī, Ibn ʿĀdil, etc., sub Q 6:137). Others cite it unattributively and support its plausibility in light of the Sīra account to that effect (Ibn Isḥāq 1:85; Ibn Hishām 1:151), which they do mention (Zamakhsharī, Qurṭubī, Shawkānī, Marāghī, Ibn ʿĀshūr, etc., sub Q 6:137).

Female newborns were viewed by Jāhiliyya Arabs as “causes for shame and poverty” (Farāhīdī 8:97): And when any of them is given the good news of a [newborn] girl, his face becomes dark as he represses his grief (Q 16:58). The change in complexion is an allusion to sadness, grief and aversion at what he hears (Rāzī, sub Q 16:58): He avoids his fellow-tribesmen because of the “evil” announced to him. Will he keep it and suffer humiliation? Will he bury it in the ground? Behold! Evil is what they decide (Q 16:59). “They would say ‘Girls do not fight or ride horses,’ and when someone’s pregnant wife approached the time of delivery they would hide from the assemblies of their clan and show up only at the news of a baby boy” (Samʿānī, sub 16:58). The Cordoban exegete Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) said: "They used to bury their female infants alive for two reasons: first, their claim, “angels (q.v.) are the daughters of Allah, so send off daughters to Him;” the second reason was fear of being in need and famine (imlāq), or fear of captivity and enslavement (Tafsīr, sub Q 81:8)."

Allah Most High banned this brutal practice with a stern prohibition and a reaffirmation of providence, Do not kill your children in fear of famine; We will provide for them, and for you as well (Q 6:151; 17:31) and the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, declared: “The Prophet is in Paradise; the martyr is in Paradise; the newborn is in Paradise; and the mawʾūda is in Paradise” (Ibn Abī Shayba, 10:339-340 §19852 and Aḥmad, 34:192 §20585 with a fair chain according to Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ 3:246).


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See also

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