The treatment of the Prophet (peace be upon him) of little children set an example.
He was very caring. In a society which allowed daughters to be buried alive by their parents, for fear of poverty, and which saw nothing wrong with abducting young children to sell them as slaves, the Prophet’s kind treatment of young girls and boys seemed to come from a different world altogether.
It is well documented that the Prophet carried Umamah, his granddaughter, when he was leading the congregational prayer. When he prostrated himself, putting his forehead on the floor, as we are required to do in prayer, he would put her next to him on the floor. Then when he stood up for the next rak’ah, he lifted her and carried her. His action represented a great departure from how his Arabian society used to treat young children. A visitor to Madinah saw him kissing his grandson. He was amazed at his action.
He said: “Do you kiss a child? I have 10 children, and I never kissed one of them.”
The Prophet said to him: “How can I help it if God has removed mercy from your heart?”
His answer pinpoints a very subtle aspect of human nature. It did not refer to the natural love a father feels toward his own children. It directs the man’s attention to the quality of mercy, which expresses itself first and foremost in the treatment of children.
The Prophet was the head of a small state that was besieged by enemies, some of whom were very close to Madinah. The Jewish tribes were only a few kilometers away, and they collaborated with a number of hypocrites who lived in Madinah, pretended to be Muslim but were keen to undermine Islam in every possible way.
The Quraysh, the most powerful Arabian tribe, which had forced him and his companions to emigrate from Makkah, were attempting to crush the new Muslim state in Madinah. Yet despite all the pressures this placed on him, in addition to the heavy task of delivering God’s message and molding the new Muslim community according to Islamic principles, the Prophet found time to play with his grandchildren and ensure that they were happy. He would go to Fatimah, his youngest daughter, and take one or both her sons to play with.
One day the Prophet was leading the congregational prayer in the mosque in Madinah when he prostrated himself for a very long while. His companions praying with him felt that the sujud, or prostration, was unduly long. As they could not lift their heads to find out, they worried that something wrong might have happened to the Prophet.
However, the Prophet then lifted his head and said Allah-u- Akbar, to indicate the next movement. When the prayer was over they asked him why the prostration was too long. They said that they were worried lest something might have happened to him. He said: “There was nothing wrong. It was only that my son was on my back and I did not wish to disturb him.”
Let us look carefully at this and think how the Prophet did not wish to disturb a young child who sat on his back. The child must have been no more than three or four years old and the Prophet would allow him to detain the whole congregation in a particular position until the child decided to come down. That tells us much.