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The issue of child labour got immense importance from the people around the world. Many researchers have highlighted the negative effects of hazardous child labour. However, it is also true that child labour is a common phenomenon in the developing as well as underdeveloped countries where poor families send their children to work for the economic sustenance. This article is an attempt to understand whether child labour is acceptable in the eyes of a religion – Islam. This conceptual paper makes an attempt to find solution of this ethical dilemma by analysing Islamic teachings derived from the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the comments of the Islamic scholars, and several historical evidences such as the case of the Prophet's young companion-Anas and the case of fetus in uterus of Ghamidiyyah-the adulteress women. From the context of the economic conditions of citizens from poor Islamic countries, the issue of child labour arises as an ethical dilemma. This paper makes an attempt to provide a solution in the light of Islamic teachings. The paper concludes that Islam allows child labour that is not hazardous and unethical. In order to eliminate hazardous child labour, initiatives should be taken from four levels: individual level, family level, employment level, and state level.
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ESTEEM Academic Journal
Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2016, 15-30
p-ISSN 1675-7939; e-ISSN 2289-4934
© 2016 Universiti Teknologi MARA Pulau Pinang
Abu Talib Mohammad Monawer1 and Dewan Mahboob Hossain2
1University of Malaya, Malaysia.
2University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.;
The issue of child labour got immense importance from the people around the
world. Many researchers have highlighted the negative effects of hazardous
child labour. However, it is also true that child labour is a common
phenomenon in the developing as well as underdeveloped countries where poor
families send their children to work for the economic sustenance. This article is
an attempt to understand whether child labour is acceptable in the eyes of a
religion Islam. This conceptual paper makes an attempt to find solution of
this ethical dilemma by analysing Islamic teachings derived from the Qur’an,
the Sunnah, the comments of the Islamic scholars, and several historical
evidences such as the case of the Prophet’s young companion- Anas and the
case of fetus in uterus of Ghamidiyyah- the adulteress women. From the
context of the economic conditions of citizens from poor Islamic countries, the
issue of child labour arises as an ethical dilemma. This paper makes an
attempt to provide a solution in the light of Islamic teachings. The paper
concludes that Islam allows child labour that is not hazardous and unethical.
In order to eliminate hazardous child labour, initiatives should be taken from
four levels: individual level, family level, employment level, and state level.
Keywords: child labour; Islam; ethics; ethical dilemma.
Child labour is a much discussed issue in the human rights literature. Recently, this topic has
become a global concern as it has received much attention from academicians, law makers, as
well as the international development organisations. They highlighted the pros and cons of
utilising child labour in the industries. In many ways, this issue remained debatable. On one
hand, there is a huge negative effect of child labour. Child labour has a huge impact on the
mental and physical health of children. Industrial works can sometimes be hazardous and
unsafe. Moreover, it can have a negative effect on the education of the children. However, it
is found that child labour ensures the survival of poor children and their families, particularly
in the developing and underdeveloped countries. Therefore, the question arises whether child
labour should be prohibited or not.
Though in the developed countries there are several laws and regulations in relation to the
exploitation of children in the industrial sector, in most of the developed and underdeveloped
countries, child labour practice is not much regulated and the situation is prevailing. Even if
the laws and regulations exist, their application is not so strict. In many cases, the working
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environment for the children is unsafe and inhumane. The human rights activists in different
parts of the world are concerned about this issue and are raising their voice to gain public
attention against it. Even then, because of the economic needs, child labour is practised.
The social and economic consequences of child labour were discussed by many researchers
all over the globe. The topic was seen from both ethical and legal perspectives. This paper
also highlights the legal and ethical aspects of child labour. However, the main concern here
is the religious ethics and law. This paper gives special consideration on the Islamic ethics
and law. Most of the Muslim or Muslim majority countries in the world can be characterised
as developing or underdeveloped economies (Amuda & Embi, 2013). Many of these countries
are suffering from immense poverty. As a result, child labour is a common phenomenon in
these economies. These relatively poorer economies suffer from the dilemma whether they
should support child labour for the sake of economic sustenance or prohibit child labour as in
many cases this goes against the rights of the children.
In general, Muslims are more practicing of their religious teaching. According to Alserhan
(2011), Muslims are more practising followers of their religion- Islam than the people who
follow other religions. Thus, Muslims put an effort to perform their social and economic
activities in line with their religious guidance and values. Muslims consider Islam as a way of
life. They believe that Islam speaks about every aspect of life, and hence whenever they face a
dilemma, they try to solve it through their revealed knowledge represented in the Qur’an (the
holy book containing the words of their one and only God Allah), Sunnah (the sayings,
actions, silent approvals, physical and moral attributes of Prophet Muhammad), and the vast
body of knowledge developed by Muslim scholars based on Qur’an and Sunnah over
hundreds of years.
Due to the poor socio-economic conditions of many countries in the Muslim world (Amuda &
Embi, 2013), the issue of child labour creates an ethical dilemma for the Muslims, it is better
to search for solutions through their religious guidance. It was seen in the research that
poverty of the households leads to child labor (International Labor Office, 2013). As many of
the Muslim countries are poor (Amuda & Embi, 2013), in order to deal with poverty, families
send their children to work. The ethical dilemma arises while taking decision on whether
economic sustenance is more important than children’s rights.
It is to be mentioned here, in Islam, development is a holistic concept (Hassan, 2012). It
means Islam gives similar importance to both material and spiritual development. Thus, it can
be said that the teachings of Islam emphasises on the material development that is in line with
the religious teachings. Moreover, Islam considers man as ‘inseparable portion’ of the society
(Hassan, 2012, p. 41). Hassan (2012, p. 41) mentions that:
Islam considers the life of man as one and indivisible. It considers the life of an
individual as an inseparable portion of the life of the society whose individuals require
and complement each other in the Islamic scheme of social order. Man has to be
individual and collective entity at the same time.
This paper, by reviewing the Qur’an, the Hadith (the words and practice of the Prophet
Muhammad), and the writings of several Muslim scholars, attempts to highlight the Islamic
perspective in terms of child labour. The paper also makes an attempt to provide a solution
that is holistic, i.e., covering both individualistic and collective development. Over many
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years human beings sought relief from ethical dilemma through analysing religious scriptures
(for example, the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith remained two of the most important sources of
decision making for the Muslims). This paper contributes in the literature of human rights
issues by analysing the issue of child labour from a religious point of view.
Cigno, Rosati and Tzannatos (2002) mention that child labour is as old as the humanity is.
Concern Worldwide (US) Inc. (2008) defines child labourers as the children who are
economically active and are involved in different kinds of works (legal or illegal, paid or
unpaid) that do not allow them to get education and are hazardous and dangerous in nature.
It is to be mentioned here that children’s works that do not have any health hazard or the
works that do not interfere in personal development and schooling can be treated as positive
works (International Labour Office (ILO), 2002). For example, assisting parents at home,
working in family business or earning pocket money through part-time works are not
hazardous and can be treated as good (International Labour Office (ILO), 2002). International
Labour Office (ILO) (2002) identifies that the works that involve health, safety, and moral
hazards are hazardous works. ITUC (2008) identifies works such as, domestic works outside
the home, agricultural works, working in industries, mines and quarries, working as a slave or
forced labour, prostitution, and working in informal economy (such as shoe polishing,
begging, selling newspapers, collecting rubbish) as child labour. Child labour is harmful for
the physical and mental development of children (ITUC, 2008).
Concern Worldwide (US) Inc. (2008) highlights three causes for which children go to work.
The first cause is poverty. Poor families need children to work and earn money for the
survival of the family. The second cause is the lack of school facilities. When an area has few
schools and those are relatively unreachable because of distance, parents decide not to send
the children to school and thus, they get their children involved in work. Moreover, Brown,
Deardorff and Stern (2002) argued that at the family level, an increase in the child’s wage
increases the opportunity cost of education or the time spent in school. The urge for education
decreases at the family level. The third cause is cheap labour. As the employers do not have to
pay much to the child labourers, there is a demand for child labour from the part of the
employers. Satz (2003, p. 297) mentions:
…..child labour is often a symptom of other problems-poverty, inadequate education
systems, discrimination within families, ethnic conflicts, inadequately protected
human rights, weak democratic institutions-that will not be eliminated by banning
child labour.
Almost throughout the world, hazardous child labour is considered as a severe social problem.
These days, this issue has become complex, challenging, and controversial. As mentioned
earlier, the income from the children contributes in the family earning which is important for
poor families. However, as children are relatively unskilled, in general, they get those jobs
that need physical labour and less skill. Physical labour can be harmful for children. The
works that demand physical labour can be tough and sometimes, unsafe. Due to this, it can be
considered as a violation of human rights. The research works of different international
development organizations show the problems arising from child labour.
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According to a report jointly prepared by International Labour Office (ILO) and Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) (2011), at this moment, there are almost 250 million child
labours working in a variety of fields - especially in small and medium sector enterprises. The
report highlights that this situation can be linked to poverty and prevailing social injustices.
According to this report, child labour can be both mentally and physically damaging for the
children. Depending on the nature of work, the respiratory system, skin, body weight and size,
brain, renal and reproductive system, enzyme system of the children can be affected badly.
Moreover, they can also suffer from sleep deficiency, fluid deficiency, and energy deficiency.
Children can also suffer from cognitive and behavioural disorders. Their life expectancy
reduces. Furthermore, because of lack of training and experience and incapability in realising
the work risks, children may face various accidents that result in disabilities.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2013) has set a target to eliminate the worst forms
of hazardous child labour by the year of 2016. In a report, ILO (2013) mentioned that the fight
against child labour is becoming successful with the help of the governments, workers,
employers, organisations, and civil society. Specially between 2008 and 2012, child labour
declined a lot in number. In this report, the main causes of this decline were identified. These
reasons include the commitment from the part of the government and high number of
ratification of ILO conventions (specially the conventions on the worst forms of child labour
and the minimum age for employment). The report claims that there is an increasing
awareness about the negative impacts of child labour.
One of the dreadful examples of hazardous child labour in the Arab world is the use of
children in camel racing (UNICEF, 2006). According to a report of UNICEF (2006), in the
UAE, children were used as camel jockeys. In many cases, these children used to be the
victims of trafficking. At first, these children (mainly boys) were brought to the UAE from
Oman and Sudan. Later, because of the huge demand, they were brought from Pakistan, North
Africa, and from some other countries of South Asia. The young boys were chosen as camel
jockeys because of their light weight. As the burden used to become lighter, the camels could
run faster. According to UNICEF (2006), these children were mainly brought from the areas
where there was less opportunity of education and earning. In the year 2005, UNICEF and the
government of UAE signed an agreement that helped these children to go back to their homes.
There is no doubt that day by day the people in the world are becoming aware of the negative
impacts of child labour. Nevertheless, the question comes whether it can be stopped totally or
not. In many countries in the world, immense poverty is prevailing like a curse. Poor families
need money to survive.
As mentioned earlier that many of the Muslim and Muslim majority countries in the world are
poor (Amuda & Embi, 2013) and this leads to the dilemma of child labour acts severely there.
As Muslims are relatively more into the religious practices, they may try to seek the solution
of this dilemma in their religious teachings, i.e., Islamic teachings. Islam gives enough
importance on work and gives enough emphasis on work ethics.
Islam gives enough emphasis on dealing with children in a proper manner. According to
UNICEF and International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research (2005, p. 2),
Islam ensures children’s rights related to (1) ‘health and life’, (2) ‘family, kindred, name,
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property, and inheritance’, (3) ‘healthcare and proper nutrition’, (4) ‘education and acquisition
of talents’, and (5) ‘live in security and peace, and enjoy human dignity, and protection under
the responsibility of parents’.
The parents and the people in the society have enough responsibility for the children. Children
should be given importance from the time of their birth. For example, there is an Islamic
tradition that just after the childbirth someone should utter Azan (the call for prayer) in the
ears of the child. It is thought that in this way a connection is established between the child
and his/her creator. After that the child should be given with a beautiful meaningful name. It
is believed that beautiful and meaningful names will have good impact on the mind of the
child. It is suggested that if the meanings of the names contain love, beauty, human dignity or
welfare, children will feel better and try to include those qualities in them (al-Ghali et al.,
2000). In the Hadith- the words and conducts of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him)- it is mentioned that a beautiful name is a right of the child.
The health of the children should be taken care of. Islam emphasises on breastfeeding (Abu
Dawud, 1997, Book: 32, no. 4442). Even before childbirth this issue should be taken care of.
An authentic Hadith (reported by Muslim) presents with a popular story known as the story of
Ghamidiyyah. Ghamidiyyah was a woman who committed adultery and became pregnant.
She came to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and admitted the crime, but the prophet denied
punishing her at that moment as she was carrying a baby. Any punishment could have harmed
the baby. Then, after the childbirth the woman again went to the Prophet and asked for
punishment. The prophet again delayed punishing and gave her the time for breast feeding.
Thus, in Islam a child has some rights even before getting born. Abortion is highly prohibited
in Islam. Even a child who is a product of adultery has the right to be born and taken care of.
Moreover, in Islam, any childbirth, whether male or female, has to be celebrated.
After breastfeeding, it is the duty of the parents to take care of their children and ensure the
basic necessities. In Islam, a child is born with the legacy. If unfortunately a child loses
his/her parents just after the birth, even then he/she will have the rights on the property of the
parents. It emphasises on the economic right of children. The person who will take care of the
orphan will be able to use this property to take care of the child. The pains of the children
should be taken care of. For instance, five times prayer is compulsory for every Muslim, but if
at the time of the prayer the mother/the father hears the child is crying, he/she is
recommended to shorten the prayer. It indicates that even the simplest needs of the children
should be taken care of.
There are many evidences that the Prophet Muhammad used to love children a lot. The
Prophet used to buy gifts for children. He used to present the first fruit of a tree in a season to
the children. An authentic Hadith (narrated by Bukhari) mentions a saying of the Prophet
the person who is not affectionate to the children and is disrespectful to the elders does not
belong to the Prophet. It is recommended that children should not be beaten.
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The matter of teaching akhlaq (the development of inner state of human beings) to the
children is very significant in Islam. Children should be guided in the way of truth and
discouraged to tell lie. In order to do that, the parents should also practice such kind of things.
Telling lie even to children is prohibited in Islam. Children should not be encouraged or
forced to do anything that is prohibited in Islam. Encouraging children to do any immoral
work is prohibited. For example, in one Hadith it is mentioned that the person who
encourages children to take wine will be punished in the hereafter (the life after death).
Though in this Hadith the issue of wine is referred, it can be applied to all kind of prohibited
works (i.e., works that are considered as haram). Thus, the drug abuse, prostitution and any
other kind of prohibited works can be explained through this Hadith.
Giving valuable instruction to the children is also important in Islam. The elder people should
give this guideline to the children. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself used to give
instruction to children that was based on their age. The companionship of the honest elders is
Islam emphasises on ‘work’ and sets many guidelines in relation to work ethics. Possumah,
Ismail and Shahimi (2013) state that the issues related to labour and labour rights got huge
importance in Islam. According to Islamic teachings, people should put enough effort to earn
their livelihood through labour. From Islamic perspective, both intellectual and physical
labours are important and should be honoured (Possumah, Ismail and Shahimi, 2013).
Possumah, Ismail and Shahimi (2013) also highlight that according to Islam, work is
considered as worship (ibadah), responsibility (amanah), human cooperation (ta’awun), and
obligation (shari’ah obligation). Islam considers work as a matter of self-dignity, but Islam
also imposes some restrictions towards works. All kinds of work are not permitted in Islam.
There are restrictions for both employers and employees.
For example, the wage earning of the labours should be lawful. Due to this, the work that a
person is doing should not be unlawful according to the religious teachings. Islam emphasises
highly on the payment of wage. According to Possumah, Ismail and Shahimi (2013, p. 265) :
“…payment should be made as soon as possible and not postponed”. The minimum wage to
live a decent life should be ensured.
There should be a cordial and healthy relationship between the employer and the employee
and the employer should not overburden the employee with work that is beyond the capacity
of the employees (Possumah, Ismail, & Shahimi, 2013):
…. in the case of setting working hours, employers are told not to force employees to
“work beyond their capacity” and if the workload is “excessive”, then they are told to
“share the burden”. The Muslim scholar, Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani, has gone as
far as suggesting that the basic necessities of an employer and employee should be the
same and that the number of “working hours should be fixed according to the capacity
of (each) worker”. (Possumah, Ismail, & Shahimi, 2013, p. 265)
When child labour is applied in business organisations, Islamic ethical principles can be
followed. The employers should be ethically guided in doing businesses (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-
Owaihan, 2013). Businesses should be guided by four important principles: ihsan (goodness
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and generosity), relationship with others, equity, and accountability (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-
Owaihan, 2013 and Ali, 2011). The businesses should be morally driven (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-
Owaihan, 2013). Thus, in case of dealing with children, the employers should practice
goodness, generosity, equity, accountability, and morality.
It was mentioned earlier, in the literature related to child labour, all kinds of labour are not
treated as hazardous. Mainly the works that are physically and mentally problematic for the
children and can be considered as obstacles in their development are treated as hazardous
child labour.
From the discussion, it can be understood that in Islam, children have very special status and
rights, so harmful and unlawful works can be considered as prohibited in Islam.
Azzaam and al-Muwaajidah (2008) by mentioning the famous educationist, Sulaymaan
Mareqah, and sociologist, Suusun Khaalid, referred to two terms in relation to child labour.
One is umaalah and the other is tashgheel. Umaalah means to use the child as a worker, that
means the child is treated as any other labour. It represents the works that may harm a child
physically, psychologically and socially. Umaalah represents the exploitative nature of work
(for example, using children in industries where severe manual work is needed). Using the
children as construction workers and employing them in any workshop where they are
exposed to health hazards are the examples of umaalah. Whereas, tashgheel is that kind of
work that helps either to develop the life skills of a child or to bring any benefit to him/her.
These benefits can be in the form of money or any other benefit. For example, an orphan child
may get employed and get money. He/she can also be provided with shelter and care. Azzaam
and al-Muwaajidah (2008, p. 203) mention that “..child labour must be in service of educating
and raising children”. Thus, it can be said that among these two categories (umaalah and
tashgheel), umaalah is prohibited in Islam.
Another term that needs clarification in this respect is khidmah. The literal meaning of this
word is service. However, here service does not represent a job or an occupation rather it is a
kind of favour. Khidmah is permitted in Islam. The person who performs khidmah is called
khadim. For example, welcoming the guests, sending children to buy small groceries from the
shops or helping parents in household tasks are considered as Khidmah.
However, in many South Asian countries, there is a common tendency to employ children for
the household works (Edmonds, 2003). In these cases, if the children are treated badly by the
employers and are given with tasks that create excessive pressure, it can become harmful for
the body and mind of the children. It can affect their physical, psychological and social
development. This kind of work cannot be treated as khidmah.
The health of the children is considered highly important in Islam, so any work that is harmful
for children’s health is forbidden in Islam. The employers should not be oppressive to the
employees and practice generosity (ihsan) in dealing with the employees. It was mentioned by
UNICEF and International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research (2005, p. 10):
Employing children in hard and dangerous labour falls into the category of inflicting
hardship and harm, even done unintentionally or through ignorance. If we say, as
explained by shariah, that inflicting harm is prohibited, it follows that commissioning
children with hard labour is therefore not permitted.
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Islam allows child labour which is termed as “tashghil as long as it is in line with the
teachings and principles of Islam. Several prophetic traditions support this ruling.
An authentic hadith is reported by Muslim and narrated from Anas bin Malik (May Allah be
pleased with him). Anas bin Malik said: Once the Messenger of Allah (the Prophet) came to
me while I was playing with the boys. He greeted us and sent me on an errand. (Sahih
Muslim, Book 2, Hadith 8).
Another authentic hadith is reported by Bukhari and narrated by Anas. Anas bin Malik said:
Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) went to the privy, a servant and I used to carry a
skin water container and a spear and he would cleanse himself with the water (Sahih Muslim,
Book 2, Hadith 87).
These references from Hadith prove that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to assign the
children some works, so according to Islam, in some cases, children can be assigned with
some tasks. Anas bin Malik worked, as an assistant of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon
him) for more than nine years. He worked under the Prophet (peace be upon him) for a
prolonged period and thus, the work was continuous and not temporary (Azzaam & al-
Muwaajidah, 2008).
Children can be allowed to do some works because childhood can be considered as the age of
education. These tasks can be for their skill development. There are some children who are
able to carry out some sorts of tasks better than older people, particularly those tasks that are
simple and repeated. According to Azzaam and al-Muwaajidah (2008), it was seen in
psychological and sociological research that there are some positive aspects of assigning
children with some works. It injects a sense of responsibility in the children. If children get
paid from the work, it can add extra income for their families. Moreover, children also get
trained through this. This training can help them to perform well in their future occupations.
In a working environment, children may learn to respect the others as well as they can get
love and mercy from the others. It also helps them to become capable to face difficulties in
their future life.
According to a number of Muslim classical scholars such as Ibn Humam, al-Ayni, al-
Khurashi, and al-Sharbini, a person will be considered as a child until he/she reaches puberty.
Puberty is a sign of adulthood, but even before puberty, a child can have mental maturity.
These children can be employed in works that are permissible in Islam.
The classical Muslim scholars such as Badruddin al-Ayni, Muhammad al-Khurashi, and
Muhammad al-Khatib al-Sharbini also supported this view that child labour is permitted in
Islam (Azzaam & al-Muwaajidah, 2008). However, definitely, every work should be done by
maintaining Islamic values and ethics. Due to this, hazardous child labour is not permitted in
The child should not be employed for in any immoral activities. For example, using children
in activities such as prostitution and drug trafficking cannot be tolerated from an Islamic
perspective. Any kind of adultery is prohibited in Islam. In Al-Qur’an, this issue was
highlighted several times. Islam prohibits physical relationship outside marital bondage. Al-
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Qur’an also highlights the issue of homosexuality and prohibits it. Islam suggests that wine
and any other kind of intoxication is harmful for health and thus, is prohibited (al-Ghali et al.,
2000). These laws are applicable to every aspect of the lives of the Muslims.
Azzaam and al-Muwaajidah (2008) highlighted that while dealing with child labour, nine
important issues must be considered. Firstly, the child should not be assigned with any illegal
task. Secondly, only the children who have mental maturity and can differentiate between the
right and the wrong can be employed. It should be remembered that immature children cannot
be held accountable for any kind of responsibility. Thirdly, before employing any children,
permission must be taken from the parents. Parents are responsible for care and education of
the children, so permission to work should come from their side. Fourthly, it is important that
the tasks assigned to children should enrich them in terms of knowledge and skill. It should
ensure their welfare. Fifthly, it is important to specify the kind of job, work period and the
payment that will be assigned to children. In many cases because of the absence of enough
laws and rules, children get wrongly exploited, so before taking any children for any job,
these issues should be clearly settled. Sixthly, work should not harm children’s education.
Seventhly, the work should not harm the manners of children. It should help upholding the
Islamic manners. Eightly, children should be given enough opportunity to play in order to
ensure physical growth. Ninthly, children must be treated with mercy and compassion.
The last Prophet (peace be upon him) employed Anas ibn Malik as his khadim. This is an
example of how tashghil and khidmah can be applied in the best manner. The expected nature
of child labour can be understood from the life of Anas. As a young companion of the
Prophet, Anas used to assist him in various activities. It was mentioned in a few authentic
Hadith (such as al-Bukhari, Book: 78, no. 6038) that Anas served the Prophet of Islam for
more than nine years following the Prophet’s migration to the city of Medina (from Makkah)
until his death.
It can be found from various sources that the Prophet used to keep a very good and cordial
relationship with Anas. The Prophet never criticised Anas for anything. If Anas did not do any
task even after he was asked to do it, the Prophet never charged him for that. It can be
identified from the authentic sources that the Prophet never even uttered the word Uff (the
softest expression out of any dissatisfaction or displeasure) for Anas. The Prophet was very
affectionate towards Anas. He used to call Anas Unays (little Anas) and bunayy (small kid)
out of affection. Arabs use these diminutive forms of names (known as Tasgheer) in order to
show affection and love. Out of love the Prophet also used to call Anas as Abu Hamzah and
Zul Uzunayn. Moreover, the Prophet used to maintain a cordial relationship with Anas’
family. He used to visit Anas’ home.
It can be found from several sources that Anas used to be assigned with the simplest possible
tasks that are not physically demanding. It was found that Anas used to carry water, miswak
(the chew stick) and asaa (the hand stick used to rely on) of the Prophet. He was not allowed
to do hazardous tasks. For example, Anas was not allowed to take part in one of the most
important holy battles for the Muslims the Ghazwat al-Badr. As a child he was not
considered as fit for the battle (Al-Zahabi, 2001, 3/397-398).
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In return for this service to the Prophet, Anas achieved many things. He gained profound
knowledge on the Islamic issues. Moreover, he gained Prophet’s love, compassion, and good
wish. He learnt about Shama’il al-Nabiyy the great Prophetic manners and way of
conducting life. He also learnt about the Prophet’s way of salat (the compulsory prayer that
the Muslims have to perform five times a day). Anas also gained knowledge about the
household lifestyle and maintaining relationships. For example, he was taught the importance
of keeping privacy in a relationship. Thus, Anas never disclosed any private matter of the
Prophet even to his mother or close friends.
These trainings of Anas were lifetime achievement for him. Later, he became one of the most
successful Muslims in terms of knowledge and wealth.
Among the Muslims, Islam is considered as a complete solution for all aspects of human life.
In Islam, both material and spiritual aspects of life get enough importance. That is why, unlike
the secular thoughts (that emphasizes only on the material aspects), Islam asks for both
physical and spiritual development. Moreover, Islam supports collectivism. Due to this, the
social problems also can be solved through collective efforts. The problem of hazardous child
labour can be dealt from four different levels of a society: individual, family, employment,
and state.
Individual Level
At an individual level, a child can get himself/herself prepared about the dos and don’ts of life
though utilizing the knowledge of akhlaq. Islam emphasizes that children should get enough
education and guidelines on ethics from their childhood. They should learn how to lead a life
by following Islamic guidelines. If a child possesses this knowledge, he/she might help
himself/herself to choose or reject a job/work that is offered to him/her. The concept of fitrah
the Islamic concept of human nature’ (Mohamed, 1995, p. 2) is important here. In Islam, it
is believed that every man has an inherent quality of choosing what is good. Islam is
considered as a religion of fitrah. Mohamed (1995, p. 2) states that:
Fitrah may be described as a God-given innate state or inclination to believe in God
and to worship Him. It can also be translated as “original priority” or “primordial
faith” an original ontological state that disposes the individual to the good and the
However, it is also true that God (Allah) has given free will in man. Because of this free will,
the mind of man can get corrupted and thus, fitrah can get harmed. In Al-Qur’an, Allah
We showed him the way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful [rests on his will]
Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will,
reject [it]: (18:29)
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Here come the issues such as adab and akhlaq. Human’s fitrah (natural inclination to
goodness) can be controlled and maintained by adab and akhlaq. Al-Attas (1980, p. 11)
defines adab as:
…… the discipline of body, mind and soul; the discipline that assures the recognition
and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s physical, intellectual
and spiritual capacities and potentials; the recognition and acknowledgement of the
reality that knowledge and being are ordered hierarchically according to their various
levels (maratib) and degrees (darajat).
Hashi (2011) mentions that the term akhlaq has two meanings. First, it refers to the science of
‘the standards of right and wrong of human conducts’ (Hashi, 2011, p. 123). Second, akhlaq
also refers to good character and good human behaviour. Teaching of akhlaq can be done
both at the family level and school/educational institution level.
Family Level
From a family level, discipline (of body, mind, and soul), ethical principles, and good
character can be injected in a child. This can be done from the schools and other educational
institutions also. However, in comparison to educational institutions, families generally have a
greater authority to decide which work the children can choose. The elderly people in the
family have the responsibility to give moral education to the children. They should also take
the responsibilities of their children. Family is considered as a very important social
institution in Islam. Al-Qur’an, through many verses, highlights the importance of marriage
and gives enough guidelines on how to run a family in a proper manner. Family should help
children to choose the job. The family should also decide whether the child really needs to do
the job or not. If the family can support the children, there might not be any need to send any
child for jobs.
Employer Level
Employers should also take care and caution when employing children. They should not offer
any unethical and unlawful jobs to the children. Moreover, they should not offer any job that
is physically or mentally detrimental to the children. They should apply the concept of
rahmah (mercy, compassion, kindness, and sympathy) and ihsan (being good and generous)
while dealing with working children. The employers should be emphasizing more on the
‘welfare’ of the children rather than ‘exploitation’.
The concept of ihsan needs to be explained here. Ali, Al-Aali, and Al-Owaihan (2013, p. 470)
defined Ihsan as ‘the principal factor that shapes and reinforces one’s disposition to engage in
what is good and beneficial to society’. Ihsan encourages people to go beyond what is legal
and what is just a duty (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-Owaihan, 2013). Siddiqui (2006) mentioned that
ihsan is the highpoint of Islamic ethical principles and it is the representation of love for God
(Allah). Siddiqui (2006, p. 425) also mentions that:
An act performed with a sense of duty is one thing, and the same act performed with a
sense of love is another. Ihsan represents the later…
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Ihsan highlights that it is not enough just to perform the duties. It is important to go beyond
duties or doing something extra for the sake of the love of Allah. According to Islam, this kind
of extra initiative ensures a much higher reward from Allah (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-Owaihan,
2013). Allah mentions in the Qur’an that:
Indeed, to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: so that He rewards
those who do evil, according to their deeds, and He rewards those who do good, with
what is best (53:31).
This verse calls for following the best possible practice in all aspects of human life. Also, it
indicates that any unethical practice will result in punishment so an employer must be careful
that he/she does not exploit a child for any unethical, unsuitable, improper and indecent work.
Moreover, doing the best will result in good rewards.
A Muslim should continuously strive for achieving reward and blessing from Allah. When an
ihsan is performed, blessings and rewards get multiplied (Ali, Al-Aali, & Al-Owaihan, 2013).
There is no doubt that an employer is a businessman and he/she should have a profit motive.
However, Islam as a comprehensive religion focuses both on the material and spiritual aspects
of human life. Profit represents the material gain and earning the profit by applying ihsan
(where possible), will ensure the spiritual gain for the employer. Due to this, in employment a
child should be treated with mercy and goodness.
State Level
The state can play an important role to mitigate the problem of hazardous child labour. The
state should work for finding out a remedy for this. The state must investigate the reasons
behind children going for hazardous child labour. Those reasons should be removed from the
In dealing with any kind of social problem, Shari’ah principles (the fundamental principles of
norms and values derived from the Qur’an and the words and works of the Prophet (peace be
upon him)) should get enough emphasis. According to Siddiqui (2006), the objective of
shari’ah is related to concepts such as welfare, justice, mercy, and wisdom. Siddiqui (2006)
also mentions that the application of shari’ah should be guided by the concept of ma’ruf and
avoidance of munkar:
The principle to be observed in any application of shari’ah is the concept of ma’ruf,
meaning what is known about human relationships as good and what human nature
accepts as good. The opposite is munkar, that which human nature instinctively
loathes and rejects.
Shari’ah only covers the basic principles. As the human life is complex, in many cases, in
order to handle novel complexities, one has to go for a greater interpretation of the basic
principles. In these cases, fiqh is applied. Siddiqui (2006, p. 425):
Fiqh is that mechanism which has evolved in Islamic theology and jurisprudence to
know what is good and what is bad. The principles and objectives remain static, no
matter how the details change to meet contemporary needs. The “insight” and
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“comprehension” of the contemporary situation, and how that should be interpreted, is
what we know as Fiqh.
One of the maxims of Islamic law (Qawa’id Fiqhiyyah) is Al-Darar Yuzal, i.e., ‘harm must
be eliminated’. This maxim originates from a Hadith (words and works of Prophet (pbuh)):
‘No harm and no counter harm’ (Zakariyah, 2009). Another Islamic legal maxim asks to
prevent any kind of unlawful matters even if that has some benefits. Islamic states should
develop the laws in such a way that can prevent harm from its source. The legal issues related
to child labour should be guided by these principles.
Child labour should be taken care of by keeping these maxims in mind. The state should take
care of these issues so that the rights of the children are upheld and any departure from that
results in legal actions. The responsibilities of all these levels/institutions can be understood
from figure 1.
Figure 1: Elimination of Hazardous Child Labour.
The article makes an attempt to find out the Islamic views on child labour. It can be seen from
the discussion that the Islamic stand on child labour does not differ much from the present day
views on child labour. In both cases, hazardous child labour is treated as harmful and is
However, as a religion, Islam stresses on injecting and sustenance of moral values (more
specifically the religious values) in the children so that from the childhood, they can
differentiate between good and bad as well as right and wrong. Family should play an
important role in teaching them these issues. Moreover, families should help them in
selecting their jobs. Other than just focusing on the legal and ethical issues, Islamic teaching
also emphasises on the spiritual matters. Due to this, the issues of mercy, goodness, kindness,
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and generosity got huge importance. From an Islamic point of view, it can be suggested that
employer’s need for profit should be accompanied with the need for spiritual rewards also.
Finally, a state should take the charge of eliminating the sources of problems and evils from
the society. A combined effort from the part of the individuals, families, employers, and state
can help eliminating the hazardous child labour from the society.
Many Muslim countries all over the globe are suffering from extreme poverty. From these
discussions, it was seen that child labour is common in many Muslim countries. In this
situation, it is difficult to stop child labour in these economies. Though Islam suggests to take
the best care of the children, in many cases, poverty makes people bound to send their
children for work. Thus, rather than making an attempt to stop child labour, wise decisions
should be taken, so that children do not get physically or mentally abused and can do the work
through pleasure and learning. It is not the elimination of child labour, but the elimination of
hazardous child labour should be the main concern of the society.
In general, whenever we think about solving problems such as hazardous child labour, we try
to look into the problems in relation to the existing laws and try to highlight the duties of the
state in this respect. However, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, in Islam, both
spiritual and material developments get equal importance. Individual should get
himself/herself prepared to deal in the society in accordance with the Islamic teachings. Thus,
it is not only the state that should be held responsible for a social problem. Individuals,
families, and employers should equally perform their duties according to Islamic teaching.
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This paper seeks to contribute to an understanding of the development of ethics in the contemporary Muslim world. The paper begins with a brief introduction of the terms “ethics” and “morals”, and explains the basic terms used by Islamic scholars to elucidate them. The concept of change in new circumstances is explained briefly and finally the paper focuses on some recent attempts by Muslim scholars to address contemporary issues faced by Muslims in Europe and other parts of the world, such as medical ethics, citizenship and nationalities and copyright issues, vis‐à‐vis earlier concepts formulated by Muslim scholars.
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