Interview with the Representative of UNICEF’s Office in Iran
The Religious Opinions (Fatwas) of Ayatullah al-‘Uzma Saane’i
Christian Salazar Fulkman
Representative of UNICEF’s Office in Islamic Republic of Iran
I would like to take the opportunity to express my deep and abundant happiness to visit Ayatullah al-‘Uzma Saanei (d) on Wednesday, 2nd of Isfand, 1385.
Again, I should acknowledge his Eminence for all valuable statements, advices and guidance regarding the UNICEF’s efforts to improve the children’s conditions in Iran.
S8uch visits will certainly help Iran’s UNICEF to plan its strategies and advance the country’s programs. So the UNICEF team in Iran will extremely take advantage from all the available opportunities to obtain support of the religious leaders, including the valuable advices of his Eminence.
As you probably remember, I suggested the idea for publishing a booklet including the religious leaders’ advices regarding the best ways for educating and training the children. Now I want to propound the following questions to obtain the views of his Eminence to publish in 8the booklet.
I profoundly believe that the scholarly views of his Eminence disseminate non-harsh ways for educating the children and such views will guide the families, the religious ones in particular, in the field of the child’s right education.
I acknowledge extremely, in advance, for the valuable contribution of his Eminence.
I am eagerly waiting for the views of his Eminence about the questions.
1. What is the position of the Holy Quran and religious rules vis-à-vis child abuse?
Because child abuse constitutes harm to humans, it is a forbidden, sinful and criminal act. Doing harm to an animate being who feels the abuse by instinct will make child abusers subject to divine wrath and land them in hell. Child abuse is doubly sinful as it flies in the face of human emotions, conscientiousness and interests and amounts to harming individuals who are incapable of self-defense. In the face of child abuse, one needs to seek sanctuary in Almighty God who is compassionate and avenges injustice. They need to beg Almighty God to stem the scourge of child abuse and revive human emotions.
2. What are, according to the Holy Quran and Hadith, the correct ways to educate and discipline children?
Education experts and psychologists should determine how children should be educated and brought up. However, compassion, child language and encouragement accompanied by game and recreation should be brought on board in such education. They should be respected and educators should pay heed to the Islamic principle which views children as adults of the future and ties the fate of society and humans to their upbringing and education.
3. Considering the social and psychological impacts of child abuse, is a Muslim allowed to be insensitive to child abuse in case of observing any? What is a Muslim’s religious responsibility in case of being aware/observing mistreatment or abuse of children?
It is not just the Muslim faith that requires individuals not to keep silent in the face of child abuse. Human conscientiousness and emotions reject indifference as well. The Commander of the Faithful (the first Shiite Imam) who was just second to Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace be upon him and his household) as far as piety, education, knowledge and justice were concerned, once said everyone has a responsibility to fellow humans. He said all humans have had and will continue to have a duty to respect the rights of others and make sure they are not harmed. They will be held accountable as far as fulfilment of this responsibility is concerned. These words identify all humans as having a responsibility to fulfil. Acting responsibly means humans should not keep silent in the face of child abuse; rather, they should do whatever they can to set the abuser straight and or fulfil their legal duty by informing officials. Otherwise, they will be held accountable by Almighty God and by fellow humans.
4- To prevent expansion of child abuse in the society, what are the responsibilities of those involved with children including parents/caretakers, child welfare agencies officials, religious leaders, hospital workers, school teachers, policy makers and elected representatives?
Everyone needs to act in keeping with their responsibility whether it is guidance, lawmaking or punishment to prevent child abuse. Sharia law holds everyone accountable on the basis of their capability. So, everyone is duty-bound to tap into their power within conventional boundaries to discourage others from committing sins, particularly child abuse. After all, prevention of vice is a major Islamic and religious requirement.
5. How has been the discipline practice of the Prophet and Imams regarding the children? Have Prophet or Imams used violent discipline measures (such as corporal punishment) to discipline the children?
The methods were briefly touched on in the answer to question two. However one should say that the approach they adopted was an emblem of generosity. Not only was child abuse non-existent and impossible among the infallible household of the prophet, God’s peace be upon all of them, it never found its way to their minds. How can one attribute even the sheer thought of child abuse to a prophet who would kiss his daughters again and again. On one occasion, a man told the prophet: “I have ten sons and have never kissed them. How is that you keep kissing your daughters? In response the Muslim prophet said our cases are totally different. Humanitarian emotions have withered in your heart. In essence, your wickedness has driven you away from humanity. The more humane a person, the stronger their love for children and the defenseless. Divine prophets and the imams who followed them were perfect humans. How can one say that prophets such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus who led humanity let child abuse find its way to their mindset let alone their deeds? Can one say that the first Shiite Imam who would treat the orphans with compassion would let such ideas cross his mind? He was so kind to orphans that great figures and friends of the Shiite Imam wished they were orphans to have the chance to be treated so nicely by Imam Ali (Peace be upon him). He would sit the orphans in his lap and give them honey although he held a senior position and had a lot of preoccupation. He would use children’s language and emotion to urge the orphans to have the honey. A look at developments of the past 14 centuries shows the prophets and imams were great figures and even the sheer thought of child abuse would never cross their mind.
6. If there is a possibility to use non-violent methods of discipline for educating the child, what is the position of religion vis-a-vis use of violence (or corporal punishment) by parents or teachers?
Basically, application of violent methods to upbringing, even when in the absence of harsh methods education becomes impossible, is not authorized because it is sinful and illegal. One cannot resort to sins to educate another. In other words, lighting a fire can never lead to emergence of water and darkness cannot result in light. All Islamic instructions build on wisdom, the holy Koran and the traditions of the prophet to suggest that sinful measures cannot be part of education. Islam which is a generous faith cannot base education on violence and abuse which run counter to its generosity and to the grandeur of children and humans at large. It should be mentioned however, minimal application of harsh methods to prevent children from plunging into immorality, to prevent the disappearance of their human features, to prevent their death and or to stop bad from getting worse is not forbidden, but determining such borderline cases is a delicate issue.
7. according to holy Quran and Hadith, can parents and caretakers be held responsible if they behave violently towards children?
Yes they should be held accountable. Their mistreatment of children is the same as mistreatment of fellow adults. Thus it is an action which is subject to similar accountability and punishment.