Hadith on Parents’ Grieving upon the Death of Children
The quotations below relate normative examples of parents' behavior upon the death of a child. In the first hadith, or narrative from the life of Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, Aisha, wife of Muhammad, asks about the salvation of those who have suffered the death of one or more children. The query is answered with the message that God compensates this suffering of parents with the reward of Paradise. The second example recounts the death of Muhammad's own grandson and describes his reaction to the death, specifically his tears of grief and explaining this outpouring of emotion as a mercy of God and a sign of mercy among family members. The third example concerns the death of Muhammad's own child, Ibrahim, when he was only a toddler. He explains that resignation to the will of God does not preclude emotion, and while he characterizes such emotion as a sign of human compassion granted by God, he also places limits on excessive displays of grief. These examples relayed in the hadith collections were featured in medieval consolation treatises which described the phenomenon of grief, but set Islamic guidelines on its public and private expression. Such treatises are interesting to scholars because they attest to the high rates of infant mortality, and also because they provide evidence that even in the face of high infant mortality, parents did become attached to their children despite the high risk of loss, and gave themselves over to love of infants and small children.
"Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, 'If any member of my people has two children who die before him, Allah will cause him to enter Paradise on their account.' Aisha asked, 'Does it apply to a member of your people who has one child who dies before him?' He replied, 'It does, you who have been helped by Allah to ask this.' She then asked, 'What about a member of your people who has no children who die before him?' He replied, 'I am the one who dies before my people, and they will never suffer any loss to compare with the loss of me.'" [Hadith Al-Tirmidhi, 1735]
"The daughter of the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent for the Prophet requesting him to come as her child was dying [or was gasping], but the Prophet returned the messenger and told him to convey his greeting to her and say: 'Whatever Allah takes is for Him and whatever He gives, is for Him, and everything with Him has a limited fixed term [in this world] and so she should be patient and hope for Allah's reward.' She again sent for him, swearing that he should come. The Prophet got up, and so did Sa'd bin 'Ubada, Muadh bin Jabal, Ubai bin Ka'b, Zaid bin Thabit and some other men. The child was brought to Allah's Apostle while his breath was disturbed in his chest [the sub-narrator thinks that Usama added:] as if it was a leather water-skin. On that the eyes of the Prophet (peace be upon him) started shedding tears. Sa'd said, 'O Allah's Apostle! What is this?' He replied, 'It is mercy which Allah has lodged in the hearts of His slaves, and Allah is merciful only to those of His slaves who are merciful [to others].'" [Hadith al-Bukhari 2.373]
We went with Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) to the blacksmith Abu Saif, and he was the husband of the wet-nurse of Ibrahim [the son of the Prophet]. Allah's Apostle took Ibrahim and kissed him and smelled him and later we entered Abu Saif's house and at that time Ibrahim was in his last breaths, and the eyes of Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) started shedding tears. 'AbdurRahman bin 'Auf said, "O Allah's Apostle, even you are weeping!" He said, "O Ibn 'Auf, this is mercy." Then he wept more and said, "The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation." [Hadith al-Bukhari, 2.390]
Muhammad ibn Ismail Bukhārī. Sahih al-Bukhārī: The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari: Arabic-English. Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia: Darussalam, 1997.