The Hadith on Teaching Children to Pray

‘Verifying the Authenticity of the Hadith ‘…And Hit the Ten-Year-Old Over It,’ by Shaykh Akram Nadwi (translated and annotated by Samer Dajani)

There are two hadiths that mention this (hitting):

  1. Abū Dāwūd said in the Chapter on Prayer: Section: When is a Boy ordered to Pray?:

    Muḥammad ibn ʿĪsa – meaning: Ibn al-Ṭabbāʿ – narrated to us: Ibrāhīm ibn Saʿd narrated to us from ʿAbd al-Malik ibn al-Rabīʿ ibn Sabra, from his father from his grandfather that he said: The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When a boy reaches the age of seven, command him to pray, and when he reaches the age of ten, hit him over it (i.e. in order to make him do it).’

    Tirmidhī also included it in his Chapter on Prayer: Section: What has Come Regarding When a Boy is Commanded to Pray. He narrated it via ʿAlī ibn Ḥujr from Ḥarmala ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz ibn al-Rabīʿ ibn Sabra al-Juhanī from his uncle ʿAbd al-Malik ibn al-Rabīʿ ibn Sabra with the same chain. Tirmidhī said: This hadith of Sabra ibn Maʿbad al-Juhanī is ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ.

  2. Abū Dāwūd said in the same section: Muʾammal ibn Hishām – meaning: al-Yashkurī – narrated to us: Ismāʿīl narrated to us from Sawwār – he is: ‘Abū Ḥamza’ Sawwār ibn Dāwūd al-Muzanī al-Ṣayrafī – from ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb from his father from his grandfather who said: God’s Messenger ﷺ said: ‘Command your children to pray at the age of seven, and at the age of ten hit them over it and also separate their beds.’

    Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal also narrated it via Wakīʿ on the authority of Sawwār ibn Dāwūd with the same chain.

Regarding These Two Hadiths:

  1. As for the first hadith:
    Tirmidhī authenticated it. Al-Ḥākim included it in his al-Mustadrak and said, ‘This hadith is authentic according to the condition of Muslim because he narrated as evidence a hadith by ʿAbd al-Malik ibn al-Rabīʿ ibn Sabra via his fathers, but neither Bukhārī nor Muslim included this hadith in their books.’

    I say: ʿAbd al-Malik ibn al-Rabīʿ ibn Sabra is weak, and Muslim did not use him as evidence. He only included one hadith of his as a mutābaʿa (follow-up narration to an authentic hadith) on the topic of Mutʿa marriage in the year of the Conquest of Mecca.

    Ibn Abī Khaythama said in his Tārīkh: Ibn Maʿīn said: The narations of ʿAbd al-Malik from his father from his grandfather are weak.

    Ibn Ḥibbān said: His hadiths are very munkar (rejected), because he narrated from his father from his grandfather reports that no one else corroborated.

    Abū al-Ḥasan ibn al-Qaṭṭān said: ‘His trustworthiness has not been established.’

    (Translator: Ibn Ḥajar and others agreed that Muslim never relied on the narration of ʿAbd al-Malik in his book and only placed it there as a follow-up to another one. The comments of the masters above show why this hadith cannot be classified as authentic as Tirmidhī said. Al-Dhahabī said that Tirmidhī is lax in authenticating hadiths for which reason the experts do not rely on his authentication. Nawawī downgraded it from ṣaḥīḥ to ḥasan which is still too generous).
  2. The second hadith comes via ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb from his father from his grandfather, and the hadith scholars are in agreement that this chain does not reach the level of authenticity.

    (Translator: ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb possessed a written hadith collection going back to his ancestor the Companion ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ. Because of a number of issues related to this collection and its chain, the scholars have agreed that its hadiths can never be classified as ‘Ṣaḥīḥ‘. However, if the chain going back to ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb is authentic, then the hadith is considered strong. Al-Dhahabī said it would be considered among the highest degrees of ‘Ḥasan‘, and Ibn Ḥajar said it would be somewhere between Ḥasan and Ṣaḥīḥ. However, as Ibn Taymiyya explained, this is only so if the chain back to ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb comes from great imams of hadith. Otherwise if the chain back to him is weak, the reports are not accepted. In this case, the person narrating from ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb is weak, and therefore this hadith is considered weak and unreliable).

    Above the fact that it comes from this chain (which, as stated, does not reach the level of authenticity), it comes via Sawwār ibn Dāwūd who is very weak. This is the only hadith that has ever been narrated from him.

    The entry on him in Tahdhīb al-Kamāl states,
    ‘Abū Ḥamza’ Sawwār ibn Dāwūd al-Muzanī al-Ṣayrafī of Basra.
    Abū Ṭālib quoted Ibn Ḥanbal say of him, ‘A shaykh from Basra. He is ok. Wakīʿ narrated from him but mistakingly flipped his and his father’s names. He is a shaykh from Basra who is said to be trustworthy. This is the only hadith that has been narrated from him, that is: from ʿAmr ibn Shuʿayb from his father from his grandfather: “teach your children prayer at the age of seven.”‘

    Al-Dāraquṭnī said, ‘His narrations do not have any corroboration.’
    Al-Bazzār said, ‘He wasn’t strong.’
    Al-Bayhaqī said in al-Sunan al-Kubrā, ‘Not strong.’
    Al-ʿUqaylī considered this hadith to be weak, and said: it has no corroboration. He also said that it has not been narrated from a verified chain.

    (Translator: al-ʿUqaylī included this narrator in his book on weak narrators, al-Ḍuʿafāʾ, where he said the comments above. Ibn Ḥibbān said: ‘He makes mistakes.’ Ibn Zurayq al-Maqdisī included him in his book The Weak, Rejected and Uknown Narrators Who were Criticised by al-Dāraquṭnī in his Sunan, where he said: al-Dāraquṭnī said, ‘Weak.’)

These Reports Go Against What is More Authentic Than Them:

These two reports go against what is authentic and well-established in this religion. A child who has not reached puberty is not accountable to the Sharīʿa, so how could God’s Messenger ﷺ command that he be hit, when he is the most merciful of all people. Allah said,

A Messenger has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering distresses him: he is deeply concerned for you and full of kindness and mercy towards the believers (Q. 9:128)

Muslim narrated that ʿĀʾisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: ‘God’s Messenger ﷺ never hit anything with his hand, or a woman, or a servant, he only struck with his hand when fighting a battle in God’s cause….’

Bukhārī and Muslim both narrated in their Ṣaḥīḥs from Anas (may God be pleased with him) who said: ‘I served the Prophet ﷺ for ten years, and he never even said uff (an expression of displeasure) to me, nor “why did you do that,” or “you should have done that.”‘

The Authentic and Established Teaching

As we have seen, hitting children has not been established with an authentic chain. As for the command to teach children to pray, that is established, and has always been a continually-practiced Sunna in Islam.

Abū Dāwūd said in the same section (as the narrations above):
Sulaymān ibn Dāwūd al-Mahrī narrated to us: Ibn Wahb narrated to us that Hishām ibn Saʿd narrated to us: we visited Muʿādh ibn ʿAbdullah ibn Khubayb al-Juhanī. He asked his wife: ‘When does a boy start praying?’ She said, ‘A man from amongst us used to narrate that God’s Messenger ﷺ was asked about that and he replied, “When he can differentiate his right from his left, tell him to pray.”‘

Ibn Abī Shaybah included many reports on this matter in his Muṣannaf under, Section: When is a Child Commanded to Pray? Among them:

  • Muḥammad ibn Abī Yaḥyā narrated from a woman from his family from her grandmother that ʿUmar passed by a woman trying to wake her boy up to pray, but the boy was refusing. ʿUmar said to her, ‘Leave him, he doesn’t need to pray until he’s old enough to understand it.’
  • Abū al-Aḥwaṣ said: ʿAbdullāh ibn Masʿūd said, ‘Ensure that your children pray.’
  • Ibn ʿUmar said: ‘A child is taught to pray when he knows his right from his left.’
  • Umm Yūnus the servant of Ibn ʿAbbās said: Ibn ʿAbbās used to say: ‘Wake up your boys to pray, even if just one prostration.’
  • Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī said, ‘They used to teach children to pray when they started losing their baby teeth.’
  • Hushaym narrated that his father used to teach his children prayer when they could understand it, and fasting when they could bear it.
  • Maymūn ibn Mihrān said: A boy is commanded to pray when he reaches puberty.
  • Abū Isḥāq said: ‘They used to teach children between the ages of seven and ten.’
  • Jaʿfar narrated from his father (Muḥammad al-Bāqir) who said: ‘(My father) ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn used to command (pre-pubescent) boys to combine the Ẓuhr and ʿAṣr prayers, and also the Maghrib and ʿIshāʾ prayers. People would say: but they are not praying them on time. He would say, “This is better than them falling asleep and missing them.”‘
  • Ibn Sīrīn said, ‘A child is taught prayer when he knows his right from his left.’

    (Translator: I do not think that Shaykh Akram meant that this last Hadith in Abū Dāwūd to command children to pray when they could distinguish right from left, is authentic on its own, because it is not. What he most likely meant is that the teaching contained within it to tell children to pray at an early age is supported by the instruction and continuous practice of the Companions and Followers as shown from the reports in the Muṣannaf, and Allah knows best. Children can usually distinguish their right from their left by the age of seven. Finally I would add that, if the Hadith on hitting the children was authentic, we would not have had so many Companions and Followers trying to give a rough approximation of when children should be taught to pray, such as when their teeth started falling out or when they could tell left from right, etc. All mistakes and shortcomings in the translation and notes are mine).

3 thoughts on “The Hadith on Teaching Children to Pray

  1. JazakAllah Khair for shedding light on these hadith Dr. Samer, very beneficial. May Allah bless and preserve you. Ameen


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