Pre-Islamic Arabia – Infanticide

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Dr. Mufti Allie (or Ali) Haroon Sheikh

The Pre-Islamic Arabs were embarrassed at the birth of daughters and sometimes a father buried his daughter alive in spite of her soul-harrowing cries. This customary practice was either in fear of becoming impoverished by providing for them, since they were not regarded as a source of future income; or suffering disgrace on their account. Thus poverty and pride both were responsible for this heinous crime. The Qur’an describes the state of mind of a man who hears of the birth of a daughter in these words:

‘When news is brought to one of them (of the birth of a female child) his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people, because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain in on sufferance and contempt, or bury it in the dust? Ah! What an evil choice they decide.’  – Qur’an 16:58- 59

Sometimes ‘kind hearted’ tribal chiefs often bought girls to save their lives. Sa’sa says that before the dawn of Islam he had rescued as many as three hundred girls from the terrible fate by paying compensatory money to their fathers. Sometimes a young girl who had escaped being killed at birth or during childhood due to her father being away from home or for some other reason would be treacherously taken to a lonely spot by her father and killed.
Although the Arabs referred to angels as the ‘daughters of God’ yet they disliked a female child being born to them as the Qur’an mentions:

‘When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) what he sets up as the likeness to the Lord, his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief.’ – Qur’an 43:17

It is said that once an Arab was burying his infant daughter alive. While digging her grave, his beard was smeared with dust. The affectionate daughter seeing this dust on her father’s beard, could not resist her loving impulse, and at once wiped the dust from her father’s beard. The Arab was so moved that tears rolled his eyes but nevertheless, he buried his loving daughter alive.

The Qur’an also warns of the dire consequences of killing babies in these words concerning the Day of Judgement:

‘And when the female infant is buried alive is questioned – for what crime she was killed.’ – Qur’an 81:8-9

In this world of sin and sorrow there is much unjust suffering, and innocent lives sacrificed, without a trace, by which offenders cane be brought to justice. The crime was committed and no questions were asked; but in the spiritual world of justice, questions will be asked, and the victim herself, dumb here, will be able to give evidence, for she had committed no crime herself. The proof will be drawn from the very means of concealment. Even today infanticide is not unknown in many countries.

In India, the practice continued until as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. Among all the races of India, there is none more noble than the Rajput: and among the Rajputs, the first rank belongs to the Chuhans. These people re numerous in the United Provinces. In the district of Manipuri there are more than 30.000 of them and not fifty years it was discovered that among them was not a single girl. Every daughter that was born was killed. The higher the rank of the family, the more constant and systematic was the crime. When special inquiries were instituted, it was found that this practice of infanticide, although specially prevalent among the Rajputs, was by no means confined to them, and it was common only in the North-Western Provinces, but also in Punjab and parts of the Bombay Presidency. A number of villages were visited where there was not a single girl and where there had never been one in living memory. As a matter of fact, whenever polyandry (a woman having more than one husband) is in existence, baby girls are killed in large numbers.

In Short, the Arabs, before the dawn of Islam, were a people quite uncivilized and cruel. They were extremely immoral, voluptuous and lacking in civil sense. [1]


[1] Morality In Islam [First Edition 2004 – Printed At Ilmi Graphics] By Dr. Mufti Allie Haroon Sheikh page 40 – 41

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