The Responsibility of Children + 21 Theory


Responsibility: Reward and Punishment

It’s our responsibility to take are of our children, especially their akhirah — their eternal life. Allah says:

Translation: O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones […] (Surah At-Tahrim, verse 66)

This ayah illustrates our responsibility: protect yourselves, and your children, from Hellfire — a fire whose fuel is stones and men. Would you raise your children, knowingly, that they are going to be firewood, or fuel for the fire?

Rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) says: “It is enough sin for a man that he leaves astray those under his care.” And in another hadith, he says: “Every one of you is a shepherd, and every one of you will be asked about his flock” (meaning, his family).

Scholars add, it is enough to leave your children ignorant and not teach them. Why? Because life will send tests at them, and without proper training and guidance, they will be lost in a wave of fitan, unable to protect themselves. Isn’t it enough that you left them to themselves?

On the flip side, rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

مَنْ عَلَّمَ عِلْمًا فَلَهُ أَجْرُ مَنْ عَمِلَ بِهِ لاَ يَنْقُصُ مِنْ أَجْرِ الْعَامِلِ

The Prophet said: “Whoever teaches some knowledge will have the reward of the one who acts upon it, without that detracting from his reward in the slightest. (Sunan Ibn Majah, book 1, hadith #246)

Imagine the reward of teaching your children salah, of teaching them siyam, Qur’an, and good manners; you get their reward, and the reward of their children (whom they teach) and all your progeny until the day of judgement. That’s the real jackpot of mutli-level marketing!

As a general guideline, the best way to protect your children and take care of them is to be righteous. In Surah Kahf, after Khidr (alayhi salaam) repairs the wall of the two orphans, whose treasure lay underneath, he tells Musa (alayhi salaam):

Translation: […] And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. […] (Surah Kahf 18:82)

The word Allah used is “ab.” In Arabic language, this can mean the father, or the uncle; according to one mufassir, this refers to their uncle from seven generations ago. That’s how much righteousness protects your children.

In his tafseer, Ibn Katheer says:

[This piece of the verse] indicates that a righteous person’s offspring will be taken care of, and that the blessing of his worship will extend to them in this world and in the Hereafter. This will occur through his intercession for them, as well as their status being raised to the highest levels of Paradise, so that he may find joy in them. This was stated in the Qur’an and reported in the Sunnah. Sa`id bin Jubayr narrated from Ibn `Abbas: “They were taken care of because their father was a righteous man, although it is not stated that they themselves were righteous.” (Source: Tafseer Ibn Katheer Online: Interpretation for Why the Wall was Repaired for no Charge)

21 Theory

As a guideline, Ali ibn Abi Talib (radiallahu anhu) put forward his 21 Theory, which he states:

Play with them for the first seven years (of their life); then teach them for the next seven years; then advise them for the next seven years (and after that).

First Seven Years

In the first seven years, your goal is to build a strong connection to your child. This is the foundation, the base from which your relationship with them grows. If this is rock solid, the remaining years will be much easier. If this foundation forms poorly, the next years will be more challenging.

If you have young children, this (first seven years) is the time to roll up your sleeves and invest, heavily, in your and their future. In fact, you will be rewarded for all the righteous progeny that survives you, not just children, until the Day of Judgement.

Next Seven Years

Once children reach seven, they are ready to learn. (Perhaps this is why Finland starts school at age seven.) This is the time they are sponges, ready to soak up anything and everything you tell them, teach them, show them, and do in front of them. If you built that solid foundation in ages 0-7, they are now more than willing and happy to learn from you.

This is the time to teach them everything — aqeedah, halal and haram, fiqh, all the things they need to know to survive throughout their life. Qur’an and seerah are also very important; as one prominent tabi’een said, “we learned seerah (frequently and in details) from our parents the way we learned Qur’an.”

Teach them sports, too; Rasulullah (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “Teach your children swimming, archery and horseback riding.” (source). They gain many benefits from it, including physical fitness, learning teamwork, and sportsmanship.

The Final Seven Years

Once your children hit 14, they are probably already mukallaf (full adults Islamically, and accountable for their actions) — this happens at puberty, or at age 15 at the latest.

At this age (grade 8-9), you are mostly out of the picture. Children achieve independence; their personalities manifest; they look more to their peers than their parents and families. During these critical years, befriend them, advise them, and do what you can; understand that they are now full adults, and the choices are theirs to make, right or wrong.

If you worked hard during the last two periods of seven years, you will already be that trusted confidant, that advisor, that go-to person when they need help or advice; maybe even that “cool” mom or dad who they adore. Be part of their lives, and advise them as best you can.

Thus ends this brief, but comprehensive, advice of Ali ibn Abi Talib (radiallahu anhu). InshaAllah next time, we will talk about the Terrible Twos, and what you can do during this interesting period of child development.

Source: AlKauthar Institute: Parenting Matters. Taught by Shaykh Alaa Elsayed. University of Toronto, Toronto, November 2014.


9 thoughts on “The Responsibility of Children + 21 Theory

  1. Aamina

    My mother hits me when I’m bad, but she does it so hard it leaves red marks and sometimes almost bleeds, am I being abused? She is nice and my step-father gives me everything I could want, it’s just that whenever I’m bad, mother hits me leaving scars…what do I do?

  2. SD

    Hope you’re well. According to Islam parents are not allowed to hit their children especially leaving marks on the body. May b you can sit together decide what she can do about your bad behavior rather than hitting you.
    According to Islam if we hit and cause a scar/mark. Then there is a kaffara.
    If this doesn’t work you should take advise from someone like a teacher, aunt etc who can explain your mum

  3. Rod

    As-salaamu ᶜalaykum.

    “Teach your children swimming, archery and horseback riding” is repeated all over the internet as a Hadīth of the Prophet ﷺ often attributed as being narrated by Ibn `Umar, but not one instance I could find cites an actual verifiable source from any accepted Hadīth collection such as Bukharī, Muslim, At-Tirmidhī, Dawūd, etc. If someone can cite such a reference, I would be grateful, because I cannot find this Hadīth in any of the English translations I could find. I am writing an article about the Sunnah of archery and this would be most helpful.

    Jazak Allah khayran.

  4. Ilm Seeker Post author

    Wa’alikum as-salaam @Rod. I couldn’t find a source, either, which is why I ended up citing the Islamicity article. I searched — unless I used the wrong keywords, it’s not in the six books of hadith.

    If you find a source, even if it’s not one of the six, please let me know inshaAllah.

  5. Aliya

    Asa. Can you please give referance to the narration of hazrat Ali Radi Allah anhu. I need to convince someone for homeschooling at least for the first seven years of life. JZK.

  6. Ilm Seeker Post author

    Wa’alikum as-salaam. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any reference to this in English, nor any resources to search athaar (sayings of companions) in English. You may be able to find one in Arabic (I’m not fluent).

    Statements of sahaba which are not hadith are not usually under as much scrutiny as hadith; and they’re not as foundational (eg. sources of law), so I wouldn’t worry too much about finding the source. InshaAllah just present it as an inspirational quote.

    I know some countries (I think Sweden) have done studies and found that kids are prepared to learn from age seven onward. You may find that to be a more useful source to present to your friend (I don’t know any details). I also know that some countries start school from seven plus — I think maybe Singapore or Malaysia.

    Allah knows best. I hope that helps.

  7. OZ

    Just as a reference:
    1. This Islamic edict regarding the 7+7+7 advice is corroborated by the work of Jean Piaget, a renown child psychologist.
    2. The ‘version’ narrated here is found only in Shi’a sources and is attibuted to Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra).
    3. The ‘hadith version’ attributed to the Prophet (saw) is found in this English translation: The child is the master for seven years and a slave for seven years and a vizier for seven years; so if he builds a good character within 21 years, well and good, otherwise leave him alone.
    4. The hadith version is considered to have a weak/da’if chain of narrations due to a break in the chain. It is found in Al-Mu’jam Al-Awsat written by Imam Al-Tabarani

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