Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Infanticide in Pre-Islamic Arabia

I came across a journal article from the International Journal of Academic Research titled: "Infanticide in pre-Islamic era: phenomenon investigation"  In it was discussed the prevalency of such an act, why and if there were any protest or action against it. 

I would like to quote to you some of what was in this article in regard to two matters:
 1- reasons for infanticide &
 2- How it was retaliated against. 

Helpful Definition:

Jahiliyya: generally used to identify the period pre-dating Islam in Arabia. Literally translates as the period of ignorance. 

1- Reasons for infanticide: 

" Reasons for infanticide: Some of the Arabs used to resort to infanticide for various reasons (7). 
   First: Intense jealousy and fear of being shamed. Those were Banu Tamim, Kinda and other tribes. The background to this fixation was when Banu Tamim refused to pay ransom to Emir Nu’man ibn al-Munther. The brother of Nu’man, named al-Rayyan, fought them, plundered their belongings and enslaved their women folk. A delegation from Bani Tamim, made representations to the Emir regarding their captive women folk. He ruled that they choose between remaining in his household or, that he return with them. They included the daughter of Qays ibn ‘Assem. She chose captivity rather than returning with her husband. Thereupon, Qays swore to bury every daughter born to him, and he did burry scores of new born girls. In this connection, there is another version. The story tells that the tribe of Rabii’a was the first to have perpetrated infanticide. The tribe was raided and, a girl was abducted for the Emir of the raiders. He recovered her as a part of a peace deal, but she was given the choice, by mutual agreement, between going back with her father or, remaining with her husband. She chose to remain with her husband, which choice angered her father whereupon, he enacted the practice of infanticide amongst his people, and they followed his enactment.
   Second: Some of them would bury alive those newborn infants if their color was blue, or if their bodies carried many spots, or were hairy or, physically handicapped, because they regarded them as bad omens (8).
    Third: Some would perpetrate infanticide, out of poverty and fear of not being able to sustain their children.
    Fourth: Some would take it upon himself, to slaughter one of his children, if ten children were born to his household, as did Abdul Muttalib in his famous episode with his son Abdullah, father of the prophet (pbuh).
    Fifth: some would say, that the angels are the daughters of God, God forbid, wherefore they disposed of girls, one after the other."

2- How it was retaliated against: 

   "There were amongst the Arabs those who were enlightened, who would refrain from committing this heinous crime. Al-Qurtubi has narrated that “those honorable men amongst them would refrain from committing infanticide and would forbid others from committing it (2). Alussi narrates that: many wise Arabs did not accept that foul practice, and some of them would pay ransom to their parents to save them (3). We would have liked to see al-Qurtubi or Alussi mention the names of those who had refrained from committing that act, but they only mentioned the names of those who urged its abandonment. 
    Zayd ben Amr ben Nafeel used to resurrect the victims of infanticide and, would tell a man who wished to kill his newborn: Do not kill her, I would support her. He would take the infant and raise her until she become of age; then, he would take her to her father and say: if you wish it, I would deliver her to you, and if you wished otherwise, I would take care of her (4).
    Al-Qurtubi and al-Alussi narrated that (5), Sa’sa’a ben Najia, grandfather of the poet al-Farazdaq, used to buy the infants whose father wanted to bury them on grounds of destitution. He succeeded in saving sixty six such infants, up to the era of the Messenger of God. Al-Farazdaq proudly registers this feat in a poem, in which he boasts: From amongst us are those who resurrected the infanticide and Ghaleb and ‘Amr and those who opposed such acts. Those are my forefathers, show me their likes, if o Jareer we meet in confrontation.  
    Ibn Duraid narrates: “Sa’sa’a was a man of great standing. He would ransom the infants destined to die, during the Jahiliyya, and on the advent of Islam, he had thirty such infants in his hold. Sa’sa’a embraced Islam before the Prophet (pbuh) (6).
    Ibn Hajar quotes Sa’sa’a as having said: I had an audience with the Messenger of God (pbuh), and he recited to me verses from the Qur'an. I said: O Messenger of God, I have done good deeds during the Jahiliyya, would I be rewarded for them? The Prophet asked him: what did you do, and he narrated how he had ransomed infants threatened with infanticide. Al-Farazdaq the poet, boasts about it in the following verse (7). It was my grandfather who forbade infanticide, and resurrected the victims from perdition. It is claimed that he was the first to do that. I said, it has been proved that Zeid ben Nafeel used to do so, and therefore if is possible to give pride of place to Sa’sa’a over the Tamim and other tribes, and the precedence of Zeid over the Quraysh (8).
    Ibn al-Jawzi narrates in his biography of Sa’sa’a, his story with a man who wanted to perpetrate infanticide against his infant girl (9). I found cases during the Jahiliyya  where men protested against the practice of infanticide, but these were rare cases involving sisters, and do not match the feats of Zeid ben ‘Amr, or Sa’sa’a ben Najia. 
     Ibn Hajar narrates in his biography of ‘Olatha be Wahb ben Khalifa al-Ghanawi that “He wanted to burry two of his newborns during the Jahiliyya, and his son Rabee’ ben ‘Ollatha said to his father: why don’t you leave them alone, and he did. When Islam came, ‘Ollatha and his sons embraced Islam, including the two daughters (10). We found some cases where the perpetrator of infanticide felt deep remorse, and this is what happened with Bani Laquita. Khazanal al-Adab narrates a verse on Laquita, by poet Qurayt ben Onif al-‘Anbari. He said: If I belonged to Mazen [tribe], the sons of Laquita Would not have plundered my camels  
    She is Um Hisn ben Hathifa. She was given this name because her father did not have any other children, and the Arabs during that era were prone to commit infanticide. When he saw her his heart softened towards her, and said to her mother: breast feed her and hide her from the sight of people. Thus, she was named Laquita (11). 
    Ibn Qutayba narrates that Imru’o al-Qays had girls and no male offspring. He was extremely jealous, and whenever a girl was born to him he would commit her to infanticide. When his women saw this characteristic in him, they dispersed their girls amongst various Arab quarters. When he was informed of this, he pursued and killed them (1). This story confirms that women were against infanticide and would protest against it.
    Perhaps the whole tribe, at the protest of women, would forgo infanticide. Thus Zuhra ben ‘Allab did not have any children, so he married ‘Aqila bint ‘Abdel-‘Ozza ben Ghira al-Thaqafi. She gave birth to three boys who died at a young age. He swore that if a baby girl were born to him, he would kill her. His wife did give birth to a girl, and he ordered that she be buried. The tribe of Quraysh said to him: the Arabs were prone to do that infanticide, because of abject poverty, and you have plenty of money. He told them about the circumstances surrounding her birth, and that he had ordered her infanticide, and how her mother hid her. Zahra then had a dream, with a voice telling him: perhaps a young friendly knight, and a leader amongst leaders, and a man of generosity in time of need, would be in the womb of that infanticide baby. Wherefore he kept her alive, named her al-Sawda, and she got married to Amr ben Ka’b, ben Sa’d ben Taym ben Murra (2)."
To find out more please go to the link at the beginning to read the full article. 

The question at the end is....Is the struggle for the protection of children then and now much different?

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