One of the main examples always used to show that pre-Islamic Arabs were anti-woman and that Islam “liberated” women is the practice of burying infant daughters in Jahiliyya.
Allah, of course, condemns the practice of burying infant daughters in the Quran:
When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned – For what sin she was killed. (Surah 81:8-9)
When one of them is given the good news of a female child, his face becomes gloomy and he is choked with grief. He hides himself from people because of the (self-presumed) bad news given to him (and wonders): Shall he keep it despite the disgrace (he will face in the society), or put it away into the dust? In fact, evil is what they decide. (Surah 16:58-59)
But when we read the tafsirs of these ayat, we find that there are two huge misinterpretations of this practice being spread nowadays.
Not Just Men
First of all, it wasn’t just men who were burying daughters. Mothers and midwives were also directly involved.
Imam Qurtubi, for example, records Ibn Abbas’s tafsir of Surah 81, verses 8-9. Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) says, in the days of Jahiliyya, if a woman was pregnant, she would dig a hole. If she gave birth to a girl, she would throw the girl into the hole and bury her. If she gave birth to a boy, she would keep him.
Now, some feminists might argue that the Arab women of that time were only burying their daughters because men coerced them. These women were living in a time of systematic patriarchy, and they had no choice other than to comply with the cruel directives of patriarchal men. So these women can’t possibly be blamed for their actions.
But a hadith from the Prophet ﷺ destroys that argument.
“The woman who buries her infant daughter and the woman who had her buried [i.e., the midwife] will both enter Hell.” [Abu Dawud]
If women were truly being coerced and had no choice in burying their daughters, why would Allah punish them by throwing them in Hell? Why would Allah punish them if they were innocent? Clearly, these mothers were fully responsible for their crimes, as were the midwives who assisted them. Trying to blame “patriarchy” is not going to work.
The second major misinterpretation was pointed out to me by one of my teachers.
Burying daughters was not due to a simplistic hatred of women. This is actually a feminist projection onto the pre-Islamic Arabs.
Again, when we read the tafsirs of these ayat, they explain why the pre-Islamic Arabs buried their infant daughters. They were either afraid of poverty, or they were afraid that other tribes would capture their daughters, enslave them, molest them, etc.
If those Arabs were asked about burying their daughters, they would probably have claimed that they were actually acting in the best interests of their daughters by effectively preventing them from a life of enslavement and molestation.
Perhaps they had these concerns. But they were also majorly concerned about their pride and honor. This is also mentioned in the tafsirs. These pre-Islamic Arabs did not want the humiliation of their daughters being enslaved by other tribes.
Daughter Burials Today
Now, note the parallels with modernized parenting in the Muslim community.
How many parents are telling their daughters to go become strong, independent career women?
How many parents are pushing their daughters to go get business degrees, law degrees, doctorate degrees?
How many parents are encouraging their daughters to delay marriage as long as possible in order to prioritize advanced education and career?
Why are these parents so aggressively pushing their daughters to pursue career and education at the expense of marriage?
The answer these parents give is always the same:
“We don’t want our daughters to be at the mercy of a man. What happens if she gets married and then gets divorced? How will she live if she doesn’t have a career or at least an advanced degree?”
Just like the Arabs of Jahiliyya, these parents are concerned with money. They fear poverty for their daughters or themselves, so they push their daughters to sacrifice their own well-being by delaying marriage for the pursuit of money. Allah says:
Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. (Surah 17:31)
Yet, we see some Muslim parents severely harm their daughters because of this fear of poverty.
But, also like the pre-Islamic Arabs, honor and pride is a part of it. Some of these parents do not want the shame of a dependent daughter. They do not want their daughters dependent on any man. They want their daughters to be independent and successful without having to suffer the “indignity” of relying on a husband. So they push their daughters to education and career.
Few things are as damaging to women as delaying marriage in order to prioritize career. We can see an epidemic of unmarried Muslim women in their 30s and 40s because they put education and career first. (Of course, I’m not blaming women who have genuinely tried to get married but just haven’t be able to do so.)
The reality is, a woman’s peak marriage value is when she is younger. She has the most likelihood of finding her best possible husband earlier, not later. The longer she waits, the lower her marriage value. This is just a fact of biology and human nature and no amount of Simp Imams telling men to “Step up!” is going to change that.
These ignorant imams and the feminist shaykhaz don’t teach the advice of the Prophet ﷺ. When the Sahabi Jabir ibn `Abdullah was recently married, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ asked him:
“Did you marry a virgin or a non-virgin?” [Jabir] replied, “A non-virgin.” He said, “Why didn’t you marry a young girl so that you may play with her and she with you?” [Bukhari]
Everyone, including men, have a peak marriage value at some point in his or her life. For women, it is earlier because of fertility and for men, it is later because, typically, as men get older and work, they acquire more wealth and that makes them more attractive to women, all else being equal. This doesn’t mean that younger men and older women are “undesirable.” They are just not at their personal peak marital value. Nothing wrong with that.
It’s like a fruit seller trying to get the best price for his fruit. He should aim to sell the fruit when they are at their peak ripeness because that is when he can get the highest price. Sure, he can wait, but he will have to sell it for a lower price. And if he stubbornly doesn’t lower the price, no one will buy.
The problem is, because of feminism and this Jahiliyy attitude from some Muslim parents, they are preventing their daughters from getting the best they can get. They are basically putting their daughters in a situation where many, if not the majority, will not be able to get married (unless they drastically “lower their price,” meaning marry low value men, and they are usually not willing to do that).
If these parents would put away their pride and their fear of poverty, as Allah and His Messenger ﷺ have commanded, they would truly serve the interests of their daughters by getting them married at their peak marital value. This will give their daughters the best chance to have a successful, happy marriage.
But due to the feminist disease that has infected their minds, they are essentially burying their daughters and burying their daughters’ chances for happy, stable, fruitful marriages.
If they truly cared for their daughters, they would wake up.
- For an explanation of this hadith, see this article from Wagar Akbar Cheema. Interestingly, Justin Parrott (i.e., Abu Amina Elias) of Yaqeen Institute also has an article on this hadith, which uses almost all the same exact primary sources cited by Cheema. Except Cheema’s article was published October 1, 2019 and Parrott’s was published on October 23, 2019, just a few weeks after. ↑
- The objection to early marriage from parents that we always hear is, “But my child is too immature to marry early!” Well, whose fault is that? What prevented you from raising a child whose mental and emotional maturity matched his or her physical maturity? For all of history, we see average age of marriage in the teens. These teens were responsible adults by the age of 16, 17 or younger. But children have been infantalized in our modern age, where a person in his mid 20s still doesn’t know the basics of life and can’t stand on his own two feet. Rather than whine about this, Muslim parents need to work hard to raise children who mature at a normal rate, not the abnormal rate of the modern West.