Children’s Gender Identification: Rights and Responsibilities
“A handful of parents across America are deliberately keeping the children’s sex hidden and are instead raising so called ‘theybies’. The idea is that the children themselves should decide whether they are boys or girls.” That was the initial comment succinctly expressed by Tucker Carlson in his talk program, Tucker Carlson Tonight last 20th July on Fox News Channel. His guest whom he interviewed for the show, Cathy Areu, called for parents to embrace gender-neutral and to stop “labelling” their children from the age 0–4. According to her, this is to allow the baby to decide the gender the baby wants to be i.e. at the age of four years old.
Areu also stressed the unimportance of genitalia, and the equality of men and women. Areu’s arguments were obviously shot down by Carlson who put forward some important questions and remarks. Amongst them were the ability of a four-year old baby to make a profound life decision, acknowledgement of biology and nature as real phenomenon, and the complete difference between men and women in key ways which does not mean inequality. The five-minute interview reflected the “sickness” suffered by a segment of society in some parts of the world. This is the sickness that brings along fear of sex and our own selves as pointed out by Ashley McGuire in her book entitled “Sex Scandal”.
The creation of gender-based human is one of Allah’s Signs. Thus, it is an important subject to be given great attention and care. The male and female make up one pair. The Qur’an states that everything is created in pairs (Surah al-Zariyat (51): 49) which is a Sunnatullah. The determination of the gender, whether male or female, is made by Allah. The two different genders which are united through marriage subsequently contribute to human procreation. Allah declares, “O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women.” (Surah al-Nisa’ (4):1).
The significance of gender in Islam could be seen through gender identification or name giving. Prophet Muhammad SAW commanded that a newborn baby be named on the seventh day. Samurah ibn Jundub r.a. reported that Allah’s Messenger SAW said, “Each boy is mortgaged by his ‘aqeeqah which is sacrificed on the seventh day, his head is shaved and he is named.” (Abu Daud). The Prophet SAW also named some newborn babies soon after their birth. Anas ibn Malik r.a. reported that on the morning following the birth of the Prophet’s SAW son Ibrahim, he said, “Last night a boy was born to me, and I have named him after my father’s name, Ibrahim A.S.” (Muslim).
Furthermore, the Prophet SAW reminded parents to give good names to their children. Ibn ‘Umar r.a. reported that the Prophet SAW said, “The most beloved of your names to Allah are ‘Abdullah and ‘Abdul Rahman.” (Muslim). It can be concluded from these Hadiths that it is the responsibility of the parents to give names and identification to their children and thereby fulfilling the children’s rights. Later on in life, gender difference needs to be given attention as it involves rules pertaining to religious duties, relationship and social interaction etc. apart from roles that need to be performed.
Denial of sexual differences or identities, and the fight to abolish identification of genders are said to aim for gender equality and justice. Unfortunately, the aims to be achieved seem to be ambiguous and arguable. As clearly stated by the Qur’an, all humans; men and women are equal, “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions.” (Surah al-Nahl (16):97). It is piety (taqwa) that makes them different, “…Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you…” (Surah al-Hujurat (49):13) Though Islam clearly establishes that men and women are equal in the sight of Allah, it does not recognise that they are identical. This is due to the fact that Allah created men and women with unique physical, physiological and psychological attributes. In Islam, these differences are embraced as vital components to a family and community structure where each individual contributes his or her own distinctive talent for the benefit of the family and society.
Islam also advocates that not all differences cause injustice. Even in certain occasions, justice is achieved through inequality, such as the unequal distribution of wealth. This is related to the fact that in the Islamic worldview, justice denotes placing things in their rightful place. The Qur’an states that, “Say: “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition.” (Surah al-Zumar (39): 9). It can be inferred from this verse that people of knowledge need to be treated according to their position. Special treatment is in fact fulfilling their rights as accorded by the deen. In relation to children, the provision of suitable identity is one of their rights apart from acknowledging their roles based on their respective gender that Allah has designed for them. Indeed, such is the essence of justice.