Birth of a Child
The birth of a child is an event of great joy and gratitude in a Muslim family. Relatives and friends gather to welcome the newborn child into the larger community, and everyone prays for the child's future health, happiness, and well-being.
At the moment of birth, a newborn child's father, mother, or other close relative will whisper the Islamic call to prayer in the newborn's ear. Thus, the Muslim child's life begins with words of God's praise and a call to faith in Him.
A welcoming celebration is often observed in the first weeks of the child's life, traditionally on the seventh, 17th, or 21st day after birth. This celebration is called the aqiqah, from the Arabic word aqqa, “to slaughter an animal.” For this celebration, the parents slaughter a lamb (or perhaps a cow or goat if a lamb is not available) and invite the entire community for a meal.
This traditional observance is an opportunity for the parents to show their gratitude to God, express their happiness, and celebrate their joy with the whole community. It is also during this celebration that the child's name is formally announced.
In some cultures, a Muslim mother observes a 40-day confinement period following birth. This is traditionally a time for the mother to rest, be cared for by others, and spend time breastfeeding and nurturing her newborn child. Visitors from outside the immediate family may be discouraged during this time.
It is traditional for a child's head to be shaved in the early days or weeks after birth. The hair is then weighed, and the value of its weight in gold or silver is given in charity. This is also an expression of thankfulness, and the desire to share joy with others at this happy occasion.
Newborn boys are usually circumcised during the first few days or weeks after birth. There is no Islamic ceremony or ritual associated with this process, and any adult (Muslim or non-Muslim) may perform the surgery. In Islam, circumcision is considered a matter of health and hygiene rather than an event of religious significance.
Circumcision of girls is not an Islamic practice. This procedure, which often causes irreparable harm to young girls, is based in cultural beliefs that predate Islam. Indeed, the practice is observed in many parts of Africa by people of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and animist faiths.
In Islam, breastfeeding is considered to be the healthiest and most natural way to nourish a baby. The Qur'an encourages Muslim women to breastfeed their infants for up to two years: “Mothers shall breastfeed their children for two whole years, for those who desire to complete the term” (Qur'an 2:233).
Islam gives so much value to the breastfeeding relationship that any woman who nurses another's child in infancy is considered that child's legal foster mother. If the same woman nurses other infants as well, the children are all considered “milk” brothers and sisters. Their bond is so close that they are considered to have the same relationship as blood siblings under Islamic law.