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Over 20 000 babies are born annually to a population of approximately two million Muslims in the United Kingdom.1The overwhelming majority of British Muslims will respect the rites of passage recommended by Islamic teaching. The customs are many, and may seem unnecessarily rigid and prescriptive; however, to those within the tradition, they are deeply symbolic, coherent, and complementary. We give an insider's perspective here for the uninitiated.
The rights of the child
Children have many rights that are clearly articulated in Islamic Law, and for the most part these are well respected. Beginning before conception, they have the right to be born through a legitimate union, with full knowledge of their parentage. The social experiments currently taking place in some countries, facilitating the use of donor sperms and eggs to help barren couples to conceive are therefore categorically prohibited by Islam. Also due to the child are the rights to a good name, to be suckled, to be educated, and above all, to be reared in a stable and loving environment.
It is customary for the father, or a respected member of the local community, to whisper the Adhan into the baby's right ear. These words include the name of Allah the Creator and is followed by the Declaration of Faith: “There is no deity but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” Both of these fundamental pronouncements serve as the pivot around which the life of a Muslim rotates, hence their symbolic significance at birth. Ideally Adhan should be performed as soon as possible after birth; the entire ceremony takes only a few minutes, and it is generally appreciated if parents are allowed the opportunity to perform this rite in privacy.
Soon after birth, and preferably before the infant is fed, a small piece of softened date is gently rubbed into his/her upper …
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