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Burying baby girls alive (the crime of)

By Choosa

Picking up on a note I read on facebook, I thought about the history of the abuse of women, with the crime of waad (burying baby girls alive) coming to mind.


In pre-Islam Arabia, it was common place among many to bury their baby daughters alive. It was said that the first man to do so, the man who began this tradition, was named Qais ibn Aasem al-Tamimy who when fighting with another tribe, his daughter was captured. According to the rules of war of that time, she 'married' a man from the tribe that won that battle. Some years later when a peace treaty was made with the tribe Qais found his daughter and wanted her to return back home with him. Instead she chose to stay with her husband. When this happened Qais made an oath that if he ever had another daughter he would bury her alive. And of course with time he did, and he buried her alive. And this tradition continued with the pre-Islamic Arabs then onwards.


There were two established ways to commit the crime of waad. To either make the wife deliver the baby into a hole in the ground, if it was a boy take him out and if it was a girl to cover it up with soil.The second was to wait till the girl reached the age of six, allowing the mother to spend some time with her. Then the father would take the girl to the dessert to a hole he had already dug. As she looked into it to see what was down there, he would put her in and fill in the hole.


In contrast there was a man named Saasaa ibn Nageya al-Tamimi, he was the grandfather of a man named Al-Farazdaq (a famous pre-Islamic poet). Whenever news reached al-Tamimi that a girl was about to be buried by her father he would pay the father money to ensure that either he didn't bury her or that her needs would be taken care of elsewhere. Farazdaq was
very proud of his grandfather and dedicated a couplet to him:

"In was my grandfather who ransomed daughters
And protected them from being buried alive"


One of the scholars opined that "The best of mankind is the one whose first offspring is a daughter" (and that he looks after her properly). When asked to prove his position he referred to the verse in the Quran where Allah Almighty says, "To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows children, female or male, according to his will". He argued that became the word female came before the word male, that girls were more blessed than boys - and Allah knows best.


Of course Islam forbade this practice both by verse from the Quran as well as by example of Prophet Muhammad. For example his first four children, Zeinab, Ruqaya, Umm Kolthoom and Fatima, were girls. And it is reported that when he was told that he had a baby girl he cried out in joy, "She is an aromatic flower for me to smell!"

One of the Quranic verses on this subject reads, "...When news is brought to them of the birth of a child, his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief. With shame he hides himself from the people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it and suffer contempt or bury it in the dust? What an evil choice they decide on!"

There are also many hadith on the subject as well, one of which reads, "Allah has forbidden you to be ungrateful to your mothers, burying daughters alive..."


Again before Islam, a story is related of a bedouin man who had two wives, one gave birth to a daughter, the other, to a son. The mother of the boy would dance with him and taunt the other wife chanting:

"Praise be to God, the Great, the High!
Who has saved me this year from girls garments
And from having an ugly girl as a worn-out waterskin
Who can't defend dependents against offense"

When hearing this, the mother of the daughter danced with her baby chanting:

"So what if she is a girl
Who washes my head and may be my dear!
And raises for me what may fall down from my scarf
And when she attains eight years,
I will cover her in a Yemeni scarf (the best quality)
And get her married to Marawan or Mowaeyah
Honest sons-in-laws and expensive dowries"


Qais ibn Aasem was a poet and a knight who lived before Islam came to Arabia as well as during the early years of Islam. Once, as an older man, in a discussion about burying girls alive by the companions of the Prophet, he too confessed that before Islam he had buried his daughters alive. He said, 'I was in fear of being the topic of conversation for having baby girls, so I killed all the baby girls that I had save for one who was born while I was traveling and my wife gave her to her brothers to look after. When I returned my wife told me a boy was born but he died in birth. Years later when the girl grew up, she went to visit her mother. As she entered the house I saw a girl with beautiful braided hair, ornamented with strips fitted with sea-shells, besides a necklace of Yemeni and Chinese beads of black and white resembling eyes. I asked who she was as I appreciated both her beauty and her intellect. Hearing this tears rolled down my wife's eyes and she confessed that she was their daughter."


I shudder at the thought of any person burying a baby boy or girl alive; murder in the name of fearing the social label of being someone with a baby girl - how utterly shameful. One of the many reasons why the nation of Arab were indeed the worst of people at that time with the message of Islam reforming them. Sadly many negative attitudes and opinions about girls, babies or women still prevail in society today. Prejudice will always exist but I am grateful for the beauty of faith which not only grants girls rights and freedoms but charges society for being responsible to ensure that their rights and freedoms are granted.

In short, all I can say is, Girls rock - mashallah.

   Comments: 10     Raters: 7     March 21, 2009 at 1:15pm         


The opinions expressed in this journal are of the author and not necessarily of Naseeb.

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  Comments on this journal

babaganoush (March 29, 2009 at 8:27pm)
1 "Do first generation Asian immigration parents in England down down upon having girls because they earn less?"

Choosa, I think first generation Asian immigrant parents in the UK would look down upon their daughters for reasons not related directly to their earning power per se. In fact, most parents from a patriarchal age would look down upon their daughters for reasons outlined in one of Bill Cosby's hadiths. He goes on to say that sons are ok to have and there is nothing to worry about them but daughters need to be good because they are the 'goalies'. - the sweetest pain a daughter bestows on her father.

I used economic reasons -- not earning power -- to mean dowry costs and the financial burden of 'spinsters' that parents from a village would face, not Asian immigrant parents of present day UK.

( Actually, studies indicate daughters of immigrant parents do well but the granddaughters too often accomplish less than their second generation Mums. I think the answer can be found in epigenetics where babies / daughters tend to grow up as risk takers due to the stressful environment as all first generation immigrants grow up in and the granddaughters are more docile because they were raised up in relatively more comfortable environment than what their Mums endured. )
babaganoush (March 29, 2009 at 7:22pm)
Agree to disagree for now until you find the correct citation. It was just unpalatable for me to read female infanticide as a custom / tradition.

The examples you provide do have an economic motivating strain to them whether modern or historical and are complicated rather than simple.
NaseebSucksAss (March 25, 2009 at 7:55pm)
welcome back dude!
Dreamznwishes (March 24, 2009 at 3:08am)
Choosa-You're my hero :) Thanks for posting this JE!!
Jilanis (March 22, 2009 at 4:12pm)
very good read Choosa. some info I didnt know .... 5*
Choosa (March 22, 2009 at 4:14am)
Babaganoush, you're reading too much into it. A tradition, a custom can be started from the simplest of things. An action, a habit, a fashion. Do first generation Asian immigration parents in England down down upon having girls because they earn less? Why are boys given that 'extra' love, everyone sees it, everyone knows it. Is it down to their earning capacity, well surely most Asian girls are equally educated and most that I know are professional. What makes for a custom or viewpoint today shouldn't be assumed as the same motivator that makes for a custom or view point 1500 years ago.

Certainly I am not an expert in the field, I am however copying extracts from a text which addresses this and a number of other issues - and Allah knows best. Though I will say as with many of the other odd pre-Islamic customs (e.g. throwing of arrows), customs and traditions started from the oddest of events.
babaganoush (March 21, 2009 at 7:20pm)
I'm not sure there is a person in pre-Islamic Arabia who could be attributed as the one who started female infanticide as a custom by others.

The example you provide in the history paragraph sounds more of a misdirected vendetta rather than the typical standard economic reasons why parents rid their children the world over even to this day.

Oppression of women is older than time itself.
babaganoush (March 21, 2009 at 7:08pm)
Actually, anthropologists and archaeologists are uncovering more and more about matriarchal societies as a norm in history.

For example, Kashmir from 5000 B.C.E. - 15000 B.C.E., was not only matriarchal but also matrilineal and matrilocal.

The Yellow Emperor is now understood to have been a woman as the word yellow carries a feminine gender.

And then there was the defining event of Islam that the ullemaas, their followers and the whole ummah who have missed the point because their light of vision was snuffed out.

It's a big con job.
Choosa (March 21, 2009 at 3:30pm)
Qzeeshan, many parts of Asia are already suffering from this, particularly the Chinese...
Choosa (March 21, 2009 at 3:29pm)
Mudabbas, a tradition is not always practiced by everyone. Perhaps this is one of the striking absurdities of the situation where baby girls were viewed as 'shameful' and yet 'young women' particularly, were highly valued as concubines.