What is the sin of an illegitimate child?


Sex, the natural act of copulation ordained by Allaah for the multiplication of mankind on earth had always been noble and well respected. Its legal confine is the marriage institution and its key characteristic is secrecy. In the days of yore, people do not talk about sex; it is only referred to by inference. Such sacredness pervaded the entire society. Today the commonality of children born out of wedlock has become one of the major souvenirs of depravity and promiscuity pervading the society.

The sin of the perpetrators of zina is clear. The adulterer and the adulteress have crossed the rubicon of Allaah's prohibition and have entered into the grove of a major sin. Meanwhile, Allaah warns: 

"And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allaah forgives him)." (Q17[lsraai]:32)

That is the sin of the guilty parents, what then is the sin of the children born out of many unholy relationships? There are many ahaadeeth condemning the illegitimate child, but most of these ahaadeeth are either da'eef (weak) or misinterpreted. An indisputable tenet of our Islaamic faith is that no person will share in the sin of another unless that person was directly involved in encouraging or assisting the other person to commit the sin. Allaah says: 

"That no soul shall bear the burden of another and that a person shall have nothing but what he strives for" (Q53[an-Najm]:38-39)

Allaah also says 

"They were a people who have gone before. They shall have the fruits of what they earned and you shall have the fruits of what you earn, and you will not be asked about what they used to do." (Q2 [Baqarah]:134 and 141)         

For this reason, it is authentically related that A'ishah (RA) said regarding the child born of adultery: "He shares in nothing of the sin of his parents, for Allaah says

'no soul shall bear the burden of another'." (Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq)

Thus, each child is born innocent and guiltless. How could Allaah curse a child who has done nothing wrong? The child had nothing to do with what his father or mother did. The sin is entirely that of the parents. There is no sin whatsoever on the child. The child may not be called a "bastard". He may not even be referred to as "illegitimate" with the intention to derogate him.

However, there are two authentic hadeeth which on the surface apparently indicate that a curse has been placed on the children born out of wedlock. Abu Hurayrah (RA) related that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

"The illegitimate child is the most evil of the three"

meaning more evil than his parents. A number of scholars have classified this hadeeth as has an among whom were Ibn al-Qayyim in al-Manaar al-Muneef (133) and al-Albaani in al-Silsilatal- Saheehah(672).

However scholars have interpreted this hadeeth in a number of ways, the most famous of which was that suggested by Sufyaan al-Thawri (RAH), who said: it means he is the most evil of the three if he does the same action as his parents did (i.e., zina or adultery). This explanation is corroborated by the athar narrated from 'A'ishah (RA), who said that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"He is the most evil of the three if he does the same action as his parents did meaning the illegitimate child."

Although the isnaad (chain of narration) of the hadeeth above is da'eef, it was interpreted in this manner by the salaf, as stated above. This interpretation is supported by the report narrated by al-Haakim (4/ 100) with an isnaad of which al-Albaani said, "It may be regarded as hasan" from 'Aa'ishah (RA), that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"The illegitimate child does not bear any part of his parents' burden of sin 'and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another' [al- An'aam 6:164]." (al-Silsilat al-Saheehah)

Some scholars said that this hadeeth is to be interpreted as meaning that there is some evil in most illegitimate children because they are created from an evil nutfah (sperm drop), and usually nothing good is created from an evil nutfah. If a good soul comes out of this nutfah then it will enter Paradise. This hadeeth is to be taken as a general rule to which there may be exceptions. (See al-Manaaral-Muneef,133).

Hence Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (RAH) said:

"If an illegitimate child believes and does righteous deeds, he will enter Paradise, otherwise he will be punished for his deeds just like anyone else. The punishment is for the deeds, not for the lineage. Rather the illegitimate child is condemned because he is expected to do evil deeds, as often happens. By the same token, good lineages are regarded as praiseworthy because such people are expected to do good deeds. But when a person does a deed, then the reward or punishment is based on that, and the most noble of people before Allaah are those who are most pious." (al-Fataawa al-Kubra,5/83).

It says in Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa'imah:

 "If an illegitimate child dies in Islam (as a Muslim), he will enter Paradise, and his being illegitimate does not have any effect on that, because that was not due to his own actions, rather it was the action of someone else."

The second hadeeth The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

 "They will not enter Paradise: a disobedient child, one who reminds others of his generosity, a drunkard and a child of zina (adultery)." (Daarimi, Nasaai).

This hadeeth authenticated by al-Albaanee in silsilat ahadeeth saheehah. Scholars agree that if even if the hadeeth were to be adjudged as authentic, it is not to be taken on its apparent meaning because it contradicts the indisputable tenet of our faith that no soul shall bear the sin of another. Those who accepted the hadeeth have offered numerous possible interpretations for it. Possibly the best of these interpretations is the one suggested by al-Tahawi in Bayan.

Mushkil al-Ahadith (2/372-373)] he points out that the phrase "child of illicit sexual intercourse" refers to someone who commits illicit sexual intercourse so often and so habitually as to have the action attributed to him.

AI-Tahawi points out that this is an established convention of the Arabic language. People who are consumed with their worldly affairs are called "children of the world" and a traveller is referred to in Arabic "a child of the road".

AI-Tahawi then cites certain verses of classical poetry as linguistic evidence for this usage of the phrase "child of illicit sexual intercourse (walad al-zanyah)." (Silsilatas-Saheehah)

Why Isn't then the child attributed to his biological father?

With regard to the attribution of children born out of wedlock, the scholars of Islaam have discussed this issue in detail and they said that one of two scenarios must apply to the woman with whom zina is committed:

1 - Either she is married, in which case any child who is born to her is to be attributed to the husband and not to anyone else, even if she is certain that he is the child of the one with whom she committed zina, unless the husband disowns the child by means of Ii'aan

(mutual oath of condemnation) in which case the child is not attributed to the husband, rather he is to be attributed to his mother and not to the zaani (adulterer).

2 - Or she is not married. If an unmarried woman has a child, the scholars differed as to whether the child should be attributed to his father, the zaani, or to his mother. However, the correct view is that the child is not attributed to the adulterer (zaani) rather he should be attributed to his mother, even if there is certainty that this child was fathered by this zaani.

It is recorded in Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa'imah (20/387) that:

"The correct scholarly view is that the child is not to be attributed to the man who had intercourse with the woman, unless intercourse took place within the framework of a valid marriage."

It also adds:

"... he is to be attributed to his mother, and he comes under the same rulings as any other Muslim if his mother is a Muslim. He is not to be blamed or put to shame for his mother's crime or the crime of the one who committed zina with her ... "

It is well known that attribution of lineage affects many rulings such as rulings on breastfeeding, custody, guardianship, maintenance, inheritance, qasaas, the hadd punishment for stealing, slander, testimony etc. Because the more correct view is that the illegitimate child cannot be attributed to the zaani, none of the rulings mentioned above can be proven to apply to the father of the illegitimate child, rather many of them apply to the mother.

If the child of zina is not attributed to the man who fathered him through the forbidden method by extension, he will not inherit the 'father' nor will the adulterer father inherit him. Allaah's Messenger (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: 

"Whoever fornicates with a free born woman or slave woman, the resulting child is a child of zina, he does not inherit (the adulterer) nor is he inherited by him." (Tirmidhi)

This is the view of the majority of the scholars.

However, such children may be taken care of by bequeathing to them part of your property not exceeding one third of the entire property. This is based on the hadeeth of Sa'd bn Abi Waqqaas who narrated:

"I was stricken by an ailment that led me to the verge of death. The Prophet came to pay me a visit. I said, "O Allah's Messenger! I have much property and no heir except my single daughter. Shall I give two-thirds of my property in charity?" He said, "No." I said, "Half of it?" He said, "No." I said, "One-third of it?" He said, "You may do so though one-third is also to a much, for it is better for you to leave your offspring wealthy than to leave them poor, asking others for help. " (Bukhari)


This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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