The Science Of Boys - An Islamic Perspective

By Karima Burns, MH, ND
Allah made boys and girls equal...

"Whoever does good whether male or female and he is a believer, We will most certainly make him live a happy life, and We will most certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did (Qur'an 19:97)."

but also different...

"Or He makes them of both sorts, male and female; and He makes whom He pleases barren; surely He is the Knowing, the Powerful (Qur'an 42:50)."

Understanding the differences between male and female children is an important factor in the successful parenting of girls and boys. A study to find the environmental source of male behavior was undertaken in 1990 at Johns Hopkins University with 100,000 boys. The study ended 15 years later because the researchers could find no consistent environmental or social reason why "boys were boys". Since then many more studies have shown that there are indeed many biological differences between male and female children (Gurian, p.4). Knowing what these biological differences are can help a parent cater to the unique needs of their male child. Testosterone is the main factor parents should consider in raising boys. Beyond that, there are also other needs unique to boys that must be considered in their upbringing. It is comforting to know that in following the guidelines of Islam these needs are automatically met.

Testosterone is one of the main factors in determining "maleness" in a child and is the defining agent at conception as to whether a child will become male or female. Even if a boy is created chromosomally male he may come out of the womb looking like a girl if not enough testosterone exists to make him a boy. This means that a "normal" boy is created by appropriate testosterone surges from the womb to adulthood. Therefore it is quite natural that this testosterone may control much of the natural boy's behavior. Testosterone causes three basic needs in a boy (Raising a Son by Jeanne Ellium):

1- The search for quick and instant gratification in the form of eating quickly, jumping or moving about a lot or even the desire for quick sexual conquests.

2- The tendency to move quickly to "problem-solving" mode even when working in emotional situations.

3- The tendency to find activities through which the body can build and release physical tension - such as sports.

Testosterone also causes the male brain to "turn on and off" instead of staying "on" all the time as in the female brain. For the male, the thinking process is turned on for a task and then "turned off" again, transmitting less serotonin until the next task is encountered (Gurian p.14). This causes boys to be more "task-oriented, whereas girls may experience more than one task at once and often change styles of play frequently. Stemming from this and many other biological differences researchers have come up with a list of important matters to consider when raising boys. In "The Wonder of Boys", Michael Gurian gives us a list of six things that are important to consider when raising a boy. Although his list may seem daunting, it is easily completed by simply leading an appropriate Islamic lifestyle. Michael Gurian's partial list with the corresponding Muslim principles follows (Gurian p.xxi):

Boys need:

1- Nurturing parents or caregivers:

"The urine of a female[(child] should be washed and the urine of a male [child] should be sprinkled over until the age of eating" (Hadith).

From the time a child is a baby Muslims are given instructions as to how to deal with male and female children in a different manner. Michael Gurian says that in some cultures specific rituals are even created to emphasize the difference between boys and girls. In the Muslim culture two sheep are slaughtered for a boy and one for a girl, boys inherit more than girls and custody of a male child is usually handed over to the father earlier in boys than in girls.

Pediatrician and parent-infant specialist Barry T. Brazelton states that it is natural for boys to be more attached to their mothers until age seven at which time the "main task of raising the son should be handed over to the father." He states that in many cultures there are rituals to mark this point in a boy's life - the point where the boy moves from the "safety" of the mother's arms out into the "real world" of the father's experiences. Some cultures even refer to this as the boy's "second birth" (Gurian, p.89). Experts recommend that at this time boys in the family should spend more of their time with their father, and/or other male mentors and relatives rather than female ones. Ignoring this time of passage can cause delayed development and unnatural development in some boys. Gurian recommends that even if the boy does not have a father at this age that a male mentor should be chosen for the boy to spend time with each week.

2. A "clan" or "tribe":

"O you men! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful [of his duty]; surely Allah is Knowing, Aware" (Qur'an 49:13).

Until the 1950's boys were raised in a "three-family" system all around the globe. Gurian states that to raise a healthy boy we must raise him in three families - the first being the birth or adoptive parents, the second being the extended family and the third being the community. Girls suffer as well when they lack proper guidance. However, when boys don't find this solid network or "tribe" they tend to form "gangs" or groups of their own which often time lack the appropriate adult guidance and wisdom. Many gangs can even turn violent. Some say this tendency to form "groups" in boys is because boys have been conditioned as tribal beings since the first groups of hunters roamed the plains (Gurian, p.79) Other studies show that even in primates the males tend to form groups much more than females (Tannen, p. 68). Fortunately, if a family lives in an Islamic community or near a mosque this second and third family can easily be found there.

3. A spiritual life:

In Islam male children are required to accompany their father's to the mosque by the time they reach age seven. At this time they are responsible for performing the five daily prayers and often start to memorize the Qur'an (or have finished by then). In this way we can see that Islam emphasizes the importance of a spiritual life in young boys.

In The Wonder of Boys Gurian states that boys must be given a strong spiritual base and that "stories are the oldest tool for teaching values and morality". Stories, especially ones with strong archetypes are ideal teaching tools for boys and girls alike, but are especially powerful for boys. In Islam the Qur'an and Hadith and stories of the Companions are ideal teaching tools for our boys.

4. Important work & a role in life:

Islam gives boys an important role in life - the support and provision of a family unit. This is something that most Muslim boys work and strive towards and even practice as children. Often young boys are encouraged to share their earnings with the family or even their sisters so that they can learn the duties of provision at a young age.

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the most meaningful message for mothers is that Jack's mother trusted him enough to send him out with their last provisions. Just as a daughter needs approval most from her mother, a son needs trust. Sons need to be given important tasks and know that we trust them to finish them or do them correctly. The worst thing that a parent can do to a son is question their ability to perform a task or check up on them when performing it (Gurian, p.88).

5. To know the rules:

Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) said, "The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male (Muslim) who has attained the age of puberty."

Islam sets out many rules for boys and girls alike. However, some rules are mentioned in the hadith especially for men such as the ban on wearing silk garments. These rules are important to boys and help them create a healthy outlook on who they are and where they stand in society and in comparison to others. In The Wonder of Boys Gurian says that healthy discipline for a boy must teach him that he is part of a consistent system and structure that he can depend on and dedicate himself to, for this is what boys naturally do. A boy who knows the rules of his "three families" will be more likely to dedicate himself to society and develop properly (Gurian, p.168).

6. Lots of games:

"Two sheep are to be sacrificed for a boy and one for a girl, but it does you no harm whether they are male or female (hadith)."

From the day boys and girls are born, Islam sets forth a precedent for dealing with them as different people. Although many girls enjoy sports and can achieve similar goals to their male counterparts, males in general have a more natural tendency to prefer games and sports over other activities and this must be considered in their upbringing. "Boys are wired to find structures in which to perfect the aggressive movement of objects through space" (Gurian, p.46). Because of this sports and physical activity can provide for boys a physical, mental and spiritual experience for this action reaches the depths of their being.

For more specific information on raising sons there are many books that can be referenced, however, it is reassuring to notice that most of the scientific studies in these books prove what we already know as Muslims.


Ellium, Don and Jeanne. "Raising a Son." Hilsboro: Beyond Words, 1992.
Gurian, Michael. "The Wonder of Boys." New York: Putnam Press. 1977.
Tannen, Deborah. "You Just Don't Understand." New York: Ballentine. 1990