For many of us, it can be quite difficult to find a role model for our younger children to genuinely connect with. It is common to speak about great traits of popular adult figures of the past, such as the loyalty of Abū Bakr and Khadījah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma), the intelligence of ‘Umar and Ā’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma), or the bravery of Salahuddīn (raḥimahu Allāhu) and Nusayba (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha). However, have we educated our youth about the young children around the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam), who went on to become pillars and legends in our Islamic heritage?
The Prophet’s Visionary Approach
Our Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) had profound compassion and mercy for children even before they were born. Ā’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) once asked the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) whether he had encountered a day harder than the day of the battle of Uhud. Recall that this was a day in which the Prophet’s (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) helmet was smashed on his head, blood covered his face, his tooth had broken and rumours spread that he was killed.
However, to Ā’isha’s (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) surprise, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) answered that there was indeed a harder day. It was when he went to Tā’if looking for an alternative place to settle after being driven out by his own people in Makkah. The people of Tā’if not only refused to take him in, but abused him, and left him badly injured. How did the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) respond to this horrific experience?
It was said to the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam):
يَا مُحَمَّدُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ سَمِعَ قَوْلَ قَوْمِكَ لَكَ وَأَنَا مَلَكُ الْجِبَالِ وَقَدْ بَعَثَنِي رَبُّكَ إِلَيْكَ لِتَأْمُرَنِي بِأَمْرِكَ فَمَا شِئْتَ إِنْ شِئْتَ أَنْ أُطْبِقَ عَلَيْهِمُ الأَخْشَبَيْنِ
“Muhammad, Allāh has listened to what the people have said to you. I am the angel in charge of the mountains, and Allāh has sent me to you so that you may order me with what you wish. If you wish that I should bring together the two mountains that stand opposite to each other at the extremities of Makkah to crush them in between [I would do that].”
The response of our Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) is a primary and astonishing example of foresight:
بَلْ أَرْجُو أَنْ يُخْرِجَ اللَّهُ مِنْ أَصْلاَبِهِمْ مَنْ يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ وَحْدَهُ لاَ يُشْرِكُ بِهِ شَيْئًا
“No, rather I hope that Allāh will bring from their descendants, people who will worship Allāh alone without associating partners with him.”
This was the vision of the Mercy to Mankind (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam), whose actions were encapsulated with great foresight and care. In this case, this hope in Allāh was manifested through a man by the name of Sufyān b. ‘Abdillāh al-Thaqafi (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), who not only became a Muslim, but a companion of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam), whose hadīths can be found in the famous Sahīh of Imām Muslim and the 40 hadīth collection by Imām al-Nawawi (raḥimahu Allāhu).
There are three particular great individuals from Islāmic history who I would encourage our readers to learn about, who were young children around the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam), but went on to become the most influential companions of Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam).
Anas b. Mālik
Anas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) served the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) for ten years, from the age of 10 to 20. What made him so special, is that no other companion brought forth a unique insight into how the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) was both at home and outside to the public. And as a result, he spoke authoritatively on questions about the Prophet’s (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam daily routine and habits.
Anas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) experienced and brought to life the key characteristic of ‘Rahma’ the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) embodied. As a child, he witnessed his brother, Abū ‘Umayr, lose his pet sparrow which he loved dearly. In such cases, many of us would say, “To Allāh we belong and to Him we shall return.” But, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) understood that part of the healing process of losing someone beloved to you is to talk about them.
The Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) said to young Abū ‘Umayr:
يَا أَبَا عُمَيْرٍ مَا فَعَلَ النُّغَيْرُ
“O Abū ‘Umayr! What happened to the little sparrow?”
Such experiences added an additional dimension to the characteristic of mercy the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) embodied. You and I can read and relay the tafsīr of the following Qur’ān verse, but without such examples, be unable to connect to this Prophetic approach in the way Anas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) was able to.
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ
“And by the Mercy of Allāh, you [O Muhammad] dealt with them gently.”
‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar
Ibn ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) was the son of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), and similar to Anas, was 20 years old when the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) passed away. He also migrated to Madīnah at the age of 10 and spent the following ten years with the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam).
The Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) would often engage people through thought-provoking questions. On one occasion, he compared believers to a green tree in which leaves do not fall. No one knew what type of tree was being described except young Ibn ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), who narrated the following.
فَأَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَقُولَ هِيَ النَّخْلَةُ. وَأَنَا غُلاَمٌ شَابٌّ فَاسْتَحْيَيْتُ
“I intended to say that it was the date palm tree, but I was a young boy and felt shy [to answer].”
He later explained this to his father, who encouraged him to speak next time. We can see from this example self-confidence and self-esteem were characteristics developed within both the young companions by the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) and his senior companions.
‘Abdullāh b. ‘Abbās
Ibn Abbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma), who we view as a wise authority in the field of tafsīr, was only 13 years old when the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) passed away. Unlike Anas and Ibn ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum), he only lived in Madīnah for less than three years, but within these few years, he was able to learn and understand the Qur’ān like no other. He was very beloved to Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam), as can be seen in the following hadīth in which he was embraced in a loving manner:
قَالَ ضَمَّنِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ إِلَيْهِ وَقَالَ “ اللَّهُمَّ عَلِّمْهُ الْحِكْمَةَ وَتَأْوِيلَ الْكِتَابِ
“The Messenger of Allāh embraced me and said: ‘O Allāh, teach him wisdom and the [correct] interpretation of the Book.’” 
It was also through this loving manner that the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) taught belief to Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma) as a 9-year-old child. We know that children learn better when they are happy and enjoying themselves, and in the following hadīth, we can see that the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) taught Ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma) some of the most fundamental principles of tawhīd whilst riding on a mount.
قَالَ كُنْتُ خَلْفَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَوْمًا فَقَالَ يَا غُلاَمُ إِنِّي أُعَلِّمُكَ كَلِمَاتٍ احْفَظِ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْكَ
“One day I was [riding] behind the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) and he said: ‘O boy! I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be mindful of Allāh and Allāh will protect you…’”
The key message I hope our readers can benefit from is that the greatness of the companions cited in this article did not develop from nothing, but from a lifelong process. The Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) prepared them in their most pivotal moment, all three individuals were entering their adolescence. This is a time in which they could start practising and implementing what is taught, and grow up attached to these fundamentals. By the time they became men, they understood what they were doing and what their purpose in this world was.
In fact, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) showed us that such teachings are more important to young children than adults. How is this the case?
If a person is taught these fundamental beliefs from a young age, they become intertwined with their flesh and blood. If they are left without them, their thoughts and behaviours will become more rigid, no matter how much a person tries to convince them later. The earlier a transformation happens, the more long-lasting, effective and stable it can be.
So, when you are thinking about potential role models for children, have a scan through history. Relate such examples like these young companions, which children can make a connection with and can extract characteristics and lessons to apply to their lives bi’idhnillāh.
 Narrated by Muslim, on the authority of Ā’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha). Sahīh Muslim, Book 32, Hadīth 135
 This hadīth can be found in: Sahīh Muslim, Book 1; Hadīth 66. 40 Hadīth Nawawi, Hadīth 21
 Al-Qur’ān, Sūrah Al-Baqarah 2:156
 Narrated by Abū Dawūd, on the authority of Anas ibn Mālik, Sunan Abī Dāwud, Book 43, Hadīth 197
 Al-Qur’ān, Sūrah Al-Imrān 3:159
 Narrated by Bukhāri, on the authority of ibn ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), Sahīh al-Bukhāri, Book 78, Hadīth 149
 Narrated by ibn Mājah, on the authority of ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), Sunan ibn Mājah, Book 1, Hadīth 171
 Narrated by Tirmidhī, on the authority of ibn ‘Abbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), Jāmi’ al- Tirmidhī, Book 11, Hadīth 2516
 Jamāl Al-Dīn M. Zarabozo, 1999. Commentary on the Forty Hadīth of Al-Nawawi. Al-Basheer Company for Publications & Translations