In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
There is a hadith that, on first glance, appears to condemn to Hell a baby girl who was buried alive by her mother:
الْوَائِدَةُ وَالْمَوْءُودَةُ فِي النَّارِ
The woman who buries her baby girl alive and the maw’udah are both in Hellfire.
Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4717
What is the meaning of maw’udah in this hadith? In other contexts, it refers to the unwanted baby girl who was buried alive herself, which it cannot mean in this case as it would flatly contradict the Quran.
وَإِذَا الْمَوْءُودَةُ سُئِلَتْ بِأَيِّ ذَنبٍ قُتِلَتْ
When the baby girl buried alive (maw’udah) is asked for what sin was she killed?
Surat al-Takwir 81:8-9
It is an essential principle in Islam that no one is legally or divinely punished for sins they have not committed, nor is anyone condemned to Hell until after they have heard the message of a true prophet, understood it, and rejected it.
وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
No one will bear the burdens of another, and We do not punish unless We have sent a messenger.
Surat al-Isra’ 17:15
Therefore, according to many scholars, the word maw’udah in this tradition cannot mean the baby girl herself. Rather, it refers to the one who ordered for the girl to be buried (maw’udah laha) and this brings the hadith in agreement with the Quran. The missing particle is implied by the context.
Al-Baydawi commented on this tradition, writing:
ولعل المراد بالوائدة القابلة وبالموؤدة الموؤدة لها وهي أم الطفل فحذفت الصلة إذ كان من ديدنهم أن المرأة إذا أخذها الطلق حفر لها حفرة عميقة فجلست عليها والقابلة وراءها تترقب الولد فإن ولدت ذكرا أمسكت وإن ولدت أنثى ألقتها في تلك الحفرة وأهالت عليها التراب
Perhaps the meaning of ‘the burier’ is the midwife and the maw’udah is the one for whom she was buried, which is the child’s mother. Thus, the connecting particle was dropped. It was their custom that when the woman was sized by labor pains, a deep hole would be dug for her to sit over and the midwife would be behind her waiting for the child. If she gave birth to a boy, she would keep it. If she gave birth to a girl, she would throw it in the hole and cover it with dirt.
Source: Tuḥfat al-Abrār 1/110
When the pre-Islamic Arabs buried their baby girls alive, the mother would not do it herself but rather would have the midwife do it for her. Hence, the maw’udah in this tradition means maw’udaha la ha, the one for whom the baby girl was buried. Several scholars have offered this interpretation.
Ibn al-Malak writes:
وقيل المراد بالوائدة القابلة وبالموؤدة لها وهي أم الطفل
It is said that the meaning of ‘burier’ is the midwife and the maw’udah is the one for whom she was buried.
Source: Sharḥ Maṣābīḥ al-Sunnah 1/129
And Al-Munawi writes:
والموءودة قيل أراد بها هنا المفعولة لها ذلك وهي أم الطفل
The maw’udah is said to mean here the one for whom that was done, which is the mother of the child.
Source: Fayḍ al-Qadīr 6/370
And Al-Mazhari writes:
اما الموءودة الواردة فى الحديث فالمراد بها الموءودة لها يعنى الام
As for the maw’udah mentioned in the tradition, what is intended is the one for whom she was buried, meaning the mother.
Source: al-Tafsīr al-Maẓharī 5/426
And Shaykh Al-Albani writes:
ليست المقصودة هي الموءودة بذاتها وإنما المقصود الموءود له إما الأب وإما الأم وإما كلاهما معاً إذا كانا اشتركا واتفقا على وأد البنت تَبَعْهُم فهما الاثنان في النار أما الموءودة هي بالذات فلا حكم لها لا بالجنة ولا بالنار
It does not mean the buried girl herself, but rather it only means the one for whom she was buried, whether it was the father, mother, or both together. If they shared in it and agreed upon burying their daughter, one will follow the second into Hellfire. As for the buried girl herself, there is no judgment upon her, neither Paradise or Hellfire.
Source: Mawsūʻat al-Albānī fī al-‘Aqīdah 5/918
In sum, the pre-Islamic Arab custom of burying their unwanted baby girls alive is condemned explicitly in the Quran. No one may be punished for sins they have not committed, neither in this life or in the Hereafter. The hadith stating that the maw’udah is in Hellfire means maw’udah la ha, the one for whom it was done. In this way, the hadith can be reconciled with the Quran.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.