[Translator’s Note: Tahneek is the practice of rubbing a piece of softened date on the roof of the mouth of a newborn. It is a noble practice from Islam with which the newborn is greeted upon entering into the first moments of this life, before any other type of food enters his/her stomach.]
Aisha reported that newborn infants used to be brought to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh). He would bless them and rub their palates with dates [tahneek] (Bukhari and Muslim).
In general, the people of knowledge recommend doing tahneek after a child is given birth. Imam Nawawi even narrated a consensus over it. However, some of the people of knowledge viewed the practice as something specific to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Shaykh Al-Uthyameen said in Fatawa Noor ‘alaa Al-Darb (6/228):
“Tahneek is the first thing that a child tastes after birth but is the practice legislated for anyone other than the Prophet (pbuh)? There is a difference of opinion over it.
There are those scholars who say that tahneek was something specific to the Messenger (pbuh) due to the blessing in his saliva and to make it the first thing that enters into the child’s stomach mixed with a date, therefore, this is not legislated for anyone other than him.
There are also those scholars who say that it is allowed for anyone and not just the Prophet (pbuh) because the purpose is to have the child’s first taste be that of dates. In other words, whoever does tahneek after a child’s birth, then there is no harm and whoever didn’t do it, then that is ok as well.”
This practice not being specific to the Prophet (pbuh) is what is generally followed by the scholars. The practice is reported from among the salaf [early generations]. There is evidence to show that the practice was well known among the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Imam Ahmad reported in his Musnad from Anas (11617):
“Umm Sulaim gave birth a to a boy one night. She disliked to do tahneek on him until the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had done so. So I carried him early morning with ajwah dates [to the Prophet (pbuh)] and found the Prophet (pbuh) rubbing tar on his camels or marking them. So I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, Umm Sulaim gave birth last night and she dislikes to do tahneek until you have done so.’ So he replied, ‘Do you have something with you?’ I said, ‘I have ajwah dates.’ So he took some of them and chewed them and then he gathered his saliva and poured it in the child’s mouth. Then the child began to lick it. Thereupon, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Love of the Ansar is dates.”
Anas’s statement in the hadith, ” She disliked to do tahneek on him until the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had done so”, shows that the practice of tahneek was well known to them.
Ibn Kathir said in Al-Bidayah wa Al-Nihayah (9/303):
“Al-Hasan Al-Basri was born during the caliphate of Umar bin Al-Khattab. He was brought to Umar and he supplicated for him and did tahneek on him.”
People of knowledge recommend that if someone cannot find dried dates, then he should use ripe dates, otherwise, anything that is sweet.
Imam Nawawi said in Sharh Sahih Muslim (14/122-123):
“The scholars have agreed on the recommendation of doing tahneek on a newborn with dates. If this is not possible, then whatever is closest to it in sweetness and meaning. The one who does the tahneek chews the dates until they become liquid [enough] to be swallowed [by the child]. Then he opens the child’s mouth and places the liquid in it so that it enters into the child’s abdomen.”