WHEN MY DAUGHTER was about a year and a half, I dared to venture to the masjid for Tarawih one night. I had been trying to stay away from the masjid when she was younger because she was hard to control and I knew she would be disruptive.
Although she was still young, at one and a half, I thought she was ready. She knew not to speak to us when we were performing salah and always waited for the second taslim to talk, whine and even cry. She absolutely loved to take out her miniature salah rug and pray along with us at home.
I chose to try this on a weekday, since there would be fewer people in the masjid if my brilliant plan went wrong. After the first takbir, she looked at me, smiled and stood beside me. At the end of Surat Al-Fatihah, she let out a roaring “AAMEEEN!” When the salah was over, I told her what a great job she did and gave her a big hug. I was so happy that after two years of pregnancy and motherhood, I could finally come back to the masjid. Just as I stood up to make the Sunnah salah, a woman approached me and told me that bringing children to the masjid is completely unacceptable and causes disturbance.
Utterly shocked, offended and crushed, I left the masjid and headed home. All the way home, I was thinking of the little things that my daughter could have done to cause a disturbance. Was it when she said “Aameen”? The men said that pretty loudly, too. Could that really cause such a disturbance that the sister would entirely lose her concentration? For some people it could.
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Was I wrong to bring her to the masjid? Was my daughter too young? I always wanted to expose my children to the masjid as early and as often as I could so that it would be as comfortable as a second home for them when they got older.
As the night progressed, my confusion turned into resentment. How dare she ask me to leave the House of Allah in the blessed month of Ramadan? Did this woman not have any children? Did she even base her comment on pure, authentic Islamic knowledge or was it merely her personal preference? I ran to my computer and started searching Quran and hadith databases.
After a little while, I found the hadith I was looking for.
The hadith reports that the Messenger was leading one of the afternoon salahs with one of his grandsons. He put the child down by his right foot and commenced the salah. During the salah, he made a very long prostration. One of the Companions raised his head to see if everything was OK and saw the child on the back of the Prophet. After the salah was completed, the people said, “O Messenger of Allah! In the middle of your salah, you performed prostration and lengthened it so much that we thought either something had happened or that you were receiving revelation!” To that he replied, “Neither was the case. Actually, my grandson made me his mount, and I did not want to hurry him until he had satisfied his wish.” (Nasa’i, Ibn ‘Asakir and Al-Hakim)
One of the Companions witnessed the messenger of Allah praying and carrying his grand-daughter Umamah, the daughter of Zainab bin Muhammad. When he prostrated, he put her down, and when he stood, he carried her on his neck. (Bukhari and Muslim)
These were not actions or justifications from an Imam at a local masjid. This was the Messenger of Allah!
I did not stop there. I continued searching and found another hadith. Prophet Muhammad once said,
When I stand for salah, I intend to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut it short, as I dislike to trouble the child’s mother. (Bukhari)
These hadiths, among others, proved that not only were there women at the masjid, but there were young children as well.
I’m sure I am not the only mother who has had this sort of negative experience. If Islam teaches us to show love and mercy to our children, why are our Islamic Centers and their people so intolerant to them?
The problem is not our Islamic Centers or their people. It is we, the parents. Some of us have absolutely no control over our children—of any age—when we bring them to the masjid and its events. We let them yell, scream, damage, destroy and disturb with very little or no disciplinary action taken. Unfortunately, as some of us have experienced, it has gotten to the point where people actually cringe at the sight of kids! The sister who approached me was probably trying to stop a problem before it started.
In order to run an efficient and kid-friendly masjid, it starts with the parents. We have to teach our children how to respect the masjid and its people. My daughter, now four years old, and my son, who is two and a half, know fully well that they should whisper when they are in the masjid. Does this mean that they never let out a loud sound? Absolutely not. Do they always walk around and not in front of the people performing salah? Most of the time. They are still very young. All this means that it is fully possible for children that young to learn to respect the masjid.
Here are some tips on planning a family trip to the masjid:
- Clearly explain to the child what behaviors are unacceptable at the masjid. Be sure to state the consequences and fulfill them if these behaviors are exhibited.
- Out of respect for others, please do not bring your children to the masjid if they do not feel well. This will not only cause them to be abnormally cranky, but will put other people’s health at risk as well.
- Be prepared to leave if your children, especially babies, become uncontrollable. You don’t necessarily have to leave the masjid, just leave the room.
- If childcare is unavailable, bring along quiet toys, stories, coloring, and similar activities to keep them occupied.
- If possible, involve the child in what you are doing. Performing salah, reading Quran or making du’a’
For all this to be possible, wisely use your judgment as to whether your children are ready or not. Practice by taking them to the masjid when there are fewer people around. I think it’s nice for children to attend Maghrib Salah a few days a week. Not only does this give them the opportunity to practice whispering and good behavior in the masjid, but it will also help them memorize Surat Al-Fatihah since it is recited out loud in Maghrib Salah.
Children are the future of our Ummah. Children are also just that—children. If we chase them out when they are young, we don’t know if they will come back when they are older. Always remember the hadith,
He who does not show mercy, no mercy would be shown to him. (Muslim)