TARAWEEH, MASJID, CHILDREN—A REAL DILEMMA

ARTICLE

I know this is an emotional topic. Unfortunately, during Ramadan the masjid is often divided into two groups. Parents with young children, and people who frown on them. Both groups hold strong views and insist on their opinions. I acknowledge that this is a sensitive topic to many but let’s analyze it realistically, and in the light of Islamic mannerism.

 

Before I even start, I want to make something clear. I am not coming from a place of judgment. I am sharing my opinion, based on the knowledge I have. It is my responsibility to share it. What you do with it is your own business. You can reject this information or accept it. Either way, you will be responsible in front of Allah SWT for your decision—why you accepted it or rejected it.

 

This past Ramadan I went for taraweeh to a fairly large masjid. There were a lot of mothers with young children. By the third night, there were two groups: ostracizing elderly women and adamant young mothers.

 

SETTTING THE SCENE

 

Women prayer area was on the 2nd floor of the Masjid, completely separated from the men section. Men are not able to hear or see anything that happens in the women section and I believe that is an important point to bear in mind. During taraweeh, there were approximately 20 to 30 children under the age of 8. The children would run around screaming, shouting, and playing. They were simply being children.

 

After each set of rakah, the elderly ladies would yell at the children, chastise their mothers and force the children to sit down quietly. They would oblige for a few minutes but hey, children your own age and a large empty space are too tempting, and they would resume again. This cycle would continue all night long. It was a continuous battle between rude aunties, frustrated mothers, and children with too much energy and too little tarbiyyah (upbringing).

 

By the 15th night or so, elderly ladies had managed to get rid of most mothers with young children. They gave up and simply stopped coming to the masjid. There was a clear sense of victory among the rude aunties and they didn’t forget to mention how much better their salah was now that the children were gone. Mind you, they did yell at each other after that over the phones ringing! They insisted it was destroying their khushu (focus in Salah and presence of mind). One can argue as to why they were looking for focus externally, and not internally but let’s leave this topic for another time.

 

Going back to taraweeh with young children in the masjid, there are so many topics within this issue:

  • how to prepare young children before bringing them to the masjid
  • the role of elders in a situation like this
  • what is khushou
  • keeping children attached to the masjid and instilling its love in their hearts
  • fiqh about children in the masjid

and so much more.

 

But in my opinion, it boils down to one major topic: manners.

 

Do we really understand manners? We are supposed to be the most well-mannered people. After all, Allah SWT said:

 

“You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.” (Quran 3:110)

 

Prophet SAW said: “The best among you in Islam are those with the best manners, so long as they develop a sense of understanding.”

 

LET’S ANALYZE

 

No one in their right state of mind would agree that elderly women yelling at little kids and their mothers while standing in the middle of the prayer hall is good manners. They are doing this while chastising little children of having poor manners in the masjid.

 

They raise their voices while telling children not to be loud; themselves forgetting that women are not supposed to raise their voices in the masjid.

 

The elderly ladies chit chatted with each other before and after salah, but had a problem when children did the same—their own way.

 

Isn’t it hypocrisy?

Aren’t we, elders, the role model?

What are we teaching our children?

Why do we expect them to behave better than us?

 

That being said, let’s look at the general manners of the Masjid.

 

MANNERS OF ATTENDING THE MASJID

 

Masjid is a place of worship ONLY. Those attending should be in a state of serenity, dignity, calmness, and show respect for others. Even if we are late while going for salah, we are supposed to walk in peace and tranquility and not run to the masjid. How then do you think we are supposed to behave while already in the masjid?

 

We are not allowed to involve in small talk in the masjid. I know! It sounds incredible considering what happens in our masjids but this is the truth.

 

Anas ibn Malik (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah SAW said: “There will come a time when people will sit in circles in the mosques and they will have no concern except this world. Allah has no need of them so do not sit with them.” (Al-Mustadrak)

 

Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) set aside an area near the mosque called al-Butayha and said, “Whoever wishes to talk nonsense or recite poetry or raise his voice should go to that area.” (Al Muwatta)

 

What then about the aunties catching up on an entire year’s events during the taraweeh? And if children are seeing the adults talking, why would they sit with their arms folded? However, if all the adults are quiet, either doing dhikr or reading Qur’an, the environment will be different and will affect the children.

 

CHILDREN IN THE MASJID

 

It is very important to raise our children with a strong attachment and love for their religion, and community, and thus it is important for them to have a strong and positive attachment to the masjid from a young age, especially in non-Muslim environments. However, like in all other aspects of life, we need to use wisdom and proper etiquettes.

 

Every parent knows their child. Some children are naturally quiet and subdued while others are more energetic. You, as a parent, have to decide whether your child is capable of attending the masjid without causing distraction. According to many scholars, children under the age of six should not be attending the masjid since they are unable to self-regulate and may not even realize they are being distracting and noisy.

 

As adults, parents are responsible for their child’s behavior and thus accountable for causing distraction in the masjid. Even if the children are present in the Masjid and are being noisy, parents are responsible to make sure they are not in the prayer hall at the time of prayer if they will cause distraction.

 

It would be haram to bring children to the Masjid if they are not toilet trained and if there is reason to fear that they may soil the masjid.

 

If the children have been properly trained by their parents so they will not be a nuisance or distraction for other worshippers, and it is not feared that they will dirty the masjid (najasah), then it is not a problem to bring them.

 

Granting the children are well-behaved and have proper manners to attend the masjid, it is important for parents to ensure they are clean and are not standing next to adults during congregational prayers.

 

I know some people will guffaw at this and be dismissive. But before you do that, read my point in its entirety. Little people especially if they are younger than 6 are supposed to be playful and silly. They are not developed enough to understand the seriousness of a matter. There is a reason Prophet SAW asked us to teach children salah at the age of 7.

 

If he (SAW) wanted them in the Masjid praying any sooner, he (SAW) would give a younger age. However, we know that he (SAW) brought his little grandchildren to the masjid. There is no contradiction here. The matter is simple. If the children are manageable and won’t be distracting, bring them and be attentive to them as they are your responsibility. However, if you believe they will be disruptive, let them be comfortable in their own environments.

 

In summary…

  • Don’t bring children to the masjid if they will distract other worshippers.
  •  

  • If they are in the Masjid and are acting out of character and being distracting, be kind and remove them from the prayer hall.
  •  

  • If they are interested in praying, they should be encouraged to form a separate line behind the adults and not be in the same line as adults.

 

During the time of Prophet SAW, men used to be in the first rows, behind that were children, and behind them were women. The reason children shouldn’t be in the same line as adults is the integrity of the salah. Just in case the children are not clean, not in the state of wudhu, distracting and moving, at least the salah of responsible adults won’t be compromised. We know that children behave when they are next to their parents and not when they are in a separate line with their peers, that is why I would go back to the very first point of manners and insist that it is more important to teach them manners of the Masjid then to bring them for prayer. I will talk about how to prepare your children for the Masjid in the next section, InshaAllah.

 

WHAT TO DO IF CHILDREN MISBEHAVE IN THE MASJID 

 

If a child misbehaves in the masjid it is important to remember that children are innocent and sinless. Thus, we cannot reprimand them harshly. This may make them dislike masjid, religious people and by association, religion itself. Rather, we should treat them with gentleness and mercy, while being firm. Parents should also be reminded of their duty to take care of their children while at the Masjid, but with kindness and compassion. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Those who do not have mercy for our young and respect for our elders is not of us.” [Tirmidhi]

 

Masjids are often the only places of gathering and meeting other Muslims, especially in non-Muslim majority countries. If parents with young children don’t come to the Masjid, where will they go and meet other Muslims?

 

Islam is practical. It teaches us to find practical solutions for our situations. These parents with young children should come to the Masjid and the Masjids should be equipped to accommodate them.

 

If the Masjid is large enough to accommodate families, there should be a room for children. Any clean place, no matter how small, is enough. Make it attractive with some toys, activity books, crayons, games and you have got yourself a small nursery! Does the masjid have to provide all this? Not necessarily. If 10 families donate a small item, you have enough to keep children entertained. Any of the mothers or grandmothers can watch a few children while the mothers pray in peace.

 

Of course, there will always be those children, especially babies, who won’t stay with anyone except their mothers. Well, it is what it is! If the child won’t stay without you, you stay with them. Either in the play area or at home. However, you can slowly prepare the child to be more social and comfortable in busy environments like a Masjid. We will discuss this in the next section, InshaAllah.

 

PREPARING YOUR CHILDREN FOR THE MASJID

 

Children, like adults, are creatures of habit. You can train them to behave in a certain way. Children are a blessing of Allah SWT for us, not an annoyance. If they are becoming an annoyance, then we are doing something wrong. We can train them to be a part of our lives and adjust to our routines. All it takes is knowledge, patience, and consistency.

 

So, how can we train children for the masjid, especially for longer worships like taraweeh in Ramadan?

  1. Make sure the child is well-fed and clean before being brought to the masjid. If the child is hungry or his diaper needs changing, obviously he is going to cry. That’s not a problem with the child, rather with the parent. On a side note, make sure you bring snacks, diapers, and clean set of clothes for the children in case they are needed.
  1. Adjust your child’s sleeping schedule, especially if they are under 3 years of age. It is not that difficult to adjust children’s sleeping schedule, however, it needs to be done gradually. Start a month or more before Ramadan. If they sleep around 7 PM and you will be going to the masjid around 8 PM, start moving their schedule 5 minutes ahead every other day until they are sleeping around the time you need to be at the Masjid. If your child is a sound sleeper, he will sleep anywhere, hence the expression…sleeping like a baby.

     

    Now we know there are few fortunate parents whose babies ‘sleep like a baby’. Babies are often crabby sleepers, especially if out of their comfort zones. If your baby gets agitated when not in his regular space, have mercy on them and let them sleep in their own room. Allah SWT knows your intention and will reward you for your worship even if you are not in the Masjid.

     

    However, if you think your child will sleep through if tired enough, tire them out. Let them have an active play for a few hours before bringing them to the Masjid. People are often under wrongful impression that if children are active, they will continue on being jumpy. That is not the case. Ask any professional. Once the children have adequate physical activity, they will naturally calm down and be more focused. That is the concept behind ‘recess’ during the school day. Let children play, jump, run, skip, hop, go crazy for a couple of hours before bringing them to the masjid.

  1. Dress them comfortably and bring a small blanket so they can sleep if they need to rest.
  1. Bring a quiet activity for each of your children—a book, coloring book, crayons, puzzle, a quiet toy—whatever they like. Don’t bring too many things as they can cause distraction and the child will lose focus instead of being busy. While you are at it, express the spirit of Ramadan and bring additional things for those mothers who are not as well-prepared. This can be silent dawah for them and you gently teach another mother what to do in such situations.
  1. TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN. I can’t emphasize this enough. You must talk to your children even if they are babies. Talk to them like you would talk to an adult. Tell them what their schedule will be like, where they will go and what they will see. Explain to them that we will go to the Masjid. We will listen to Quran. Mama will pray. Tell them they can either pray, read or must sit quietly. Let them know your EXPECTATIONS. If children know and understand what is expected of them, they will behave accordingly. It is so important to converse with your children as opposed to commanding them to do this or don’t do this. Learn to talk to your children and teach them to engage with you.
  1. Show them where they should stay once you are in the Masjid, granted they are 3 and older and understand what you are asking of them. If you lay out a small blanket on the carpet or point out where they should be, you are creating a safe physical space for them; something they understand and can adhere to.
  1. Give them reward for their good behavior. Treat them to dessert or a small toy the next day if they behave well at the Masjid. You can even have them bring a small treat for other children at the Masjid and distribute it to them as a reward for their good manners.
  1. Ramadan is a time for creating memories. You want to associate Ramadan with goodness and happiness in their minds. Let them wear a special perfume, or a new kufi or hijab, buy them a small prayer rug of their own; anything to create a special memory for Ramadan and something they look forward to. Contrariwise, if you yell at them in the masjid, pinch them, squeeze their arm till it hurts to get them to listen to you, you are not only being an oppressor to your children and displaying ill-manners in the house of Allah SWT, you are actually creating negative associations in your children’s memories and indirectly making them dislike being in the Masjid.
  1. Last but not least, it’s you! The way you respect Ramadan, they will do the same. If you revere going to the Masjid, they will do the same. If you have good manners and low voice at the Masjid, even when you are being firm with them and giving them warnings, they will know how to speak at the Masjid. If you put your shoes on the shoe rack, they will do the same. If you don’t engage in any unnecessary conversation because you are purely there for the purpose of worship, they will do the same. Let your children see you respect the Masjid, especially the prayer hall. Once you leave the prayer hall, be friendly with everyone but once you are in there, belong to none but Allah SWT.

     

    Bottom line is…it is us!

     

    We are the role models for our future generations. Mothers, sisters, random Masjid aunties, we are all influencing our future generations—directly or indirectly, loudly or silently. Be the best influence you can be. Display the best manners to Allah SWT and to the creation of Allah. Nothing you do is insignificant, especially for your children. They are watching us. They are listening to us. And they are imitating us.

     

    May Allah SWT allow us to be worthy of being called ‘the best nation’. Ameen.

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