BH and I do not intend to have more children. But I’ve learnt alot since I had mine and continue to learn as each day passes. With every age your child enters, you are presented with a new set of questions and new challenges to be dealt with in as tactful a manner as possible.
Though my knowledge of parenting is limited to what I have learnt with my own children, I feel it might be useful to have a record of some things I worked hard on for other parents. One of them is namaz. I worked very hard on trying to make namaz a habit as natural as eating or drinking in my home. A cousin of mine very memorably remarked on how hard we work on our children getting good grades at school, hounding them, providing extra tuition if the need arises, worrying day and night about their progress and future. The fact of the matter is that none of us will be questioned on how well or otherwise we did at school on the day of Qiyamah. This may sound very extreme, but it is a fact. We will be questioned on whether or not we relayed the Message and whether or not it was of the utmost importance to us for our children to tread the Straight Path or the Sirat-e-Mustaqeem. If indeed we desire for our children to be the ‘coolness of eyes’ (‘qurrata a’yun’, Surah Furqan), it is imperative that we make namaz an essential starting point for them.
So I’d like to share with you how I approached the duty of namaz with my children. My youngest is seven, so we have just begun the process with her.
Laying a base – When your child is as young as three or four, make it a habit to recite a small du’a after their bedtime story each night. Break it into short phrases, asking them to repeat each phrase after you. I remember when my daughter was having nightmares. She has an over-active imagination and would get nervous every night when it was time for me to leave after reading her a story. So I began reciting the Ayat-ul-Kursi with her. It is a long prayer and I had no expectation of her ever learning it. It was just meant to quell her fears so that I could leave painlessly after reading her a story. But one night she surprised me. We had been reciting the du’a together for some time, perhaps a month, and during a pause longer than usual in my recitation, she rattled off the rest of the prayer, her eyes twinkling as she saw the surprise and joy on my face!
Start reading Surah Fatiha every night till your child knows it by heart. Move on to Surah Ikhlaq, or any other surah that can be recited after the Fatiha. To begin the namaz, these two surahs are sufficient. Half your groundwork is done.
The other half is discussing the pillars of Islam when the two of you are alone together. Don’t make it a solemn, preachy discussion. Keep it light and simple, casually weaving in the age at which children are expected to begin praying in Islam. Talk about the different times of day at which namaz is offered, what wudu is, and how close Allah is to us during namaz.
Inviting your child to namaz – When children are very little, two or three, they love to stand in the middle of your janamaz as you pray. You may find yourself bending over in rukuh over a warm, fuzzy head. They’ll collapse into sajdah as they see you prostrating yourself. The Prophet’s little grandsons would climb aboard his back as he bent over for sajdah, and he would continue praying, sometimes carrying them as he did. What a beautiful and subtle invitation to prayer!
At four or five, reciprocate your child’s enthusiasm by providing them with their own janamaz, a little topi or a little prayer veil. Let them stand beside you, even on your own prayer mat. Children love the sensation of closeness to their parent as they stand on one prayer mat. Let them copy your physical gestures.
When your child is seven years old start inviting them to one specific prayer a day. In my case this usually turned out to be maghrib. Tell them that you are going to do the maghrib prayer together. Lay out your janamaz, one for each of you. It is not necessary to impose wudu at this stage. Explain that you are going to start by doing ‘niyyah’ or thinking to yourself what you are going to do. Tell your child that they must listen carefully to what you are saying and copy what you do even if they do not know the words they will hear you say. Tell them that they are free to join in whenever they know the words. (When you do the Fatiha and Surah Ikhlas, they will realise with satisfaction that they know how to recite these surahs.) Then say the words of the niyyah out loud. ‘Ya Allah, I am about to say three rakah fard facing the Ka’aba.’ Raise your hands to say Allahu Akbar, and begin praying. Pray in a voice audible enough for your child to hear. Initially as you pray, your child will still only be following your physical actions, but as you continue to pray this particular namaz every day, they will slowly learn the words to the rest of the namaz as well. They will also learn how it is prayed, how many rakahs there are and when to recite what.
The benefit of beginning with only one namaz is its manageability. It would be too overwhelming for a child to begin more than one namaz a day. At seven, they are still quite young and it is imperative to ease them gradually into something they are expected to continue into their adult life.
Another benefit is the opportunity to provide routine. Children thrive on routine and the knowledge of what to expect at a particular time of the day makes it an easy novelty to adjust to.
For the next three or four months, one namaz a day is sufficient. Keep encouraging your child to recite the words along with you wherever they have become familiar with them. Stick to Surah Ikhlas when you pray with your child because this and the Fatiha are the cornerstones of your child’s namaz right now and it is still a very precarious balance. With even this repetition of one namaz a day, you will be surprised to see your child picking up the words to the various prayers over the course of a few weeks.
After the initial one or two weeks, you may begin explaining how to do wudu to your child. Take it one step at a time. Explain one day what wudu involves. Ask your child to watch you doing wudu the next day. Invite them to do wudu with you the third day. Let them stand on a stool at the sink so that they may wash their feet easily.
Quiz them on the various steps involved in wudu another day – it could be done on the drive home from school, or as the two of you sit together chatting about school. Always infuse such quizzes with a sense of fun and mischief. Smile, wink, high-five. Children respond to cheer. The teaching of religion to a young mind must not be a solemn, dreary thing.
At bed-time now, you may begin reciting the Attahiyat and durood sharif with your child. Name each dua so that they know which one you are referring to if you happen to talk about them in a separate context. Help them to learn these two longer prayers in the namaz.
When you are sure that your child is fairly confident with most of the namaz, it is time to add another namaz to your routine, especially on days when your child has more free time, for example on weekends or half-days from school. This usually takes place three to four months after you begin praying with your child. At seven or eight two to three namaz a day is a good number.
In my experience, nine has been a good age to start waking up my children for fajr. Don’t be afraid to do so. A good time to begin is the winter, when fajr is close to the time when children are waking up anyway for school or even, and especially, on holidays. Wake them up gently, with love in your voice and in the touch of your hands. Help them wake up. Even adults find it difficult to give up sleep for namaz. Children need all the support they can get. But if you make the mistake of not waking them up for fajr, you will make it that much harder for them to start later on in life.
Supporting your child – Whenever it is time for namaz, be the first one to get up. Never command your child to pray. Think about how you ask them to their school-work. Often, children have to be coaxed into it. Equally, namaz should not be made into a do or die business. The most effective way to influence a child is through your own example. If you are particular and regular about your namaz, you can justifiably hope that your child will be too.
Don’t refuse to pray aloud with your child if s/he asks to do so even if you don’t feel like it or are sure that your child now knows how to pray. Sometimes children derive comfort from the familiarity of praying the way they first began.
It is okay, and should be expected that your child will pull a face once in a while when you ask them to come to prayer. They may even make an excuse to get out of praying, or refuse altogether. Don’t feel disappointed. It is not the end of the world and your child will not turn out evil – not if you ask Allah consistently for help and guidance both for yourself and for your child. Ask for namaz to be made easy for all of you. Ask for Guidance and Joy in prayer. And most importantly, do not make a big deal out of these incidents. Remember that children are expected to begin praying at seven, but that this does not, by any means, imply that they should become regular namazis overnight. Children are not held accountable for minor misdemeanours until they reach puberty. If you begin guiding your child towards namaz at seven, they have plenty of time to get used to it, and get over their slips of ‘nafs’. With regular support from you, you may have a child with a firm habit of namaz by the age of thirteen, if Allah wills it.
Your teenager or tween may sometimes resort to pretending that they have said their prayers when in fact they haven’t. As a mother you will almost always know when they are not telling the truth. As a mother, it is your duty to give them the benefit of doubt and turn a blind eye, while still continuing with regular calls to prayer. This is what the essence of aqamus salata is – regular call to prayer. Keep praying for your child, every day. Ask Allah to help you in establishing prayer in your home, ask Him to guide your family to the Straight Path. If you have done your bit, I have no doubt that your prayers will be answered.