“Please refrain from bringing little children to the mosque in order to maintain its sanctity,” reads a poster on the wall of the women's section at a local mosque in Karachi nowadays, i.e. during Ramadan – the month during which women flock to the mosques for praying taraweeh. Although those young mothers, who nevertheless bring their wards along in complete disregard of the sign, are not denied entry, a stern eye is still kept on their children's behavior. Any rowdiness is immediately curbed by the mosque's female caretakers, who also intermittently issue reminders to the praying women to keep their rows straight.
I find this quite preposterous, and not just because I have young children. I remember how, when I would pray at masjid Al-Nabawi during my Hajj journey a few years ago, as the imām would start obligatory prayer in congregation, the whole women's section would start resounding with the collective bawl of infants as their mothers stood up and left them lying on the carpet. Toddlers would whine at their mothers' feet, clinging to their abaya's and crying in protest at seeing her loving attention turn into indifference, and her embrace suddenly disappear into thin air.
At the start of this Ramadan, I couldn't wait to pray taraweeh in congregation again. That is because, for the last two years, my second born was initially just 2 months old and the following year, a sprinty 14-month-old toddler prone to run off recklessly if left unsupervised. This year, however, when I asked my husband to keep one child with him at the local street mosque, intending to pray there in the women's section while keeping the other child with me, he gave a shocking response.
“The mosque has denied entrance to children under the age of 7. They just announced this.”
I could not believe my ears! This was not just any mosque. It is one of the more reputed mosques of Karachi, with a solid foundation based on the Qurʾān and Sunnah. It also runs an authentic program of Islamic education in its intrinsic madrassah (Islamic school). I decided to give them a call to make sure. The imām who answered the phone confirmed the news.
“But both my children are under 7. I live nearby and it will cause me some difficulty to go farther away to pray taraweeh,” I protested.
“If it were up to me, I would never disallow children from coming,” he reassured, “It is on the repeated complaints and requests of the women in the women's section that we have enforced this restriction.”
“I am sure you know that our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] never stopped children from coming to his mosque. In fact, he led the prayer with his granddaughter Umaamah held up in his arms.”
“Yes, but have you heard of the narration in which he sternly reprimanded his grandsons from running in the mosque? If children are rowdy inside, they can be reprimanded.”
Since I had heard of no such narration, I kept silent. I also reminded myself that since its Ramadan, arguments should be avoided, particularly with custodians of mosques; he hung up.
What saddened me was the revelation that it was the repeated complaints of women in the mosque that children under 7 had been disallowed entry during taraweeh.
I was reminded of a similar incident during taraweeh a few years ago, at the congregation held in the lawn of a private home where Al-Huda classes are held, which I attended diligently every year. After the witr ended, as the women in the separate ladies' section were still sitting in tashahhud and making du‘ā’, an elderly lady sitting on a chair suddenly started shouting to the crowd, turning her head from side to side, “Alright, that's enough! Where are the mothers of these rowdy children that have disturbed my whole prayer? Please stand up. Why don't you all control your children? Their running around and screaming has disturbed me throughout! Here….this boy, whose son is he?”
I, unmarried then, looked down in embarrassment and thought, “Oh boy. May Allāh help the mothers of these children now.” I recognized an acquaintance of mine as she stood up, her eyes lowered with humiliation, admitting in a low voice, “He's mine.” She walked calmly to her son, who was standing still, wide-eyed with embarrassment, and took him away, as the elderly lady went on:
“I will complain to the imām and ask him to stop these children from coming to the taraweeh. They are uncontrollable. Please don't bring your children if they can not behave themselves.”
The next night, during break in taraweeh, the imām addressed this issue in an unexpected manner that took the women's congregation by surprise. He said, “I have a point of view about children coming to prayer that is very different from others. I say: let them come and listen to the Qurʾān, and watch everyone pray. The Qurʾān will enter their hearts and they will have fond memories of Ramadan and taraweeh when they grow up. Please practice patience like our Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] did, who would not lift up his head from sujood if his grandson sat on it during prayer.”
This advice by the imām was very similar to that given by Sheikh Abdul Nasir Jangda in his recent post on taraweeh, in which he claimed how his regular yearly visits to the mosque for taraweeh during childhood, became the incentive behind his eventually wanting to memorize the entire Qurʾān. Today, he leads taraweeh every year during Ramadan, alḥamdulillāh.
It Takes Two To Tango
Although I, by no means, endorse negative reactions towards having children at taraweeh (which, in my experience of observation, usually come from older women), I can see where they are coming from. An unruly, rowdy child that has not been trained on how to behave at the mosque, definitely becomes a nuisance for those praying there, making them lose out not just on their patience but also on their khushoo during ṣalāh.
The responsibility of children's behavior at mosques rests totally on the parents' shoulders. Parents of young children should train the latter on how to behave at a mosque or congregational prayer, if they want to bring them along. They should come amply prepared for any worse case scenarios that can occur wherever there are little kids. Such preparation can help prevent the extreme reactions of others, whose irritation with the antics of little children entices them to instigate banning their entry into mosques. Here are a few tips:
- Train children to take off their shoes and place them properly at designated places in the mosque. It is very irritating for someone who is praying to have a child with shoes on, walk or run over their clean musallah (prayer rug).
- Never let your child take up space in the rows designated for people to pray in. Instead, you can occupy the latter rows that are usually empty on either side, or the corners of the first rows, so that your child can sit or lie next to a wall or the end of the prayer hall, with you on his or her other side. This will ensure that your baby or child does not create gaps in the saf (prayer row), which affects the validity of congregational prayer.
- Do not feed a child a large meal or lots of drink before coming to the mosque; this will inevitably make a trip to the toilet, or a diaper emergency, imminent, causing distractions during prayer. Check and put on a fresh diaper just before leaving for taraweeh.
- Although basically I am not a big fan of making children snack at places designated for other activities, parents can bring along light snack-type finger food, which will not crumble or leave a stain e.g. diced carrots, nuts, stick cheese, or dates. This should be done as a contingency measure, in case hunger overcomes the child; as all parents know, a hungry child is a cranky child. Parents can also bring along water or milk in tightly sealed bottles or sippy-cups that are spill-proof, to deal with children's thirst brought on by the heat.
- If any wrappers are left after snacking, teach your children to place them back into their food box or bag. Note: if the mosque prohibits food, you should obey instructions and not bring any; rather, feed your child a light snack just before leaving; one that is enough to prevent hunger for an hour or two.
- Teach your children, however young they may be, about “amanaat“: i.e. things which belong to others are 'trusts' that should not be touched, taken or used. This applies especially in the mosque, as people are praying, and hence they cannot immediately stop a child from handling their handbag, mushaf, cell phone or other personal belongings. An older sibling can be made in-charge of ensuring that the younger ones do not touch others' things.
- Bring along some crayons and a coloring book for older children to scribble on. Again, ensure that there is no clutter on the mosque floor as a result of their activities.
- If your infant/toddler has a favorite toy, security blanket or pillow, bring it along so that s/he stays pacified, or even dozes off during prayer next to you.
- If the mother's infant starts crying, she should pick it up to stop the bawl, and if that doesn't work, she should take a break from her prayer and nurse it. Do not wait until the imām's tasleem to pick him or her up. This will cause chagrin to the others who are praying.
- If your toddler comes crying to you during prayer for some reason, pick him up during prayer to pacify him.
- Teach your children, as soon as they are able to understand it (which, in my experience, is after the age of two) that no one should speak when the Qurʾān is being recited. The best way to do this is to not respond verbally to your child, no matter how much he or she prods you to, when the Qurʾān audio is playing; if you need to speak, turn off the audio first, when an āyah ends, then do so. Eventually, children will start to imitate this behavior of their parents i.e. they will automatically stop talking when they hear the Qurʾān recitation commence. At the mosque during taraweeh, the same children will therefore, only speak when the imām and congregation is in tashahhud, rukoo or sujood. Shouting and talking during the recitation of the Qurʾān is of course, something that should not be undermined or left unchecked. Again, as I said, if the parents never talk during Qurʾān recitation, only then will the children also remain silent, likewise.
As for those of my sisters in Islam who, for whatever reasons, can not attend taraweeh at the mosque or in other privately-held congregations, and who, after reading this article, might be feeling that they are missing out on the rewards of night prayer during Ramadan by praying supererogatory prayers at home on their own, I can leave them with no reassurance better than the one below:
Narrated by Ibn 'Umar: Allāh's Messenger [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said: “Do not prevent women from mosques, even though their prayer at home is better (for them).” [Abu Dawud]
And the best advice for their menfolk:
Narrated Salim from his father, Abdullah Bin Umar, the Messenger of Allāh [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said: ”When women ask permission for going to the mosque, do not prevent them.” [Sahih Muslim]
In the end, I'd just like to say that as a mother of two children, aged 4 and 2, I can testify that it is indeed possible for mothers to train their children to follow proper mosque etiquette, and to be strict with them regarding rules of behavior, and its do's and don'ts. Believe me, you can make them behave well; all it needs is some wisdom and tact; some privileges which you can threaten to take away (“No more pineapples for you!”)….…..and a pair of eyes that can shoot daggers at the drop of a hat! :)
Take a look: