Age 5 and the Book of Allāh:
Memorization before the age of 2: Many people wonder when is the best time to begin a more structured relationship with with the Qur'an. In my experience, children are best equipped to study and retain the Words of Allāh beginning at the age of five. Some indirect memorization may start at the age of 2, such as reciting to them every night Ayat al-Kursi. The next step is to encourage them to repeat each word with the parent, which enables them to quickly memorize the verse. Similarly, any athkar or surah can be taught even before they turn four.
Some parents may possess particular interest in their children memorizing the Qurʾān in its entirety. Many parents have asked me about the age I started with my own children, which was age 5. The exact process that I went through, inshā'Allāh, will be a topic for another article.
However, not every child is meant to be a hafith of the entire Qurʾān. Nevertheless, every child must build a relationship with the Book of Allāh.
Go over the meanings: Sit with them for an hour a day, every day, and read one page or even less of the Qur'an. Then the translation and the explanation of the verses should be discussed and pondered over. They may/will not master the explanation or tafseer, or even the meaning of every verse, but it will help form and enhance a relationship with the Speech of Allāh, and at least something will register in their minds which inshā'Allāh will bring about positive results later in their lives.
Difficult ayahs: Some ayahs are difficult to understand, even after reading the explanation. This shouldn't worry a parent, and it is okay to just read the meaning without elaborating, such as the verses related to the rulings of inheritance or divorce. Children will ask questions and they can simply be told that they will have a better understanding of these verses when they are older, inshā'Allāh, and that the topic of these verses do not apply to them at their current age. At least they will remember that Islam has every aspect of life covered and later in their lives when they need answers, inshā'Allāh they will know that they can turn to the Qur'an. There is always good in the Speech of Allāh, although we may not pay attention at times. Still, the words of Allāh hold great wisdom and guidance.
Books of ahadith: Once we are through explaining the Qur'an to our children, we can begin with a book of hadith, or Prophetic sayings, as well. Specific recommendations are the book Riyad-ul-Salihin, which deals with the manners and character of a Muslim, and Bulugh-al-Maram, which tackles our everyday fiqh issues. However, first and foremost we know that we must be thorough in explaining to them the Qur'an.
A world of imagination: The stories of the Prophets, people of the past, hellfire, paradise, and so forth that are contained in the Qur'an all help towards the Islamic upbringing of our children. They have strong imaginations and we, as parents, must use that power to help them imagine matters of reality. I was once listening to a research by child psychologists about how reading books to children helps them imagine different worlds because children have a very strong sense of imagination. So, as capable as they are of imagining a world of dinosaurs or princesses, they possess even more brain power to imagine the Madīnah of the Prophet, salla Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, the Day of Judgement, Hell and the beautifulJannah. When we go over these subjects, we help them understand the concept of a Creator, instill in their hearts love for Allāh as well as, of course, love for the Prophet and his companions.
Empty recitation vs. “meaningful” recitation: I firmly believe that empty recitation of the Qur'an which is enforced by many parents at an early age upon their children really doesn't benefit them much. They recite without even knowing what they are reading, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why they fail to develop a connection with Qur'an because it remains an “alien” book for them. Going over the meanings may slow down the process of recitation, but is okay to go slow and know what is being recited, because what they learn at that early age will stick with them for the rest of their lives, inshā'Allāh. Hence my sincere advice to the parents is to take advantage of this young age.
Instilling Khuluq or Manners of a Muslim:
The teaching of the religion must be accompanied by instilling Islamic manners and the characteristics of a positive Muslim. This should be done with inspirational stories from the Prophet, salla Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam and his companions, and a reminder of why we should develop the Akhlaq of a true Muslim.
Among many virtues that we should aim to teach are:
- Overlooking shortcomings of others
- Giving the benefit of the doubt
- Concentrating on their families' and friends' good traits
- Hiding their families' and friends' mistakes
- Anger control
- Clean language
- Make du‘ā’ for others
- Rights of our neighbors, even if they are non-Muslims
- Treating younger ones with love
- Offering the best to the guests
During the workshop, I usually expound more using specific examples on how to help implement various positive traits. However, due to the length of this article, I would prefer avoiding long discussions. Still, to give a small example, we don't have to wait for our children to become older or anything major to happen before we can start instilling these traits in their lives. We should remind them from an early age and on a regular basis, like, during normal fights/arguments with siblings or friends to be patient or forgiving. It maybe a good idea to post the ayahs that encourage us to forgive on their room's wall, and direct their attention to those ayahs every time they get angry. Plus, we as parents, must praise and appreciate our children as well for implementing these virtuous traits.
If they complain about someone, which children normally do, we should encourage them to concentrate on the good habits of the person they may be complaining about and overlook the weaknesses of that person, unless it is a “harmful” weakness.
In short, remember that these characteristics are best taught through a parent's own actions first. We must take this opportunity to improve our own akhlaq, dealings with others, and develop a positive Muslim personality. And while we ourselves practice these traits in our lives with our friends and overcome a difficult situation in a positive way, we must share that experience with our children. It is not to brag about oursevles, rather to encourage our children, share highs and lows, and build a sense of “team work.”
Challenges around the Age of Seven and Onwards:
If a parent has maintained good communication with his/her children, built a relationship between them and the Qur'an, and kept steadfast with du‘ā’ to seek the help of Allāh, then by Allāh's Mercy the next few years should not be too strenuous. Though, keep in mind that these ages are rough estimates. Every parent, especially mothers, should know her child well enough to understand their level of maturity and judge accordingly.
Our parenting skills go through a challenging stage when children are between the ages of seven and ten. This age requires motivation and inspiration, with a lot more emphasis on positive reinforcement. Also, this is the age when children start opening up a lot more. Up until this age the parent had to initiate a “friendship” but around age 7 or 8 children are ready to reciprocate. They begin to seek out a friend to lend an ear and if the parent, especially the mother, is not available they will resort to seeking elsewhere.
Communication is the KEY
I cannot emphasize enough the importance and necessity of talking to our children, to eliminate the “generation gap,” to understand their world, and to make them understand ours. Even if an effort was not exerted to build good communication with them before the age of 7-8, it can still be done because, as I said earlier, it is usually around this age when they look for a “talking-buddy.”
Communication with children doesn't have to be organized or conducted in a formal or scheduled meeting. It should actually come naturally, at any time of the day, such as while driving, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or even during household chores. Talk to them about their day, their friends, other family members, siblings, school, stuff that interest them like computers, games, sports, etc. Tell them about yourself, your day, your school, your interests, the activities you are involved in, your friends, and your experiences. Remember, for them to open up to us, we MUST open up to them first. It's a two-way street. There should not be ANY topic that we cannot discuss with our children. There should not be ANY question that they cannot approach us with. Make sure that we verbalize this to our children, such as saying “You can talk to me about anything” or “Ask me any questions you want and don't feel shy and don't be hesitant.”
Once a teenager told me when she was young her mother encouraged her to open up to her, saying that she could ask her mother about anything she wanted. Of course she popped the common question,
“Where do babies come from?”
Her mother's reply was,
“Well, other than this question, you can ask me anything!”
This mother missed a golden opportunity to open up lines of communication between herself and her child. Such uncomfortable issues that are inevitably raised by a human mind must not be put off or lied about. A parent would not appreciate their child receiving answers elsewhere that may not suit them, so they need to directly address their question with age-appropriate answers.
The offer we give our children for them to open up to us should not just be mere words spoken, and when they dare ask us a difficult or embarrassing question we end up biting their heads off. While staying calm, an answer can be given that does not have to include all the gory details.
On the other hand, parents may raise a number of concerns:
- What happened to haya and adopting modest speech?
- Why do we need to talk to our children about such issues?
- Our parents didn't talk to us about these issues so why is it deemed a necessity to talk to our children about them?
- My child will lose her/his “innocence” if I address these issues.
- Why can't my child learn these issues at school?
inshā'Allāh, we will discuss these questions in detail next week!