Islamic Training at an Early Age
So the question arises as to what makes a child so interested in religion at a young age that their interest stays high when they reach those horrid years of adolescence, where peer pressure is at its highest and all that matters is television and music.
There unfortunately comes a time in many parents’ lives where they begin to ask the question: “where did we go wrong?” In regards to their children, of course.
I’m not saying every child is bad, or that no parents are happy with their children’s behavior, but it is a very common for parents to criticize their children, and to never seem happy and content, because they always want progress.
When it comes to a child’s religiosity, parents become very concerned. So what is a parent to do, especially when the time rolls around for the coming of age, or when some acts, like prayers and become obligatory? It is a scary thought.
We see a huge spectrum in terms of “interest” in religion throughout our young Muslims. Some are very involved, interested, and eager to learn about Islamic history, or Islamic politics, or helping out in Sunday school, and of course the hype in activism in the centers and conferences. And we see on the other end of the spectrum young Muslims who just may not show that type of interest in their religion. They may not be too picky about praying on time, or even praying, period. Some care about praying, but aren’t big on eating Halal meat, or sporting a beard or Hijab. The combinations are endless!
So the question arises as to what makes a child so interested in religion at a young age that their interest stays high when they reach those horrid years of adolescence, where peer pressure is at its highest and all that matters is television and music. There is an “under the table” debate that goes on, in my opinion, regarding how to raise your child so that they continue to, are eager, and want to learn about Islam as well as practice it as it should be. There is the side that says, at a young age, force your kids. Make them pray even when they don’t know what it is. Put a leash on them when it is time for majalis in the month of Muharram, so that they sit and listen, even when they are four years old. Force them to go to Arabic classes, or classes which will teach them to read the Holy Qur’an. The combinations, again, are endless.
And there is the side that says, let your child learn by watching. Of course, this happens anyway. But this side usually thinks along the lines of, if your kids see you praying, they will naturally start doing it on their own too. Which is true, as many of us can bear witness we’ve seen a three year old kid doing a one-second sujood backwards and then rolling over. But what about when they turn seven or eight, and it becomes “I don’t feel like it”? Most of can bear witness to that as well.
We know from many narrations that our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) have said to start telling your kids to pray at age seven, so that they will be ready and in the habit to pray by age nine.
My parents were on the side of “force your kids”. It’s all I know. I remember wanting so badly to go outside and run with the other kids during the majlis when I was around nine or 10 years old, but my mom would never let me. And today, I am so grateful. I guess it just worked for me that way. I still remember praying in little dresses and short sleeve shirts as a kid, but the point is, it became a habit. I remember my brother, before becoming of age, waking up before sunrise with all of us to eat his share and fast because my parents wanted him in the habit. Sure, it may have taken almost 12 years for that forcing to have turned into good outcome, in the sense that now, on my own, I am eager to listen to a speech or hear a hadith that I didn’t know. On our car rides home after a program at the mosque, it was my mom complaining to my dad about how many times she had to tell me or my little sister to stop going outside and to stay put, but thankfully now, we do it all on our own!
I am in no way saying that only by sitting in a lecture or gathering shows that a person is eager to learn. There are countless ways – internet, books, online classes, etc. – in which a person can gain knowledge. But let’s be honest here, when we look around today in our community centers, it’s full of elders. I’m not saying it’s a bad habit, but where are our future leaders? Why has that interest and that eagerness to learn and to teach back not been instilled in our communities’ youngsters?
It is definitely a battle all parents go through, a tough choice. I for one, and for now anyway, plan on doing it the way my parents did with me. I want my kids to be in the habit, and even though it may not be meaningful, it will, God willing, grow into a questioning mind that will then search for the real meaning of why we pray and make it more sincere. The same goes with fasting and with mourning the tragedy of Karbala.
There is no one way, or right way, but it is definitely something all of us should think about in order to keep our future bright and shining with young Muslims ready to learn about who they are, what they believe, and how to guide the world with our beautiful beliefs.