The Child's First Participation in a Religious
- :Mohamed A. Khalfan
There always comes a time when a child is seen old enough to be taken for the first time to a mosque. He has some knowledge of tahaarat (cleanliness) and ehteraam (respect) for the mosque.
Incidentally, that is also the age when the child can be allowed the benefit of his "first impression to be his lasting one" with regard to his first experiences that he comes across in his life and the values attached to them.
Parents need to believe and make the child also believe that his first participation in a congregational prayer is a momentous occasion for him and for the family, which indeed is, if only they knew!
The first impact and impression of the child regarding the occasion will leave lasting imprints in his memory. A person belongs to where his memories are. Some child- hood memories always survive sharply to create the desire to relive the occasions. And he later in his adult life relives the occasion like this sub-consciously by maintaining regularity in the attendance of daily prayers.
Planning & Preparation
But this has to be preceded by an enthusiastic planning and ostentatious preparation for the child to notice. So the child's inquisitive nature makes him attentive to the talk going on around him about certain prior arrangements and time-schedules, and he knows in his own small way that there is in the air an important occasion out. His interest however, sharpens with great expectations when he hears the debate whether he is old enough for his first participation -and if he is, what smart clothes he can put on.
The child's first attendance inside a mosque should be planned as a big favour from the parents and accorded an appropriate ostentation and importance. To register a maximum importance of the occasion on the child, the day fixed is later than earlier to plunge him into a longer duration of raised expectations so that he has also time to raise the subject of the anticipated big day in the family and reveal it in confidence to the neighbours' children.
The plan should provide for an early arrival at the mosque to enable the child, in his new suitable dress for the occasion, to be taken round for the inspection of the facilities and general familiarisation so that he begins to feel "at home". He is introduced to relatives and family-friends in the mosque before and to some after the congregational prayer and later to the Imam of the congregation also. The introduction is by his name to accord him a self-identity and acknowledge his distinct personality.
What is needed to be avoided however, is the regimental warning of 'dos and donts' while in the mosque or pointing out to the child his mistakes in observing the discipline of the congregational prayer, and more importantly, avoiding the day when there is a sermon and lengthy proceedings. Children cannot maintain concentration longer at a stretch.. Spells of boredom are counter-productive.
The first participation in the mosque serves only as a maiden experience to sink in and not as a start for a regular attendance. The subsequent attendance should be at intervals, preferably at the child's own request to be followed by an incentive like a visit to a candy shop or an ice-cream parlour before returning home.
The child, when adult and himself a parent, will cherish the memory of such first experience and think very kindly of his parents when they are deceased. The parents and the mosque become linked for a centre place in the memory. He cannot belong to the parents when they are no more in this world, but he belongs to the euphoric memories in which they feature! In a good Muslim family a child's best and lingering memories are of the parents taking pain to teach him the obligations in Islam.
Adapted from the book: "Child" by: "Mohamed A. Khalfan"
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