DEVOTIONAL TRAINING OF CHILDREN
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This article deals with some guidelines for educating and training children regarding ritual prayers and other worship. It also attempts to illustrate certain devotional conditions of children, referring to some traditions. Ritual prayer is the manifestation of man’s servitude before Almighty God. It is a means for the frail and needy being to worship and pay homage to the Omnipotent and Almighty God, who is free from want. Prayer is like a secluded spot where this feeble and rebellious creature, man, can talk about his secrets and needs before Allah who is closer to him than his jugular vein. In a way, he confides in, pours out his heart to the Lord, and asks Him about the right path to deliverance. This is how prayer connects this disobedient and helpless being to the boundless origin. In short, this is the manifestation of man’s submission. Saying prayer is incumbent upon man. Indeed, such incumbency is in line with the course of nature and substance of man, because if man forgets he is a creature, how unstable and wretched he would be! He, the tired, wounded, grimy and untidy man washes away all uncleanness; he cleanses himself from the dust covering his wisdom, and frees himself from weakness. We all know that certain conditions have been set for attaining puberty and becoming bound to perform religious precepts. A person’s wisdom, maturity and capability of performing such duties are greatly stressed, but obligatory deeds, which are beyond one’s tolerance, are not permissible. Since our subject of discussion is daily prayer during childhood, from three general conditions for puberty, we direct our attention to the axis of prayer. Saying prayer is not obligatory for children; why? Is it because they are not competent and capable of saying prayers? Alternatively, is it because they lack intellect and perception? On the other hand, is it because they have not reached puberty? Apparently, all three are important and bear upon the subject matter. Defining the term “puberty” is rather difficult. Are we considering a particular age or looking for some physical signs? Alternatively, do both combined hold a concept for puberty? At any rate, it is evident that a child is not bound to any obligation. In terms of law, he is not competent enough to handle financial affairs or take on any type of social responsibility, since he comes short of having the common sense, perception and insight necessary. On one hand, his physical and mental capability is limited; on the other hand, he lacks physical maturity. Considering all this, now the question under discussion is: Why is “worship” not incumbent upon children? For certain types of worship, like fasting, some traditions (narrations) it is stated that a child lacks enough tolerance for thirst and hunger, therefore whenever he acquires such level of endurance, he becomes bound to fast. Sexual maturity is not considered either; in marriage and divorce, it finds substance, but in ritual prayer and fasting, it does not assume enough clarity and significance. There is a third point to be looked. Does a child have enough perception and common sense to worship?

Here, a distinction should be made as far as different stages of childhood are concerned. A child does not acquire a clear perception and understanding about God and worship till the ages of 3-4 while ritual prayer comes secondary to perceiving the existence of the Great Lord, His presence and man’s accepting his status as a created being. From the age of five on, a child’s mind gradually gains the necessary readiness and alertness to perceive the existence of God and servitude. This point has been mentioned in a number of traditions. Therefore, regarding the importance and sensitivity of faith and belief in God, and the order of reward and punishment on one hand, and child’s delicate mind and his tendency towards being conditioned and taking shape on the other hand, we should acquaint his mind and soul with the existence of Almighty God and religious order. By elaborating on the existence of God and the status of worship, we develop a fondness in his/her while accustoming him/her to such concepts so that in later years, the religious orders and beliefs and faith in God, servitude and devotion become engraved on his/her mind and soul. In such a manner, due to habit, performing precepts like, ritual prayer do not appear so difficult a task; thus based on the general order of attaining puberty, performing worship such as daily prayers should not be neglected during childhood and teen years. It is interesting that, in many traditions, much emphasis has been put on this matter, and encouraging children to say daily prayers is strongly recommended.

Imam Sadiq (P) quoted his father as saying, “We command our children to say the daily prayers when they reach the age of five, and so, you order your children to perform this deed when they reach the age of seven”.

Abdullah Ibn Fazaleh quotes either Imam Sadiq (P) or Imam Baqir (P) (the uncertainly is due to the narrator), “I heard him saying: “The youngster is left to him/herself till the age of seven, then whenever he crosses this age, he is told to wash his face and two hands, then he is told to say prayers. He is left in this manner until the age of nine; then he is taught how to perform his ablution and great effort and diligence is required concerning this deed. So when a child learns ablution and the ritual prayers this way, his parents, God willing, would receive absolution and blessings from Allah”.

This is how traditions direct our attention to the fact that a child should be informed about the story of Creation and the Presence of God, Creation and religion. He/she should be recommended to say the daily prayers, because a number of jurists have deemed it to be “recommended”.

Some points are to be noted regarding the manner in which children are to perform this precept.

1. Parents should not be too strict about this matter and must not put pressure on their children. The child’s desire and inclination should somehow be estimated, so that he will take delight in saying prayer and he should not be ordered to do so, when he feels sleepy or languid.

Some traditions have been related from Imam Ali Ibn Hussein (AS) that he used to ask his children to say the early and late evening prayers together, as he believed this was far better than sleeping over and missing the late evening prayer.

It is to be noted that, at that period in time, Muslim culture and customs were such that each prayer was said at its own right time; noon prayer was said at non, the late afternoon prayer in the afternoon, the early evening prayer at sundown, and the late evening prayer around midnight.

2. It is advisable to take children to congregational prayers, because as a rule, when a man observes others believing what he does and performing duties ritually as he does, he will naturally become firmer in his beliefs and deeds. When a child in congregational prayer at a mosque sees other people saying prayers, naturally he will become more determined and resolute in performing this religious duty laid upon him. In this regard, a tradition has been related from Jaber asking Imam Baqir (AS), what should be done about children who line up to say daily prayers in mosques? Imam (AS) stated: “Don’t keep them from doing so, but ask them to stand at intervals, in order to prevent them from joking and mocking, as such is the demand of their nature and age”.

3. In congregational prayers and in performing religious duties, children should generally be treated with respect and honor; they must not be ignored, ordered about, bullied or beaten. It is interesting to know that in the aforementioned tradition (it was apparently Jaber Ibn Yazeed Jafie, who asked Imam Baqir (AS) about the children’s congregational prayers and their lining up for the prayers). Part of the statement has been interpreted by some people as having this meaning “…Don’t ask them to leave the prayer…” but in writer’s view, the statement was intended to express that, “…Don’t send them to the last rows, and don’t tell them, since they are children they are not to stay in front rows and must stay behind…” And this is the true essence of respect and honor with which children should be treated and urged to perform their religious rituals, with the utmost politeness and humbleness. The custodians of mosques are particularly advised about this important issue.

Parents themselves should be serious about performing religious precepts, like ritual prayers; they should especially say prayers in their child’s presence, they should attach great importance to the daily prayers. Having a prayer rug and tasbih (beads), being familiar with the required rules and mannerism, would make the youngster realize and appreciate the gravity of the matter. The children of parents who don’t regard prayer with due respect end up feeling and thinking that nothing by the name of “prayers” exists in their lives. They do not turn to prayer, and through the later periods of their lives, they will face difficulties as far as this issue of prime importance is concerned. So those parents who wish their children to be raised in accordance with the religious rites and become prayerful should be aware of this point.

How nice Imam Ali (P) said, “Use other than your tongue to invite people to good deeds”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors: Hasan Mobayeny
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