Praying five times a day can be a struggle for adult Muslims, but an even greater one for young people. At a time when texting and other technology offer fast-paced distraction, encouraging our youth to establish Salah can seem impossible.
But this pillar of Islam keeps us all grounded in our faith. It is that necessary daily reminder of Who we are accountable to, as well as Who is our greatest Benefactor. It keeps us connected to Allah in all circumstances, and it is a gift and obligation we must pass on to young Muslims.
Here are a few ways to start that process.
1. Set the example
As is the case with all other good habits, parents, mentors, teachers, and others young Muslims look up to must be praying themselves. But we need to not only be offering our prayers. We must also truly reflect the level of concentration and commitment it takes, by praying on time, doing our best to focus, and offering the prayers diligently.
2. Establish prayer in the home
Kids learn faith first and foremost from the family and within the home. This is where prayer as a way of connecting to Allah needs to be discussed and shown in practice. Make it a habit to pray in congregation when going to the Masjid is not possible. Avoid having everyone pray in their own little corner of the house. Start today by designating one space of the home for this purpose.
3. Use technology
Texting is replacing talking among teens. Teens spend nearly an equal amount of time talking as they do texting each month. The feature is so important to them that if texting were no longer an option 47% of teens say their social life would end or be worsened.
They also say texting has advantages over talking because it offers more options, including multitasking, speed, the option to avoid verbal communication, and because it is fun - in that order, according to the study.
Text your teen when it’s time to pray. Encourage them to set up reminders on their cell phone to offer their Salah or download an app for this purpose. This will make it more fun and help weave prayer into their lives in a practical way.
4. Nudge them toward friendships with the prayerful
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “a man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend” (Abu Dawud).
Observe which youth in your community are serious about their five daily prayers and wisely encourage your youth to befriend them. Those young Muslims who have successfully incorporated Salah as part of their lifestyle are role models, especially in this day and age, when myriad distractions pull our hearts and minds far, far away from God.
You can encourage friendships by planning playdates for younger kids. For older ones, praising the youth in question can offer the necessary nudge, as well as indirectly offering ways for the two to meet and hang out together, by for example attending the same events, weekend school, meeting as a family for dinner, etc.
5. Openly praise those who pray
If forging friendships with youth who pray is not possible, at least openly praise those who are diligent in fulfilling this obligation. Even as young Muslims become more independent with age, they still seek parental approval and appreciation. Praising a peer sends the message that you value Salah and that it’s important.
6. Don’t discourage even small steps toward prayer
True story: a 14-year-old in California had just finished praying Isha, something she had done most likely for the first time ever. Excitedly, she ran to her mother and told her about the 4,2, and 3 units she had offered, hoping she’d be proud. Instead, her mother scoffed, “that’s the small prayer. You’re supposed to offer 17 Rakat.”
This kind of discouragement kills initiative, to say the least. Prayer is a long-term commitment that requires the kind of dedication that’s hard to muster for many older people, let alone young people distracted by the ding of texts on their phone or other issues. Praise even the performance of a short, two-Rakat prayer, and encourage youth to take it to the next level.
7. Don’t discount strength in numbers
Whenever possible, pray in congregation with other Muslims outside of the family, especially other youth. This can be at weekend school, or even joining one of the prayers at a full-time Islamic school with the administration’s permission. This will show that prayer isn’t something “weird” that only you and your family do. Rather, it is something other young Muslims do regularly, as well.
8. Make prayer time parent time
At a parenting workshop I attended a few years ago, the speaker shared how she offered her children two types of reward for good behavior: a tangible treat or one-on-one time with each parent. She said she was surprised when the kids always chose time with their mother or father over a trinket.
Taking this into account, spend a few minutes after each prayer with your young Muslim connecting, asking or answering questions about an issue of concern, or simply making it a time for hugs, jokes, and lighthearted hanging out.