If you are a Muslim parent, chances are that you have experienced an embarrassing moment with one or more of your children at the masjid. Perhaps you took your toddler to Jummuah prayer, a community event, or a lecture. More than likely, you prepared thoroughly beforehand – speaking to your family about good manners in the masjid and modeling acceptable behavior, making sure to sit your children close to you, and bringing things along to keep them distracted. Yet, despite your best efforts to monitor them, your child ends up acting, well … like a child. Maybe they got up and wandered around, attempted to talk to you or their friends, or made some noise while playing. If your son or daughter was non-verbal at the time, their only crime may have been communicating their needs in the only way they knew how – by crying or whining. Whatever the offense was, more than likely you were met with judgmental stares, hisses, and/or an outright confrontation. These scenarios are all too common in our communities, but they are far from the teachings of Islam.
Situations in which a well-intentioned elder reprimands children or parents happen often in religious settings, but they are not always warranted or acceptable. Unfortunately, the chastisement may be abrupt and loud enough to catch the attention of other worshippers. The auntie or uncle may demand a parent escort their child outside or, worse yet, not bring them to the masjid at all. Depending on many factors, this exchange of words can escalate quickly and make parents and children feel uneasy. For Muslims in the West and everywhere in the world, the masjid is supposed to be a happy place – a space where we can feel welcomed and safe in a world that can be very cruel towards a Muslim minority.
Unfortunately, an altercation involving familial or child discrimination, can leave some families feeling so mortified or humiliated that they never return to the masjid again. Emptying our places of worship is the opposite of our goal and barring believers from worshipping freely is an act that is hated by Allah. Allah said in the Quran:
“Who does more wrong than those who prevent Allah’s Name from being mentioned in His places of worship and strive to destroy them?”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:114)
Instead, we should be encouraging families to visit Allah’s House often, especially when they have young children. Rather than telling parents why they should not bring their babies to the masjid, we should remind ourselves about the Prophetic character when dealing with the youth. How did the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings, interact with children in the masjid? Answering this question will lead us to the conclusion that children, from infants to teens, have a right to be in the masjid and we should defend that right. They deserve to grow in the Islamic community, so their hearts are attached to it from a young age. The masjid should be their home away from home.
In case you and your children have ever felt unwelcomed in your local Islamic center, know that our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, not only tolerated, but normalized having young children in our houses of worship.
Lessons from the Sunnah
Here are some examples from the Prophetic tradition about babies and toddlers in the masjid:
1. The Prophet used to bring young children to the masjid.
There is no hadith or Quranic verse prohibiting children from entering places of worship. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, used to bring children into the masjid often. In an authentic hadith, it is narrated from Abdullah ibn Shidad, this his father, Shidad ibn al-Had (one of the companions), may Allah be pleased with him, said:
"The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came out to us for one of the nighttime prayers, and he was carrying Hasan or Husain. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, came forward and put him down, then he said the Takbir and started to pray. He prostrated during his prayer and made the prostration lengthy." My father said: "I raised my head and saw the child on the back of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, while he was prostrating so I went back to my prostration. When he finished praying, the people said: "O Messenger of Allah, you prostrated during the prayer for so long that we thought that something had happened or that you were receiving a revelation.' He said: 'No such thing happened. But my son was riding on my back, and I did not like to disturb him until he had enough.'"
Parents should not be shamed for entering the masjid with a toddler in tow because it was the practice of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Even after his grandchildren climbed and played on his back while he led the prayer, he did not bar them from being in the musalla nor did he reprimand them. He simply explained to his followers the reason for his prolonged prostration.
2. It was his practice to carry babies while he was praying.
Sometimes, mothers are criticized in the masjid because they choose to bring their infants or carry them while they pray. However, this was also a practice of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In another hadith, Abu Qatada, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated:
“Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, was offering prayer while he was carrying Umama, the daughter of Zainab, when he prostrated, he put her down and when he stood up, he lifted her up.
Reading these stories of how the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, interacted with infants and children are heartwarming and should make us think twice about how we judge our youngest generation of believers and the future of our ummah.
3. The Prophet was patient with children even if they wandered into the musalla.
Not only did the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, allow his grandchildren to play on his back while he was leading the prayer, but he also enjoined the congregation to be patient with them. These days, some congregants get annoyed when a child merely walks into the musalla, but the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was compassionate towards children.
On one occasion, his grandchildren wandered into the masjid while he was delivering the khutbah. They were only toddlers at the time. Abu Buraydah reported:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was delivering a sermon when Hasan and Hussein came wearing red shirts, walking, and tripping. The Prophet descended from the pulpit, picked them both up, and placed them in his lap. The Prophet said, “Allah spoke the truth when He said: Verily, your wealth and your children are only a trial for you (64:15). I looked at these two boys walking, and tripping and I could not be patient, even I cut short my speech to pick them up.” (At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)
4. If a child cried, he never got upset.
The sound of a baby or toddler whimpering or crying in the masjid can irk even the most composed worshipper, but it never bothered the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. He taught his followers a valuable lesson about what to do in such situations. He once said:
“When I stand for prayer, I intend to prolong it, but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut it short, as I dislike troubling the child's mother.'"
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was always considerate of others and he taught his followers to be empathetic. Yet, it seems we have strayed far from his teachings when instead of the imam shortening his prayer, a mother is forced to stop her prayer and escort her baby out of the masjid. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, gave us all a stern warning when he said,
“He does not belong to us who does not show mercy to our young and honor our old.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Some people may argue that a woman is not obligated to pray in the masjid, and thus, she should pray with her child at home. However, it is her right to be there. Ibn Umar reported:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Do not prevent women from their share of the mosques, if they seek your permission.”
It may be that this mother is struggling in her faith, and she needs to feel the warmth of the House of Allah and surround herself with other believers. She may also be hoping to get her baby used to being in the masjid, so he/she may grow up in the Islamic community. Rather than scold her or her baby, lend a hand and make her feel comfortable, so that she may finish her prayer. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) said:
"Anyone who relieves a hardship for a believer in this world, Allah will relieve one of his hardships on the Day of Resurrection. Anyone who makes things easy for a hard-pressed person, Allah will make things easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter. Anyone who covers up the faults and sins of a Muslim, Allah will cover up his faults and sins in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah supports His slave as long as the slave supports his brother.”
5. There is no discrimination when it comes to children (or anyone).
Sadly, our masajid are not free of discrimination in its many ugly forms – be it because of age, gender, marital status, nationality, or race. It may be that some children’s disruptions are overlooked while others are specifically targeted due to the color of their skin or their family background. Stereotypes, lack of knowledge of Prophetic teachings, ignorance about other cultures, and/or low to no emotional intelligence drives individuals to harass Muslims who may be different from them.
There may be situations in which a family is discouraged to bring their young children to the masjid because they are deemed more “prone to misbehavior” or they could be “bad influences” for other children. This type of prejudice has no place in the masjid or in Islam. Allah says in the Quran:
“O mankind, indeed, We have created you from male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted"
(Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13)
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, echoed this sentiment and was very vocal against injustice of any kind. In one hadith, he said:
“Fear Allah and treat your children [small or grown] fairly (with equal justice).”
The Bottom Line
Some contemporary scholars were asked regarding the permissibility of bringing young children to the masjid and their response was the following:
“(Children) may accompany their fathers or their mothers to the mosque, if there is fear for them [if they are left at home]; there is nothing wrong with that, because that was done at the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him… Those who have reached the age of seven or older should be told to do wudu and pray, so that they may get used to doing that and so that they and their parents may earn reward. There is nothing wrong with making them stand in the row and doing so does not create gaps in the row, because their prayer is valid and because the children used to stand in the rows with the adults behind the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.”
(Fataawa al-Lajnah ad-Daa’imah (Vol. 2, 6/337), Islamqa.org)
Our young children learn through observing and exploring their surroundings. We must teach them that the masajid are the Houses of Allah, the Muslim places of worship, and a haven for their family. To do that, they must familiarize themselves with this wonderful place and form bonds with their fellow believers. How will they achieve that if they find nothing but hostility in the very place which their parents describe as a place of refuge? This sends mixed signals to the child and causes confusion in their developing psyches. Our role, whether we are a parent or not, is to treat this issue with hikmah – wisdom. We must work together to make the masajid more inviting to families, and the way to do so is by practicing the Sunnah when it comes to dealing with children in the masjid.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.