Are Children Really Welcome in our Mosques?
By Nayab Bashir
A mosque is often known as a Muslim’s second home. If you have nowhere else to turn, you can turn to the house of God. Those who have frequented mosques since early childhood find themselves comforted by the call to prayer and the familiarity of the lined carpets. If you know how to pray, wherever you go in the world you’ll know what to do in a mosque. North American Muslims have made their local communities “friends like family,” and visiting mosques frequently has become part of their identity.
Yumi Ota (aka Khadija) is a journalist, social media personality and homeschooling mother of three living in St. Louis, Miss. A revert with no Muslim family members or old friends who share the faith, she has found that the mosque feels like home and community. It’s her emotional solace, the first place she goes to pray, meet new friends and raise her children. Ota and her husband make it a priority to take their children to the mosque often. She has enrolled her children in Quran memorization programs as often as six days a week. Although the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis’ Daar Ul-Islam Masjid has a room for mothers with young children, Ota found it too small and often crowded — and nowhere near large enough to meet the needs of St. Louis’ expanding community.
A Japanese-American married to an Indian-American, Ota is aware of the importance of personal identity. Through her studies in journalism, she has learned that minority children raised within a community of the same race or religion grow up more confident of their identity. Muslims are a minority in both Japan and India, and so family participation in the local mosque’s activities is something for which they are both grateful. The mosque’s atmosphere and people help them raise their children to be unapologetically Muslim.
“Any mosque for me, the only place I can be truly alone and cry my heart out when I am sad or stressed,” Ota said. “I want my children to feel the same way and love the mosques and eventually serve the community in them, God willing.”
Muslim parents also want the next generation to have this security and love. While many mothers turn to their mosques for solace and clarity, and seek to guide their children to do the same, this is not always a simple and easy feat. Unfortunately, at times, mothers of young children receive unsolicited advice and criticism. Ota remembers this happening multiple times when her children were younger. Some of the people weren’t just critical — they were downright rude.
She’s not alone in this experience. Many have accounts of their own childhoods in which they recall being scolded, while others have faced it with their children.
Seher, a professional organizer, content creator and social media manager, faced similar issues with her local Atlanta mosque. She knew the importance of taking her children to the mosque regularly so they would stay close to Islam and grow up within a like-minded community. However, once there she was asked to leave just for keeping her children next to her while praying, even though they were sitting quietly in one place. This very discouraging incident made her feel disconnected.
Many mosques had programs for children over the age of five, but not for those as young as her children. Although they had access to local libraries, fairs and parks, this disconnect was isolating. Even more important, as the brain develops rapidly between the ages of one through five, she considered an Islamic foundation essential. But in 2018, the concept of Islamic programs for her children was nonexistent in Atlanta. And so she reached out to friends Samia and Asra and co-founded the Iqra Kids Club (IKC).
Together, the trio started their program at a mosque they felt had always emphasized the importance of family: the Roswell Community Mosque. They began hosting monthly programs in early 2018, and continue to do so. IKC seeks to introduce Islamic lessons and morals to toddlers and preschoolers in a fun and interactive way. Learning at their sessions is always a hands-on experience. Moreover, both parents are encouraged to attend to make it a family-bonding activity.
IKC aims to instill in children a joyful and meaningful connection to the mosque by creating a welcoming environment. Forty children join the group at each event, often with parents and siblings. A relevant Islamic topic is chosen, explained via an age-appropriate story, nasheeds, puppet shows, videos and crafts. Children learn about important values through interactive play and feel welcome. They look forward to the next session and ask their parents when they can go to the mosque again!
Seher’s initiative has caught the interest of various people across North America. Many are hoping to start a toddlers’ program at their local mosques too. Furthering her efforts, the trio has started writing detailed lesson plans, along with craft templates, that will be available in 2024.
Seher’s personal mission is that nobody should be turned away from the mosque. She’s working to help others understand that the bond with the mosque starts at a young age. All mosques should have a Mother’s and Father’s room for toddlers, along with toys and books to keep them busy while their parents pray. These rooms should be equipped with speakers and screens so they can see the congregation. Having such facilities will encourage more parents of young ones to visit the mosque, pray and listen to talks, because the absence of children today could lead to emptier mosques when they are older.
As the Turkish proverb says, “Dear Muslims, if there are no sounds of children laughing in the back as you are praying, fear for the next generation.” It’s understandable that worshippers wish to pray or contemplate undisturbed. There’s no disrespect toward them. Parents shouldn’t let their children run wild in the house of God, be rowdy, spill drinks or litter. However, if they’re just being kids, that should be okay.
In the mosque of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), children were both welcomed and accommodated. Even the Prophet disliked to trouble the mother of a child crying during prayer. We can see this illustrated in the following hadiths:
• The Messenger of Allah would pray holding Umsama bint Zaynab bint Rasulillah. He would put her down when he prostrated and then pick her up again when he stood up (“Sunan Ibn Bukhari,” 114),
• The Prophet said, “When I stand for prayer, I intend to prolong it. But on hearing the cries of a child, I cut it short, for I dislike to trouble the child’s mother” (“Sunan Ibn Bukhari,” 707), and
• “The Messenger of Allah came out to us for one of the two later prayers, carrying Hasan or Hussein. He then came to the front and put him down, said takbir for the prayer and commenced praying. During the prayer, he performed a very long prostration, so I raised my head and there was the child, on the back of the Messenger of Allah, who was in prostration. I then returned to my prostration. When the Messenger of Allah had offered the prayer, the people said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! In the middle of your prayer, you performed prostration and lengthened it so much that we thought either something had happened or that you were receiving revelation!’ He said, ‘Neither was the case. Actually, my grandson made me his mount, and I did not want to hurry him until he had satisfied his wish’” (“Sunan al-Nasa’i, 1141).
No parent wants their child creating chaos in the mosque, and everyone is doing what they can to prevent that. The next time you hear a giggle or the pitter-patter of small feet, please consider the importance of that child feeling safe in a mosque and returning to it throughout his or her life.
Nayab Bashir is a literature aficionado with an English literature degree to prove it. A mother of three children under ten, currently staying home with her youngest, and “studying for the LSAT.”