A couple months ago, Imam Suhaib posted a question on Facebook asking how to encourage one’s child to pray. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God), there were many great responses. We wanted to share some of the wonderful advice and stories shared by fellow readers. May our hearts always be open to beneficial advice.
*Responses abridged and edited for grammar; all of the full responses are available on Facebook.
“My son is 7! What do you think would be a wise way to approach him about praying?”
Faiza Isaaq: Be subtle. Kids love imitating their parents/role models. Just ask him to join you whenever you pray, focusing on one prayer and then building on that gradually.
Ghada Othmani: Mum’s famous prayer tree was awesome! It was a tree with 5 big leaves (one for each prayer) that she used to draw on a paper and hang on the wall of my room. I had to color each leaf: in green if the prayer was done on time; in yellow if it was done but not on time; and in brown if it was not done…
She used to tell me that green means Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is happy and proud of you because you showed gratitude to Him for all what He has given to you. Yellow means He is less proud. Brown, be careful! He could take away His love and protection from you!
I still remember the joy everytime it was full green!! And believe me, until now, it still works. It has become a neural association. Everytime I do something wrong, the first thing that comes to my mind is the brown leaf. Same for deeds.
Khudake Liye: There was a story I heard about someone who told to his son: “Come, I will give you something that nobody ever can take away from you. Your deen.”
Aadhil Shiraz: Let him pray with you. Make sure it’s a pleasurable thing to do, instead of a chore, which is basically what salah (prayer) is supposed to be. If you nag him too much and turn it into a chore then he won’t feel the pain of missing salah.
Mike Swies: I would tell him that now he is going to be man of the house if anything happens to you, and you want to give him the honor of knowing how to lead the family in prayer.
AishaLadon AbdulRahman Dixon: My youngest loves that he is in charge of calling us to prayer. He feels this is his job and we depend on him to do it, and that we really need him as a part of our prayer team.
Tricia Pe: I think prayer should be gradually introduced well before 7, through praying occasionally with mom and dad, discussing aspects of salah, rather than suddenly rolling up on a 7-year-old saying, “Now your salat is due.” I took your situation as hypothetical, of course.
Fadwa Silmi: When one of the Mauritanian shuyukh (scholars) (Shaykh Khatri) came to California, one of the things he thought was so strange (and there were many) was that we didn’t make wudu’ (ablution) and pray around our children. He was like, “Why do you guys go lock yourselves in the bathroom to make wudu’ and then hide in your room to pray instead of having your children see you so that they become accustomed to prayer as a part of their lives?”
I would call him to do wudu’ with you and then to pray with you whenever you pray. You can also gift him a prayer rug and kufi (prayer cap) for him to use when he prays. I also like the idea of gifting one prayer at a time until they are praying all five. Tawfiq insha’ Allah (success, God willing) and Happy Birthday to your boy!
Ayesha Nicole: via Dr. Farhat Hashmi: I was exposed to such an environment from the very beginning and was told that prayer is an awesome thing to do. It was portrayed in a “cool” way to me. So obviously I was eager to pray, alhamdulillah. After 6 months I was given yet another gift and that was of `isha’ (the night prayer). Then every 6 months I was given a gift: of dhuhr (the afternoon prayer), then of `asr (the late afternoon prayer) and then finally of fajr (the pre-dawn prayer). Both my mother and father have been very consistent and firm regarding prayer with me so that no way on earth would you be able to convince them to let me off the hook for even a day. I love them for that. But it’s every man for himself. You will be accountable for your actions individually.
Hussam Kubtan: Share with him some of the hadeeth (records of the sayings or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) that talk about the takleef (mandate) at the age of 7, what it means to be a young adult, and that 7 is the first step towards being a young man.
Beenish Akhtar: I remember a talk you once gave where you spoke about teaching children how to pray as not just some random duty, but you said something about reminding them that they are in the company of the One (swt). This is their time to speak directly to their Creator (swt), and take great solace with Him or run to Him when they feel thankful. It changed my perspective on the subject because I grew up with the “pray or you’re going to get it” rule.
Dawud Israel: Just tell your son about Allah (swt) and His characteristics. Kids are naturally inclined to pray since they are ma’sum (innocent).
Vardha Ismail: Hmm… Tell him that he is now old enough to speak to Allah (swt) through prayer and this is a great honour. It will be difficult to pray all the time but remember that each time you pray Allah (swt) will draw closer to you, and if you have any worries, problems or wishes that you want to share with Allah (swt)—this is the perfect way to do it. And if there is anyone who we want to be close to—even more than our parents, it is Allah (swt). Life is like the seasons outside, sometimes its good sometimes it can be difficult, and prayer is the anchoring force in our lives through all the ups and downs. It’s a big responsibility but I’m sure he will be able to maintain his salah insha’ Allah, and with good examples it can only help. May Allah (swt) help us all to maintain our salah! God bless you and your family.
Jinan Yousef: I guess the way I would tell a 7-year-old is that when the time comes to pray, it is Allah (swt) calling us to talk to Him. Imagine, Allah (swt) wants to talk to you! You are that special. And then reminding him that all the good in his life, all that, is from Allah (swt).
Nancy Shehata: Even way before age seven we taught by example, always making sure they see us make wudu’ and pray, applauding their efforts when they first start imitating us. My husband would take our son out of school on Fridays to go to the prayer, which insha’ Allah we’ll be able to do again soon. It’s all about making it a priority—if we get off the computer, stop watching TV, turn off the iPod, and pray promptly upon hearing the adhan (the call to prayer), then they will be accustomed to the rhythm of prayer in the household and it will be totally natural for them to join in. Take five minutes after each prayer you pray at home to help the kids memorize parts of the prayer, like what we say in ruku` (the bowing), the tashahhud, etc. They are like sponges and will pick it up quickly, insha’ Allah!
Sara M Amin: I think it would be great if you were to ask him his thoughts on why daddy and mummy pray and then encourage him to pose questions about it to make him curious and interested. Usually kids love to try and learn new things especially when they learn it from family, so keep him around you while you are praying. Ask him to hand you the prayer mat for example and then kiss and hug him to give him that sense of “Wow, I’ve done something good.” Or when the call to prayer resonates throughout the streets, take him out to the balcony and ask him to listen like it’s a special father-son time. I think if that sense of beauty is added before the actual rituals of prayer are learnt, then the rest just comes naturally. Hope I was of some benefit. May Allah (swt) bless him.
Reshma Hyder: When they are 7, this is what you may try: “Now that you are seven, I’ll share a secret with you that makes me strong from the inside. All that I buy and provide (cook yummy food, toys, etc. in my case) for you is actually from Allah (swt) and I have been personally thanking him 5 times a day for all that He has given me including a 7-year-old like you! Let me teach you how to personally thank Allah (swt) as He listens to 7-year-olds when they pray to Him. Let’s begin praying together and we both thank Allah (swt) and pray for all that we have. I began praying with my parents when I was seven and look how Allah (swt) kept rewarding me and gave me beautiful family and children. Alhamdulillah.”
Shaykh, forgive me if I said something wrong. I tried this with my now-grown-up kids back when they were 7. It worked till they turned 14—rebellious age—then I switched to, “You have your own book of deeds. I am no longer reminding (nagging) you to pray, but life is short, and you need to be thankful everyday lest your own janazah prayer (prayer after a person dies) is prayed. It’ll be too late to make up missed prayers then (motherly scare tactics).” Now my current 7-year-old is going through the same process although it is easier when they see older siblings pray. As a parent I now pray to Allah (swt) to keep kids praying and on the straight path. It’s a tough world out there for them.