As Ramadan fast approaches, many of us are eagerly looking forward to the opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation and quality time in worship in the masjid. The hours spent in Salatul Taraweeh every night often serve as spiritual fuel that carries us through the rest of the year, helps us reconnect with the Quran and give us a sense of the sweetness of prayer.
But what of our children? If we are like many Muslim communities in the U.S., when we enter the masjid each night for Taraweeh prayer in Ramadan we part ways: our children go to babysitting, while we go towards the musalla [prayer room]. While we spend extra hours in Ramadan in worship and feeling closer to Allah Most High, what are they doing in the (often now mandatory) babysitting room at our local masjid?
The babysitting room is certainly a great asset. As a community, it is a means of accommodating families and especially mothers with young children, and giving everyone the opportunity to attend programs at the masjid and participate. However, given its limited resources, both in people and space, children often spend most of the time in the babysitting room passively watching videos or engaged in other activities that have little connection with Ramadan, worship, or even a sense of spirituality that should be an inherent part of any experience in a house of Allah.
As a further point of concern, as children become accustomed to only the activities in the kids’ room, with no engagement in the regular activities of the masjid - such as listening quietly to a talk or performing salah - they have a difficult time transitioning to them once they get older. Once they leave the kids’ room, which has its main focus on preoccupying them and their entertainment, they may feel no connection to the greater life of the masjid and its activities.
This is a growing concern in the Christian community, in which decades of the Sunday-school model, and programs geared towards children with the intent of making the church seem more fun and relatable, has actually led to many leaving the church as adults, uncomfortable with the church in its regular form and its regular activities. (See the following interesting article “Sunday Schooling Our Kids Out of Church”)
We should be wary. In exchange for the convenience of having a quiet and undisturbed prayer, are we robbing our children of touch points with the actual masjid and ‘ibadah [worship]?
An Alternative Approach
Here are some suggestions to help make the masjid babysitting experience a healthy one, that can help our children become adults that have love and attachment to the masjid and acts of worship.
- Change our mentality. Instead of the babysitting room being seen as the place to banish all children so that we can pray in peace, consider it a place of tarbiyyah, spiritual nourishment and development, and that it has an important foundational role in our children’s relationship with the masjid. As such it should be taken seriously and thought about deeply.
- Be generous towards the babysitting room and allocate a portion of the masjid’s Ramadan funds specifically towards it. Just as we would try to ensure that a Ramadan iftar sufficiently feeds everyone, and the space for the Eid prayer accommodates everyone, we should be sure the babysitting room fits the community’s needs as well. Being generous towards it can include hiring people who will take the task seriously, and do it well, rather than relying on volunteers, and having a large enough number of baby-sitters to actively engage with the children.
- Instead of a hodge-podge of activities, those in charge should plan long-term and have meaningful religious goals that the children can accomplish by the end of Ramadan. This can include covering a certain short book, learning about certain supplications or names of Allah, or even some basic etiquette of prayer, fasting or visiting the masjid.
- Focus on spiritual training with an eye on the future. In a few years, these children will be the next caretakers of the masjid and the worshipers in its rows, inshaAllah. Whatever qualities we would hope those adults have we should seek to plant the seeds of now, including beautiful adab (manners), a love for worship and attachment to acts of devotion. One method of achieving this is by including mini-versions of worship in the babysitting room; shortened ‘practice’ versions of activities in the masjid, such as listening to a short lesson or khutbah and being expected to practice its proper etiquette, a shortened Taraweeh they are required to perform properly, a portion of quiet time in dhikr and Allah’s remembrance, etc. This should transition to children praying a portion of the Taraweeh prayers with the regular congregation while supervised, before going on to their own activities. As one article put it, even if they don’t ‘get it’, they will get better at it, which will better equip them to engage in these acts fully as adults.
- Reintegrate children into regular acts of worship. One of the major goals of the babysitting room should be to help children take the next step towards engaging in the masjid’s regular activities. Increasingly as children get older, they should be allowed to participate in the regular activities in the masjid especially as they show maturity and ability.
- Finally, let parents opt-out of the babysitting room if they will actively help their children participate in acts of worship and masjid activities. (Note: This means carefully overseeing their children and having them worship with them, not leaving them to run amok.) We should be happy to see parents taking an active role and encourage this.
May Allah Most High bless us and our communities with the ability to make the most of Ramadan, and may He make it a means for us and our children to come closer to Him, Ameen!
By Shazia Ahmad , 31 May 2016