How should a child be trained and religiously educated? How should we teach Allah to children?

Details of the Question
The family should show the true path to their children; nobody denies it. However, should it not be the child's choice after that? Does it not alienate the child from his family and the religion to tell the child the same thing repeatedly, to inculcate something, to disdain and to distress him, to make him cry and to dishearten him? If a girl is to cover her head and body and if she does it due to the pressure of her family, will it be accepted by Allah? Is it not better for her to choose the right time to cover? Is it not better for her to cover her head and body because Allah wants it not because the daughter of such and such people did it or not because her parents want it? Is it not better for her to decide herself?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Experimental psychology claims that a child has an artistic style of thought until he comes to school age. Accordingly, the child thinks that everything he sees was manmade and that difficult things like the sun, moon, stars, seas, etc was made by a stronger and bigger human.

The thought,"big things are made by big people" in child makes it easy for him in the future to accept the following belief easily along with the development of abstract intelligence: "Allah is the only owner of the universe who creates everything out of nothing, who knows everything and who has power over everything."

According toexperimental psychology, even if a child is not taught the belief of Allah, he can easily find that the universe has a creator and an administrator thanks to this talent of artistic thought. Since the child has the worldview of - accepting everything as a living being - up to the school age when abstract intelligence starts to function, he cannot help likening Allah to a big human. Therefore, we should tolerate their questions like "Where does Allah live? Does Allah have a house? Why cannot we see Allah?" and we should not get angry with them.

We hear that some mothers and fathers give answers like the following: "Allah lives in the sky. Allah lives in Paradise." These answers are contrary to the Islamic creed since Allah is free and away from place.

The questions that are asked the most frequently by children are as follows: "Where is Allah?", "Why cannot we see Allah?" We can answer this question as follows: "Allah does not have a material body like us. Therefore, He is not anywhere. However, the creatures that Allah created are everywhere; and He is everywhere with the beauty and perfection that are seen on these beings, which He created."

The following example given by a family can be useful:

The child starts to ask his father and mother questions like "Where is Allah?", "Why cannot we see Him?" Once, their grandmother, who lives in another city, cooks a special pie and sends it to them with a relative who came to their city. While eating the pie, an idea comes to the father's mind.

"Kids! Where is your grandmother now?"

They say the name of the city she lives in. The father asks,

"Who cook this pie and sent it to us?"The children say,

"Grandma!" The father asks again,

"How do you know she cooked it?"

"For, she always cooks this delicious pie," say the children. The father says,

"We cannot see your grandmother through our eyes now but we know her through this pie. Even if she is not in Istanbul now, she is here with us thanks to this pie. We cannot see our Creator through our eyes now but He is with us thanks to the flowers, wind, strawberries that he created."

We can say that Allah is too big and that we are too small to see Him. Allah sees us but we cannot see Him. We see the people on TV but they cannot see us. Our duty is not to see Allah but to know and love Him. He gave us everything that we love. Then, we need to love him very much. We should do what He wants in order to show that we love Him. We should be as He wants us to be, that is like our Prophet (pbuh). Who is he? He is the Messenger of Allah, the human that He loves the most. If we direct the curiosity and glance of the child to the Prophet, and enable him to think about the Prophet, it will make things easy. Allah will love us as we live like him; He will show Himself to us after death.

Another question children frequently ask is: "What kind of a being is Allah?"

The question "what kind" implies two different meanings. The first is about the material being, like big-small, short-long. The second implies the characteristics of that being.

Since Allah is not a material being, He cannot have properties that are valid for material beings. This can be told to a child like this:

An approach like "There is one Allah var. He created everything," cannot satisfy the feelings of a child. He is the Creator, who is merciful, who gives life and death, moves the wind, sends his bird that dies to paradise, creates beautifully and perfectly, who is just, who does not do any meaningless things, who loves and appreciates man, creates all tiny and huge things, creates cockroaches, snakes, mouse and sheep in the best form, who gives the mother the feeling of making a cake, inspires the mother to cook delicious food and who wants good things for people.  

It is possible to tell the child what kind of a being the Creator is at any occasion:

"Our Lord created trees nicely; it means He is nice."
"He gives the wish of giving milk to the cat; He is so compassionate."
"He creates clouds neatly. How just He is."
"Everywhere where man has not touched, is so clean; He must be Quddus (the Pure One)."

One of the reasons why children ask insistently about the material being of Allah is the lack of telling the child what kind of a being Allah is including His characteristics. If this lack is completed, children will not be insistent on questions like "Why cannot we see Allah? What kind of a Being is He materially?"

The child needs to be directed and educated by the family until he distinguishes between the right and the wrong. His education should target distinguishing what is true in the future. It is very difficult to expect a girl who did not receive any religious education when she was a child to cover her head and body when she is twenty years old. The child should be educated in this way but it is necessary to work hard so as not to make him/her hate religion but love it.

When does a child's religious education start?

Child education is a long process that starts before the birth of the child and goes on until the death the father and mother; it needs to be carried out with the joint mission of the father and the mother.

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, whom we wanted to show as an example, started to be educated by his own mother and father before his birth. After his mother became pregnant, she always walked having wudu; after his birth, she never breastfed him without wudu. His father acted in the same sensitive way and tied the mouths of his cattle on the way to his field so that they would not eat the grass from the fields of other people.

As it is seen in the example above, the father and the mother educated themselves first before the birth. A father and a mother should correct and improve their worshipping before the birth of the child and try to give up their bad habits. It should not be forgotten that education is not something to be postponed to the period after the birth of the child. A child learns almost half of what he learns between the ages of one and five. The family needs to be well-prepared for this period.

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi expresses another important issue in child education as follows:

“… If a child does not receive a strong lesson of belief when he is very young, he can adopt Islam and the principles of belief with great difficulty afterwards. It becomes hard like a non-Muslim accepting Islam. If his father and mother are not practicing Muslims and if he is educated only through worldly sciences, it will be much more difficult. In that case, this child will not show respect to his father and mother when they get old; on the contrary, he will want them to die as soon as possible, causing trouble to them. In the hereafter, he will not intercede for them but will sue them: 'Why did you not save my belief with Islamic education?'…” (Emirdağ Lahikası-I, 20. Mektup)

Besides, regarding the issue of making young children start to perform prayers, he states that the children who die after the age of seven will be called to account like adults, that they will not be included in the scope of the phrase “wildanun mukhalladun (youths of perpetual freshness)” in the verse; hence, he states the wisdoms behind the following decree of the shari'ah:“the children who do not start to perform prayers at a certain age can be beaten slightly”.

Religious Education in terms of Child's Mental Health

Some pedagogues say that it is contrary to laicism to give children religious education when they are very young and that they need to decide about it freely when they reach the age of puberty. This view is not a realistic approach. An atheistic mother or father can be against religious education but they cannot isolate their child from the community he lives in. For, a child does not have prejudices like an adult. He is interested in everything he sees around; he is full of the desire of learning; he is an impartial observer. He will want to know and ask questions about adhan when he first hears it or a mosque when he first sees it.

In his book called"Psychologie Religieuse " Antonie Vergote, a psychologist, say children have an inborn feeling of religion. Man is not a material being consisting of flesh, bones and blood only. What distinguishes him from other living beings is the inborn richness of spirit and feelings. Man is a social being. He wants to love, to be loved, to have a belief and to feel estimable and strong. It can be possible only through being attached to a family, community, state and religion.

There is no community without rules. The whole of rules that supports a community is called law. Where there is no law, there is anarchy, chaos and vulgar power. The items of law that prohibit theft, unlawful profits, oppressing the weak, killing or wounding people, grabbing people's property, rape, etc originate from religion. All of the prophets that are messengers of Allah were sent so that they will inform people about these rules and establish law and order in the community. It is very difficult to give children high ethics without using the concepts halal-haram, sin-reward, that is, without referring to religious sources.

How shall we tell our children about Allah?

Children learn the issues that are told in the form of stories more easily. While teaching them Allah and His attributes, we can tell them the talk between Luqman (pbuh) and his son in the form of a story. When I told my children about our Prophet, I told them how much he loved children by giving examples from his grandsons, Hazrat Hasan and Husain and his daughter, Fatima. Similarly, when I told them about the miracles he showed, I told them stories. For instance, when I told my son about the miracles of the spider and pigeon when our beloved Prophet and Hazrat Abu Bakr hid in the cave of Thawr for Hijrah in the form of a story, my son was four years old. He liked it so much that he asked me to tell it again.

When we consider the advice that Luqman (pbuh) gave his son, we see that the belief that ‘there is no god but Allah’ comes first. Luqman said to his son:

"O my son! Join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing" (Luqman, 31:13).

We should tell them about the greatness of Allah based on that verse. "–It is He Who created the universe, sun, stars, moon, earth and all the creatures in it. It is He Who gives life to the strongest king of the world and to the tiny fly. There is no god but Allah. It is only He Who is worthy of worshipping and praying. We bow down only in front of Allah and ask from Him what we cannot do. If we forget Allah and bow down in front of others in order to obtain goods, money and rank, we will be regarded to have associated partners with Allah and to have committed injustice."

Luqman (pbuh) continued his advice as follows, "O my son! If there be (but) the weight of a mustard-seed and it were (hidden) in a rock, or (anywhere) in the heavens or on earth, Allah will bring it forth: for Allah understands the finer mysteries, (and) is well-acquainted (with them)." (Luqman, 31:16).

We should tell our children like Luqman did that Allah sees everything we do, that He knows the most hidden feelings we have in our mind and heart, that we cannot conceal anything from Him, that He will enjoy it when we do good deeds and that He will love us.

In the following verses, Luqman (pbuh) said:

"O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs. And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.". (Luqman, 31:17-19).

In those verses, our duties towards both Allah and human beings that He created are listed and a summary of good manners is given. When we tell about them to our children, we should choose the words and their explanations in accordance with their age and understanding.

We Should Approach Questions with the Logic of a Child

When we answer the questions of children relating any issue, we should think with the logic of a child not an adult. A small mistake that we will make will be enough to confuse their minds. Children have an egocentric style of thinking until they are four years old. They do not discriminate between living and non-living things; according to them, everything is living. Therefore, they believe in everything that happens in tales; they do not think that they are made up.

The role of tales and religious stories is great in the education of pre-school children. It becomes easier to teach the right acts through the legendary characters. The child puts himself in the hero’s place and becomes identified with him/her.

Children become content with the simple explanations we make; they do not wonder about more. Once a mother told me the following:

My four-year old son asked me, ‘Mum! Why can’t we see Allah?’ I said, ‘Because our eyes are small.’ He murmured, ‘Yes. We can’t see Him because our eyes are small.’ That answer was enough for him; he did not ask any other questions. That explanation may not be enough for older children.

We need to answer questions like "Why can’t we see Allah, Where is Allah, How big is He?" and correct their suspicions and the wrong images in their minds. I answered my son, who asked me those questions when he was ten, in the form of dialogs.

I showed him the table in front of us asked him:

- Can this table form on its own?
- No, it can’t.
- You mean there is someone who forms it.
- Yes, there is.
- Those slippers and shoes we wear cannot form on their own, can they?
- No, they can’t.
- Who makes them?
- Men.

- Yes, men make them. We call them shoemakers. Does the shoe resemble the shoemaker at all? The shoemaker has a mouth, eyes, ears, legs and arms; he walks and talks. The shoe does not resemble the shoemaker that makes him at all; It has neither eyes nor ears; it can neither walk nor talk; can he?
- No, he can’t.

- Since a simple table and shoe cannot form on their own, can the sun, moon, stars and the earth that we live on form on their own?
- No, they can’t.
- It means there is someone who makes them, that is, who creates them. Who is He?
- Allah.

- There is a Being Who has perfect knowledge and power and Who created the world and the living things on it; we call him Allah. A shoemaker does not resemble the shoe he makes; similarly, Allah does not resemble any of the creatures He created. Things like eating, drinking, sleeping, living in a house are peculiar to human beings. Allah does not need any of them because he does not resemble us. We know the existence of Allah but we do not know Him. We cannot see, hear, or know everything because our feelings, mind and knowledge are limited. We cannot see the angels because Allah created them out of light.

How Can We Accustom Our Children to Worshipping and Supplication?

Children believe in everything until they become seven years old since thinking through symbols, that is, abstract thinking has not yet developed fully. There is nothing impossible for a child at the age of four; everything is possible. If you say to him "last night, while you were sleeping, a star came down to the earth, kissed you and left, he will believe it." He will not think that it is impossible.

Worshipping and supplication are very interesting for children aged four; they try to imitate us. They like to perform prayers, pray, fast and go to mosque very much. To thank Allah aloud before and after the meals for the bounties He gave us, to pray aloud after salats (prayers), to wish good things for ourselves, our spouses, elder family members and children will affect our young children a lot and make them approach Allah.

Small children cannot express the aims of their questions fully since their lingual and mental development has not matured sufficiently.

Once I was in the market, wandering. A two or three-year old child in his mother’s arms pointed to a mosque and asked her:

- What is that? His mother said
- It is a mosque. The child asked again:
- What is that? His mother gave the same answer:
- It is a mosque. The child asked again in order to show that he could not get the answer he wanted:
- What is that? The mother answered again, speaking out and pronouncing each word clearly,
- It is a mosque. I approached the mother and said,
- Madam! The child is not asking its name, he is asking what it is used for since it does not look like a house.

Cezmi Tahir Berktin, a pedagogue and a writer, narrates one of his experiences in his book “Okul Öncesi Eğitim” (Pre-school Education):

- My four-year old daughter suddenly stopped eating as if she was on a hunger strike. She did not sit at the table with us; she did not even eat one morsel. We tried hard but could not understand why she did not eat. One night, it was time to go to bed. I held her in my arms and took her to her bed. I caressed her head and said, “I love you but it distress me that you do not eat.” She started to cry and put her hands around my neck. She said, “Please stop eating dad!” and started to tell me the reason why she stopped eating.

I found out that my wife had made a mistake. As she gave too much importance to the nourishing of the child like every mother did. My daughter asked her:

- Mum, why should we eat?
- In order to grow up.
- What will happen when we grow up?
- We will get old.
- What will happen when we get old?
- One day, we will die as every old person does.

My daughter decides through her logic that she will not die if she does not eat. She uses a simple logic as: "if I do not eat, I will not grow up. If I do not grow up, I will not get old. If I do not get old, I will not die."

As Berktin expresses, no matter how long we hide, the child will find out about the reality of death. He/she will ask us when his/her beloved grandmother, grandfather or friend dies: "Where did my grandmother (or friend) go?" How will you console that small heart full of the pain of separation if the belief in the hereafter is not included in your answer? How will you answer his/her question when he/she asks about the coffin that people carry?

We Should Educate Our Children through Love not Fear

Children cannot discriminate between dream and truth until they become four or five years old; they believe that thoughts and dreams can be realized. When he/she is jealous of his/her brother or sister and wants him/her to die, he/she fears that it will happen, and assumes a feeling of guilt.

When a mother becomes tired of her child’s naughtiness and says, "You are making me distressed, I will die because of it"  or, "Allah does not love children who distress their mothers and puts them into Hell," the child thinks that it will happen and gets into a panic.

When teaching children about religion, many families use the concept of fear without being aware of it. I had translated the “Crab Book”, a classic in pedagogy, written by Salzman with the name of "Educating Children in the Wrong Way". –The following advice was under the heading of ‘Ways of Making Children Irreligious’:

" Make them memorize prayers by force; punish them when they cannot memorize.

" When they are naughty, scare them by saying ’Allah will burn them in Hell’.

" Backbite clergymen, religious relatives and neighbors; discredit them by listing their mistakes.

Narrating the story of an awkward mother who cannot make them obey her, Salzman says:

"That foolish woman tried to intimidate her children using three things: bogey, father and God. When she wanted to make her children sleep, she said,

- Go to sleep quickly, close your eyes; or else, bogeys will come and eat you. When they were naughty, she intimidated them by saying,

- God will burn the children who distress their mother in Hell. When one of her children committed a bad deed or told a lie, she threatened him/her by saying,

-When your father comes home in the evening, he will give you a good trashing and you will get what you deserve.

Our actions are more effective than our words in educating children.

There are some parents who send their children out of their room when they perform prayers. You always see some old men who reprimand children in mosques and drive them away. When you ask them why they do it, they say, "They invalidate our prayers by being naughty." They are not aware that they alienate children from mosques through their attitudes.

Once we went to visit an old relative of us. After some chatting and having tea, it was time to pray. While we were praying, my four-year old son climbed my back and put his hands round my neck. Both my son and I are used to it. While telling them about the Prophet’s love of children, I had told them that Hazrat Hasan and Husain climbed the back of their grandfather and that the Prophet did not object to them and prayed together with them. After that day, he climbed my back and put his hands round my neck while I was praying, maybe regarding himself as Hazrat Hasan and Husain, and we prostrated together.  When he was asked what he was doing, he said "I am praying with my father."

While I was in the last rakat (part) of the prayer, our old relative took my son away from my back harshly, took him out of the room and closed the door. He said to me, "Your prayer was invalidated; you must perform that prayer again." I laughed. I said, "Why should something that did not invalidate the prayer of the Prophet should invalidate mine?" He did not understand what I meant. He asked angrily, "What is the thing that did not invalidate the prayer of the Prophet?" I told him about it but he was not convinced. He said, "It is not true, you have made it up!.."

We Should Tell Our Children About Allah Who Has Paradise.

One evening, one of my neighbors called me. He said,

- Mr Ali, something happened to my child; he was probably affected by an evil eye; the devil makes him say very bad words.

I said, -Tell me what happened.

He started to talk: -I do not understand what happened to my nice child, who used to go to mosque with me. As a matter of fact, he is four years old but what he said made me crazy; I do not know what to say. He said, "I am not going to perform prayers!.." I said, - Allah will burn those who do not perform prayers in Hell. He said, "I will burn Him!.." I wanted to take him to a hodja but before that, I decided to ask you.

After listening to him, I laughed.

- There is no need to take him to a hodja, I said, the child is right.

As he did not expect to receive such an answer, his reaction was harsh.

- What do you want to say Mr Ali?

- No child will love Allah who burns small children in Hell and will perform prayers voluntarily. We have no right to intimidate a child with Hell and alienate him from Allah. Do you not know that Hell is closed for children? Our Prophet says: "Children until they reach the age of puberty and insane people will not to be accounted for." You commit an injustice to both Allah and the child by intimidating him with Hell. The reaction of the child is not against the real Allah but against Allah that you made up. How will you get out under that sin?

My words were harsh because I was sorry for the child; I knew it but I could not control myself. After keeping silent for a few moments, the man said:

- Sorry Mr Ali, I got confused, he said. I heard from hodjas that our Prophet said: "Accustom your children to perform prayers beginning from the age of seven."

- Yes, but he did not say accustom them by intimidating them with Hell!..

- I think you are right... What will happen now? How will I repair my mistake?

- Your child needs therapy; come to my place and talk about how to do it.

The father was an obedient man with good intentions; so, he followed my advice and the belief of the child that had been distorted recovered in a short time.

Fear of Death in Children

Researches show that the fear of death is dominant in pre-school children. The child is first afraid of his parents’ death and then his own death. The only remedy for the fear of death is the belief in the hereafter. Since we cannot kill death and we cannot close the door to the grave, we must find an answer to the question "Where do we come from and are we going?" The answer to that question is present in Islam.

Once, one of my female readers called me. She talked as if she was going to cry:

- Mr Ali, my mother died.

I gave her my condolences and wished patient for her.

She went on talking:

- I am not very sorry that my mother died; she was very old and she could hardly walk. I heard her praying, ‘Oh Allah, do not make me a burden for my children, take my life without making me bedridden, take me near my Hasan’ many times. She meant my father when she said Hasan. I do not want to disturb you more by talking so much. I have called you for my four-year old daughter. When my mother died, I took my daughter to her aunt. I told her that her grandmother was ill; she does not know that she is dead. I cannot conceal it for a long time; she will hear it from somebody else or she will ask us where her grandmother went. I do not know how to answer her and what to say; please help me.

I gave her my condolences and wished patient for her again.

- You are a believing person, I said. When your pain relieves one or two days later, take your child from her aunt. Tell her that "her grandmother is dead but that she has gone to Paradise and will have a better life there."

After hesitating for a moment:

- I thought of telling her something like that, too, she said. However, if she asks, -Shall I see my grandmother again?, what shall I say to her?

- We should be honest when we answer the questions of our children. We should answer using short and simple words without giving details. We should say what we believe. According to our belief, we will come together in the hereafter, our affinityand friendship will continue. Tell your child about them. Tell her that her grandmother will meet her in Paradise and will love her again in Paradise.

You will appreciate that I cannot explain the religious education of children in one article. You can send the questions of children to my e-mail address; you can be sure that I will try to help you as much as I can.

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