How shall we tell our children about Allah?
Submitted by on Thu, 05/11/2009 - 06:09
Dear Brother / Sister,
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 (see the Quran, 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). (see the Quran, 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." As a matter of fact, they are the things that need to be emphasized. (see the Quran, 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?
- 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?
- 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, 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. –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.
Questions on Islam
- How should a child be trained and religiously educated? How should we teach Allah to children?
- Halima (r.anha)
- Can you give information about adoption? Does the child who is adopted become a stranger to the adoptive mother when he grows up? And what is the religious decree to remove that state?
- What are children's rights over their parents?
- How should we inform our children about sexuality?
- Could you please give information about God’s mercy on people?
- Umm Salama (r.anha)
- Fatima bint Asad (r.anha)
- Will you give information about the Prophet's love of children?
- Could you please list the rights of parents over their children?