By Amina Shah
Why did I bother setting up a children’s library in a masjid?
I love hearing that question. It gives me the perfect opportunity to discuss negative attitude towards children coming to mosques.
This is a conversation that we must hold over and over, again and again, until every mosque welcomes children with open arms, nurturing in their warm little hearts an undying love for Allah and Islam.
It seems to me that people want all the rewards of congregational prayer without experiencing the social interaction that comes with it. The general solution that such people offer is for mothers and children to stay at home.
Such open discrimination!
You would think that the entire idea of a ‘mosque’ is to invite people inside–to create an environment so magnetic that it draws people from all walks of life inside.
This is the answer to the question, why did I set up a library for children at a mosque?
Because I wanted to be part of the solution.
Let me divulge two important steps of problem solving that my mother taught me: What Next? How To?
People feel that children misbehave, the parents are not bothered and the serenity of the mosque is compromised.
Should you yell at everyone and storm off in a cloud of rage, or plant a seed whose fruit you will reap for generations and generations?
If our children don’t behave like Christian children do in churches, then it’s because we never taught them.
It doesn’t matter how many times you yell at a child to ‘Be quiet!’ and ‘Sit down!’ It is a completely unrealistic expectation. And that usually leads to the conclusion that mothers and children should stay at home.
Is that really the best that we can do? Can we really not come up with a decidedly more intellectual solution?
How about setting up a children’s area with toys and books? Or a separate room for mothers with little ones? Or a program to keep children occupied during adult lectures? How about babysitting services?
Of course, implementing those ideas takes volunteers, leaders and doers willing to put in time and effort for the community. People are quick to criticize, but no one wants to be part of a progressive solution.
In the absence of all of those options, I still believe that if we allow children the freedom to be themselves and play around, we will be amazed at how much they pick up from a lecture that is not even geared towards them.
But I am at odds with my opponents on a vital point. Are you at a mosque for personal gain or for a collective benefit?
I see some women at the masjid helping a mom struggling with the fussy child, and then I see a another person giving dark looks to the mom struggling with the fussy child. The former is willing to lend a hand to make a learning environment for everyone present, while the latter is only concerned with one person-herself.
But when you enter a public gathering, you have to leave the ‘me’ at home, and concern yourself with the ‘us.’
I categorically disagree with the sentiment that mosques are for praying in peace and quiet. Has Allah forbidden children to enter the most sacred mosque in the world, Masjid Al-Haraam? Is there, then, any person on earth who would dare to do so?
Mosques are for worshipping with a large number of people, altogether, as a single, cohesive, harmonious unit! And creating that harmony takes compassion, empathy, grace, kindness, benevolence and mercy.
Don’t you think that when Allah calls us together at one point to turn towards Him, He is coaxing us to nurture these qualities inside us that we attribute to Him?
This all comes back to the question: why did I set up a children’s library in a mosque?
Because I wanted to create that nurturing environment. Because I wanted children to feel like they belonged. I wanted them to enjoy learning about Islam, and I wanted to use this priceless resource create other programs involving children, capturing their attention so that they don’t feel bored, restless and unwelcome.
And alhamdulillah, today I have even more conviction in these ideas than ever before! We conducted weekly story times for children throughout the summer.
In every way, the program proved that children learn how to conduct themselves in an instant when taught in a loving way that captures their attention.
The children loved coming to the mosque.
They loved hearing the stories.
They followed directions.
It has been a joy to go on this journey of discovering Islam through books with them.
Why did I want to set up a children’s library in a mosque?
Because I have yet to meet a child who will not instantly perk up with excitement on hearing the words, “Let me tell you a story.”