I am not a fuzzy-wuzzy mother. Ask either of my daughters – I’m loving but downright tough most times. I don’t put up with nonsense from my own girls, so far be it from me to tolerate ill-mannered children that don’t belong to me, in private or public places.
Having said that, I am of late rather bothered by numerous complaints from others, actually just other women, about being bothered by children in the masjid. I have heard complaints about the disruption of khushu’ from children bouncing around, comparisons to the impeccable manners of church-going kids, irritation at mothers who keep insisting on coming for prayers when they can’t keep their little ones quiet, and wonderment at why Muslims alone seem to be incapable of getting toddlers to follow directions and keep their mouths shut.
All of this only reminds me repeatedly of the ahadith I’ve heard regarding our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) behavior around children. Who hasn’t heard the story of how the Prophet (s.a.w.) delayed his sujood because his two grandsons were playing on his back as he prayed? Or how, upon hearing the cries of an infant in the congregation, he was apt to shorten the prayers. So we have examples of him modifying his personal prayer as well as modifying congregational prayers to respond to the needs of children. Was there anything more dear to the Prophet (s.a.w.) than the worship of his Creator? No. There is no dispute about this. But the mercy and compassion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) towards children was so great that he made concessions in his personal ‘ibaadah and the ‘ibaadah of the entire community for the ease of children.
I know it is sometimes difficult to tolerate disruptions in anything, whether prayer or a lecture, by children (mostly when they belong to other people) – I’ve been there many times. But as a mother who often struggles to stay connected to community and spirituality, and who is raising the next generation of Muslims, my heart has become softened towards mothers who don’t seem to notice their children may be disruptive to others. Sometimes it’s because we tend to tune out sounds we are used to, but mostly because parental tolerance is higher towards children than from those who don’t have children. What is disruptive to someone with no kids may hardly be blink-worthy to a mother.
The worst thing we can expect is for mothers and children to stay out of our masaajid and away from our events. As it is, women have little voice, presence, resources, and influence in our places of worship. Our access to scholars is likewise limited, both because there is a dearth of female Islamic scholars and because we cannot spend time in intimate gatherings with male scholars. To top this off, if we ask that mothers simply stay away from congregational prayers, we are shutting the final door in the face of women.
The Prophet (s.a.w.) knew this. He did not stop women from joining prayers because they had children, sometimes who were clearly disruptive. And it was only from his great mercy that he assured women that they would still get great rewards in their ‘ibaadah at home — not because he was discouraging them from attending the masjid, but he knew it was sometimes hard for women to do so.
And really, to be honest, I’ve never witnessed any behavior so bad that I felt like kicking a mother and child out of the masjid. Yes, kids will run around, the babies will crawl all over, sometimes they’ll cry, they’ll play with other kids, but that’s about it. I have yet to see any child vandalize property, fight with other children, hurt others or themselves, or take off with someone’s shoe. Our children have a right to be in the musallah. We shouldn’t deprive them of this right simply because they are acting upon their fitrah.
In this month of incredible mercy, even if you feel irritated because a random infant is going through your purse while you struggle to stay focused on your salaah, try a little tenderness. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said “whoever is not merciful will not be treated mercifully.” [Al-Bukhaari] and in the Quran, Allah (s.w.t.) says “So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter,” (3:159). Imagine the reward you will gain, inshaAllah, from forgiving the little brat and his exhausted mother. Yes, the kiddie may have destroyed your khushu’, but at least he softened your heart.