Part of the Teaching Your Child Salat series
Questions that had come to my mind before I ever embarked on this was, how can I possibly teach my son salat? I’ve never taught anyone salat. I don’t speak very much Arabic and my pronunciation isn’t very good. I don’t have very many surahs memorized. Is it okay to lead my son in prayer? Where do I stand and where does he stand? I’ve never seen anyone teach a kid salat. Do they just pick it up on their own? Sometimes when he was younger and I worried about such things, I thought, well, maybe he will just learn by watching me. Or, maybe I’ll have gotten married again by the time he’s old enough to pray salat, and my husband will teach him/will know something about this. Well, I didn’t get married, and frankly, foisting it off onto someone else could have simply dumped all the same questions on him too :P. But guess what? If I can do it, you can do it too! It turns out all these concerns are surmountable and not a barrier. Let’s go through them in case you’re having trouble wrapping your mind around how this is going to work. If you already know it’s going to be a breeze and no trouble and in fact, your kid already knows just by watching you, then why are you reading this instead of writing a post about how you managed that? 😀 For the rest of you, I invite you into the research and exhaustive thought that I put into this. It all worked out!
IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO PRAY SALAT YOURSELF:
I recommend that you start by working through the steps yourself before teaching your child. Check the Salat Learning Resources post. The same resources will work for you (especially the website I linked there would be useful for self teaching; you can also printout the pdfs of the prayer steps or order one of the booklets). You don’t, however, have to memorize a lot of Qur’an in order to teach your child to pray salat, you can learn more together afterwards. It took me about a month to memorize the whole salat when I first learned (as an adult) using paper printouts someone gave me. I printed the pages and placed them on the floor in front of me every time I prayed salat and read along (out loud) until I had it memorized. When I had to be away from home, I used the shorter version that you can recite if you don’t have the full salat memorized; however luckily at that time I was in college and my schedule allowed me to pray most prayers at home. Once you have the basics down, you can teach your child. If your child is older, you could work through them together, but if he/she is younger and salat is not obligatory I think it would be easier to teach yourself first. Why not get started now? 🙂
I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO TEACH MY CHILD.
This is the most self-defeating thought. We are all at various stages of learning, but no matter what stage you are at, you are in fact good enough to teach your child. You don’t have to be an Islamic scholar, or have perfect pronunciation. You don’t have to be an Arabic speaker (most muslims aren’t). Salat is for EVERYbody. One important hadith which I also reminded my son about several times during the course of this, when he felt bad over me correcting him on some line or that he wasn’t saying something correctly, also applies to those of use who have difficulties in recitation due to pronunciation or the fact that it’s not our first language:
A’isha, may Allah be pleased with her, relates that the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said: Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have TWICE that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]”
I also find comfort in the story of Musa (Moses) (pbuh) in the Qur’an, because he was known to have some kind of difficult in talking or speech impediment. Yet, Allah still made him a prophet (and let his brother Aaron become a prophet as well, to assist him and perhaps also because of Aaron’s ability and charisma in speaking to the people). I also have a speech impediment which has been a source of embarrassment at many times during my life. So not only can I not pronounce Arabic correctly all the time, I also mess up my own first language of English! No matter: I can and did still teach my son salat. He is already better at pronunciation than I am, and of course he does not learn my speech impediment. Supplementing with other reciters online to expose him to more than one version of pronunciation, and remembering these passages from the hadith and Qur’an helped calm my worries about this.
I DON’T HAVE MANY SURAHS MEMORIZED!
Well, neither do I, unfortunately. There are some surahs that I continue to trip up over after years! In fact sometimes I had to leave those and move on to other ones because it seemed I was never going to get them. Let me lay your fears to rest. First of all, you need Al Fatihah and one other surah (I started with Al Ikhlas). These are the only surahs to begin with that your child will need to learn. Don’t forget, Al Ikhlas is very short, but is equal to 1/3 of the Qur’an! The way we progressed to add additional surahs was that each time my son finished memorizing a surah completely and could recite it without prompting regularly in the salat, we would sit down and go over another surah… reading along with the transliteration, and explaining the meaning. We would also listen to a few different reciters pronounce it online while following along. Then I would use that surah (along with previously memorized ones) in the salat, so he could hear it a lot, and he would learn it quickly! (We would read from paper for that part of the salat until memorized). It does seem to be much easier for children to memorize than adults, so you will be doing him a favor, maybe at some point he will be teaching YOU more surahs!
Recently I taught my son a new surah that I had struggled with for years. I had initially tried to learn it a long time ago but I always mixed it up, so I didn’t often try to use it in salat. After I went over the pronunciation and meaning with him, I copied out the transliteration on a little card to use as a reference during salat, and we both practiced it. Teaching him, and hearing him recite it when he lead, and going over it together, somehow finally got that surah through my head!
Several months after we started the salat learning process, my son had caught up to all the surahs I’d memorized in the 13 years before that. 😛 Embarrassing, yes, but we are going to keep going forward together learning more, and I think it’s going to work out great! Since that time (as an update to when I originally drafted this post) we’ve added 2 more together the same way. Each time, my son got to the point of memorizing before I did, I was astounded how fast he memorized it! Then, he helped me by prompting me if I forgot and I learned it much quicker than before as well. (We also got the Quran recitation cards from Creative Motivations that I mention on the Salat Learning Resources post, which is handier than copying it out because it also has the meaning, notes, and original Arabic, and it’s easy to hold during prayer). Having my son help me learn also helped him feel more competent in salat instead of feeling he was always the one to make mistakes or be corrected.
IS HE/SHE REALLY READY FOR THIS? HOW IS MY CHILD GOING TO MANAGE ALL 5?
One of the immediate and practical problems that came to mind was the fact that the five daily prayers conflicted with my five-year-old son’s sleeping schedule in a major way. Unlike myself, he usually gets a good 12 hours of sleep per night, and needs it. Factor in the seasonal fluctuations of Fajr and Isha at northwest latitudes, and we were looking at serious preschooler burnout (perhaps another reason that a later age is usually recommended for learning, but see my post about our decision to start then). I struggle myself to wake up for Fajr sometimes (okay, frequently), and although it’s not a problem with my current schedule, there have been times in my life when I had to set my alarm just to wake up again for Isha after I’d initially passed out for the evening because I couldn’t stay awake.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I should handle this. I realized that an older child, like one who was actually of the age where salat was obligatory, wasn’t going to have the same bedtime issues, and would physically be able to handle the prayer times and going back to sleep (or at least resting quietly) as necessary. But here he was ready now, and I didn’t want to kill his enthusiasm by heaping too much on his plate all at once.
Ultimately, I decided that I was just going to have him start with Dhuhr and Asr (the noon and afternoon prayers). At first I tried to throw in the evening Maghrib prayer as well, but at the height of summer, when this was already pushing his bedtime, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to work well. So I gently told him that we were going to start him off with Dhuhr and Asr only, due to the fact that he was not obligated to do all the prayers yet, this was a training period of his life. We did learn ABOUT all of the prayers, such as how many rakats for each, and the time frame when each took place, with the understanding that we would gradually add those in later. Since the process of salat is the same for all the prayers, with only differences in how many rakats, aloud vs. silent, etc., I think this is a very flexible approach which could be incorporated into whatever schedule works in a particular family, because really once you’ve learned the salat, it’s just a matter of adding the other times. It’s not what I did as an adult, but it seems reasonable for very young children who want to participate. As I am currently able to work from home, the timing is perfect, as we can due Dhuhr before or after lunch, and Asr before dinner as most times of year, not during pre-bedtime madness. But, I think other families that might have to work around school or work would be able to follow a similar method, perhaps using different prayers to start with that happened to fall into times when both parent and child are at home and not rushed for time (remembering that it requires significantly more time for a teaching salat session than just doing salat on your own… plus there are going to be question and answer sessions, discussion, talking about the salat, etc).
An actual advantage of teaching children of this early age is, if they are going to go into school later, they will already be able to pray on their own when they are away. Right now we are able to homeschool, but nobody knows what the future may hold except Allah. Later, when my son turned 6, while the days were short and Maghrib was early, we added it the Maghrib prayer back in and it’s been much smoother, even when the days lengthened again it was part of the routine and though we had a little bedtime adjustment for a while in the summer, it all worked out. I have added the other prayers in the same way as he’s gotten older. If you establish the habit early on without making it difficult, it will be easy to add the other prayers later insha’allah. Remember “Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you” [Qur’an 2:185]. There are many hadiths along the same lines, for example the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said “Religion is easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will be unable to continue in that way.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari and Muslim). So do not make things too difficult at this age. It is better to set easy goals and stick to them, rather than making it too hard so it must be abandoned and the child will then learn that the prayer is too difficult, or that it is less important if he doesn’t always have to do it. While it is not obligatory yet and I made sure my son understood that, I also enforced that we still are going to do it once we start, and keep up the habit for those prayers he is going to practice on. Be sure to let your child know that he is still able to earn reward this way, despite the fact it is not obligatory yet.
I will also add that doing salat with someone who is just learning can also be a little distracting, and it’s helpful to have those other salats where it’s just you focusing on your salat. Once your child has memorized the salat this will no longer be as much of an issue.
CAN I EVEN LEAD MY CHILD IN SALAT? HOW DOES THIS WORK? WHERE DO WE STAND?
Once upon a time this was a big concern of mine. However, as I have learned more about Islam and explored this more, it has ceased to be a concern, and at the point where I actually started teaching my son salat, the answer just seemed natural. Yet many people will probably get bothered about this point as I once was. I have realized through my research that there is a difference of opinion about where the leader and follower should stand if there are two people praying and they are a man and a woman (for example a man and his wife). Some say, if the husband is leading, the wife should stand behind, as in the masjid or any large group where the men make rows at the front and the women make rows behind. Indeed, even if you have only 3 people at the masjid and they are all men, the leader stands in front, and the other two stand behind. But if you have only TWO people praying, there is a hadith which recounts that in this case, the follower should stand to the right of the leader (in some opinions, slightly behind so that the leader is a few inches forward). There is only one hadith I know of that illustrates the case of 2 people vs. 3 people praying, and it is often cited:
Muslim narrated that Jaabir said: “I prayed with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and stood on his left. He took me by the hand and made me stand on his right. Then Jabbaar ibn Sakhr came and did wudoo’, then he came and stood on the left of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) took hold of our hands and made us stand behind him. “
So if there is only one person praying with the leader, he should stand on the right of the leader. There is no hadith that I know of that addresses the situation with only two people with one of them being a woman and the other a man. The only example we have of only two people praying together (which happen to both be men) puts the second person at the side.
These established facts lead me to realize that if I was going to lead my son in salat, I would stand beside him with him to my right. Furthermore, if he was going to lead me in salat, the situation would be reversed with me standing to his right, as with the example of the prophet pbuh leading one man.
Another question of course is about whether a woman can lead a man in salat at all, regardless of where she is standing. At this point I am not trying to settle the debate of women leading mixed prayers in the masjid… I’d settle for the established sunnah of having the women in rows behind the men in the same room, which appears to be going extinct in the US. But I digress. There is, as you might imagine, some debate about whether or not various women at the time of the prophet (pbuh) did in fact lead their households of mixed men and women in prayer. Some hadiths seem to support this, but some scholars interpret them differently. I’m not sure if that is a question that will ever be resolved or not. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. One thing is for sure though, there weren’t a lot of new converts at the time of the prophet (pbuh) sitting around by themselves trying to learn salat alone from pieces of paper. Perhaps one of the big reasons that we have only one or two hadiths about what happens when praying with only 2 people is that it simply didn’t happen that often, people came together to pray, and lived in families and communities that allowed that. Surely, however, it happened sometimes, and we have only the example to go on that the leader stands to the right and the follower stands to the left.
There are also many hadiths about who should be the leader or imam, and that is the person who knows the most Qur’an (without mentioning if it is a woman or a man). Let us leave the records of history now and consider the situation; if the person who knows the most, nay, the only person who knows Qur’an there is a woman, then she should lead. You cannot expect someone to lead who does not know the salat at all, regardless of age (and yes, most muslims do not start out by knowing the salat automatically when they convert, nor is this a prerequisite for conversion). People come to Islam at all ages and stages of life. Even someone who knows nothing can follow along in salat as I did on my first ever visit to the masjid, in fact I was welcomed into the line of salat even though I had not said my shahada yet.
Once you consider all this it seems obvious that if you are teaching your child salat you will lead, whether the child is a girl or boy, and regardless of how old the child is, and you will stand on the left and the follower will stand on the right. I am not in the position to issue any “official” statement on the fact, but it does seem to me in retrospect that so many people have confused this issue with additional facts that never had any place in the discussion… the example of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) is perfectly logical and simple, and satisfies the entire issue: with 2 people the leader stands on the left, the person who knows more Qur’an (or at least knows how to pray) is the leader. All else is confusion added afterwards unnecessarily.
Praying side-by-side also assists practically in teaching salat. When I was leading, my son could easily follow beside me, and if he was leading he could see what I was doing from the corner of his eye. If he made a mistake in position such going into ruku instead of sajdah, he could see me go into the correct position without the need of further explanation and I could see him. Having taught salat side-by-side now, I can’t imagine teaching it with one person in front and the other behind, it would be much more difficult: whether we are talking about a man teaching his wife or daughter or a woman teaching her husband or son. Side-by-side makes sense and it is what the prophet did when praying with one other person.
Letting a child lead
Now, I will point out that I DID let my son learn to lead me in salat, despite not knowing as much Qur’an as me, and despite not being of age, and there are a few reasons for this. He progressed very well in his memorization but I did let him lead for practice even before he had memorized as many surahs as I had, though one could certainly delay that. I think that learning to lead can be as important as learning to follow. It will doubtless be useful for him when he is with a group of people to know how to do it, as he may unexpectedly be called upon to do it. The first time I had a friend over who asked me to lead her I was very flustered and confused myself because it was so new and distracting!
Leading also gives him additional practice remembering and reciting for himself when I’m not on my break, which I think helps keep him on top of remembering his salat… if he were to only follow me the rest of the time, and only “lead” himself praying during my break, he might slack off in remembering his surahs and recitations.
Also, as a leader one has to be careful to speak very clearly, and moderate one’s voice, to keep one’s movements regular and allow followers to catch up. This helps him work on his speed. There is sometimes more inclination to rush when praying by oneself.
Practicing leading and following also helps teach the slight delay that exists between the imam’s movements and the follower’s movements, and to learn not to anticipate the leader’s movements. This is something I was quite unaware of for a while as I did not have much opportunity to pray in the masjid in my early years of Islam, so when I did pray in congregation I was not allowing that lag time and ended up throwing other people off :P. My son could learn about following by watching me follow him, just as he could learn about leading by watching me lead him.
Also as with any new skill learning activity, there comes a time where you feel like you’ve got it, and you just want to do it, and are tired of being told what to do all the time and always being the student. I had already observed that my son loves to take charge in this way. The other day I gave him a spelling quiz. Immediately afterwards, he wanted to give me one! I let him of course :). Leading gives the child an opportunity to take ownership of the salat. He can imagine being an imam himself, and to make decisions like how many rakahs have we already done? What surah should I recite next? Confidence and self-motivation are key since the salat is really for himself and the goal is for him to eventually continue on his own regardless of where he goes in the world, without you there. All important skills I think and very important for being motivated to do one’s own prayers.
OKAY. I CAN DO THIS. I’M READY.
On to the step-by-step! I really did base it on how I learned (except, I only had one “teaching” demonstration by a live person, followed by the printouts which I then followed myself on my own at home), plus supplementary material. If you have other people around to demonstrate and help and use as examples, that’s great. If not, it’s still okay. All you need is you.
Step by Step: Our process of Teaching and Learning Salat, and
Salat Learning Resources >>