We all know prayer is a fundamental part of the faith. The clergy use the following hadith to claim parents should order children to pray at seven years of age and hit them if they refuse when they are ten years old.
عن عبدالله بن عمرو بن العاص رضي الله عنهما: أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: مُرُوا أولادكم بالصلاة وهم أبناء سبع سنين، واضربوهم عليها وهم أبناء عَشْر، وفرقوا بينهم في المضاجع؛
USUAL TRANSLATION: Narrated by Abdullah bin Amr bin Aas that the Prophet said, ‘Command your children to pray when they become seven years old, and beat them for it (prayer) when they become ten years old; and arrange their beds separately.
So, let’s take a closer look at the language in this hadith. Firstly, the imperative verb
Does it mean ‘to hit/beat’ the child? The Quran sheds light on this. There are 3 verses which include the same verb.
ضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ أَيْنَ مَا ثُقِفُواْ إِلاَّ بِحَبْلٍ مِّنْ اللَّهِ وَحَبْلٍ مِّنَ النَّاسِ وَبَآءُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَسْكَنَةُ ذلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُواْ يَكْفُرُونَ بِـَايَـتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ الاٌّنْبِيَآءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ ذلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوْاْ وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ
They are enveloped in humility wherever they may be, except when under a covenant from Allah, and a covenant from men; they have drawn on themselves the wrath of Allah, and destitution envelops them. That was because they used to disbelieve in the Ayat (proofs, evidence) of Allah and killed the Prophets wrongfully. That was because they disobeyed and used to transgress the bounds (in their disobedience to Allah, i.e. commit crimes and sins).
وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَآءُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُواْ يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَـتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ذلِكَ بِمَا عَصَواْ وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ
And they were enveloped in humiliation and misery, and they drew on themselves the wrath of Allah. That was because they used to disbelieve in the Ayat (proofs, evidence) of Allah and killed the Prophets wrongfully. That was because they disobeyed and used to transgress the bounds (in their disobedience to Allah, i.e. commit crimes and sins).
فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَى ءَاذَانِهِمْ فِى الْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًا
Therefore, We covered up/enveloped their hearing in the cave for a number of years.
*NOTE: Most translators translate ‘dharaba ala’ as ‘covered’ in these instances when ‘enveloped/immersed’ would be a better choice. The difference in English is subtle yet significant in helping us understand the hadith here.
Taking these verses where the same verb is used in the same form, we can clearly see that hitting a child (even lightly) is NOT what is meant here. It means to envelop/immerse the child in the routine of praying.
In other words, where they had a choice between the ages of 7 and 10 when they were being trained, praying is now established.
In addition to this and for the sake of clarity for the overwhelming number of Muslims who do not know Arabic, the word ‘muru’ at the beginning of the hadith would be better translated as ‘Train’ as opposed to ‘Command’. It is exactly the same when you ‘command/tell’ your child to read his/her reading book to you – they are learning to read. It is a process as opposed to the finished product. It is from Allah’s Mercy that parents and children are given 3 years to go through this process of the child learning the importance of prayer, the beliefs underpinning prayer, and how to actually pray.
Furthermore, the Prophet, the example for all Muslims to follow, never hit a child nor did the Companions. In fact, hitting a child for any reason whether it be under the wrongly assumed banner of morality or religion is always wrong. It will never instill a love of the Lord, prayer or the religion and in fact, children will be praying out of fear of their parents as opposed to a firmly established belief that they were created to worship. Without a doubt, this is setting them up for failure as Muslims in the long term because it ruins the foundation of their religion – to act purely for the pleasure of Allah.
Some parents who use hitting as part of their discipline strategy may throw their hands up at this and ask, ‘How then will I get my child to pray?’ I believe the way is through knowledge. This may be broken down into the following:
1). Children must first learn why they have been created (i.e. to worship – See 51.56 of the Quran).
2). Learning about Allah (Names and attributes – found throughout the Quran so children understand why Allah SHOULD be worshipped)
3). Understanding the importance of worship in general (e.g. through stories of the Prophets found in the Quran as these stories centre around worship)
4). Learning the rituals (i.e. physical actions) of prayer.
Once children are fully established in the routine of prayer, we need our mosques to be more welcoming and inclusive for our youth. Mosques need to be the hub of any Muslim community where a sense of belonging is felt and our children find moral and spiritual strength in our togetherness. In this way, prayer becomes part of who we were born to be – worshippers of Our Creator.
Most importantly, we as parents, must strive to be the best version of ourselves as Muslims, because when we do that, it automatically means we are better people and better parents. Despite popular belief, this is not a linear process. It is impossible to be a perfect Muslim in knowledge and action before we start teaching the next generation. Rather, self improvement can take place in tandem with teaching our children. It will be hard work but with better role models and the Grace of our Lord, our children will also triumph.