Prayer, in the prescribed manner is obligatory upon every adult Muslim of sound mind. As far as children are concerned, it is not obligatory on them until they come of age. However, it requires continuous effort and persuasion to get them to the stage where they start offering their Prayers regularly in the manner prescribed for the Prayer. Proper training and education is therefore necessary for children. It is for this reason that the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has directed that when children reach the age of seven, parents should urge them to be regular in their Prayers and when they reach the age of ten, they must be admonished if they fail to offer their Prayers regularly. (Sunan Abi Dauood, Kitab-us-Salat).
Once the children reach the age of maturity, it becomes compulsory for them to offer their Prayers. At that stage, no individual or Government has the right to force them to offer their Prayers, as the Salat offered under compulsion does not mean anything. It ought to be offered willingly. The matter rests between the person and his God. Therefore, it is the duty of every and all Muslim parents to prepare their children for Salat from an early age. Moreover, it is highly essential for them to pray to God Almighty that their children become regular in Prayers. God’s help is sought because the task is huge.
It is mentioned in the Holy Quran that throughout his life, Hadhrat Ishmael, peace be upon him, used to exhort members of his household to offer their Prayers regularly. It is often observed that in homes where elders offer their Prayers regularly, the children start copying the movements of their elders naturally and thus become regular in their Prayers, with time. However, when a child reaches the age of seven, the proper method of Prayer should be taught to him. He should be encouraged to join in Prayer and, if possible, he should be persuaded to accompany the parents to the mosque. This will develop in the child, an affinity with Prayer, and will safeguard the habit of Prayer in the following generation. The parent or guardian, however, is permitted to be somewhat strict with the children between the ages of 10 to 12, should they become slack in offering their Prayers. This does not mean that they should be treated cruelly or punished, rather they should be admonished to the same degree as parents often admonish them for missing school. However, when they reach the age of twelve, they should be made to realise that their parents have discharged their duty and from that time on, the matter rests between them and God, to Whom they are answerable. This does not mean that they should not be advised, exhorted or admonished because as far as advising them is concerned, it can go on for life, if required. It is only the element of strictness which comes to an end when the child reaches the age of twelve. As mentioned earlier, Hadhrat Ishmael, peace be upon him, adopted the same method of love and kind persuasion with the members of his household. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, treated the grown-ups in his family in the same manner. It is reported that he used to call out to his daughter Hadhrat Fatima and his son-in-law Hadhrat Ali, may God be pleased with them, to wake them up for Fajr Prayer.
Importance of Prayer
Salat or the prescribed Prayer, has been mentioned in the Holy Quran as an essential characteristic of a true believer. The Holy Quran states:
Prayer, Salat helps us to get rid of sins; inclines us more and more towards God and goodly things and so gradually purifies us. But this is not the end. Prayer does much more than this. It brings man closer to his Creator. The worshipper tries to imitate God in His most excellent attributes and is constantly transformed from a lowly and worldly person to a highly noble and sublime servant of God. The Holy Quran mentions this distinctive quality of Salat by saying:
Prayer is indeed a sure and well-tried prescription for purity of the heart and the soul. It is through Salat alone that we are able to establish a living communion with Allah. The Quran says:
According to the Holy Prophet, on whom be and blessings of Allah, Salat is the pinnacle of the spiritual life of the believer. It is the highest form of Divine worship. The Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is further reported to have observed:
The Salat combines all forms and degrees expressive of humility and submission. The worshippers stand in rows and respectfully behind the Imam.
All the worshippers who line up behind the Imam must follow his movements at his call. The call for every movement is Allahu Akbar except when the Imam straightens himself from the position of Ruku, i.e; the bowing position, when instead of saying Allahu Akbar, he says Same Allahu Liman Hamidah which means most certainly God listens to those who praise Him. At this call, all the followers also straighten up with arms by their sides, saying Rabbana Wa Lakal Hamd Hamdan Katheeran Tayyiban Mubarakan Feehe.
Sincerity and humility are the essence of prayer. Allah enjoins believers:
True humility can only be achieved by mentally concentrating on the attributes of Allah. When His immense greatness dawns on someone, one has no choice but to be humbled.