A Deeper Understanding of the Realities of Fajr.
In the first part of our special series, we discussed some of the difficulties that many families face in successfully encouraging teenagers and children to pray Fajr. Now in this second part, we go deeper in addressing the realities of raising young people who pray consistently and on time. In conjunction with the practical steps in Part 1, we will help you discover the key to Fajr for all the family.
Finding the root cause
Encouraging your young person to get up for Fajr is no mean feat. Turning on the light, rousing them gently enough to wake them but not hard enough to shock them is tricky: you can end up with a moody, incoherent adolescent who gives a whole new meaning to irritable, OR you have a teenager who keeps saying “I’m getting up!” but promptly falls straight back to sleep. That is if your child rises at all – for some, no matter how much you tell them, it’s not that they can’t get up, it’s more that they simply don’t want to pray in the early hours of the morning.
Whilst you may have already implemented many of the practical steps in Part 1, you may be wondering why you haven’t seen a change yet in your teen’s attempts to pray Fajr. It is important to remember that discussing the importance of Fajr and sending them to bed earlier, won’t be a quick fix to motivating them to pray – not without the correct foundations in place.
New family habits.
Many psychological studies show that it takes repeated action of a new behaviour up to 30 times to instil a habit – and therefore break or replace an old one. Many of our behaviours are learnt. They are often concepts of what we believe we should say or do, learnt earlier in life. Often these learnt behaviours take place at a young age when our view of the world and where we fit within it was being formed. But just as a behaviour can be learnt it can also be unlearnt – and replaced with something better.
Instilling in your children and teenagers the correct way of life is more than providing them instruction on what to do. If your adolescent children have not experienced or witnessed you praying Fajr throughout their younger years, they have already learnt the option of sleeping through the prayer instead. They may have even gathered the opinion that Fajr is not important or does not apply to them.
Now that your children are older, no matter how many times you try and impart to them the wisdom of prayer, it has little impact upon them: in fact, you wonder if it simply goes in one ear and out of the other. As such, you feel your attempts at teaching your teenager to pray falls on deaf ears and their Fajr prayer remains non-existent, inconsistent or lacks sincerity. The example (or lack of) that they witnessed from you as they grew has now become a learnt behaviour for them, too.
Setting a sincere example.
All children look to the adults around them, their primary caregivers, for example of how to behave and to tell them what is acceptable, what is expected and to establish their identity.
In Islām, our responsibilities as parents should be taken very seriously. We are gifted children by Allāh as a trust but also as a test. How will we raise them? How will we look after them? What will we do and how will we show our gratitude to Allāh?
The Qurān mentions several times that children are a test and a trial for us. But what does this mean? Yes, surely it is a test to raise them, but this goes beyond the physical struggles or the trying of our patience. The test we have of our children relates fundamentally to the way in which we raise them and the gravity with which we understand this responsibility:
Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, (sal Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.” (Muslim)
Whilst the hierarchical structure of the family unity should be upheld, it can be humbling for a parent to also realise how our own behaviours manifest themselves in our own children. As they learn from us, they become a reflection of us:
Aboo Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (sal Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “A believer is a mirror to another believer” (Aboo Dawood).
It therefore stands to reason that in understanding the responsibility and trust of raising children we must also see that to raise Muslim children successfully, we must correct our own behaviours as much as we seek to correct theirs. That which we wish them to be, we must be first.
Encouraging your teenager to rise and pray Fajr consistently will be easier when they see you take the same approach to prayer and other areas of your life and Deen. When you demonstrate your own commitment, even when your children are young, you are setting them the example which will dictate their whole perception and understanding of how they view prayer and ultimately, how they view Islām. They will become the mirror of you.
Sincerity leads to attachment to prayer.
Helping your children to get up and pray is one thing although leading them to the prayer mat is only half the battle. Whilst going through the motions of prayer holds some merit, without Khushoo’ in prayer, your teenager may hold only an insecure attachment to the notion of praying. Khushoo’ is not something they can necessarily imitate from you – Khushoo’ comes from the heart of each individual and is between the Muslim and Allāh.
Developing Khushoo’ is something that many adult Muslims struggle with from time to time. However, without this, our prayer can become a series of ritualistic and empty motions. Although we may be praying and praying on time, we are depriving ourselves of the true benefit of prayer. For our young people as well, especially those starting out in prayer, lack of sincerity and focus during prayer can lead to distraction and abandonment.
Attachment leads to Khushoo’.
To help your teenager, develop Khushoo’ in all their prayers, including Fajr, you should:
Help them to understand the recitation – many parents don’t see the point of reading Qurān in English or another language. But if Arabic is not your mother tongue, a well-regarded transliteration can be an ideal accompaniment for giving context and meaning to Qurān recitation. When a person of any age, understands the words they are speaking in prayer, they will much more be able to focus and develop a closer connection to Allāh.
Turn off distractions: turn off any television, music, computer and put your phone on silent. Try and pray in a blank or clear space where there are not many items to be distracted by.
Encourage deep breathing and clearing the mind. Focus solely on intention to pray and why we should pray, before beginning salah.
Set the right example: pray with them, pray on time and pray even if your prayer is late (more on this below!) Show them the commitment you wish to see in them.
Balancing prayer and sleep
With all the advice and guidance about the importance of prayer for the young Muslim, it is only right that we should talk about the need of sleep. Children and teenagers need sleep – more than we as adults do. They also have long days studying at school and usually other commitments, too. Therefore, we understand that adequate sleep is essential to their healthy development, their mood, and has been linked to better academic performance and achievement.
For the child aged 11- 15, it is only natural to be concerned that waking in the night to pray will leave them sleepy and tired at school the next day. For the older teen, around exam time, this is also a very justifiable concern. Your teenager may also have existing health conditions that also require a good amount of sleep.
All of these are relevant parental concerns when teaching your child about the importance of Fajr prayer.
To counteract this, it is wise to instil a little common sense. Should you see your teenager not coping with the Fajr routine, consider lessening the time of prayer. Wake them just for wudhu’ and straight to the Fard prayer and immediately back in to bed. Keep main lights off and use a lamp or other muted lighting and get them to pray in their bedroom so they can fall straight back to sleep after.
If you feel that they cannot handle the prayer still, then bring their bedtime forward. Try this routine for a few days and see if it makes a difference. Alternatively, consider carefully the timing of Fajr according to the time of year. In the winter months, Fajr can finish as late as 6.30 – 7.00 am (according to the country that you live in) – meaning your teen could just get up a little earlier, pray Fajr and then begin getting ready for school or college.
Missing prayer – what to do?
Sometimes no matter how hard you or they try, the alarm goes off and the next thing you know your eyes open again and the time for Fajr has ended. What felt like a couple of minutes rest after hitting the snooze button, turned back into an hour or more of sleep! You or your teenager wake up and realise that the light coming through the window means only one thing: Fajr time has finished.
Many of us will at this point turn back over and continue sleeping – thinking that we can make up our prayer at any other time because of accidently sleeping through. However, this is bad practice and leads to a lazy approach to prayer and is something you should also teach your teenager to handle properly. Remember, when the prayer time has finished, that prayer can never be made up. If you accidently missed it, you can pray it and hope that Allāh accepts, and he will if you’re sincere, in shā Allāh. That is, if you wake up and realise you’ve slept through, then that is when you should pray straight away. This removes the burden from you as well as keeping you in the habit of waking from sleep to pray and helping you to work back towards praying on time. However, turning over and going back to sleep moves you from accidentally sleeping through, to being negligent of the prayer. It is important for your child to know the difference.
Developing a deeper understanding of the reality of the struggle of Fajr prayer is essential if you are to support your teenager. It may also help you with your own struggles. Fajr prayer is fundamentally important and missing it is one of the signs of a hypocrite. It is without comparison of its worth for the believer.
The Messenger of Allāh (sal Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: ‘If the people knew what (reward) there is in the ‘Ishā prayer and Fajr prayer, they would come even if they had to crawl.'” (Ibn Majah)
Join us in our 3rd and final part for details of our 4 Tier Fajr Training system which will have the whole family up in prayer together Insha’Allah.