As one of three managers of a homeschooling co-op in Northern California, I have the privilege of working with children who range from infant age all the way up to eighth grade. It is such an honor to be trusted by 35+ families in having any kind of input in the tarbiya (upbringing) of their precious sons and daughters. The parent-teachers in our co-op have spent time brainstorming and identifying what we see as some of the “micro” issues that we would ideally want managed at a young age so that there can eventually be a positive impact in the world at a “macro” level, insha’Allah (God willing). We’ve observed that so many mosques and Islamic centers in communities all over the United States seem to be plagued with many of the same issues — people don’t line up their shoes properly; the bathrooms are a sopping wet mess; parents don’t know how to keep their kids under control during the sermons and prayers; and don’t even get us started on the parking issues!

Except for parking issues (obviously), it seems that all of the other “problem areas” can be tackled at a young age; children can be taught to be mindful and considerate of others in the early years. Our hope is that by drilling these instructions and reminders into them on a regular basis and by personally modeling the appropriate behavior for them to emulate, they will eventually grow up to be adults for whom these proper habits are just second nature, insha’Allah. How much better off our world would be if all adults were on the same page regarding these points of etiquette as well! Well, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, and we need to do our part by training them well right now while we still have the chance, insha’Allah.

Here are some of the points regarding the Friday prayer service that we have emphasized with our students in the very language that we have used with them:

1) No one should sit with his/her legs outstretched and his/her feet pointed towards the khateeb (the imam who is giving the sermon) and the qibla (direction of Makkah). We never sit in front of any teacher like that. Pointing your feet towards elders/scholars is considered to be disrespectful, and our Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam) came to teach us adab (manners).

2) No one should sit with his/her back towards the khateeb.

3) The Jumah khutbah (Friday sermon) replaces the first 2 raka’ahs (cycles) we normally pray in Dhuhr prayer, so we are supposed to sit attentively and listen quietly while the khateeb speaks — just like we would in prayer. Some people — those of high himmah (perseverance) and taqwa (God-consciousness) — even choose to sit the exact same way they would sit if they were sitting in actual prayer, masha’Allah (by the will of God). At complete attention and facing forward!

4) We most definitely should not be speaking to any of our friends who may be trying to distract us or play with us during the sermon. We can always play once the prayers are over, insha’Allah. The Prophet (saw) loved to see children playing and wrestling in the mosque, but he taught us that we MUST focus during the khutbah.

5) We are not even supposed to tell someone to “be quiet” during the khutbah, so if any of our friends try to speak with us about ANYthing, we should just put our finger on our lips to indicate that we are not going to be speaking at all right now. There is no reason to loudly shush anyone. Put your finger on your lips and then put your eyes on the khateeb — your friend will eventually get the hint, and you may even end up teaching him/her a valuable lesson about the deen (religion), insha-Allah! (If your friend is unable to take the hint, quietly get up and move away to another spot.)

6) If younger ones cannot sit quietly in one place during the khutbah, they should NOT be in the main hall. Many Islamic centers have a room in the back for mothers with children who have “a case of the wiggles”. If you are not going to sit by your parent’s side quietly, then you will either have to sit in the back hall with your mother or you will not be able to come to Jumah prayers until you are older. It is not fair to disturb other people who have come to listen to what the khateeb is teaching us.

7) If you have brought a coloring book or a stuffed toy to hold in your lap, it is for you to use by yourself. The Jumah prayer is not like school or a playdate; it is not a time to share or play games. Yes, it is good to want to share your things, but you can always share after the khutbah is over, insha’Allah. Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) prefers that we focus on what the khateeb is teaching us rather than on sharing our toys during the sermon. We have to always ask ourselves: “What does Allah (swt) want me to be doing RIGHT NOW?” — and then we have to act on what we know.

Here are some rulings and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) regarding “talking during the khutbah”:

The majority of the scholars are of the opinion that it is obligatory to be silent during the khutbah, and one is not to indulge in conversation during the khutbah.

Ibn ‘Abbas reports that the Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Whoever speaks in Jumah while the imam is delivering the khutbah is like a donkey who is carrying books, and for those who tell him to be quiet, there is no reward for the Jumah.”

Abu Hurairah (may Allah be well-pleased with him) reports that the Prophet (saw) said: “If, during the Jumah while the imam is delivering the khutbah, you tell your companion to be quiet, then you have spoken needlessly.”

Abu ad-Darda (may Allah be well-pleased with him) says: “The Prophet (saw) was upon the pulpit and was addressing the people and he recited a verse, and next to me was Ubayy ibn-Ka’b and I asked him: ‘When was that verse revealed?’ He refused to talk to me until the Messenger of Allah (saw) came down from the pulpit, and then he said to me: ‘You have nothing from your Jumah, except your useless talk.’ When the Prophet (saw) had finished, I went to him and informed him of what had happened, and he said: ‘Ubayy has told the truth. If you hear your imam speaking, be quiet until he is finished.’”

After engaging the kids in some role-playing and presenting some “what if?” scenarios (in order to model for them how they should behave when challenged), a favorite hadith that I like to share with them is the one where the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “I was not sent except to perfect noble character.” We remind the children that they already have good character in them, alhamdulillah (praise be to God), but now they have to work on “perfecting” that good character and making it the best it can be, taking it to the highest level possible. And we tell them that they can only do that by following the example and instructions of the greatest teacher to have ever lived, the original khateeb: the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

And then we fervently pray for the kids’ success!