As usual, there will be reminiscing the past in my posts. :D
In the old days, I remembered cramping outside of my local surau for tarawih prayer during ramadan. I remembered, as I counted the minutes to finish all the eight rakaat so that my friends and I can go and play with firecrackers. Back then the surau was very small, and there were more people attending the prayers unlike today. So, as a boy in a traditional Malay community, I wasn't mature enough to pray in the carpeted, air-conditioned main hall and I was shoved to pray outside, with possibly twenty other kids around my age in an area no bigger than the bathroom at home.
With this kind of logic in mind, as you can imagine no kid with little knowledge of his faith can pray obediently, let alone twenty of them together in a crowded porch. Therefore, chaos entailed. Time after time an old man, with his white kopiah and baju melayu and kain pelikat will scold us, went berserk upon clueless eight year olds. I still remembered the yelling; it was the same every time.
"Kalau taknak sembahyang, baliklah!"
"Ni orang Islam ke hindu ni?"
"Bodoh punya budak-budak, orang nak sembahyang dia pergi bising-bising kat belakang."
Sometimes the pakciks will use other more colorful vocabularies, and yes all of them were wearing either songkok or kopiah, sometimes with a rosary in one hand.
There were also these kind of pakciks in other mosques as well. In a bigger mosque nearby, where I used to attend Friday prayers to, there was this one old man carrying bags (for donation) all around the mosque during the khutbah, and he will play the disciplinarian, ordering misbehaving schoolchildren to shut up.
And in my early teens, in another mosque another old man also played the disciplinarian around the mosque, but he took it to the next level; he bought a cane with him and we naturally were scared to death of him.
The mosque was never a friendly place for me to visit as a young boy. There will always be a haunting figure in each mosque deterring not only me, but the majority of young Muslims in Malaysia to stay away from them. The children were put in a separate row at the back, because apparently having them praying properly in a line together with adults will make the rest of the prayers rejected by Allah.
In Malaysia, older men will always act as a holier figure in mosques as if trying to prove to God that they are the most pious among the uber pious to come to the mosque for prayers. Pfft, as if God didn't see you outside the mosque, dah lah sebelum Ramadan tak pernah nampak pun dekat masjid.
In Egypt, they have ten mosques in a five minute walking distance. The mosques are so aplenty you have a mosque beside a mosque. Children are free to come and go and no man will scold them. After Asar prayer, Qur'an memorizing classes will be held for boys and girls; they have no former curriculum but they still learn and memorize loads. Me? I still can't recite surah an-Nazi'at properly.
They will bring their children to the mosque, some of them are not old enough to understand but with a ball in their hands, they will run around those in the saff and nobody will yell at them. Instead others will come at them and kiss their cheeks, their foreheads, their hands. And this is done by those Arabs that look like they cannot understand why you are still breathing.
Children will be children. While they lack the knowledge, we as adult should teach them, but not by yelling to them and demeaning them, because we need the younger generation to familiarise themselves with the mosque. That is how we create a strong muslim identity, by first creating a friendly and conducive Islamic environment.
Obviously children need to learn discipline and respect the mosque, but we must do it properly so that the right message is conveyed.