ABU DHABI // The General Authority of Islamic Affairs has urged parents whose children have been turned away from mosques to lodge a complaint.
Many parents, who did not want to be quoted, said they had been told to keep children away in case they disturbed worshippers, and imams have reminded mothers that they could pray at home.
But Dr Ahmed Al Mousa, the authority's media relations director, said entrance should not be denied to children over the age of 5.
"Islam does not discourage children from entering mosques, completely the contrary," Dr Al Mousa said. "If the authority heard of anyone who says this, they will immediately take action.
"Anyone who has experienced this must come and complain.
"We want children to get used to it. If they are too young, under the age of 5, then they can't because they would just want to play, and might not be able to go to the toilet by themselves and need their mother."
But those older than 5, he said, should go to mosque regularly.
"It is better to come to mosques to get used to them, to engage in society and be part of the social gathering so they do not later fear it," Dr Al Mousa said. "A person is social in nature."
Some parents have said that their children, under the age of 10 but older than 5, have been turned away.
Mosques have also admitted blocking their entrance after complaints from worshippers who wish to focus on the spirituality of Ramadan without infants crying in the background.
Dr Al Mousa said the authority required every mosque to be built with a female section, and women should refrain from bringing younger, ill-behaved children.
"Other than that, they are free and encouraged to bring their children," he said.
With Sunday marking the start of the last 10 days of Ramadan, mosques are expected to be full at taraweeh prayers after isha, and qiyam al layl, the later prayers. It is expected many worshippers will have to pray on the streets.
Large mosques have been able to set aside extra space for parents to stay with their children, but smaller mosques do not have that option.
This means the children leave their parents and go looking for fun.
"Their favourite game is to run between the people who are praying," said Umm Mubarak, from Al Ain.
The mother of three said she had not prayed at a mosque for years, fearing her children would disturb worshippers.
She said leaving the children with the maid more than an hour every night of Ramadan was also out of the question.
But others insist on bringing their children with them.
Umm Mubarak said that this too often leads to children losing their parents and spending hours trying to find them again.
This, in turn, led to worshippers' shoes being moved and quarrels among women who disagree with the childrens' behaviour.
"They look for the parents while they are praying," Umm Mubarak said. "And the ladies are wearing abayas, so they hold one thinking she is their mother, then they look at her face and start crying when they realise it's someone else."