The Prophet was the ultimate spokesman for Allah on Earth. One feature of his theology important for religious development was accountability. Muhammad taught that Allah would judge humans for their conduct. He denied that human nature is sinful. Hence, spiritual development consists of eliciting the moral behavior most natural to human beings.
In light of this theology, Muhammad instituted the Five Pillars (or duties) of Muslim life. The first was the confession of faith: "There is no Allah but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah." This confession requires the submission to Allah that the word "Muslim" (one who submits) denotes. Thus, Muslim children learn from their earliest days that they are dependent on Allah for their life and should obey Allah's commands. While some Muslims hold that merely repeating the confession makes one a Muslim, many leaders list conditions for making one a Muslim. One such condition is that the confession must be perfectly understood by the person making it. Small children might be able to repeat the confession by memory, but would be expected to learn well its meaning.
The second pillar is the need for prayer five times daily: at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening, and before retiring to bed. These prayers are not extemporaneous, but feature recitations from the Qur'an and provide children with daily reinforcement of the basic confessions and obligations of Islam.
The third pillar is almsgiving, which may take the form of contributions to places of worship, but also of help to needy individuals or families, sometimes made anonymously so that the recipients do not feel inferior to their benefactors. Such charity today may take the form of free or inexpensive medical clinics for the poor, especially mothers and children.
The fourth pillar is fasting. Since Islam follows a lunar calendar, the month of fasting (called Ramadan) may fall at any time during the year. It requires abstention from food and drink from dawn to dusk, as a means of disciplining oneself in Islam. While small children and sick people are exempted from this observance, adolescent children will be reminded during Ramadan of their need to submit to Allah's moral will. The fifth pillar is the obligation to a make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, but for most children fulfillment of that pillar is remote. Recognizing that fact, Muslim tradition excuses those not yet of age from the obligation. Still, infants and small children occasionally participate with their parents, experiencing for themselves the blending of nationalities into a single community that is central to Islam. Pilgrims repeat the actions of the prophet by marching around the Ka'bah in the middle of Mecca's sacred mosque, and remember the foundational event of Islam, the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E.
The Muslim calendar is marked by festivals that point to the significance of Mohammed and the influence of his religion upon the culture and daily life of Muslim children. The first, 'Id al-Fitr, concludes the month-long fast of Ramadan; it is observed on the first day of the next month. It reminds everyone, including children, of the bounty of God. The second, 'Id al- Adha, usually follows 70 days later, and coincides with the events during the pilgrimage to Mecca, so that all Muslims at least theoretically are observing that basic ritual. This festival is as close as most children come to making the pilgrimage, but it gives them a sense of participation. The third, Muharram, is the Muslim New Year's Day. The fourth, Mawlid an-Nabi, commemorates the Prophet's birthday, while the fifth, Lailat al-Mi'raj, celebrates his ascension. These last two festivals provide excellent opportunities for teaching children about Muhammad and his teachings.
The Qur'an also includes specific injunctions of Muhammad about the treatment of children. Loyal Muslims are to aid the needy, beggars, slaves, and orphans. He specifically forbade taking financial or other advantage of orphans. Muslims are to be respectful and humble to their aged parents and protective of their children. Such instructions probably presuppose living in extended families where a man's parents and children were in proximity, but they retain their force in contemporary Muslim life.
Finally, one should note that the obligation to recite the Qur'an in Arabic has led Muslims to institute schools where the reading and memorizing of the Qur'an is at least a top priority, if not the only one. Consequently, the obligation has promoted both literacy and institutionalized instruction by teachers steeped in the Qur'an for Muslim young people, particularly for males. In these many ways (e.g., through the practice of the five pillars, the reading of the Qur'an, Islamic teaching and education, and participation in festivals), Muhammad's life has influenced and will continue to influence the spiritual and religious lives of Muslims around the world.