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The state of sex education in Muslim schools
Islamic schools and sex education may seem like a contradiction for some. After all, don't parents send their kids to these schools to protect them from sex?
Not so for Dalya Aglan. The 16-year-old, in the course of a biology class, was given the low down by her biology teacher on pregnancy, menstruation, and sexual maturation amongst adolescents at her Muslim school in Montreal, Canada.
She talked about it Islamically, says Aglan about the approach her Muslim teacher used. She talked about what was Halal, Haram and Sunnah. It's not like she was doing anything wrong. She was teaching us something we need to know.
The class was mixed (boys and girls) but the question and and answer session was separate. Students were asked if they were uncomfortable. They all said no. The teacher also got the students' parents to sign permission slips for this.
There was so much stuff we didn't know we could do like you can't have sex while the woman has her period, none of us knew that, says Aglan matter-of-factly.
Such candor, though, is not something expressed in most Islamic schools in North America.
In most of the Islamic schools, they avoid to deal with these issues, says Abdalla Idris Ali, a member of the Islamic Society of North America's Majlis Shura. He is also the former principal of an Islamic school in Mississauga, Ontario in Canada.
Why sex is taboo in Islamic schools
Apart from the general embarrassment towards openly discussing sexual matters in most Muslim cultures, part of the reason also, it seems, is because parents assume Islamic schools are an environment where their kids don't have to talk about this issue. This is not the case.
We think if we've brought them into the Islamic school atmosphere that we will somehow protecting them and isolating them from mainstream society, and that is not the case, notes Winnipeg, Canada-based social worker Shahina Siddiqui. She points to television, magazines, billboards, and even Muslim friends with lower standards of morality who can still influence kids even if they attend an Islamic school.
This society is immersed in sexuality, she says, and adds that children still learn and absorb information outside of school.
In this scenario, I would rather that we teach our children [sex education] with Islamic values, she tells Sound Vision.
Lack of proper curriculum
While public schools across the United States, for example, have an established curriculum for sex education, in the context of a Family Life Education program, there is nothing similar for Muslim schools.
Right now we don't have a curriculum for that and we should have an Islamic perspective, says Siddiqui. It can take any form, from starting with Tahara all the way to upper grades, but it should be customized and standardized for Muslims just to maintain the Adab (etiquette), to make sure what is being taught is appropriate, to maintain quality of education.
But Idris Ali disagrees with making sex education a topic or a course in itself. He says it should come in what we call a normal progression. In other words, it should come in the context of things like for example, explaining Ghusl and mentioning when it is necessary (for instance, after sexual intercourse, and after menstruation).
There is a wider context where these things will come, so they don't come by themselves, he says.
Make it age-appropriate
The biggest fear we have is that our children will be exposed to these things before they are ready, says Siddiqui.
Idris Ali suggests the topic in Islamic schools be introduced starting grade four in the context of hygiene. These classes should be separate for boys and girls if the classes are generally mixed.
I don't think a single Muslim parent would have a problem with introducing Tahara (personal hygiene), says Siddiqui. During this discussion, menstruation for girls can be discussed and the appropriate method of cleaning, in this case Ghusl, when a period is over.
She recommends the following age-topic breakdown:
1. starting discussions on Tahara in Islamic schools in grade six or seven.
For girls, at the age of 13, talk about personal hygiene and menstruation.
2. At 15, talk about the marriage relationship and the opposite sex. Here a discussion of the status of women in Islam and gender roles should be discussed in the course of sex education classes or discussion amongst both boys and girls.
3. After this, discuss pregnancy and birth control.
Siddiqui points out that children who attend Islamic schools tend to know less about sex than their public school counterparts, which is why the topics discussed at the ages she has suggested may seem behind what kids in public schools already know.
Pick the right teachers
Both Idris Ali and Siddiqui advise having a teacher of the same sex, and Siddiqui adds preferably someone who is married.
Idris Ali says in the Islamic school in Mississauga, a Muslim sister who is a doctor would come in to speak to the girls.
Siddiqui also advises having someone with a counseling background to speak to kids about the topic, since other, more serious issues may come up which a teacher with no such background may not be able to handle. For example, if a child who has been sexually molested confides in a Muslim teacher after a class or discussion on proper gender relations (i.e. no touching between the sexes, and even between the same sex), the teacher must know how to handle this.
Siddiqui says a specific position should be created for this job at Islamic schools.
Use the right Adab (Etiquette)
When you are teaching morality, you have to teach the Adab yourself, so you will not be graphic, even within the same sex class group, says Siddiqui.
As well, she says when discussing pregnancy and childbirth, books that are used should not contain photographs, for instance. Biology diagrams should be enough to teach about the human body.
Use a comparative approach
Idris Ali took the skeleton of the Family Studies course and adjusted it to the needs of Muslim children when he was in Mississauga.
This makes the approach to the topic not solely Western, or solely Islamic, but comparative.
This way, he says, the basic information is there, but the Islamic alternative is also presented. This is the Quranic approach, he says. [The] Quran tells you all kinds of good things on one side and the bad on the other.
If parents still object to sex education of any kind within an Islamic school context after these guidelines are followed, Siddiqui suggests giving it time and waiting a year or two.
But Aglan sees it differently
The parents should be grateful because she's a Muslim teacher, she's giving it to us in an Islamic perspective so there's nothing to worry about.
by Samana Siddiqui
Please share your ideas, suggestions, and experience in the area of sex education with others in our discussion forum: Sex Education.
Omm Mohammad, VA -
wrote on 3/26/2010 11:49:38 AM
Comment: Assalam Oualaikoum, I absolutely agree that sex education should be thought to our kids. the age of 14 seems too old for me though. My son is 10 years old now and he already knows about the menstruation not in details but just enough to satisfy his curiosity about me not praying at certain times. i want to be very honest with him when it comes to this very sensitive issue and i want him to be very knowledgeable about the reasons and consequences of it as well. kids are very smart. they ask questions and if they don't get the answers from the parents or teachers, don't blame the source later. i tell my son that kissing is haram and sex (without explaining this term beyond what he has in his mind) outside marriage is haram too. i explain to him that his wife should be his only girl friend (and not girlfriend). i let him know that my husband is the love of my life and Allah created this mawadda to bless our marriage. i tell him that his body belongs to only to him and nobody should touch him, if any one wanted to do so, objection and questions should be raised and help especially from me should be demanded. i encourage him to discuss anything and everything with me. having said all that, am i sure he won't have sex before marriage? only Allah knows and only Allah can protect him. May Allah protect the children of the ummah ameeen
emina, vancouver -
wrote on 12/7/2004 7:52:17 PM
Comment: I completely agree in the topic of sex education being taught to our children in the Muslim Schools.
I often wondered about this, and I am so very pleased
to hear these views. Our children need to be taught
sex education islamically and with great respect. To respect themselves and their own bodies...And
to protect what has been given to them with the upmost dignity....Hearing this and listening to this
not only through parents at home, but learning it in
the Muslim Schools just signifies the importance of
this issue.....And such a great comment about
molestation, and being able to talk about it...With
complete trust and so on....That would just be to
heavy of a weight to walk through life with.....
Dr Hisham, London -
wrote on 11/9/2004 6:33:39 PM
Comment: Sexual education is very important and we should endeavour to get the right information across to our younger Muslims. There was a teacher of mine Mrs Haroon, i say her name as she has been a big influence in my life. This lady was terminally ill from Ovarian cancer and she used to come to teach us till her last.She made sure to iclude sexual education in our curriculum and encouraged debate on this topic in our class. we were in O levels hardly about 14 years. So Parents and teachers should agree as to what sort of presentation about sex is protrayed to their children and it should be protrayed as a natural and Holy thing rather than a source of lust and exploitation. inculcating these views will result in better people not just Muslims.
Vienna, Manitoba -
wrote on 10/24/2004 12:28:27 PM
Comment: I am not muslim, however I think that it is a great thing to teach children sex ed and to do it in a way that upholds muslim beliefs, & values. My only worry would be for example teaching about intercourse too late. Some children with or without a religious backgrounds will have sex early. Also embarrassment can come from NOT talking about the subject. I was raised in a home where we had open discussions about our bodies & sex, as well as sex ed in a mixed classroom. This in no way caused me to disrespect my body or spirit, if anything it made me more aware of the risks & threats to my personal well being. With that said, as I mentioned before, i'm not Muslim so I understand that decisions must be based on what your religion say. Best of luck!
Jakobe , chicago il -
wrote on 10/5/2004 9:14:23 AM
Comment: i think sex ed should be taught because you can learn so much about yourself and what changes you will experince growing up.
Shahnaaz, Scarborough -
wrote on 9/22/2004 9:49:57 AM
Comment: I thinks this is a great idea, and I as a parent thank these teachers that are teaching sex education in an islamic way. This is the best way!!!
Ally, London -
wrote on 9/4/2004 5:12:17 PM
Comment: Why should the subject of sex be taboo? For any race, religion and society sex will one day happen for a person. Muslim parents shouldnt hide such a topic. They need to tell their children about it but tell them that they have to wait until theyre married. Its a fact of life that shouldnt be ingored. How is a woman gonna know about contraception on her wedding night if the subject hasnt come up before? Wouldnt a parent prefer to tell their children whats right and whats wrong and how everything is rather than to learn from a friend? If i was a mother with a teenager i would tell him/her whats what rather than wait to be told that my child has learnt from hearsay. Doesnt it also promote closeness within the family If a mother and her daughter or a father and his son talk of such things? Communication is the key to help children learn whats right from wrong in their religion.
Leigh, Toronto -
wrote on 7/15/2004 3:54:50 PM
Comment: I think whoever thinks sex education should be taught in islamic schools is correct! I am Canadian and am a converted Muslim. I was taught sex education when I was about 10 in the canadian public school system and it was very good- professional and important. I dont think we can have our children wait until they are 14 or 15 years old! Girls especially need to be taught this at an earlier age- 10 or 11, at 15 it is too late- we have been wondering about what has been happening to us for 3-4 years! everything is important and can be taught withing the guidlines of Islam! thank you
HASSAN MARYAM, LAGOS NIGERIAN -
wrote on 5/26/2004 10:35:54 AM
Comment: I think the issues of Sex Education should be encourage in Islamic Schools. This is very important for all Muslim students to know Alal from Aram. In Islam pre-marital sex is not allow. I think parents and teacher should make is known to them. And they should be thought seperate. Thanks.
Khalid, Toronto -
wrote on 4/21/2004 12:45:16 PM
Comment: I totally disagree. I think sex education should absolutely be an open topic. After all that's what our kids are seeing in these non-muslim societies.You can't hide them from the dark realities that you know for a fact that we will be dawned on to one day or the other.Based on my own experience, I think muslim parents just shun this topic.So do the teachers...which leaves our innocent kids only one abysmal option, i.e to turn to the society. I think they should be lectured about it not only in schools but at homes but in a totally islamic way.They oughtta be told what's right and what's wrong. We oughtta tell 'em that pre-martial sex is tottaly haram and we should denounce it at the same time. A guy two three coloums up is right that we should tell our kids to respect themselves and if the moment comes just say no. You know I have so much on my mind about this very topic that i like to share but I aint got enough time to jot it. Bottom line, yeah there's a time and age for everything. I think for this topic 14 is the best age in both genders.We should clearly differentiate between haram and halal here and tell our kida to follow the same. Allah hafiz
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