How did you find out about the facts of life and reproduction? Was it through friends, TV, older siblings, or did you attend RSE (Relationship & Sex Education) lessons at school?
Perhaps it was from your parents? If it was from your mum or dad does the recollection of ‘that conversation’ elicit some uncomfortable memories of a stuttered and mortified parent desperately trying to explain the facts of life to you?
As a parent there are certain conversations that are a joy and you welcome with open arms. On the other hand, there are topics that make us feel awkward, perhaps we don’t know how to broach the subject of where did I come from? It’s an inevitable question but will you embrace answering it or are you dreading the day you’re put on the spot?
Why Muslim parents avoid sex education
Many Muslim parents – because their own parents struggled to talk to them – avoid the subject of reproduction with their children. “How do I begin to talk about this with my child?” is a frequent response from parents, along with: “I don’t feel comfortable answering that kind of question”, or, disconcertingly, “What if I can’t answer their questions?”
Sex education in school
Then there’s the fear that talking about relationships will encourage their child to experiment too early. No wonder so many parents put their heads in the sand and leave it to schools. Yet many parents are ambiguous about the role of schools, with views ranging from: “Let them deal with it” through to a fear that “They’re taking away our children’s innocence”. A plethora of parents (Muslim, Christian and Jewish) do feel that the state is encroaching on their authority and right to teach their spiritual and moral values regarding relationships.
Let’s be honest, schools can indoctrinate, that’s what they do. They shape the minds of children to adopt a particular worldview. We should be under no illusion. We have chosen to raise our kids in a non-Muslim society and the state believes it should teach our children ‘progressive’ liberal values regarding sex and relationships. Liberal governments are trespassing on an area that is a parent’s reserve. They argue it is a child’s human right to be exposed to different lifestyles and as they grow, they will develop their own views.
Relationships and Sex Education
Schools argue RSE lessons are essential because parents are not discussing puberty, grooming, contraception, harassment or child abuse with their kids and then school and wider society has to deal with the fall out that stems from these problems. Historically, the UK has one of the highest teenage birth rates, abortion rates and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Europe. Successive British governments have believed sex education is one way to tackle the problem.
Campaigners for compulsory teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity say:
“Inclusive teaching is an affirmation that you exist, and your identity is valid… It’s about acceptance for people from all backgrounds – be that race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, class and/or disability. This kind of teaching will help foster greater inclusion, acceptance and understanding in our classrooms, playgrounds and school corridors.
Sex education in popular culture
When your child ‘consumes’ Love Island, Hollywood movies, Bollywood, Pakistani dramas, Netflix, Disney Channel etc their views about relationships are being influenced. On-screen sex education is booming, with popular culture subtly stepping in to teach our kids about ‘love’. As you know, liberal societies have monetised sex and capitalism has no problem sexualising childhood.
Sue Palmer, in her insightful book, 21st Century Girls explains “ In the absence of any mainstream disapproval, market forces have cheerfully exploited the selling power of sex… It’s left to parents to police the global marketplace and protect their children”
So, the net result is we can’t prevent our children from finding out the ‘ facts’ and they will be curious. But do you really want Netflix’s Big Mouth a cartoon series, or the series Sex Education teaching your child about lifestyle choices?
How should Muslim parents view relationship and sex education?
Do you want the first person to introduce the topic of relationships and sex to your child, to be their schoolteacher?
Is it ok for your kids to think you are clueless about teenage relationships & puberty?
Who do you want your child to turn to for advice about the nature of family or the definition of love? Their teacher, immature friends or popular culture?
Muslim parents must teach their kids about relationships and sex
You want to be the first one to teach them self-respect, how to have a healthy attitude about their body and the Islamic view regarding love and marriage. They need to know that their moral source (their parents) are savvy, nothing is going to fool them, and you know what’s going on. So, when they are taught sex education at school or see things on their devices, they are not shocked and not tempted. They have been warned and prepared. Inshallah, it will also reduce the impact of the teasing and harassment that girls face from boys after sex education lessons.
Stranger-danger, playing with matches, smoking, alcohol, drugs etc, we carefully expose our children to these uncomfortable topics because they need to know how to deal with these issues using the framework of the Quran and Sunnah. The same wisdom applies to RSE education.
Muslim parents have the capability to enjoin the good in their homes
The following hadith illustrates how we should view behaviour that contradicts Islam within wider society which we cannot change, compared to what happens in our homes which is under our control.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported: The Messenger of Allah, (saw) said:
مَنْ رَأَى مِنْكُمْ مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُغَيِّرْهُ بِيَدِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الْإِيمَانِ
Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue. If he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith. Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 49, Grade: Sahih
The lowest level of faith is to reject evil in one’s heart and it is an obligation at all times. As for changing evil with one’s tongue, or words, and with one’s hand, or by direct action, it is only an obligation for those who are able to carry out its duties according to proper methods, principles, and objectives.
Ibn Rajab commented on the many hadith of this nature, writing:
فَدَلَّتْ هَذِهِ الْأَحَادِيثُ كُلُّهَا عَلَى وُجُوبِ إِنْكَارِ الْمُنْكَرِ بِحَسَبِ الْقُدْرَةِ عَلَيْهِ وَأَمَّا إِنْكَارُهُ بِالْقَلْبِ لَا بُدَّ مِنْهُ فَمَنْ لَمْ يُنْكِرْ قَلْبُهُ الْمُنْكَرَ دَلَّ عَلَى ذَهَابِ الْإِيمَانِ مِنْ قَلْبِهِ … وَأَمَّا الْإِنْكَارُ بِاللِّسَانِ وَالْيَدِ فَإِنَّمَا يَجِبُ بِحَسَبِ الطَّاقَةِ
All of these traditions indicate that it is an obligation to condemn evil by the measure of one’s ability. As for condemnation in the heart, it is always required. Whoever does not condemn evil in his heart, it is a sign that faith has vanished from his heart… As for condemnation of the tongue and hand, it is only obligatory within one’s capacity. Source: Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 2/245
So, we should focus our energy and time educating ourselves about the Islamic view of RSE and then in an age appropriate manner teach our kids. Talking to your children about growing up, relationships, sex (and everything else that goes with it) doesn’t have to be difficult. That is in our capability. Changing non-Muslim society is not in our capability. Furthermore, with our young kids we can prevent them from consuming inappropriate media and establish good habits.
What is a Muslim parent’s responsibility?
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
يا أيها الذين آمَنوا قُوا أَنفُسَكم وأهْليكم ناراً
“O believers, save yourselves and your family from the Hellfire whose fuel is men and stones”
The meaning of “save yourselves and your family from the fire” means turn them away from it, prevent them from it. Sayyiduna `Ali (ra) in his commentary of this verse as well as Qatada and Mujahid state:
“Save yourselves from the Fire through your actions and save your family from the Fire through giving them all correct advice and guidance (bi-wasiyyatikum) […] and there are three meanings to the phrase ‘and save your family from the Fire through giving them all correct advice and guidance’ and they are:  To command them to obey Allah and to avoid disobeying him. This is what Qatada said.  To teach them all the obligatory aspects of their religion as well as to train them with the correct manners and conduct in their lives. This is what `Ali said.  To on the one hand teach them the khayr (‘the good’) and to ensure they are made to live with it and to clarify what is wrong and bad so as to ensure they avoid it…” (Imam al-Mawardi, al-Nukat wa’l-`Uyun)
Protecting your children from abuse
Another reason why we must discuss RSE with our kids is to inshallah safeguard them from child abuse. As you’re well aware, child abuse is rarely spoken of in Muslim households. To the extent you would think it’s a sin that doesn’t take place in our families and communities, whether abroad or in the UK. As a high schoolteacher I received training on child abuse and during one of these sessions I was surprised to find out that many victims are not aware that what is being done to them is wrong, primarily because no one ever explained to them what was inappropriate physical contact from an adult.
Adult child abusers and predatory teenagers manipulate and take advantage of children’s innocence and intimidate young girls and boys into doing things they don’t want to. To add insult to injury they take photos of the kids in compromising situations. Subsequently, to prevent the victims from telling anyone they say they will tell their parents or shame the child by putting the images up on social media. Child abusers are extremely conniving and clever: we need to be one step ahead of them. I’m not advocating paranoia but sensible Islamic parenting in the over sexualised world that our kids are growing up in. We can’t pass the buck
As responsible Muslim parents we can’t pass the buck; we have to teach RSE ourselves. Fundamentally, just leaving it to school and society takes away the responsibility of parents to engage with this aspect of their children’s lives, and their physical and emotional development. After all, the school or society won’t give the Islamic perspective to the question about where babies come from.
Why talking about the facts of life matter
As Muslims we live our lives in subservience and worship of our creator, who defines for us our morality. That moral code does not change with time or place because the source of our laws, the Quran and Sunnah are fixed.
Parents are the primary educators of their children on matters relating to social, emotional and spiritual development. Schools should complement but not replace this role. In an age appropriate way, we need to give our children an Islamic RSE. We have chosen to raise our children in liberal societies that have a different set of beliefs regarding modesty, chastity and love. So, we need to equip them with practical Islamic guidance to deal with potential problems. Our kids should feel they can talk to us even if they have done something wrong and we will listen, guide and help them. To achieve this, we need a plan regarding how we will discuss these delicate topics from an Islamic perspective with our kids.
How should Muslim parents react to new Sex Education in UK schools?
As responsible, mature parents we need to calmly find out what the law is and what our kids will be learning at their school. Getting angry and listening to emotive rumours achieves nothing.
If you are in the UK, here is a parents guide to understanding the new changes. You can also find up to date information about the introduction of compulsory relationships education and RSE from September 2020 here.www.sreislamic.org.
They include advice on how to approach your child’s school in a productive manner and answers to the following questions:
- Will my child’s school have to engage with me before teaching these subjects?
- Will my child be taught sex education at primary?
- Does the new Relationships Education and RSE curriculum take account of my faith?
- Do I have a right to withdraw my child from Relationships and Sex Education?
Based on the conversations I have had with mothers I genuinely believe many Muslim parents find the topic of sex education challenging. So I will be producing further articles and podcast episodes : this is just the introduction on this topic. Inshallah, if you have any questions, RSE resources or practical advice that you would like to share please email me: email@example.com