Recently, I asked my friend’s daughter, a freshman in college, how she liked her Islamic school experience given that except for a couple of years she spent most of her grade school time attending one.
“Did you know we never did a sex ed class?”
“You did it as part of the fiqh class, right?”
“Health and P.E.?”
“No. The most we got in all my grade school was one class where both teachers talked about how difficult pregnancy was.”
Across the board, with little exception, in the United States, Canada and even Australia, Islamic schools are afraid to teach sexual education. Ontario, Canada, rolled out a new sex ed curriculum just last year and the response from parents and some Islamic schools was protests, boycotts and omission. While modesty is one of the cornerstones of Islam, prudishness is not. In essence, when Muslim parents and Islamic school educators make the teaching of sexual education in a safe, welcoming environment a taboo topic, they remove a critical element of the spiritual tradition of Islam and leave their students in a very vulnerable place.
In recent years, sexual predators have preyed upon children in Islamic schools and/or mosques in Illinois, Florida, New York and Ontario. These are only the cases that have been reported; there are a number of cases that regularly go unreported, most often due to the atmosphere of fear, taboo and ignorance.
Teaching Muslim students about sexual education puts them in a place of strength, and empowers them with respect to their faith, body and over-all well-being. As Muslim educators, here are some points to help you bring a strength-based, faith-based sexual education initiative to your Islamic school.
- Be proactive in the teaching of sexual education. Avoid fear-based teaching of the topic. Instead position it from the place of strength and empowerment.
- Make sexual education part of the overall health and physical education curriculum at the Islamic school. Teach students that spirituality stems from knowing our minds, hearts and bodies.
- Teaching about sexual education increases the knowledge-power of students. They know when to go to a trusted adult when put in vulnerable or uncomfortable situations.
- Remove the taboo. Living in a highly sexualized society means that Muslim students need guidance as to what is appropriate and what is haram within the framework of Islam. In addition, they need to know how to develop healthy relationships for a strong community.
- Partner with parents and the greater school community. This is a big task, and needs the knowledge and experience of parents and scholars to help empower the students.
- As Muslim students, they have a right to know about things that impact their faith and worship, particularly topics around puberty. Position sexual education within a fiqh framework and help the students to take responsibility for their actions and make informed decisions.
The next step for Islamic schools is to take the available material; sit with scholars, social workers, doctors and parents, and develop a curriculum framework around sexual education that is empowering and informative for Muslim students. It is their right, and our responsibility.