A response to Nadiah Mohajir: Sex Education - is it a good thing?

Nadiah Mohajir has made a compelling case for why Muslim schools should offer sex education for their youth to avoid unfortunate misunderstandings and problems. But the question is – how can we do this? Is the syllabus really good enough to address these problems? As a teacher and a parent, I had my own concerns with the issue of sex education in Great Britain, and wonder how it can be incorporated into Islamic education.
What does it mean to be sexually educated? What does it mean to be ISLAMICALLY sexually educated? Or is that something of an oxymoron?

I remember being sexually uneducated; I can’t say it was much of a problem. I found out what I needed to know when I needed to know. But that was back in the dawn of time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Today, the needs are different.

What has changed? Well, there is a universal assumption today, in mainstream western society, that you will have plenty of sexual encounters before getting married (if you ever do) which wasn’t the case as little as a couple of decades ago. Similarly, issues such as hetero/homosexuality which were once private matters between adults have been normalised to the degree that our old concepts of what constitutes ‘normal’ have been shifted. Then there is the ease with which you can view any amount of hardcore pornography. And finally, the age at which it is considered sensible to begin to educate children about the pro’s and con’s of sexual activity is getting lower and lower because of the assumption that some of them will probably be at it sooner rather than later.

Nadiah and the HEART foundation are right – education is absolutely appropriate here. It seems to make sense that children should be educated in these matters. But what is the educational content? How can we educate the Muslim youth while keeping in line with Islamic values and traditions? I’m afraid that, as far as sex education on offer goes, the human elements of the syllabus have been removed entirely. Attempting to bring them back through teaching is a very long way off. The problem of our over-sexed society has its roots in the metaphysics of the ancient Greeks who sowed the seeds of today’s nihilism. That is to say, our society today seems to lack any real direction or meaning and mainstream education only reinforces this by trying to separate our material from our spiritual sides. This is what lies at the heart of the failure of sex education in state schools in England. It has lost sight of all that was essentially human and programmed us to begin to think of ourselves as lumps of matter – handfuls of carbon-based chemicals and nothing more.

This basic dysfunction is not something you can escape by simply being Muslim: the programming is global in its reach. Neither is it realistic to think we can turn back the clock to a time of simpler certainties, especially in the name of education. Problems such as teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections do need to be addressed with education, but this is not a single issue that we collectively need to find a response to. In fact it cannot be separated from the many challenges and concerns that face us today – from environmental to economical and social issues.

All of these are symptoms of a deeper malaise: the victory of technological thinking, which, among other things, sees human beings as objects in the world. This is incompatible with spiritual thinking, which primarily sees human beings as God’s way of knowing Himself. Sex education today is incompatible with spiritual thinking.

Everything that is human is spiritual. That this can be ignored or denied is a measure of the peculiarity of the mental trap that western thought has produced. Human sex is spiritual, if only because we are spirits. That means it will do no good trying to come up with new plans for sex education just to be imposed by spiritually unconscious teachers on children whose education is otherwise designed to render them equally unaware of their own spiritual reality.

So is this a counsel of despair? Is there nothing we can do in the meantime? I think there is, and that there certainly is a way for children to receive sex education, provided that a certain amount of caution is applied. This needs to be combined with an appropriate sense of modesty and common sense about child development. These appear to be relatively rare virtues these days, not least because people have started thinking about them merely as cultural constraints without foundation. I believe that this is what has happened to previously accepted moral standards in society too – so to educate a child in matters of sex and sexual relations, one must be careful not to fall into the trap of making modesty and spirituality seem incidental. In fact, modesty and spirituality should form the basis of our children’s education in this area. Of course, the problem is, there is no one simple way of doing this.

I believe that Rudolf Steiner was right when he understood that children are not merely little adults and that childhood has definite spiritual stages. Sex education should be based on preparing the child spiritually from a very early age, respecting the soul that has entered the world and, crucially, leaving the technological approach until puberty when the mind has developed to a point where it can grasp that way of thinking for what it is.
Unfortunately, this is never going to work within an education system where teaching children to use computers in nursery school is seen as “progress” or detailing the basic physical technicalities of sex to under-16s is viewed as a necessary force for good. It’s clear that we all need some new thinking.
Ibrahim Lawson is a shura member of the Association of Muslim schools and the head teacher of Islamic faith school Al-Risalah, in South London UK.


  • heartwg says:

    Thank you for your response.

    You bring up some interesting points. First, that the current “secular” sex ed curriculum may not be “enough” for the Muslim community. I completely agree, which is why HEART advocates putting this education in a culturally (or in this case religiously) appropriate context. I attended my public school “secular” sex ed unit, and found it to be completely irrelevant to me because of the fact the question – “what does this mean to me as a Muslim?” – was never addressed. Currently, we (and by we I mean American society at large) teach sex ed as a series of consequences – you have sex and you will get pregnant or STDs or your reputation will be of someone who is “easy”, etc etc etc. And I actually think we (now I mean we Muslims) make the same mistake when we teach Islam – we teach it as a list of rules – if you pray, you get rewarded, if you sin you go to hell, don’t drink, don’t eat pork, etc etc etc. Thus, the result is that we have so many young people who nearly abandon the religion, or at least the values we try to impart, because that list of rules has become irrelevant to them. Why? Because “what does this mean to me as an American?” has not been addressed.

    Where am I going with this? It is crucial for us to understand why young people feel like they have to experiment with sexual activity, but more importantly, we must make these young people understand this context. Only then, can we create a generation of holistically educated Muslim Americans, who understand that wellness is about the mind, body, soul and its interrelatedness, and not just about one or the other. An example: an ice breaker a local chicago organization, the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent health, involves girls shouting out the first words that come to their mind when they hear the word sex. Upon completion of the activity, it is discovered that 95% of these words are negative – things like pressure, fitting in, pain, etc and positive words, such as “love” and “passion” and “natural” are barely there. This flows into a fantastic discussion about why sex is associated with such negative terms, and why girls feel the need to explore it so early. The result? You now have a group of girls that are empowered by this discussion as they now understand that sex is a very intimate and serious aspect of life, and it should be associated with positive words, and so the idea of delaying sex actually seems like the right decision. So here, you have an example where sex education has become more than just about the consequences of having sex – but rather, a program empowering girls with information, along with understanding, self-esteem, and leadership to become a generation that isn’t driven by consequences and dos and don’ts, but rather by logical reasoning and wisdom. As for how we make this culturally appropriate? We can do this same exercise and take it one step further – understanding why God has created intimacy to be legal in a marital context and how intimacy is natural, but also very sacred.

    This is what HEART Women & Girls is all about – promoting wellness of the whole self, and understanding that no matter what type of topic you explore – mental, physical, sexual, emotional – we must address it in a holistic and well rounded way, what we like to call our mind, body, soul approach, cognizant of the fact that you must have a balanced wellness in all three aspects in order to fully achieve a healthy, whole person. Wellness cannot simply be achieved through spirituality, just as much is cannot simply be achieved through healthy eating and physical activity. Similarly, a sex ed curriculum for Muslim must look beyond the biology and the fiqh – and include elements of spirituality, modesty, and emotional health which are all crucial to any effective sex ed curriculum.

  • Iftikhar says:


    The sexualisation of children by the government, Dept of Education, ‘pregnancy advice centres’, social workers, school nurses, media aimed at teen girls, contraceptive industry lobbyists, fashion industry and the welfare state to name just a few, is a crime against humanity.

    It is also gross hypocrisy for the police to prosecute paedophiles when the government is overseeing boy scouts being given condoms from the age 11 and girls of the same age being told it is OK to have sex if they use ‘protection’. Boys and girls at age 11 are not allowed to marry but they can have sex and produce children. Every parent is worried about his child being indoctrinated into the idea that gay and sexual promiscuity is “normal” modes of behaviour. At the same time, all parents have the right to control their children and it is their Duty to control them.

    It is an eye opening for the Muslim parents who keep on sending their children to state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers a s role models during their developmental periods. Muslim teachers are in a better position to teach sex education to teenagers according to Islamic perspectives. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. State funded Muslim schools are crucial for social cohesion, religious and cultural harmony. They are preparing children and young people to face the challenges of life in modern Britain and to also contribute in a positive way to wider society. Muslim children will develop self-confidence and self-esteem. According to TES, pupils make more progress at Muslim secondary schools than anyother type of schools. They are promoting tolerance and support the spiritual, moral, social, linguistic and cultural development of pupils.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools.
    Iftikhar Ahmad

  • didite says:

    @Iftikhar, I see two difficulties with your statements.
    The first is when you say : “At the same time, all parents have the right to control their children and it is their Duty to control them.”

    I question the wisdom of thinking of your children as things to control. While parents have a duty to bring their children up as well as they can, at a certain point they must realize that the child is a person, who may have wants and needs that are different from their own. For instance, forcing a child into a career that they do not want is a poor idea and will cause difficulties in their relationship with their parents later on.

    Further, bringing a child up well is for the purpose of them someday becoming a good and functional adult. An overly controlled child will lack the ability to make decisions. Some day, when the child’s parents are elderly or deceased, this inability will leave them powerless and dependent on others.

    The second problem is where you say “There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.” What is the purpose of being so exclusionary? How can a child grow up to be respectful and a good citizen if the implicit lesson is that other people (who are different) are bad?

    I don’t know about Great Britain, but in America, there are Muslim children who go to other confessional schools and are welcomed in them. At the non-sectarian private school and later the public school I attended, there was a great deal of respect for people’s religious beliefs and my life is much richer for it.

    Respect is a two-way street and this exclusionary stance seems unhelpful.

  • Iftikhar says:

    Muslim children have been mis-educated and de-educated by state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers. They find themselves cut off from their cultural roots and unable to enjoy the beauty of theur literature and poetry. They do not know where they belong. They suffer from identity crises. They need to be educated in state fundunded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers during their developmental periods, otherwise, there will be no end to forced marriages and honour killings. Those Muslims who have been involved in forced marriages and honour killing are the product of westen education which makes a man stupid, according to Lord Bertend Russell. great British educationist.

    Bilingual Muslims children have a right, as much as any other faith group, to be taught their culture, languages and faith alongside a mainstream curriculum. Rejecting state funded Muslim schools as “anti-democratic” or “divisive” is simply the wrong approach to take.

    Compulsory state education has promised to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental, physical and academic development of a child in preparation for adult life – has failed far too many children, particularly national minorities and especially Muslim children. Now the time has come that parents and community should take over the running of their local schools The Local Authority’s role should be confined to simply ensuring schools operate within the prevailing legislative framework (admissions criteria, Special Educational Needs, Community Cohesion, Financial Audit, etc). Parents can perform a better job than the Local Authority because parents have a genuine vested interest. The Local Authority simply cannot be trusted.

    Muslim schools are attractive to Muslim parents because they have better discipline and teaching Islamic values. Bilingual Muslim teachers are role models who understand the needs and demands of their children.

    No body has the right to tell a woman how to dress, or worse, how to undress? Let her wear what she likes, especially if it’s part of her religion. I see the banning of headscarves or niqabs as an attack on both religious freedom and on the rights of women & girls. A veil ban targets very few women; it speaks to a fear of other who is Muslim. This is Islamophobia. In the United Kingdom , there is a social and economic pressure on Muslim women not to cover themselves with headscarf or a veil. The tiny minority of women are being blamed for all the failure of integration policies through out Europe . European Muslims are more worried about the economy, the cost of living, decent housing and racism than about a burqa ban.

    Each and every Muslim child should be in a state funded Muslim school with bilingual Muslim teachers as role model during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Bilingual Muslim children need to learn and be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time they need to learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages in order to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim Academies. Muslim children are in majority in schools because native parents remove their children as soon as the number of Muslim children is on the increase. They do not want their children to mix with Muslim or any other migrant children.

  • Salaam to all!
    I’ve spend time in the Muslim world with a United Nations spouse who has to work on programs dealing with HIV, STD, and health issues. Here is the reality: there are plenty of Muslims having premarital and extramarital sex in the Muslim world as well as the West.  Sex happens. And it happens everywhere. The challenge is to address these issues, and simply telling people “not to do it” isn’t going to cut it. We have to find a responsible way to talk about sex education that addresses these realities. Sex education is a misnomer; we need a new way of discussing sex philosophy in Islam, which is one of the most appreciative monotheistic religions on sexual experience and expression.

    Second, lets get over this Muslim/Non-Muslim rhetoric. For most Muslim living in the West and in urbanized parts of the Islamic world, our culture is global. Our Islamic experience is now negotiated in a variety of languages, cultures, and identities. Some Muslim schools really celebrate that; others do not. Some kids find their Islamic identity as the “other,” while other personalities are best nurtured being in a like-minded community. Muslims aren’t just Muslims, we are global citizens. The ummah was the first global community in concept, and we can carry that tradition without resorting to the Us/Other paradigm.

    Wa Salaam,

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