Sexuality Education in Islam: Between Apprehension and Permissiveness (Edition no. 11/October 2016)

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By Ustaz Muhammad Haniff Hassanprotest-sex-ed

Islam is a religion of fitrah because it comes from Allah, the Creator of mankind and the whole universe. It seeks to guide Man in all aspects of life.

Part of Man’s fitrah is the need for sexual relationship in life. Thus, there must be guidance from Islam on how Man fulfills his sexual needs in accordance to the fitrah. This guidance comes in the form of general principles which includes sexuality education for Muslim children.

Sex in the Qur’an & and the Sunnah

The Qur’an and the Sunnah contains many scriptures that speak about sex clearly and openly. Some examples are:

  • The Qur’an speaks about and provide guidance on how husband and wife should engage in sex, “Your wives are your tilth; go, then, unto your tilth as you may desire, but first provide something for your souls, and remain conscious of God, and know that you are destined to meet Him. And give glad tidings unto those who believe.” (The Qur’an, 2:223)
  • The Qur’an speaks about a sexual phenomenon occurs among female, “And they will ask thee about [woman’s] monthly courses. Say: “It is a vulnerable condition. Keep, therefore, aloof from women during their monthly courses, and do not draw near unto them until they are cleansed; and when they are cleansed, go in unto them as God has bidden you to do.” Verily, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and He loves those who keep themselves pure.” (The Qur’an, 2:222)
  • The Prophet provided advice on sex for early Muslims.It was reported in a hadith that a “…clan of the Ansar, who were idolaters, lived in the company of the Jews who were the people of the Book. They (the Ansar) accepted their superiority over themselves in respect of knowledge, and they followed most of their actions. The people of the Book (i.e. the Jews) used to have intercourse with their women on one side alone (i.e. lying on their backs). This was the most concealing position for (the vagina of) the women. This clan of the Ansar adopted this practice from them. But this tribe of the Quraysh used to uncover their women completely, and seek pleasure with them from in front and behind and laying them on their backs. When the muhajirun (the immigrants) came to Medina, a man married a woman of the Ansar. He began to do the same kind of action with her, but she disliked it, and said to him: We were approached on one side (i.e. lying on the back); do it so, otherwise keep away from me. This matter of theirs spread widely, and it reached the Messenger of Allah. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: “Your wives are a tilth to you, so come to your tilth however you will,” i.e. from in front, from behind or lying on the back. But this verse meant the place of the delivery of the child, i.e. the vagina.” (Narrated by Abu Dawud)
  • sex-education-in-schools-6-728The Prophet speaks openly about sexual phenomenon with his companions, “The man’s water is thick and white, and the woman’s water is thin and yellow. Whichever of them comes first, the child will resemble (that parent).’” (Narrated Muslim)

Sex as ibadah (act of devotion)

Islam, as a religion of fitrah, recognises sex as part of Man’s need. It does not view sex as “a filthy act” produced by Man’s lowly lust. It does not regard the fulfilment of one’s sexual needs or speaking about it as consequenting in the reduction of Man’s honorable standing in front of God. Neither would these create a hijab (spiritual barrier) for him to be close to God. In fact, Islam recognises sex as a mean for Man to gain God’s pleasure. In a hadith, the Prophet declares,  ‘…and in man’s sexual intercourse (with his wife) there is sadaqah (charity).’ They (the Companions) said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, is there reward for him who satisfies his sexual needs among us?’ He said, ‘You see, if he was to satisfy it with something forbidden, would it not be a sin on his part? Similarly, if he was to satisfy it legally, he should be rewarded’.” (Narrated by Muslim)

This is in a stark contrast to the teachings of some religions other than Islam.

The role of parents and schools

There is no reason for Muslim parents, based on the above, to shy away from engaging with their children on sexual issues or regard them as a taboo topic for the children to speak to them for guidance and advice.

Islam regards parents as primary agents for the education of Muslim children. They are regarded as the “first school” for a child’s education. This responsibility must encompass sexuality education for the children in view of sex being a fitrah that they must live with when they enter into puberty and attain adulthood. Parents’ refusal to engage in sexual issues with the children could be regarded as negligence in fulfilling their role which will be accounted for in front of Allah ta’ala later.

Although the primary duty of sexuality education falls on the parents, Islam does not prohibit sexuality education from being conducted by educational or social institutions to complement the role of parents. Thus, there is nothing wrong with having sexuality education in the form of programs, modules or even focused subjects at schools by teachers or by social activists.

What is important for parents and other institutions involved in educating sexuality issues to the young, is to understand Islamic philosophy and objectives in sexuality education, to know the right approach to it, to recognise the various levels involved and to observe Islamic ethics (adab) when engaging in sexuality education.

This is important because there are differences in objectives, approach and ethics between Islam and conventional sexuality education.

Objectives of sexuality education in Islamsexeduc-muslim-perspective

Sexuality education in Islam seeks to guide individuals to channel their sexual needs and desires responsibly and in an honorable manner and to attain higher objectives beyond personal pleasure and enjoyment.

To achieve this, Islam dictates that sex could only be engaged between man and woman tied with a matrimonial knot (note: Islam does permit sexual relations between female slave and her master. However, this issue is irrelevant today after the universal abolition of slavery.)

Thus, one of the primary objectives of sexuality education is to prevent Muslims from the performance of zina – which covers pre-marital and extra marital sex.

The Qur’an addresses zina, “And do not commit adultery – for, behold, it is an abomination and an evil way.” (The Qur’an, 17:32)

Sexuality education in Islam is also aimed towards preventing Muslims from engaging in what Islam regards as unnatural forms of sex such as same sex relationships (homosexuality and lesbianism), bestiality, anal sex and incest. timecover-sex-education

Islam also seeks to direct sex as an important means for the building of righteous family unit and, as a result, functions as a pillar for a righteous society for the generation today and the future.

In other word, Islam links sex with noble and higher objectives. It is supposed to be an act accompanied by a sense of responsibility and commitment to a noble cause. It is not for the mere fulfilment of one’s biological needs or expression of love between two loving couples.

Sexuality education in Islam also departs from the value of chastity as it is founded on the duty to submit to God’s wise guidance for mankind and from which general maslahat of mankind would be preserved.

Western perspective

Sexuality education in the West is very much influenced by liberalism – an ideology that has a tremendous influence on Western society.

Under the influence of liberalism that renders high importance to freedom of individuals from restriction, sex is regarded as part of basic human rights. It is based on this regard too, that every adult person is free to fulfil his or her sexual desire with another adult person as as long it is consensual, be it with the opposite  or same sex, in private or in a  group. Even sex with animals could be considered as a fulfilment of the human right, as long as no cruelty to animal is involved.

The effect of this idea is the increasing trend of an unrestricted sexual lifestyle in the West to the extent of normalising same sex marriage, swapping marriage partners, abortion, public nudity and prostitution.

Any attempt to restrict or deny such practices would be regarded as a breach of human rights. Restriction is only permitted when there is a greater interest to be protected, albeit the restriction is being enforced as minimally as possible.

In this context, comprehensive sex education known in the West today is directed generally towards 1) the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and babies because of the long-term social implications such as neglected children who will grow up with a supposedly higher risk of involvement in crimes and the economic implications that it brings such as a bigger budget demand for a state’s welfare system, and 2) ensuring public health objectives such as prevention from sexually transmitted diseases.

The main thrust of sexuality education in the West is often geared towards safe sex in order to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, especially Aids.

Thus, sex education in the West does not look seriously into the issue of morality of engaging in sex out of wedlock. This differs starkly from Islam that regards zina as a major sin that must be avoided, even if it is consensual and done in safe manner.

sex_education1To be fair, movements promoting abstinence from sex outside marriage do exist in the West. However, they are not the dominant approach used for educating children and youth at mainstream schools.

Abstinence are often linked to the concept of chastity and are often promoted by religous-based movements i.e Christianity and Judaism that reject freedom of sex culture in today’s  Western society.

These movements share common stands on the issue with Islam. However, there are also differences in the details of social interaction between the opposite sex.

Islam’s approach

One who reviews the Qur’an and the Sunnah would find that sex is often touched upon with links to greater issues. Rarely, it is discussed as a topic by itself.

This implies, despite being Man’s fitrah, the function of sex is to serve greater agendas and attain more important objectives than mere personal pleasure.

For example, Islam decrees that puberty is attained by boys when they experience ejaculation via wet dream or other means and by girls when they begin menstruation. Wet dream, ejaculation and menstruation are all issues within sexuality education. However, they are not discussed primarily as sexual issues. Instead, they are discussed as signs of puberty – an important stage of life for every Muslim where they begin as a mukallaf who will be accountable directly to God for every single deed he performs in this world.

This approach allows children to understand sexual issues together with the meaning of baligh (mukallaf / adulthood). The approach ties sexual issues with the issue of puberty, mukallaf, responsibility and accountability to God. This facilitates children’s understanding these signs (sexual issues) are the beginning of an important stage of life that comes with greater responsibility and requires commitment on their part, not about being free as a grown-up person.

In today’s context, children generally could attain puberty by the age of 12. Theologically, most scholars rule that puberty is automatically assumed when a sane person reaches the age of 15. This would mean that Muslim parents are duty bound to educate their children with the right understanding of puberty and its consequences in Islam before they actually reach it and this, indirectly, becomes an important milestone in guiding Muslim parents on when they should start to talk about sexual issues i.e. puberty and its signs and the theological rulings related to it and how to deal with in accordance to the age i.e. before 12 or 15 years old.

Learn fiqh, learn sexuality

Many sexual issues thought in contemporary sexuality education are, in actual fact, discussed in the fiqh of toharah. Any person who studies fiqh of toharah would have to cover the issue of mani, mazi, menstruation, istihadhah, nifas (post natal bleeding), junub, jima’, aurat and many others. Here, sexual issues are linked with daily acts of devotion. In other words, Muslim children could be taught sexual issues while learning about how to perform their ibadah to Allah ta’ala.religion-and-sexuality

Such issues are often discussed in the context of social adab (ethics) pertaining to interaction with the opposite sex whether they are immediate members of family (mahram) or not (non-mahram). For example, these issues could be found under topics that discuss the parental responsibility to separate boys and girls from sleeping together after they attain a certain age, the duty to lower one’s gaze from looking at the opposite sex, the social reason for covering `awrah, a child’s duty to seek permission before entering into parent’s room and the danger of khalwat.

A more serious and direct discussion on sex between man and woman would only be discussed when covering the fiqh of munakahat – the division of fiqh that is dedicated to rulings on marriage and family life.

What is more interesting is the fact that all books of fiqh are organised in such a way that the fiqh of marriage which contains direct discussions on sex is only taught or read after a child has studied his duties and responsibilities to God. Within the fiqh of marriage itself, sexual issues are taught in the context of building a righteous Muslim family.

This leads to an important point that learning fiqh could be a good, although not the only means for engaging Muslim children on sexuality issues. It facilitates the integration of Islamic values and links with other important agendas and issues that Islam seeks to inculcate upon its adherents. The way fiqh is organised also helps the levelling of knowledge in accordance to a child’s age and level of religious knowledge.

This is, of course, based on the condition that parents are willing to play important and active roles in their children’s learning of Islam such as teaching in systematic manner at home. Secondly, the success of this is also dependent on the ability of religious teachers to integrate and provide sexuality education when teaching fiqh to children attending full-time or part-time madrasahs.

Closing remarks

To help parents and teachers in imagining levels and steps to be taken when integrating sexuality education with Islamic learning for children, this author would like to offer Table no. 1 as illustration. The table seeks to illustrate from the author’s personal viewpoint. It is neither meant to represent an exhaustive and comprehensive approach nor a result of an in depth-academic research. Its primary objective is to provide broad guidance for parents on the appropriate sexuality issues to inculcate to their children via daily Islamic learning in a systematic manner and in accordance to their age. It is also hoped that this illustration will encourage others to embark on proper research initiatives that would provide an integrated curriculum of sex education for Muslim children that are useful for Muslim parents and teachers as an alternative to what is offered by the West.

View Table 1 – Guide for levels of sex education for Muslim children and youth, click here.

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