“Verily the heart of a youngster is like an empty plot of land … whatever is planted there will take root”
– Imam Ali(a)
As parents, the thought of having to talk to our children about sex education, may fill most of us with feelings of anxiety, embarrassment and dread. Such emotional responses are completely normal! However, the topic of sex education in Islam is of extreme importance, especially as we are bringing our children up in an increasingly sexualized society in which many sexual practices that are in opposition to Islamic teachings, are becoming progressively normalised and encouraged.
The current situation is exacerbated by the fact there is a western initiative, that is already well underway, to introduce a comprehensive sexuality educational curriculum into all schools worldwide. As individuals and as a community, we must address the issue of sex education head on and discuss related topics with our children from an Islamic perspective that emphasises the importance of marriage, chastity and modesty.
As the above saying of Imam Ali(a) indicates, children’s hearts and minds are accepting of whatever information they are exposed to. We need to ensure we sow the seeds of Islamic knowledge and understanding into their hearts before the weeds of deviance and corruption take root.
What is RE/RSE?
The British Government have legislated that from September 2019, Relationship Education (RE) in all primary schools and Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in all secondary schools will become compulsory across England. The new legislation will require all children from Reception (age 4) up to Year 11 (age 16) to attend these classes. We are currently waiting for the government to publish the statutory guidelines on what must be taught in RE/RSE as a legal minimum.
What will they teach?
Whilst schools will have to adhere to the statutory guidelines once they are published, they are encouraged to provide a more comprehensive RSE curriculum and to draw on external expertise regarding teaching the different RSE topics.
In a review of several RE/RSE resources produced by ‘external experts’, young children (KS1) are taught about body parts including the genitals, which are often explicitly named and accompanied by nude drawings or toy dolls with genitalia, as well as introduced to diverse family configurations (e.g. heterosexual, homosexual, single-parent). Typical resources for 7-11 year olds focus on topics such as puberty, sexual orientation, boyfriend/girlfriend, body exploration, reproduction and contraception. Schools have also been instructed to become LGBT+ inclusive and to adopt an ethos throughout the school environment that promotes and accepts different sexual orientations as equal to heterosexuality. Challenging gender stereotypes and the teaching of gender identity is also likely to be introduced.
At secondary school, RSE is likely to explore the above topics in increased detail as well as cover subjects relating to sexual attraction, safer sex, consent, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ issues and sexually transmitted infections. All children across primary and secondary schools will also be taught about contemporary issues relating to safety such as consent and pornography.
Do I have the right to withdraw my child from these lessons?
You currently (2018) have the right to withdraw your child from ‘sex’ education because as things stand SRE (sex and relationship education) is not taught as a statutory (compulsory) subject within school. In secondary schools in England, when RSE becomes compulsory in 2020, it will be up to the head teacher’s discretion whether or not parents retain the right to withdraw their child from the ‘sex’ part of RSE. If primary schools teach ‘sex’ education then parents will retain the automatic right to withdraw their child from this component of RSE.
It is important to note that parents do not have the right to withdraw their child from other compulsory national curriculum subjects that RE/RSE topics may be introduced into, e.g. science lessons which include biology-based sex education; English lessons which may, for example, involve reading a story about a same-sex family or studying a novel that includes a character exploring their gender identity. In addition, Relationship Education is compulsory across both primary and secondary schools and it is yet unclear which topics will be taught as part of Relationship Education and which as part of Sex Education. Parents do not have the right to withdraw their child from RE, even if it includes teachings that contradict their faith.
Parents need to be aware of what their child is learning at school and it is imperative to take proactive steps and ask their child’s school for details on what their child is currently learning in SRE and to be kept informed of developments in RE/RSE. Schools are encouraged to work collaboratively with parents in this regard.
What does this mean for Muslim families?
The new sexuality education movement which is being introduced into British schools as well as into schools across Europe and many parts of the world has its ideological roots in the sexual liberation movement. Many of its beliefs and practices are in direct opposition to Islamic teachings. Parents have a duty to ensure the education and protection of their children and as a community, we can no longer afford to be apathetic or ignorant of what our children are being taught in schools, or to the effects caused by growing up in an increasingly sexually liberated society.
One of many factors to consider is that by introducing RE/RSE into schools for 4 year olds, it has altered how we as parents would choose to educate our children in relationship and sexual matters as Muslims. If our children attend school we no longer have the luxury of deciding when our children are ready to be taught certain topics, as the state has taken that right upon itself.
We thus need to rethink and prepare for how and when we teach our children about sex education and topics likely to be covered by RE/RSE (or that are already being taught in some schools) that need putting into context from an Islamic perspective e.g. body development, sexual relations and sexual orientation. It is imperative that we address such subjects with our children and start talking to them before they are exposed to these ideas at school, otherwise, they will form distorted views and assume that un-Islamic practices are acceptable.
God willing, this is the first in a series of articles that hopes to inform and support parents from an Islamic perspective regarding the compulsory introduction of RE/RSE into schools.l
By Kate Godfrey-Faussett
Please follow and like us: