I was recently approached by a sister I know who said to me: “Nadeem, you need to have ‘the talk’ with my little brother. I think he’s at that age.”
I turned and said: “Doesn’t he go to an Islamic school?”
Thinking back, I’m not sure why I asked. I should’ve known the answer.
“Yes, he goes to an Islamic school but the school doesn’t believe in teaching sex education” she says.
Curious me, I continued: “But doesn’t the school have a Phys Ed class where Sex Ed is part of the curriculum?”
“Yeah” she said – “they just skip the chapter.”
So now I am tasked with having this conversation with a 13 year old whose parents aren’t going to broach the topic and his school doesn’t see the importance.
So I thought about it for a while.
I didn’t want to mess this up. It’s a crucial conversation that I myself wish I had with someone – I went to a public school where my parents asked for me to be exempted from that part of health class. So I asked myself what would this young man think I am going to talk about when I broach the topic since he was already told I’d be approaching him “to talk.”
I figured he’d expect me to talk about feelings related to girls, how dating is haram, and how he should lower his gaze and take cold showers until he’s married.
I’m not trying to be facetious but this is how it’s often thought of. This was too conventional for me – too pre-packaged and too reactive to contemporary social norms. So I flipped the script a bit.
After maghrib one day, I pulled him aside – he knew “the talk” was coming. I spoke about three things:
I explained that at the turn to adulthood (puberty) his responsibilities become real: prayer and being in a state of purity for prayer becomes mandatory – briefly making mention of wet dreams and the responsibility of ghusl. Respect to his elders and responsibility to society become real. That he needs to learn his fard ‘ayn (his individual religious responsibilities are now things that he will be accountable for).
I told him that his choices now how have implications. We spoke about social and peer pressures, access to information, images, and thoughts all now have the potential to harden the heart and lower one’s spiritual state.
I emphasized tawba and that we all inevitably make mistakes or do things that we are not proud of. But that he should be conscious of decisions he makes, understand the implications, and then deeply acknowledge that Allah is the most merciful, if we but ask for forgiveness.
When we finished the talk, he was a bit flabbergasted. He left realizing his prayers counted now. Not the message related to puberty he thought he’d get. He also realized that choices have implications on his spiritual state, on his family, on his well-being, and on his akhirah.
He matured ten-fold in an instant his sister told me. AlhamduLillah, I’m glad. But I remained concerned about all those adolescents in Islamic schools that are still not having these conversations.
What I learned from this experience about teaching sex education in Islamic schools are two things:
- Adolescent students NEED these conversations – it’s not about avoiding the conversations around sex education – it’s about reframing them.
- Timing and repetition is essential — this cannot be a chapter in a textbook or a unit in a course. Conversations related to sexuality and sexual feelings need to be reiterated year after year and both formally in the curriculum and informally in personal conversations with students.
What I have mentioned above is but one experience and I know I have a lot to learn myself. I’d like to hear about whether conversations related to sex education are being had in your Islamic school – if not, why not? and if so, how are they being framed?