Khutba: Relationship and sex education in schools – how should we respond
But when there comes the greatest Overwhelming Calamity – the Day when man will remember that for which he strove, and Hellfire will be exposed for [all] those who see.
So as for he who transgressed and preferred the life of the world, then indeed, Hellfire will be [his] refuge.
But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination. Then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge.
[Surat An-Nāzi`āt, Aayaat 34-41]
On 1 March 2017, the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced her intention to make ‘Relationships and Sex Education’ mandatory so that schools would have to teach it. Following consultation, the RSE proposals are intended to be in place for teaching to start in September 2020, with schools able to begin with the relevant teaching a year earlier if they wished.
Following consultation, the Government published a new curriculum on 25th June which will be mandatory from September 2020. Schools are encouraged to adopt the new curriculum early from September 2019.
Whats changing with relationship and sex education?
In all Secondary and primary schools, RSE – Relationships and Sex Education – termed Relationship Education (RelEd) will be made statutory in all schools (maintained schools, academies, faith schools, free schools and independent schools).
- Parents will be NOT be allowed to withdraw from the Relationships Education part of RSE.
- Parents will, however, be allowed to request withdrawal from the Sex Education part of RSE. In order to withdraw, parents will need to make a request to the head teacher.
- If the request is approved, the child will be withdrawn up until three school terms before his/her sixteenth birthday, after which the child will have the right to decide whether to remain withdrawn or opted into sex education lessons.
- Parents cannot withdraw from any sex education delivered as part of National Curriculum Science lessons (the requirements are listed below).
The concerns we have with this are
Use of explicit resources
The Christian Institute (christian.org) petitions the government against the use of their proposed imagery which includes stick diagrams of adults in the nude participating in intimate relations referenced as how “mummy and daddy fit together” in various positions with descriptions of the acts of intercourse, prostitution, masturbation and even incest. From 7 years old, video stills of nude persons are used as well as the introduction of same-gender relationships.
As parents and responsible adults, we have a perspective on what is age-appropriate to be discussed with children based on their faith teachings. We recognise the importance of protecting children from abuse and appreciate the approach of PANTS developed by the NSPCC, which does not talk about sex or using inappropriate words. Rather it reinforces the importance of private parts remaining private, your body belongs to you and ‘no means no’. We also recognise that children are maturing earlier and both boys and girls may reach puberty earlier and it’s important to address these changes and respectfully explain our position on relationships acceptable to our faith. Adult topics should be discussed with children as they approach maturity with respect and dignity.
Advertising, television programmes, toys, the proliferation of online porn and magazine content that portray children, especially girls, in a flirtatious way can cause depression related to body image. A report by Mission Australia shows body image concerns are a key driver of the mental health crisis affecting teenagers, while frontline workers say kids as young as eight are having thoughts of killing themselves.
The Guardian published an article in 2016 titled “Sexualised behaviour in very young children increasing, say teachers”. One primary school teacher with 20 years’ experience, who works in Merseyside, said she believed unrestricted access to the internet was partly responsible for the sexualisation of children. “As a primary teacher, I have been appalled by the rise in sexual language and behaviour in children as young as five. Unfiltered access to the internet and age-inappropriate computer games expose more and more young children to things they are not able to cope with or understand. Many parents haven’t got a clue about what is happening.”
One secondary head of PHSE, based in Lincolnshire, told the Guardian that 95% of a class of year 7 boys told her they had accessed pornography online. Sadly, there are many incidents of students as young as 10 being sent explicit photos via social media and a sexual assault between two seven-year-old boys. A secondary school supply teacher, who has worked in London and Humberside, reported: “several sexual assaults and a possible rape” over seven years of teaching. This in itself may lead to addictions, intimacy problems and body dissatisfaction.
Lack of acceptance of other opinions regarding relationships
One of the major concerns many parents have expressed is the fact that these changes are being thrust upon them without consultation or appreciation of different opinions on the matter. This holds fast for most parents whether they associate themselves to a specific faith or not.
The lack of transparency from schools about what they teach, when they teach it, and a lack of meaningful consultation are genuine concerns. e.g. what safeguards are in place to prevent a primary school from introducing sex education topics into Relationships Education classes?
At the same time, we teach our children our values and the importance of treating everyone with respect and civility no matter who they are, what their background or what choices they make in their lives, whether we disagree with those choices or not.
Right to withdraw
Schools may find that parents will request their child to be withdrawn from certain lessons or collective worship on religious or moral grounds, however, these rights are being limited in the case of RSE.
In secondary schools, it is at the discretion of the Headteacher to either approve or reject a request to withdraw from sex education. The reasons for rejection have not been clearly defined.
What is the Islamic position on sexual relationships?
In Islam, any sexual relationship outside of a marriage between an adult man and a woman is not Islamically permitted (haram). It is considered a major sin by most faiths and has been the social norm for most societies throughout history.
As Muslims, we believe that marriage is the cornerstone of family life. In the words of our beloved Messenger (SAW), it is the completion of half one’s Dīn. For us, the structure of a family is built upon the marriage between men and women. For children it is the only source of stability in a chaotic world, and yet, the media and entertainment industries undermine marriage by reshaping our view of sexual relationships as fleeting encounters.
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever Allah provides with a righteous wife, Allah has assisted him in half of his religion. Let him fear Allah regarding the second half.” [Source: al-Mu’jam al-Awsaṭ 992] Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Suyuti
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ أَنّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ مَنْ رَزَقَهُ اللَّهُ امْرَأَةً صَالِحَةً فَقَدْ أَعَانَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَى شَطْرِ دِينِهِ فَلْيَتَّقِ اللَّهَ فِي الشَّطْرِ الثَّانِي
Why is marriage half of your deen? It is not a pillar of our deen so why is it raised to such a status?
The scholars explain that a person will enter into the Fire by one of two means – either because they did not guard their tongue or they did not guard their private parts – your modesty their chastity
Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever guards what is between his jaws and guards his chastity, he will enter Paradise.” [Musnad Aḥmad 19065]
عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى الْأَشْعَرِيِّ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ حَفِظَ مَا بَيْنَ فُقْمَيْهِ وَفَرْجَهُ دَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ
19065 مسند أحمد أول مسند الكوفيين
Yusuf (AS) is a great example. Perhaps you don’t know what is good for you but it is all necessary. He still stuck to his principles. He was not swayed by desire or despair. He achieved success.
Responding to sinful acts
What did Prophet Yaqub say when his sons came home without his beloved Yusuf, the child’s shirt stained with blood, as they presumed the child had been eaten by a wolf? Yaqub said, “So patience is most fitting. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.” (Qur’an, chapter 12, verse 18)
Prophet Yaqub did not rant or rave or punish his sons, even though he knew they were lying and he knew they had done something to Yusuf. As parents, we need to pause here. We need to acknowledge that our children are not perfect nor should we demand perfection. Our children will make mistakes and we need to accept that. We will teach and direct and advise them, yet we need to show them more patience, acceptance, and emotional support and give them the opportunity to make right was wrong and to repent after committing sin, exemplified in the beautiful example of Prophet Yaqub (AS).
Hatred is a razor which shaves religion
And Ibn Rajab writes:
قَالَ بَعْضُ الصَّالِحِينَ مِنَ السَّلَفِ أَهْلُ الْمَحَبَّةِ لِلَّهِ نَظَرُوا بِنُورِ اللَّهِ وَعَطَفُوا عَلَى أَهْلِ مَعَاصِي اللَّهِ مَقَتُوا أَعْمَالَهُمْ وَعَطَفُوا عَلَيْهِمْ لِيُزِيلُوهُمْ بِالْمَوَاعِظِ عَنْ فِعَالِهِمْ وَأَشْفَقُوا عَلَى أَبْدَانِهِمْ مِنَ النَّارِ وَلَا يَكُونُ الْمُؤْمِنُ مُؤْمِنًا حَقًّا حَتَّى يَرْضَى لِلنَّاسِ مَا يَرْضَاهُ لِنَفْسِهِ
Some of the righteous predecessors said: The people who love Allah look by the light of Allah, and they are compassionate with those who disobey Allah. They hate their actions but show mercy to them so that through their admonitions they might leave their actions. They are afraid that the Hellfire will consume their bodies. The believer will not truly be a believer until he is pleased for people to have what he is pleased for himself.
Source: Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 13
We can find this distinction implied in the Quran. For example, Allah tells us that it is the characteristic of faith to hate unbelief, sin, and disobedience to Allah.
وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَكَرَّهَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكُفْرَ وَالْفُسُوقَ وَالْعِصْيَانَ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الرَّاشِدُونَ
Rather, Allah has made the faith beloved to you and has made it pleasing in your hearts and He has made hateful to you disbelief, defiance, and disobedience. Those are the rightly guided.
Surat al-Hujurat 49:7
Al-Zubair ibn ‘Awwam reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
دَبَّ إِلَيْكُمْ دَاءُ الْأُمَمِ قَبْلَكُمْ الْحَسَدُ وَالْبَغْضَاءُ وَالْبَغْضَاءُ هِيَ الْحَالِقَةُ حَالِقَةُ الدِّينِ لَا حَالِقَةُ الشَّعَرِ
There have come to you the diseases of the nations before you: envy and hatred, and hatred is the razor. It shaves the religion and it does not shave hair.
Source: Musnad Aḥmad
Mu’adh ibn Anas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
أَفْضَلُ الْإِيمَانِ أَنْ تُحِبَّ لِلَّهِ وَتُبْغِضَ فِي اللَّهِ وَتُعْمِلَ لِسَانَكَ فِي ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ
The best of faith is to love for the sake of Allah, to hate for the sake of Allah, and to work your tongue in the remembrance of Allah.
Mu’adh said, “How is it, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said:
وَأَنْ تُحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ وَتَكْرَهَ لَهُمْ مَا تَكْرَهُ لِنَفْسِكَ وَأَنْ تَقُولَ خَيْرًا أَوْ تَصْمُتَ
That you love for people what you love for yourself, and you hate for them what you hate for yourself, and you speak goodness or remain silent.
Source: Musnad Aḥmad
Advice to parents and young people
1. Safeguarding from bad company or inappropriate role models
As social beings, we all take cues from our environment, especially other people, on how to act. Advertisers recognise that we don’t always judge based on how good a product is, rather we will go with the flow, hence the use of “fastest-growing”, “best-selling” or “most popular”. Following the crowd can help us deal with a complicated or confusing environment like today. Hence, what was acceptable 20 years ago is unacceptable today – people haven’t changed but popular opinion has. The risk isn’t just at school, its probably more prevalent on their phones, tablets and connected games consoles.
Our children, like us, look to see what others are doing. If those pop idols, celebrities or social media influencers endorse an opinion, regardless of how immoral or inappropriate it may be, it can become a social norm.
A scholar once said “When you sit with people of the dunya, you become a drop in their ocean, but when you sit with people of the akhira, the dunya becomes a drop in your ocean.”
Keep an eye on your children and their activities
Computers should be stationed in a public area of the house where email exchanges and internet research are conducted on a set schedule under the watchful eyes of involved parents.
“If Shaytan (Satan) were to ring our doorbell and ask if he could come in and babysit our children, we would throw him out,” one scholar says, “yet we allow social media and the internet to do exactly that…we literally invite Shaytan in when we leave the wifi on!”
Find some halal entertainment
It’s important to replace every haraam you stop your child from with at least two halaals they can enjoy. Celebrate their completion of the Quran reading or memorisation of Juz ‘Amma. Encourage reading, poetry, gardening, calligraphy, cooking etc. Most importantly greet your child with a smile and a hug, not phone in hand or a grunt. Remember, if your children feel love in your home, they don’t look for it anywhere else.
2. Stick to your principles – they are timeless and true
A father of four reflected on his life saying, “My mother didn’t worry about not ‘rocking the boat’ when we were in high school. She was willing to capsize the boat if she found us doing something that wasn’t okay with her!”
We need to beware of what is dangerous for them physically and spiritually. Friends. Internet content which encourages lewdness. We wouldn’t allow them to eat dessert and sweets all day and night as it would destroy their physical health. So why allow them to consume useless media, advertising and bad examples on their phones? Even in this country, its an offence to permit children under the age of 16 who are not accompanied by an adult to be present at a premises being used solely or primarily for the supply of alcohol like a pub – this is considered socially sinful and hence prohibited today. Similarly, all parents should be concerned about the environments we are placing our children in if they promote immoral behaviour, including our schools.
We need to know what is going on in schools. It was Malcolm X who said that “…only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.”
We need to know and live by our Islamic principles and practices. That is something to take pride in. Allah(SWT) knows us best and the test of this dunya is to repress desires and avoid acts which displease Him(SWT).
In fact, if we try to take pride in anything else, we will be disgraced.
عَنْ طَارِقِ بْنِ شِهَابٍ قَالَ عُمَرُ بْنُ الْخَطَّابِ رضي الله عنه إِنَّا كُنَّا أَذَلَّ قَوْمٍ فَأَعَزَّنَا اللَّهُ بِالْإِسْلَامِ فَمَهْمَا نَطْلُبُ الْعِزَّةَ بِغَيْرِ مَا أَعَزَّنَا اللَّهُ بِهِ أَذَلَّنَا اللَّهُ
Tariq ibn Shihab reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Verily, we were a disgraceful people and Allah honored us with Islam. If we seek honor from anything besides that with which Allah has honored us, Allah will disgrace us.” [al-Mustadrak 214]
And it was Umar (RA) who was reported to have said “I fear the day when the disbelievers are proud of their falsehood, and the Muslims are shy of their faith”
When I was at college, a brother gave a good example about doing wudhu in the toilets. He mentioned that a non-Muslim came in while a brother was cleaning his feet and he showed disgust at this act which he had never witnessed before. The brother continued and confidently asked him how many times he washes his face daily – the response was once in the morning. The brother responded that he cleans his feet 5 times a day therefore these feet may be cleaner than that face. Don’t be ashamed – you have the strongest handhold. You are inspired by the Words of the Creator of all things, who knows the hearts of every person and transcends time and fashionable trends. He (SWT) knows what is best for all people since He has created each of them, just like Apple best knows its handsets and BMW best knows the X5.
3. Play an active role in your school and children’s learning
a) Ask the school to share the learning materials
Find out what materials and schemes of work your child’s school is using by asking your child’s school. If for some reason they are not, you can make a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Consider what values they promote and if there are any activities which you would not want your child taking part in?
Find out who is going to deliver the lessons as it is sometimes outsourced to a health agency or external body.
The RSE guidance published on gov.uk does provide quite a lot of flexibility and clearly states
We are clear that parents and carers are the prime educators for children on many of these matters. Schools complement and reinforce this role and have told us that they see building on what pupils learn at home as an important part of delivering a good education. We agree with this principle and congratulate the many schools delivering outstanding provision to support the personal development and pastoral needs of their pupils. We are determined that the subjects must be deliverable and give schools flexibility to shape their curriculum according to the needs of their pupils and communities.
It’s important that schools and communities work together as a village or faith community may not accept the way it’s delivered and its important to understand diverse perspectives and accommodate different opinions. Importantly, there should be discussions on age appropriateness, religious appropriateness and cultural sensitivities.
b) Meet with the head teacher
If you have concerns about what your child will be taught you can raise these with the head teacher of the school. Of course, always be gentle and polite, but remain firm to your principles and values. Also, prepare some key points you would like to share prior to the meeting. This meeting is not a debate or a protest, rather, its an opportunity to respectfully share your thoughts with the most senior educationalist in the school.
Most schools I have spoken to said that no parent has approached the Head or even made the school aware of their concerns. Headteachers appreciate parental involvement and mostly value learning about our cultures and perspectives. They generally do try to accommodate and respect these positions once they understand them.
c) If you’re still not comfortable, you can request withdrawal
If you have tried raising your concerns with the school but find that you cannot reach an acceptable conclusion as to how sex education is taught, then it may be now that you decide to withdraw your child from sex education lessons. If you do decide to go ahead with this your child’s school ought to have systems in place to make other arrangements for them.
d) Speak with parent governors and the parent-teacher association
The governors of a school have ultimate responsibility for sex education in England. The school’s annual report or website will list the school governors. Get in touch with the elected parent governors and let them know your views, respectfully and politely.
You can always stand as a parent governor yourself when the next elections come round. At an education conference I attended recently, Professor Janet Goodall mentioned that 90% of governors are white, retired males. Do they represent you and your children? Then, become a governor yourself – anyone can volunteer to become a governor and in maintained schools, you will be fully trained and supported by other governors. I have been a governor and the Chair of governors for more than 12 years in primary and higher education institutes and have always benefited from the experience.
Similarly, Parent-teacher associations are a forum for parents to meet teachers and senior leaders to present their opinions. This doesn’t require as much commitment and is a great way to positively contribute in your school as well as raise any concerns you may have.
e) Contact your local councillors and MP
If the school does not appear to be responding to your concerns you can write to your local councillors and MP. You can send letters to them at the House of Commons or www. parliament.uk.
You can also go and see them at a constituency or ward surgery. As always, be calm, polite and prepared with your key points before you go.
We ask Allah to make us among the merciful, the compassionate, and the patient, and to purify us and protect us from the disease of malicious hatred and that we submit our desires and our limbs to His guidance and that He (SWT) protects us from the trials of this dunya and the Akhira.