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Sexual relationship education rollout in schools

SRE in August 2021

The UK Department for Education (DfE) has introduced compulsory Relationships Education for primary pupils and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) as well as Health Education for secondary pupils from September 2020.  

To clarify, they are not introducing compulsory sex education at primary school. Relationships Education which will be taught is intended to put in the place the building blocks needed for positive and safe relationships of all kinds. This will start with family and friends, how to treat each other with kindness, and recognising the difference between online and offline friendships.

Many primary schools choose to teach sex education (which goes beyond the existing national curriculum for science), tailored to the age, physical and emotional maturity of their pupils. In those instances we recommend you discuss this with the school, to understand what they propose to teach and how. If you continue to have concerns, you have an automatic right to withdraw your child from these sex education lessons.

The objective is to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe so that they are best equipped for adult life and to make a positive contribution to society. 

Schools are required to consult with parents when developing their policies for Relationships Education and RSE, which will inform schools’ decisions on when and how certain content is covered, providing examples of the resources they plan to use, for example the books they will use in lessons.. Effective engagement gives the space and time for parents to input, ask questions, share concerns and for the school to decide the way forward. 

Schools will listen to parents’ views, and then make a reasonable decision as to how they wish to proceed. When and how content is taught is ultimately a decision for the school, and consultation does not provide a parental veto on curriculum content.

A school’s policies for these subjects must be published online. Schools should also ensure that, when they engage parents, 

In all schools, when teaching these subjects, the religious background of pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching, so that topics are appropriately handled. Schools with a religious character can build on the core required content by reflecting their beliefs in their teaching.

Parents will continue to have a right to request to withdraw their child from sex education delivered as part of RSE in secondary schools, with sufficient notice, up to the age of 16.  There is no right to withdraw from Relationships Education at primary or secondary as we believe the contents of these subjects – such as family, friendship, safety (including online safety) – are important for all children to be taught.

The Dfe believes pupils should receive teaching on LGBT content during their school years to teach children about the society that we live in and the different types of relationships that exist to promote respect and tolerance. This is strongly encouraged in primary schools when teaching about different types of families.

Most school policies will emphasise in their RSE policy:

  • the importance of healthy relationships, family life, respect, love and care. 
  • Teaching of sex, sexuality and sexual health
  • That it is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity.

Although this legislation has now been passed, there is always time to engage with your school to review their materials and share how you feel about the content. 

Whose responsibility is education?

It’s important to recognise the many subjects and disciplines in learning beyond hard and soft sciences to consider also spiritual, moral and social education. Although Ofsted does recommend some level of teaching on these latter topics, families from a different faith or cultural background have always provided their own education. 

I remember that my Religious Education teacher at school was an agnostic but, being confident in our own faith beliefs, we were able to study and debate our positions without tension or dislike. 

Similarly, our forefathers accepted that we would live in a non-Muslim society and provided etiquette around how to deal with our family members and those of the opposite gender. When we went to mixed schools and others talked about girlfriends, we would know very clearly our faith position on this matter.

Where we realised the need for Islamic education, we would look to our Imams and masaajid. 

The responsibility of parents

What seems to have been lacking is the sexual relationship education and conversation, which for many of us has remained taboo till today. Living in a hypersexualised society, we know that our children are exposed to this from a very very young age, 7 years and younger. With lack of knowledge about internet content filters and sexually explicit material is exposed on the Internet and in other media, at even younger ages. 

Although research is just beginning to assess the potential damage, there is reason to believe that early exposure to sexual content has significant undesirable effects – early sex, high-risk sex, addictions, sexual violence, grooming and safeguarding risks.

Hadith narrated by ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar (Allah be pleased with him), who said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say:

‘Each of you is a shepherd, and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for her flock.’”[2]

Building blocks of our community: the family and home. 

As a parent, it’s essential that you know: 

  • What your children are watching, playing and listening to and take advantage of teachable moments to discuss any inappropriate content or behaviors with them.
  • Set and enforce limits around screen time. 
  • Make use of Internet filters and parental controls. 
  • Share your family’s values and expectations regarding relationships and marriage. 
  • Talk to your child about media representations of sex, relationships, and gender roles and teach them to question the accuracy and intent of the messages they receive. 
  • Model healthy, respectful relationships and self-worth.

Confident learners

We saw a great example of justice in May 2021 when protests erupted globally over the anticipated eviction of Palestinian families from homes in east Jerusalem and Israeli restrictions on Ramadan gatherings. And this was reflected in schools too. Students in the UK raised their voices against this oppression and wore badges and apparel in support. Teachers and senior leaders recognised their concern and facilitated discussions in classrooms and in assemblies – Luton mosques attended and supported this dialogue and it was uplifting to see how passionate and informed young people were about the injustice taking place, so soon after a wave of Black Lives Matter campaigning throughout Covid.

The lessons we should learn from this are that young people are aware, opinionated and able to raise their voice for truth. As parents and community members, its our responsibility to talk to them on topics related to their personal development providing a clear faith and ethical perspective so that they are best equipped to deal with modern life.

Of course, we promote tolerance of those that may differ with our view – its essential that we can disagree without being disagreeable. We recognise that education is there to empower us all to build a better society. Without being able to express an opinion, this can lead to frustration and anger.

Not everything is a conspiracy

As stated by founder of SREIslamic, Yusuf Patel, “having a candid and non-conspiratorial approach to the policy in British law is crucial. It can help us to engage with our legal and social institutions  – and community at large –  in a productive manner.”

This is an opportunity for Muslim families and institutions to take a proactive approach to shaping our children’s view and impressions of core Islamic principles, such as family values and relationships so it has the potential to create confident, resilient, socially-conscious, and empowered Muslim youth who can tackle the challenges of modern life.

In line with statutory guidance, a primary school Islamic RSE curriculum need not address issues pertaining to sex. Rather, it can address vital issues such as families, caring friendships, respectful relationships, and being safe. These are all aspects of life that children are forced to navigate, often without the religious instruction that enables them to be cognisant of their individual and social potential, and to be responsive in an Islamically cogent way. 

By highlighting subjects such as puberty in relation to Islamic morals and principles, we are giving Year 6 children  – for whom these changes are present, or around the corner – an opportunity to marvel at how Allah created their bodies. That way, they can reclaim the narrative concerning body positivity and agency, which is a blessing from, and duty to, Allah. 

A secondary school Islamic RSE curriculum can build upon the above and include age appropriate guidance on intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health, from an Islamic perspective. Issuing guidance, as well as grounding young people’s understanding on this issue in light of Islamic scripture will enable them to make responsible choices consistent with an Islamic lifestyle.

The social anxiety concerning the instruction of these subjects in some Muslim communities centres on the false notion that being exposed to them will dilute or weaken Islamic identity. To the contrary, studying them through the illuminating light of the Shariah will undoubtedly strengthen the Islamic identity of young people, inshā’ Allāh. 

Concerning the issue of the LGBT community and their quest to be recognised, this needs to be understood as a civic right that is equally expressed by all minority communities in Britain, and not a targeted attack on Islamic values. This is not an invitation to debate the Shariah ruling on issues pertaining to sexual identity, orientation, and practice. For the rulings on these matters are clear, resolute, and undebatable in and of themselves. 

By learning about these subjects in isolation, Muslim children will be unable to anchor sex and intimacy to a sense of moral duty, or connect them to a higher and more lofty purpose, and therefore creating a moral void. These are both key elements which enable young people to make conscientious choices, and help them to understand the true consequences of sexually risky behaviour.

A comprehensive approach to Islamic RSE – which provides moral and ethical frameworks in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah – can help to enrich this integral topic, capture the wisdom found in the Shariah, and embolden young people to make choices consistent with Islamic values. It can also help to embed other key issues relevant to their everyday life, such as internet safety, boundaries in friendship, what love from Allah is, and conflict resolution through the prism of Islam. 

What have the masaajid been doing?

Luton Mosques did set up a steering panel to present a faith position to Luton Borough council in relation to SRE as the legislation and practise was being developed. As a result of that effort, some local schools now use Discovery Education which is an alternative to the Christopher Winter project, and is considered more culturally appropriate for faith communities.

The Association of Muslim Schools has developed a range of guidance materials at https://ams-uk.org/rse-resources/ and is in the process of developing a faith-based set of curricular resources. 

Next steps

As parents and responsible adults, we have a perspective on what is age-appropriate to be discussed with our children and clear faith teachings. We should use this as an opportunity to have positive conversations about these matters and also work on:

1. Safeguarding our children from bad company or inappropriate role models Sadly we have seen numerous cases of grooming children which take advantage of their innocence and lack of social support.

2.Keep an eye on your children and their online activities The risk to is far more prevalent on phones, tablets and connected games consoles. 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!”

3. 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.

4. 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!”

5. Get involved in the places where your children spend time This must be the case in schools, not because of SRE, but because we are partners in learning, development and community contribution. Become a governor or get involved in the Parent-Teacher association. Support our institutions and help them understand our faith practise.

Do ask the school to share teaching materials – it is your right to be aware of their content and they should show you examples of what they deliver. The RSE guidance published on gov.uk does provide quite a lot of flexibility and guidance.

Is it nature or nurture?

If our phone had a hardware fault and we had tried all the youtube fixes and local repair outlets, we’d have no choice but to go back to the manufacturer. When human beings experience a problem, personal or social, they too need to go back to their Creator – Allah(SWT). All the Islamic teachings are in accordance with human nature and enable us to achieve human flow and progress.

From a faith perspective, if someone has an impulse or desire, this isn’t necessarily wrong. Acting upon the wrong impulse however is wrong. Just like someone may desire something and consider stealing it, that would be wrong and they should refrain or be a criminal. Relationships outside of marriage are considered a wrong in the sight of Allah(SWT), and this is even more the case in regards to relationships with the same gender as explained in the incident of Lut(AS). 

Hedonism is the belief that pleasure, or the absence of pain, is the most important principle in determining the morality of a potential course of action. However, even those who succumb to desire recognise that there must be boundaries. As someone who loves chocolate, even I appreciate that too much will make me sick and is damaging to my health. Dependence, addiction, bingeing and compulsive consumption can be thought of as risky or harmful uses of otherwise pleasurable experiences.

The position of Abrahamic faiths

As Muslims, we believe, like the other Abrahamic faith traditions, that the only type of actual intercourse that is allowed, is between a husband and a wife, within the confines of marriage. Everything outside of that which is permitted by Allah(SWT) is unethical, immoral and harmful to the soul.

However, if someone disagrees and follows a different type of lifestyle, although we don’t like this action as it displeases God, it doesn’t mean we mistreat or discriminate against others. Just as alcohol may be permitted to be sold and consumed in society, Islamically it is illegal for us in the ethical in the religious sense the same applies for premarital and extramarital and the same should also apply for same-sex relations.

Indeed, those who love to see indecency spread among the believers will suffer a painful punishment in this life and the Hereafter. Allah knows and you do not know. [Surah an-Nur 24:19]

Allah(SWT) addresses those people who cast suspicion on Aisha(Ra) spreading false rumours to hurt her and the Prophet(SAW). And after exposing this fake news, Allah(SWT) reminds us of a principle that all of those who seek to promote and fan indecency and shamelessness (fahisha) will suffer both in this life and the next. And Allah(SWT) reminds us that He Knows what is best for us and that He knows everything that takes place, in private or in public.

The term fahisha (indecency) has been detailed in the Qur’an, of which, a few selections include:

Do not even go close to fornication. It is indeed a shameful act, and an evil way to follow. [Surah al-Isa 17:32]

And (We sent) Lut when he said to his people, “Do you commit the shameful act in which nobody has ever preceded you from all the worlds? You come to men lustfully instead of women. No, you are a people who cross the limits.” [Surah al-A’rah 7:81-82]

This extends to the setting up of brothels, production of erotic media as well as mixed gatherings at clubs and hotels, which facilitate these public immoralities. Generally, these are prohibited in Muslim societies.

Islam, Christianity and Judaism are unanimous in prohibiting and condemning homosexuality. Not only it is considered a sin, but also a crime against bases of the Universe and human nature. Allah Almighty created the humanity as men and women and gave them matching genitals so the men could mell women, and permitted these relations only within the bounds of marriage:

The lesson from the story of Lut is that it is unethical and immoral in the Islamic faith to engage in any type of sexual engagement with the same gender, and this is something that there has been no scholarly difference of opinion

This is the case for the other Abrahamic faiths as its stated “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomits out her inhabitants“ (The Holy Bible, Leviticus, 18:22-25). 

The main quality to deter evil

Abu Mas’ud (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, among the words people obtained from the Prophets are this: If you feel no shame, do as you wish.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3483]

Ibn Rajab said, “The scholars interpret this saying in two ways. First, that it is a command of caution and warning, meaning if there is no shame, do as you wish, for Allah will repay you accordingly.

Secondly, that it is a command of description, meaning that whoever does not have shame will do as he wishes, for it is shame that prevents evil deeds.” [Jāmi’ al-Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 20]

Modesty is a natural deterrent which Allah(SWT) has placed in each of us, to assist us to abstain from evil and vice.

Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allaah have mercy upon him, states: “Allaah has assembled two souls: a soul that greatly orders (evil) and a soul that is content, and they are hostile towards one another. 

Whenever one diminishes, the other strengthens. Whenever one takes pleasure in something the other suffers pain as a result of it. Nothing is more difficult for the soul that constantly encourages evil than performing deeds for Allaah and preferring His pleasure to its own desire and there is nothing more beneficial to it than Allaah. 

Likewise, there is nothing more difficult upon the content soul than performing deeds for other than Allaah and that which the incentives of desire bring about, and there is nothing more harmful to it than desire… and the war is continuous, it cannot come to an end until it completes its appointed time from this world.” [Al-Jawaab al-Kaafee of Ibn al-Qayyim, pg. 184-185]

The long game of Shaytan

In the story of Adam (AS), Shaytan was was extremely relentless and he kept at it building this idea in them until they would think it’s their idea. Later in this narrative, Allah (SWT) says Shaytan will have no authority over those who submit to Allah, although he will continue to tempt them. In the Qur’an it also makes it clear that Shaytan commands us to shamelessness and when we listen to him, we’ve granted him a little bit of power and if we keep on listening and responding, it comes to a stage where he have disempowered ourselves and enslaved ourselves to Shaytan. 

Even the righteous slip 

However, from the Mercy of Allah(SWT) we also learn that no-one is free from error. In the tafsîr of Ibn ‘Abbâs its mentioned that a man from the Ansaar (Helpers) stared at, touched and kissed the wife of a man from Thaqif, and then sought to repent. Allah(SWT) then revealed

“And those who, when they happen to commit a shameful act or wrong themselves, remember Allah, then, seek forgiveness for their sins-and who is there to forgive sins except Allah? And do not persist in what they have done, knowingly.” [Surah aale Imran 3:135]

According to the narration of al-Kalbi: “The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, tied two men, one from the Helpers and one from Thaqif, with the bond of brotherhood and they were inseparable. 

The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, went out one day to one of his military expeditions and the man from Thaqif accompanied him, leaving his wife and business under the care of the Helper who used to look after the family of the man from Thaqif. One day he saw the wife of his friend who had just finished having a bath, with her hair spread, and he fell for her. He entered in on her without asking permission and leaned to kiss her but she put her hand on her face such that he kissed the outside of her hand. But then he regretted what he had done, felt the shame of his action and retreated. Upon his retreat, his friend’s wife exclaimed: ‘Glory be to Allah! You have betrayed your trust, disobeyed your Lord and failed to get what you desired!’ 

Regretting his action, the man went wandering in the mountains, to repent to Allah, exalted is He, from his action. When the man from Thaqif returned to his family, she informed him of what had happened. He went out looking for his friend until somebody told him where to find him. He found him in prostration, saying: ‘My Lord, my sin! My sin! I have betrayed my brother!’ His friend said: ‘Come let us go to the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, and ask him about your sin, hopefully Allah will ease your situation and relent on you’. 

And so he went back with him until they reached Medina one day, at the time of ‘Asr prayer and Gabriel, peace be upon him, brought down the news of the acceptance of his repentance. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, recited to him (And those who, when they do an evil thing) up to His saying (a bountiful reward for workers!). When he finished, ‘Umar [ibn al-Khattab] asked: ‘‘O Messenger of Allah! This applies specifically to him or is it to all people?‘ The Messenger said: ‘No, it applies to all’ ”. 

How to fight desire

Abu Umamah reported: A young man came to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and he said, “O Messenger of Allah, give me permission to commit adultery.” The people turned to rebuke him, saying, “Quiet! Quiet!” but the Prophet (SAW) said, “Come here.” The young man came close and he told him to sit down. 

The Prophet said, “Would you like that for your mother?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their mothers. Would you like that for your daughter?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their daughters. Would you like that for your sister?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their sisters. Would you like that for your aunts?” The man said, “No, by Allah, may I be sacrificed for you.” The Prophet said, “Neither would people like it for their aunts.” 

Then, the Prophet placed his hand on him and he said, “O Allah, forgive his sins, purify his heart, and guard his chastity.” After that, the young man never again inclined to anything sinful.

In another narration, the Prophet said to him, “Then hate what Allah has hated, and love for your brother what you love for yourself.” [Musnad Aḥmad 21708]

Rifa’ah ibn Rafi’ reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “O Allah, make faith beloved to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make unbelief, wickedness, and disobedience hateful to us, and make us among the rightly-guided. O Allah, let us pass away as Muslims, live as Muslims, and let us be joined with the righteous.” [al-Adab al-Mufrad 699]

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah identified a number of different Prophetic and Qur’anic approaches to controlling our minds and our hearts in order to help us on our journey to Allah. In his book ‘Iddat as-Sabireen, he put forth a number of strategies for reminding ourselves when we are faced with temptation and desire. 

Explaining the ayah ‘Certainly, those who are righteous, when a party of Shaytaan touches them, they immediately remember (Him i.e Allah SWT), then they gain insight’ (Surah A’raaf: 201).” he recommended:

  1. Remember Allah’s countless blessings upon you and that your disobedience will erect a barrier between you and them.  
  2. Remember that through your fulfilling desires and attainment of temporary pleasure you will lose out on goodness both in this world and in the next.  Faith, Providence, and wealth all decrease as a consequence.
  3. Remember that Allah has promised to replace what you leave for His sake with something much better. It is worth the struggle.

May Allah give us the ability to act in a way which is pleasing to Him and strengthen our remembrance so that we can overcome temptations.

 

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