Dreading the Sex-Ed Talk? Try this instead

#MuslimSexEd

So many parents dread “The Talk.” They will do anything to ignore it, delay it, and outsource it. I have had parents tell me, knowing that I am a teacher and rather open in the way I discuss: “Can you just explain this to my kids so I don’t have to?”

Forget the idea of “The Talk.” Think of it as “The Ongoing Conversation.” It starts at birth and continues through adulthood. It is a dialogue that is woven into everyday life as something frank, matter-of-fact, and not shameful.

It starts with respect for the body of the child in infancy. It continues into toddlerhood, when you use anatomically correct names.

It’s the matter-of-fact answer that you give to your four year old when he asks what makes his sister a girl: “She doesn’t have a penis like you do,” you say.

”Whaaaat??” he will say, “You mean everyone doesn’t have a penis? That’s crazy!” Then you think to yourself, “Freud would get a kick out of that comment.”

The conversation continues when your children don’t see their mother praying. You explain that there’s something called menstruation, and you will tie it into reproduction and tell them about how every month, there is a window of opportunity for a woman to become pregnant, and if she does not, she will shed her uterine lining during menstruation.

When your children go to the science museum and see an exhibit on skeletons, you point out that the female skeleton has wider hips to accommodate a baby during childbirth.

As your children read science books and watch documentaries, they will come to know that animals “mate” in order to have babies. They will hear about mating behaviors. My son will often point out: “See that bird? They usually fly like that when they are looking for a mate.” This is a great opportunity to talk about how animals engage in mating behaviors to attract potential mates. “Even humans use mating behaviors as well to attract others.” More conversation ensues.

These frank conversations mean that your kids don’t have a problem talking about these issues openly. My 8 year old daughter told me that her friend saw on the TV show “Anne With an E” that the girls were making fun of Anne because she was the only one who didn’t get her period. What a great conversation starter!

Another time, my son got confused and said, “Since you are not praying this week, does that mean you are having a baby?” Time for more conversation, this time explaining that no, menstruation means a woman is not pregnant.

After years of this type of frank openness, do you think it will be hard to explain the actual mechanics of reproduction? Everything ties in together, and the idea of sex is not something that exists in a vacuum–it is part of this beautiful conversation about our bodies, our feelings, gender, physiology. Honestly, after all these conversations, an astute enough child would probably intuitively figure out how humans reproduce.

All of this openness serves to create an environment that is free of shame regarding the body and sexuality. I do not mean by this that it is free of modesty–what I refer to is the toxic sense of shame in one’s body, thinking that the privates are dirty, or that sex is a crude, dirty act borne of necessity.

When children see our discomfort in talking about the body, or about sexuality, it can give them the message that these are sordid, shameful topics. They think that “good boys” and “good girls” don’t talk about these things. And in their marriages, it can lead to a relationship where sexuality is not cherished and respected.

How do you handle these conversations in your home? Do you have any advice to share regarding how to address sex ed in an open and inviting way? Please let us know in the comments.

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Our dear Nabra, why do bad things happen to good people?

#Nabra

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

In the face of tragedy, it is this question that burns in many a heart. The youth are especially vulnerable, and find that it is all too easy for their faith to crack under the strain of the world’s heartaches.

You see, that same God gave us a precious gift of free will. It’s the same free will that led Nabra to choose to be a giver, a helper, one who fed her friends and spent her nights praying to her lord. And it’s the same free that her murderer used to make the choice to take her precious life.

These tragedies are consequences of our free will.

The angels understood this, for when they heard from Allah that He would create generations of humans on earth, they immediately questioned why He would create beings that would sow seeds of corruption and shed innocent blood. So it has been a given that we would misuse this free will.

But what did Allah say?

He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

You see, He knew that for every human that used their free will to cheat, steal, maim, and kill, there would be many more humans of beauty and faith. There would be humans like Nabra, who would use their free will to fast by day, feed her friends, and pray by night.

Without that opportunity for us to actively choose to do good, our free will would be a farce.

But Allah doesn’t just leave us here on this earth to fight it out, kill and be killed, suffer and toil, and have that be an end of it.

He’s “maaliki yawmid-deen.” The Master of the Day of Judgment. The word “deen” means that it is a day of recompense. A day where justice is served. A day where the evil ones will get only the amount of punishment that is justly due to them, not an ounce more, but where the good ones will get a reward that is infinitely beyond their deserving.

Not only does he amply recompense and care for those victims like Nabra, but his mercy is so gloriously vast that every second of pain her loved ones feel will also be recompensed. Every tear of her mother. Every ache of her father. Every fear, sorrow, and hardship of her friends and community will all be recompensed on that Day.

His Mercy is so vast. We are grieving, we are weeping as we reap the consequences of a world in which humans have been given free rein to make choices that can build or destroy.

Don’t think that He has left her, that He has left us.

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ اللّهَ غَافِلاً عَمَّا يَعْمَلُ الظَّالِمُونَ

“Do not think that Allah is unaware of what the evildoers do” (Surah Ibrahim: 42).

وَلَدَيْنَا كِتَابٌ يَنطِقُ بِالْحَقِّ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

“And with us is a record that speaks the truth; and none shall be wronged.” (Surah Muminoon: 62)

Dear Nabra, may Allah give you a reward that will erase every second of your pain. May He give your family and community ease and healing. May you be now rejoicing in peace in His Gardens of bliss. Aameen, ya rabb.

our faith, our feelings, our hearts

When you think of eemaan (faith), think of “heart-sense.” The foundation of our emaan begins in the heart–with the speech of the heart, and the actions of the heart. The speech of the heart is it’s acknowledgement and affirmation that there is none worthy of worship but Allah. The action of the heart is the next step–it is when the heart overflows with submission, love, hope, and fear of Allah. From this starting point, when our tongue speaks or our body acts, they do so with this “heart sense” already in place.


So many times we live our lives on the surface level only. Our tongues speak, our limbs act, and yet the heart is silent and still. We do this with our friends and family, when we interact with them absent-minded and distracted. We do this with our lord, when we stand and bow like empty shells, lacking any sense of heart during our worship. We weren’t created this way. On the contrary, we were created with hearts that were pure and full of instinctive connection with Allah and with others around us. We came into this world truly feeling and embodying every moment from the depths of our heart. We quickly learn to shut down that heart-sense and create a shell of insincerity around us.

Here’s the amazing thing about kids, though: they are still pure and so their heart-sense radiates forth in everything they do. When they gaze with wonder at the heavens, their heart knows that this is the mark of their Creator. When they put their arms around you, those are not only arms holding you; it is a clasp that starts out from the depths of their hearts.

I realize this when my kids settle in for bed every night. I’m worn down and wanting to shut the light, offer a half-hearted “Love you!” and be done with it. I’m old and jaded, and my body is used to acting on auto-pilot without the heart-sense to guide it. Not for the kids.

When Abdullah hugs me, it’s with a hug so deep and an “I love you mama, sooooo much” that is so earnest it can’t be faked. And on cue, Zaynab calls out from her bed and there is always a catch in her voice, a crack. “I love you, Mama.” It’s a feeling so big she doesn’t know what to do with it, so her body shows her heart on it’s sleeve with that tremble in the voice as she speaks it.

I think about this now. How often do I ask my kids to betray their heart-sense and live inauthentically? It might be the time they are upset at something seemingly trivial and my response is to distract and deny: “Oh, come on, that’s not something to worry about; let’s do this instead.”

What if instead, I responded by going deep down to the heart-sense? “That really upset you. You are shaking. You must have been really hurt by what your friends did.”

If we abandon engaging the heart-sense with our children, it becomes harder for us to engage them in issues of faith. Over time, as we push away real feelings and anything that seems uncomfortable or awkward, our kids become jaded just like us. You see this when they start to not show the same enthusiasm that they did when they were younger, preferring instead to give a shrug and nod of the head. When you try to talk about virtues like courage and love, empathy and eeman, they are often hesitant and out of touch with these feelings. Often times, children don’t have the words to describe how they feel, because they haven’t been given ample opportunity to name and identify feelings in a non-judgmental way.

Eemaan is deeply tied in with emotion and feeling–in fact, true eemaan is rooted in a deep love for Allah, a fear of his punishment, and a hope for his reward. You can’t choose to ignore the heart-sense in some areas of life and then expect it to blossom in others. We need to encourage a heart-sense in both areas of life: in our dealings with our Lord, and in our dealings with our fellow humans.

Questions to ask ourselves would be:

“Am I focusing on outward appearances here, or on the khushoo’ (humility) of the heart?”

“Is my tongue the only thing moving, or is my heart being moved?”

“Am I comfortable talking about my inner life?” This includes eemaan, love, hope, and fear of Allah, as well as the myriad human emotions that we experience regularly.

You see, when you shut down any discussion on internal feelings with your children due to your discomfort, it becomes hard to discuss eemaan and taqwa. These things are deeply personal aspects of us that require great trust and courage to be vulnerable enough to share this inner life with others. If you are consistently brushing off, invalidating, and shutting down the conversation regarding feelings in your home, you simply can’t expect to have an open discussion regarding faith.

Tarbiyah vs. Ta’leem

Sh. Salman al-Odah was asked, “How do you get your kids to love the salah?”

The first thing he said was, “Have them love you.”

Learn this life lesson: tarbiyah is founded upon relationship.

Tarbiyah is the raising up and education of a child such that she can reach her full potential as a human and a Muslim. It is different than ta’leem, which refers to fact-based education.

baby hand

We often confuse the two, giving our children ta’leem when they need tarbiyah.

Ta’leem is teaching our children the how-to of the prayer. Memorizing the duas, learning

the positions.

Tarbiyah is the cuddling after the prayer when we ask each other, “What did you ask for in sajdah?”

Ta’leem is memorizing ahadeeth and verses.

Tarbiyah is the dinner-table banter where we talk current events and other issues on our mind.

Ta’leem is studying fiqh.

Tarbiyah is the loving conversation we have about an incident that happened at school.

Ta’leem is studying seerah by memorizing dates and events or preparing for a quiz bowl.

Tarbiyah is snuggling in bed and telling stories of brave heroes of the past.

When we were at Umrah, Ustadh Abu Eesa stressed this point a great deal and it has caused a seismic shift in my own approach to teaching my children. I had asked him if he had a suggested program of study for school-aged children. He responded by saying that he was no expert on education and he would leave that to the experienced teachers to develop such a program. He directed us instead to focus our efforts on building relationships with our children as our tarbiyah.

“Tarbiyah,” he explained, “is an emotional, not a physical exercise.”

He went on to explain that in the Qur’an, we are taught the dua for the parents as follows: “O Allah, have mercy on them, as they rabbayaani when I was young.” In other words, have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me when I was young. It doesn’t continue the theme of mercy and say “have mercy on them as they had mercy on me,” rather, it says “have mercy on them because they did tarbiyah for me.” It is this tarbiyah that a parent does for their child that brings the mercy of Allah upon them.

Long after facts have come and gone, what a child will remember are the memories she has cuddling on the couch, laughing at stories, and warmly basking in the glow of a parent’s attention and love. This relationship is what builds the person up, not the facts and pieces of knowledge imparted.

This does not mean we do not teach facts and knowledge! Those who follow my work know that I do indeed spend time on this ta’leem. You need to discern the difference between the two themes of ta’leem and tarbiyah though, so that you give adequate time to each.
Most importantly, you must understand that you, dear parents, are indispensable. You CANNOT outsource tarbiyah. You can send your child to classes and masjid programs for ta’leem but this can never replace tarbiyah. The cuddling on the couch, the lively discussions around the table, the one-on-one chats before bed….these are the things that only a parent can do. And these are the things that build the foundation of the Islamic akhlaq and adab (morals and manners).

Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly explained the dua of mercy for the parents. The post has been updated with the correct explanation.

if the kid schools the parent, is it called kidschooling?

One day the three-year old was acting really cranky, and so my husband said, “See? We shouldn’t take him to a movie–he can’t handle it; it makes him cranky.”

I could see the look in AB’s face that he wanted to say something. I know this kid and how we will spot a tiny flaw in something and feel a desperate need to point it out. Honestly, it gets tiring at times, and we’ve tried to let him know that this behavior is not exactly a trait that endears one to people. I get the way his mind works, though. He has an ability to spot tiny flaws or holes in logic and it bothers him–it’s an itch he can’t help but scratch.

“Abdullah,” I said quickly, “I know EXACTLY what you want to say right now, and I’m telling you, just don’t say it. I know Baba will not like it, so wait until later and then say it.” Baba is old school and I don’t think he’d appreciate his logic having holes poked in it by a fourth-grader.

“You know?” Abdullah said. “How do you know what I’m going to say?”

“I’m your mom: I can read your mind.”

He wiggled. He held his hand over his mouth, dying to say his piece. He then asked, “Is it something with a C and a C?”

“Yep,” I replied. “I told you I’m a mind-reader. I knew it.”

Siraj had gotten curious by now and then asked, “Ok, ok, what is this about?”

“Confusing correlation with causation,” we answered. “The movie and the crankiness.”

“You’re right,” he said, “I think I would have gotten irritated.”

I could feel his pain–it wasn’t too long ago that I was saying something when my nasally-sounding 9 year old interrupted to say, “Mama, I think you are mixing correlation with causation.” Please, God, let him outgrow this before high school.

cell-phones-cancer

(c) xkcd, 2014

Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes Part 2

These notes are the continuation of the Tarbiyah lecture by Sr. Iman Badawi. This section is much more fleshed out than the first one, because I had access to the replay and put more information in. The recording of the lecture is available at this link.

Tarbiyah Mistake #4: Making Sure that 90% of What You Say is Commands, Prohibitions, and Threats

  • We think that leadership = commands, prohibitions, threats
  • Children don’t like being ordered around all the time any more than we do
  • Imagine if our spouse or boss was constantly giving commands, prohibitions, and threats–how would we respond?
  • We have a lot of fear, stress, and we take it out on our children when we constantly snap at them
  • There are two issues involved in a child’s behavior:
    1. The child learning and knowing what to do
    2. The child having the self control to implement what they know
    • A child may, at a certain age, have the first, but not the second. They know what to do, but don’t have the self control to be able to follow through on their knowledge
    • Children learn through example and instruction–this is how we teach them the “dos” and “don’ts” so that they know what to do
    • Children develop through relationships, and that is how they develop the self control over time to regulate their behavior.
    • It is problematic when we have an eye on compliance rather than relationships

  • The real message we are sending: “if you don’t obey me, one of us is going to collapse.”
  • “I am the older one, therefore I am going to subdue you.”
  • We do these behaviors supposedly because we love them
  • So, what do we do? == Build a relationship out of love
  • If someone you love and respect asks you to do something, do they have to threaten you to do it? No, we will do it lovingly, effortlessly, voluntarily.
  • This is what Allah wants from us. “Laa ikraaha fid-deen.” There is no compulsion in religion.
  • Yet Allah gives us commands. We enter in Islam of our own free will, we obey Allah out of our own inner desire to obey him.
  • Imagine that the government/sultan put a soldier over every citizen commanding them to pray–this is not what Islam orders. We pray out of our love for him.
  • Allah is exalted over all examples, but this is what we want with our children, that they obey from a desire and love to obey him.
  • This is why the Prophet had the best tarbiyah–Allah is the one who developed his character. Hadith: “Addabanee rabbee wa ahsana ta’deebee” My Rabb taught me manners and perfected my manners.

  • We don’t want everything to be a confrontation
  • We want the obedience to come out of the love
  • Is this idealistic? We think it cannot be done but we have to change our way of thinking
  • “But it’s my right that my child obey me”
  • However, the right of the child of the parent comes before the right of the parent over the child.
  • If the parent doesn’t fulfill the child’s right, how can they expect that the child fulfill their right?
  • Tip: Quality Time
    • The best quality time is sharing a task and cooperating to complete it. This develops relationships and shows the children their dependence on the family unit.
    • The idea is not that we always have to be looking for “fun” and “entertainment.”
    • The antithesis of moral development is the child’s attitude: “I don’t need you, I can do anything I want.” This breeds arrogance and builds the confrontational attitude.
    • Sometimes we ask for it when we thrust independence on the child too early–then when they demand premature independence, we get upset.

Tarbiyah Mistake #5: Assuming Your Child Thinks Like You

  • You assume that they can maturely rationalize everything that you can maturely rationalize.
  • Ex: Father tells very young son who is bike riding, “don’t go around the corner.” When son repeatedly disobeys and finally father yells and explodes, son tearfully asks, “dad, what’s a corner?”
  • This goes back to the last point–if we are commanding all the time, where are the times where we sit down and just make them understand?
  • “I didn’t understand what you meant”– we should take the statement at face value, don’t assume child is lying to you. If you do that and assume they are a liar, they will eventually become a liar.
  • “Ok, what did you understand?” — when you ask that, it will become clear what they really understood.
  • Negative attitude–“I understood what I ordered you, if you didn’t understand it, then it’s your problem.”
  • Understand their developmental levels, and develop realistic expectations
    • Sometimes we set our children up for failure because we give overly high expectations (i.e. things that are beyond their developmental level)
    • Sometimes when we are patching up wounds of previously detrimental failure, we might want to set the bar a little lower so that we set them up for success instead of failure.
    • This relieves our own stress–because the more we are negative with our kids, the more negative we feel, and so therefore the more positive we are with our kids, the more positive we are in ourselves.
  • We sometimes end up as a blown fuse–we have no energy left, and our kid may only be five.
  • Tarbiyah has to be dynamic to fit the different stages of development.
  • e.g. responsibility is developed slowly over time, and we develop it slowly over time
  • One of those aspects of development is that attachment should be at its peak when the child is an infant.
    • e.g. Dr. Sears
    • Unfortunately, when we talk about attachment, people may think we are “hippies” but in reality the focus these days on attachment is a backlash against the previous advice
    • separation anxiety–it’s like a message to the parent, don’t push this child away, they are designed to be attached to you at this time.
    • One form of trauma occurs when there is a premature reaching of stages, so a premature detachment from parent before it is developmentally appropriate.

Up next insha Allah… Tips 6 & 7…

Coming Soon: the Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes

I just attended a fantastic halaqah… and those sisters who know me personally may feel free to email me and request that it be sent to them insha Allah, but the topic was:  Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes. Tarbiyah, as you may know, is the process of character development that we engage in with our children. So before going to the class, my thought was–Ouch!–we get to hear 2 hours of the ten biggest things we do wrong every day with our kids?

But as Allah (swt) says: “And remind, for verily, the reminder benefits the believers” (Adh-Dhariyaat: 55). Sometimes a swift kick in the proverbial arse is what we need to make a firm commitment to change, and boy was this a kick.

I really would like to take the time to type up my notes, but until then I will leave a teaser–I’ll put the ten points she mentioned, then come back with the notes as I can get them out (maybe 3-4 at a time). If you would like to get this and other blog updates straight to your inbox, feel free to add your email address in the box at the top of the right column and you will get the posts as they are published. In the future if you would like to unsubscribe, you can easily do so through the emails themselves, or just post a comment and I’ll unsub you.

Here goes, Letterman style—

The Top Ten Mistakes of Tarbiyah

  1. Choosing the wrong spouse–someone who differs with you on the fundamental issues of life and parenting.
  2. Considering tarbiyah as beginning at a later stage in life
  3. Letting the children control you and run the family
  4. Making sure that 90% of what you say is commands, prohibitions, and threats
  5. Assuming that your child thinks like you
  6. Using injurious and harmful words
  7. Never explaining anything and expecting immediate and prompt blind compliance
  8. Comparing your children to each other (in looks or behavior) and show favoritism
  9. Lying to your kids
  10. Assuming that you are the source of guidance for your children

Now…I don’t like leaving things hanging like that, because some of these are not clear in what they mean and I’m sure leaves the person scratching their head and saying, “but…”

However, the notes are long, I’d like to do them justice, so they will be back another day bi ‘idhnillah.

As a clue to some of the points of the halaqah, I’ll say that some of the topics mentioned include Steven Covey, Dr. Sears, racism, totalitarianism, family mission statements, principle-centered leadership/parenting, and punishment.

Ready? Check back soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to discuss the points so far…