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.

What are we doing to create Muslim thinkers that can see past a secular mindset?

By now you’ve heard of the obscene statements by Amina Wadud calling Prophet Ibrahim a “dead beat dad” because he left his wife and infant in the desert under God’s own command.

I don’t need to waste your time refuting this statement or discussing what a piece of work Wadud is. But don’t pat yourself on the back, either.

What we do need to talk about are the ways that we, well meaning teachers and parents, allow for this type of thinking to evolve. We are unwittingly sending our own children on this destructive path if we do not make major reforms in our pedagogy.

You may recall my discussion on children’s literature and secular thinking (refresh your memory here: http://bit.ly/2pNh023)

This early stage of life is where the problem starts–it’s when a child or youth learns about the world in terms of what she can see and think about. She’s not reading stories about relying on God’s plan, she’s reading stories that are devoid of any mention of God. She’s studying science texts that describe natural phenomena without delving into the creator of those phenomena. The student learns to be an analytical thinker, someone who can look at the world around him and logically analyze issues from language, literature, to science and sociology.

We think that a once-a-day Islamic Studies class is enough to remedy this, provided the child is privileged enough to be in an Islamic School.

We are telling this child to think, to analyze, to make inferences, to use “critical thinking” and be an independent thinker, and yet we haven’t given him the proper tools with which to do this within a theological framework.

We have enculturated the child in a completely secular humanist framework, so when he reads the Qur’an, he’s got those secular humanist lenses on. We prioritized this paradigm his whole academic life–is it any wonder that some of these kids completely lose the plot and grow up to be of the same mindset of the Amina Waduds of the world?

Do we think that we are so intellectually and spiritually superior that we have somehow inoculated our children from this mindset with little to no effort on our part? Can we possibly be this naive? Are a few sessions a week of an “Islamic Studies class” that is essentially fun-and-games time, plus the memorization of surahs they don’t know the meaning of, enough to create a whole worldview by which the student can then understand everything around her?

Meanwhile, they are receiving secular educations that will enable them to enter college and do any field of their choosing.

And lest you think that this secular education is merely for the purposes of employment, you must understand that everything has a worldview attached. And nature abhors a vacuum. If you fail to fill the mind of the child with the Islamic worldview and integrate this worldview into every single subject, then the natural consequence will be for the child to adopt secular norms and attitudes towards the world.

I tell my kids that our Islamic lens is like a pair of sunglasses that we have on all the time that affects how we perceive the world around us. This lens is comprised of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and everything that we hear, read, or see passes through this filter before it reaches us.

Where people go wrong, I try to explain to them, is when they put on other glasses first. It might be the glasses of their own cultural upbringing. It might be the ideas derived from their own logical analysis. Then these people will go read the Qur’an and Sunnah with the wrong glasses on, and start to understand the Qur’an according to their own preconceived notions.

I think most of us understand this analogy and yet what we lack is application, on the individual, family, and community level. This is beyond the scope of this post, but I hope to start reflecting on this more as an educator and parent. How do you propose we approach children’s education so that they do not develop a divided mindset of religious on one side, secular on the other?

Follow other posts at: #meriumnotesandthoughts andthemuslimeducator.wordpress.com.