10/02/2012 05:11 EDT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 EST

Let's Talk About Sex, Muslims

Some conservative Muslim leaders, like their Christian counterparts, are disseminating a letter expressing the right of parents to withdraw their children from course content that conflicts with their understanding of faith. The letter expresses concerns about introducing children to sex-education and the realities of queer families.


Progressive Muslims have always supported Ontario's Bill 13 against bullying in schools. However, with the passing of this bill, some conservative Muslim leaders, like their Christian counterparts, are disseminating a letter expressing the right of parents to withdraw their children from course content that conflicts with their understanding of faith.

Conservative Muslim parents may want to think through such a decision. In a similar context of Bill 44 in Alberta, a high school teacher highlighted how education quality declined when parents started pulling out their children from any course content they found objectionable.

The letter seems to be largely based on a fundamentalist Christian template as it mentions topics like wizardry, transgender issues and evolution. Many such issues have traditionally been irrelevant for Muslims.

In contrast to Christian fundamentalists, who worry about the impact of Harry Potter, many Muslims narrate tales of magic in Sinbad and Aladdin. The Qur'an itself alludes to the creations of fire called Jinns. Likewise, Islamic jurists themselves ensure equal rights for transgendered people.

A great majority of Muslims proudly assert that Darwin's theory of evolution was preceded by past Muslim thinkers. Several Muslim scholars have argued that the Qur'an is not a book of science. Some clearly confine the role of science to the physical world and that of religion to the meaning of life.

Using irresponsible language that portrays the curriculum as encouraging "environmental worship" or "infanticide," the letter leads to unnecessary fear mongering. In contrast, traditionally, Muslims promote green Ramadan and believe that human life does not begin at conception.

The letter also expresses concerns about introducing children to sex-education and the realities of queer families. Instead of relying on fears fueled by some Christian groups, conservative Muslim parents may want to heed Islamic teachings on verifying false information lest they should unintentionally harm their children and others.

Public health expert Nadiah Mohajir has cautioned that some Muslim youth attending Islamic schools are sexually active without access to safer sex information. She has clearly argued that the purpose of sex-education is to prevent STIs and teen pregnancies and not encourage them.

Other Muslim health experts have cautioned that despite prohibition, almost half of college-aged U.S. Muslims have experimented with sexual intercourse. Their figures also indicate a lower prevalence of condom use among Muslim college-aged females compared to their non-Muslim peers. In the absence of clear numbers for Canadian Muslim youth, such numbers from other western countries may be heeded.

A representative from the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations highlighted the concern on previous curriculum changes that included the introduction of terms like "anal intercourse" and "vaginal lubrication" to Gr. Six and Seven students. To the extent that schools present information through dialogue and to enable informed decision making, such comments contribute to sensationalism and fear.

Muslim experts extrapolate from studies on the general population that 70 per cent of young ones have already accessed pornography. Even on Islamic websites, the most popular questions include those on oral and anal sex. As such, by not providing information on safer sex and the risks associated with unsafe sexual practices, conservative Muslims may unintentionally harm their children.

Muslim health experts indicate that several parents and religious leaders are uncomfortable discussing sexual issues. In contrast to current neo-conservative Muslim views, even the pious elders after the Prophet's time were informed enough to advise masturbation to their youth to avoid fornication. As such, and given cases of sexual abuse -- even in mosques -- conservative Muslim parents may want to ensure sex-education.

Islamophobia is on the rise. While Canadian data is absent, figures indicate that that 70 per cent of U.S. and 47 per cent of U.K.-based Muslim youth have reported experiencing negative reaction to their religious practices and beliefs. Even the popular Zayn Malik of the boy band "One Direction" is not immune to such prejudice.

It is ironic that support for Muslims has come from the very people that conservative Muslim parents are trying to avoid. Queer American internet celebrity Michael Buckley has strongly defended Zayn Malik. Likewise, queer groups have condemned hate crimes that have targeted Muslims.

Like Islamophobia, bullying of queer youth is an unfortunate reality in many schools. A devout Saudi father has written how teachers at his sons' Islamic school have allowed homophobic bullying to go unchecked and unchallenged. In the Netherlands, Moroccan youth are over-represented in crimes of homophobic violence.

As such, Netherlands-based Imam El Ouazzani has taken an active role in creating a dialogue among Moroccan youth against homophobia. Other religious leaders like the late U.K. based Sheikh Zaki Badawi have advocated non-judgmental teaching of queer issues in schools.

The issue becomes more pressing when conservative Muslim parents face the realities of queer children. The devout Saudi father has written that "people spend entirely too much time trying to decide about things that are neither within their control, nor any of their business." Based on his understanding of Islam he has clearly stated "So, are any of my kids gay? God creates whatever He pleases."

Dr. Scott Kugle wrote that in March 2000, Hamid Natosh, a 14-year-old Afghan boy in Vancouver, committed suicide due to persistent homophobic bullying. He mentioned that since then Hamid's mother became an advocate for "sexuality education" and "Gay-straight alliance clubs" in "Canadian High Schools." Such unfortunate incidents are not isolated cases. Sigourney Weaver portrayed a similar mother Mary Griffiths in the movie Prayers for Bobby.

Bullying affects Muslims, queers and queer Muslims. Likewise, ignorance of sexual issues is associated with harm. An effective way to counter both is through education, openness and dialogue.

The Qur'an constantly exhorts critical reflection through reason. Likewise, Dr. Hashim Kamali mentions the Prophet's teaching that advises Muslims to make up their own minds and not follow others if they do something unjust.

As such, conservative Muslim parents are better advised to ignore the fear mongering letter of self-styled leaders and make a well informed decision based on empathy and concern for their children and others.