Farrah Marfatia, principal of the Maingate Islamic Academy in Mississauga, has written a guide, "How to talk to your Muslim child about topics in the Ontario Ministry of Education's Health Education Curriculum, 2015."
She believes that from her "Islamic" perspective the curriculum is not age appropriate and is concerned about "how" she would teach it to her own children.
Sample excerpts from her guide highlight four main concerns: lessons teaching identification of genitalia by name, homosexuality, gender identity and masturbation.
Marfatia states that children should only use such wording with a "trusted adult," especially in the context of sexual abuse.
But who in Marfatia's guide is a "trusted adult" other than parents? Should trusted adults not include non-Muslim police and school authorities? Or should sexual abuse perpetrated by parents be encouraged to be hidden?
By ensuring children are not limited in who they can go to for help, Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum protects children more from sexual abuse compared to Marfatia's guide. Trusted individuals should not be limited to parents or clergy as there have been a few Muslim leaders, including Imams, who have perpetrated the sexual and physical abuse of children.
The chief concern of Marfatia on homosexuality is that in Islam "we are not allowed to marry people of the same gender." She simplistically mentions the destruction of Lot's people and asserts that Allah created men and women to complement each other. She also states that while there are "families that have 2 moms and 2 dads ... this type of relationship is displeasing to Allah."
However, Marfatia's puritanical position ignores the position of Muslims who fully support same-sex unions.
Her guide ignores that the Prophet did not have children with several of his wives. Islam allows elderly women, infertile couples, and the khuntha mushkil (intersex persons), unable to bear children, to marry to achieve the goal of mawadda (affection) between spouses.
"Not being complete" without an opposite gender spouse for children is foreign to Islamic ethics.
Marfatia states, "we should treat everyone with kindness." However, how exactly is kindness achieved when we claim that our God does not want gay people to have happiness with their spouses? In fact what alternative do we propose Muslim LGBT youth when they come out?
A lifetime based on loneliness and celibacy?
On gender identity, she asserts, "you cannot be a boy if you are born a girl and you cannot be a girl if you are born a boy. Allah does not make mistakes."
However, she fails to recognize the Qur'anic refrain, "Allah creates whatsoever He wills," which includes both gay and transgender persons. It ignores that the Prophet accepted the mukhannathun (transgender persons) in his household. It also fails to account for the gender reassignment surgeries permitted to transgender persons by both Shii and Sunni jurists.
Finally, Marfatia states that while there are differing religious opinions, "masturbation is not encouraged in Islam and should therefore be discouraged. Parents should encourage their children to perform voluntary fasts if they feel their sexual urges are strong."
However, had Marfatia explored outside neo-conservative circles, she would have found Toronto based Imam Habeeb Alli's book "Intimacy and the Sacred."
Imam Alli clearly wrote, "masturbating oneself is allowed and is a teenage experience many boys and girls go through, without a deliberate intention to be sinful ..."
He further opined, "some people opine that fasting has been prescribed ... for those not being able to marry, however, ... that is not an easily adoptable resort ... this is not for everybody ..."
Likewise, Islamic scholar Javed Ghamidi has expressly stated, "it can be said with full certainty that there is no injunction or general principle in the Qur'an on the basis of which masturbation can be regarded as prohibited or undesirable."
The 11th century jurist Ibn Hazm recorded texts on the permissibility of masturbation. A text from Mujahid, a follower of the Prophet's Companions, even reads, "those from our predecessors allowed their young (including females) to masturbate."
Marfatia indicates that she consulted with three Imams on her guide, which received 2500 views online, and that community leaders have backed it up.
However, it seems that her work is a product of a puritanical streak of Muslim thought. This is especially worrisome in light of warnings that a sexually frustrating religious outlook has pushed some Muslim youth to ISIS for sex.
Her guide avoids the breadth of the Muslim tradition and as such does not speak for all Muslim parents.
Indeed, there are parents like Samira Kanji, Rabea Murtaza and Shahla Khan Salter, amongst many others who fully support the Ontario health curriculum. Murtaza even founded the group, Muslims for Ontario's Health and Physical Education Curriculum.
Likewise, another Ontario Muslim school principal Jeewan Chanicka has written in support of the new Sex Ed curriculum. He has publicly stated, "Fear and ignorance breeds hatred" and that "there can be NO room for compromise in terms of helping children understand that there are different people in the world who live differently ... LGBTQ is only one of them."
By taking a puritanical approach, Muslim leaders like Marfatia ignore the ground realities and expose Muslim youth to harm.
After all, Muslim health experts have cautioned that despite prohibition, almost half of college-aged U.S. Muslims have experimented with sexual intercourse. Last year, an article showed a lower prevalence of condom use among never married Muslim students.
Muslim researcher Sobia Faisal Ali found that two thirds of young Muslim adults in the U.S and Canada had sex before marriage. Likewise, public health expert Nadiah Mohajir has cautioned that some Muslim youth attending Islamic schools are sexually active without access to safer sex information.
Consumed by her zeal, Marfatia has ignored the Prophet's teachings on facility and moderation.
Indeed, the Prophet admonished his Companion by saying, "are you the one who invokes trials for people, O Muadh?" He also cautioned, "among you are those who drive people away."
The Prophet taught, "acquire knowledge." Muslim children and youth deserve knowledge too. Marfatia's guide squarely fails to provide it and protect them.
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