My son’s school caused an explosion in my world. They suddenly announced their intention to start teaching SRE (sex and relationship education) in a matter of days: not from year 5 onward as I had expected, but from year 1! While I had psyched myself into planning The Talk for the summer holidays before he started Year 5, I was not ready for this in any way, shape or form. They invited the parents to view the six DVDs that would be used to deliver this part of the curriculum. What they did not expect was the huge uproar that those DVDs caused. The backlash was immediate – they were flooded with phone calls, emails and personal visits by concerned parents. Finally, the school announced that all SRE classes were to be put on hold until they were able to arrange a meeting with the parents and get their views. We had won one battle, but the war was only just beginning.
I got ready for the next phase. I churned out a long petition and got numerous parents to sign it. Then I went to the meeting, fully prepared for bloodshed. Imagine my dismay when I saw that, including me, there were only four Muslim parents present (one of them remained silent during the entire meeting)! Alhamdulillah, there were several non-Muslim parents who were just as opposed to the school’s plans as I was. The meeting lasted two hours and I even managed to get a one-to-one discussion with one of the governors who had led the meeting. While he appeared sympathetic to our viewpoint, I had no doubt that he was not really in our corner.
As I walked home that night, my heart was sinking. There is such a huge Muslim presence in our school but the apathy amongst them is even bigger. Their attitude – “our kids will just opt out.” Yes, they will opt out of watching the DVD, but can they opt out of an entire term of SRE teaching? Can they opt out of the playground gossip? Can they opt out of the posters that will line their class walls, the worksheets on their tables, the open discussions? I realise that, in their minds, they feel that no matter what they say, it won’t make any difference. A secular school in a secular country has its own agenda which it will pursue regardless. But that is not the point as I see it. Even if the result is nil, we still have to do our part. We still have an obligation to voice our objection to any wrong that we see. Our job is to plant the tree; it is then up to Allah I whether or not that tree bears fruit. Qaddara Allah wa ma sha’a fa’al (Allah has decreed and He does what He wills).
Ideally, I would’ve liked my child to have learned about the birds and the bees in secondary school at the earliest. How can a boy who still sleeps with a teddy bear be ready to hear about reproduction? While I am in favour of taking him out of school and homeschooling him if necessary in order to protect him from the nonsense that the school is eager to feed him, my husband will not entertain that option. So The Talk has been brought forward. God help us.
One thing is certain: we live in a world where shielding our children from the obscenities around them is no longer possible. Whether we send them to state school, private school or homeschool them; whether we move them to an Islamic school or even to an Islamic country, we simply cannot raise them in a bubble anymore.
A friend of mine remarked that when she got married, she had no idea of the intimacy that it entailed; she learned about sex on her wedding night from her husband. “I think that is better, because you have no fantasies, no expectations; you simply accept it as it is and don’t pine for anything different.” I pointed out to her that in this day and age, it is impossible to achieve that level of innocence in a child. Media, in the form of TV, movies, magazines and the internet has reached all but the remotest of forests and villages and its tentacles are spread worldwide. You cannot go anywhere and not be confronted with sexual imagery.
This has made me review the way I have raised my children thus far. I have protected them from TV to the extent that they only watch about 2 – 3 hours of cartoons every week. For the most part they watch cartoons on DVDs that have been screened and approved by me (so as to avoid ads between cartoons). They have no video games, Playstations, Wiis or any other gadget that encourages violence and fosters addictions. There is no music in the home and the only time they listen to nasheeds is in their father’s car.
While I have always raised them to be God-conscious, the necessity for developing their taqwa is even more pronounced now. I will not always be with them to teach them the difference between right and wrong or to screen them from sin. But what I can try my utmost to do is to develop their inner police, the filter that will allow them to patrol themselves. When the world around them is reeking of sin, they need to have an inner haven where they can go and find God, recharge and come back out stronger.
Based in Berkshire, Safia A. is a mother of two with a background in graphic design, interior design and creative textiles. She loves painting, writing, reading, and baking; and is very keen on a healthy lifestyle, with raw foods, yoga and taebo at the top of her list. Her work has been published in various Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers.