Getting over our Shyness
What is Haya: No doubt haya is a part of our religion and we must observe haya in our actions and in our speech, but we must also not make haya an excuse to avoid certain uncomfortable subjects that are vital for our children's tarbiyyah and upbringing.
The term haya covers a variety of concepts; although derived from the word 'hay' (life) in Arabic, it also means shyness, self-respect, and modesty. It is further sub-divided as:
- Natural shyness
- The uneasy feeling or embarrassment when disobeying Allāh.
Here is a nice read on the subject.
Place of shyness in Islam: There is a place and time for feeling shy as a Muslim. For instance, a person must feel shy when stepping beyond the boundaries of Allāh, or indulging in fahash (shameful/indecent) actions or conversations. However, on certain parts of our lives, shyness cannot become a barrier in educating those who are in need of our assistance, especially when the matter is related to a religious matter or one essential for their positive development.
Shyness is, perhaps, the primary reason why most parents refrain from talking about body parts/development/sex and related issues with their children. Because shyness is a part of our faith, the 'inappropriateness' of such discussion is justified “Islamically.”
Some ethnic groups go too far in avoiding discussions in the name of shyness. Many mothers avoid educating their daughters about periods and delay it until their daughters begin menstruating. Menstruation is treated as if something totally abnormal has happened and is a cause of shame. Daughters are encouraged not to disclose to any male members of the family about the days of their menstruation. They are forced to wake up for fajr prayer so their father/brothers do not find out that they cannot pray. During Ramadan, the girls are forced to “pretend” fast, wake up for sahur and avoid eating in front of men folk in order to hide their time of menstruation in the name of “shyness”. Here is a nice piece of advice.
I have also seen mothers, who during menstruation when asked by their younger children if they had prayed, would reply, “I have already prayed”. Dare I say, they would rather lie to their children in order to observe their so-called 'haya'! To tell the children correct reason for missing prayer is not forbidden but to give them a wrong reason is equivalent to a lie. Also, giving them a misleading or deceptive answer is equally wrong especially if the child has turned to us for correct information with their queries. Later in their lives, when they find out the correct answers, they will lose their trust in us for misleading them.
Let me ask the parents, IF Arabic was our first language, would we then make our children skip the verse dealing with periods, or intimacy in the name of 'shyness'? Would we claim to have more haya then Allāh azza wa jal, iyyadhobillah?!
It must be understood that when it comes to seeking Islamic knowledge, shyness cannot be a hindrance. However, shyness has to be present in the way it is taught. Aisha (radiAllahu anha) said:
How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters.” (Muslim, Kitab al-Hayd)
It is interesting how imām Muslim added this hadith to the chapter of 'hayd' (menstruation).
Therefore, I repeat:
- Islam teaches us to feel shy in disobeying Allāh, in acts of indecency, not in the fields of education. Parents are the EDUCATORS of their children.
- Teach children every issue necessary for their tarbiyyah, and especially their questions must be answered with utmost honesty but in a modest way.
- Be aware parents, for what we say to our children can either build or break their trust and confidence, and it can either build or break our path of communication with them.
Why do Parents need to talk to Children about such Issues?
It is simply because WE are our children's educators. Allāh has entrusted us with our children, and has made us responsible for more than just feeding and clothing them. It is our job to educate them because it is part of providing them with the proper tarbiyyah. These children are our flock and on the Day of Judgment we will be questioned about our flock, not someone else on our behalf, not our relatives, and not friends or teachers.
So please dear parents, understand and realize that no one can be as sincere or wish as well for our children as us. We, as parents, recognize the level of maturity and level of understanding of each of our children, and we are the ones who can deliver any information to them in the most appropriate, pure, modest, vulgar-free, PG-rated and “halal” way.
It is hard, if not impossible, to entrust our children to any outsider in these sensitive subjects. There are many perverts and conscienceless individuals ready to morally corrupt our children sometimes within our circle of friends and unfortunately very likely from amongst family members. Please refer to my child molestation article to learn how most molesters are close family members.
Let me ask: how many times have we heard of people (who may be parents now) being educated about sex or issues related to it by cousins, uncles/aunts or school friends in a rather provocative way, only resulting in building and increasing natural curiosity, and hence inappropriate knowledge and actions? At times, they are told in such a corrupt and damaging way that they suffer long-term consequences later in their lives like pornography or sex addiction.
According to the vast majority research, one of the underlying reasons of sex/pornography addiction is childhood molestation; remember molestation is not limited to physical abuse but also include any type of sexual information/exposure given to a young child in an obscene and lewd way. Addicts also complain about having disconnected and distant parents who perhaps didn't pay attention to their role as the “educators” of their children.
When parents ignore their role as educators, others take over and play with innocent little minds in the way that suits their vulgarity. How can we expect our children to protect themselves when they are not even told what it is that they should be protecting themselves from!
Sexual Education in Schools
If children attend a public school and it is assumed that they don't know about issues related to sex, then the parents really need to wake up! Let us not be deceived into thinking that as long as our children are merely in elementary school they are protected because they are too young to really know anything.
First off, we cannot always trust the school system. There are many “liberal” schools that may provide more information than most parents approve of at a certain age. There have been controversial incidents in the past when a school was in open controversy with some parents. An elementary school passed out a survey asking questions that parents may not necessarily have discussed with their children:
“The survey asked children aged seven to ten about the frequency of: “Touching my private parts too much,” “Thinking about having sex,” “Thinking about touching other people's private parts,” Thinking about sex when I don't want to,” “Not trusting people because they might want sex,” “Getting scared or upset when I think about sex,” “Having sex feelings in my body,” and “Can't stop thinking about sex.”
Second of all, even if the school has conservative values or believes in “abstinence-only-sex-education”, we cannot trust the other children that attend the school and how much information they import from their families, movies, and friends. The majority of the teenagers that I speak with were taught about sex and related issues at school by a friend when they were very young.
We can well imagine how the conversation must take place when such a sensitive issue is taught by an immature child who has no value for the Islamic rulings or chastity to another immature child who has not heard anything from his or her parents on the subject.
When it comes to “official” Sex Ed, I am sure the classes they give at school will not give a portrayal in the same way we would choose to give especially in middle school and high school. Far from the Islamic perspective as possible, children are told that it is perfectly fine if they want to “experience” sexual enjoyment, which is after all a natural human instinct, as long as they are “protected”. Hence, many times they are gifted with a condom and a brochure on safe methods of having sex. Please take some time to visit SIECUS's official website and find out what they teach our children. See for yourself what they promote. Also, 'You Are Teaching My Child What' is a good read by Dr. Grossman who examines what the powerful sex education industry teaches our children in school these days.
Dear parents, it is high time to realize that there is so much sexuality in the society we live in, and if we close the doors of this topic within our homes then our children will grow up unaware and confused, just like many from the older generation did, who were exposed to the subject inappropriately, were encouraged to engage in sexual activities, didn't learn anything from their parents and grew up believing that Isamically this subject is taboo. They couldn't ask questions because such questions were “outlawed”, couldn't ask for help when they may have needed it. They ran into problems because they were silenced by their parents about the “unmentionable” topics that were essential not only for personal maturity but for marital relationships and community development.
We seriously need to reclaim our status as the educators of our children. This is not such a complicated matter to tackle, especially when we raise our children with a connection with Qur'an, it becomes easier to explain much of the information not to mention that their perception becomes far more pure as they mature in their understanding.
Children will Lose “Innocence”
A common misconception that many parents tend to fall for is that whenever this subject is discussed the children will lose much of their “childhood innocence” after that.
In my humble opinion, much of haya and shyness is built once this information is passed out properly. With knowledge comes the awareness of what Islam expects from them in terms of guarding their private areas and their body, how and why, what are the benefits of havinghaya and being chaste and what are the harms of indulging in indecencies.
At times, parents are puzzled whether on certain issues it is too early to discuss with children especially if the children have not yet asked any questions. Again, every parent should know his or her child well enough to be able to judge whether a child is ready or not. As for me, I would rather tell them early than taking the risk of waiting for the “right” time and losing them in the hands of some pervert or with “accidental” exposure to something inappropriate, and Allāh knows best.
After acknowledging the necessity of opening up communication and addressing “uncomfortable” subjects, let us proceed to the next step of how to convey the information to our children. inshā'Allāh, we will discuss this next week.