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Why Sex-Ed Should Be Given at Home and not in Public Schools

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Recently AltMuslimah published an article on “how to best teach American Muslim youth about sexuality”, written by Nadiah Mohajir, director of programs for the HEART Women & Girls Project. The article was in response to Part V of my Parenting series that dealt with sexual education at public schools.

Those who are familiar with my works are quite aware that I have a deep belief in communication between parents and children. I have always emphasized that parents need to empower themselves with the tools necessary to teach their children about all sorts of topics, but especially one that is so sensitive and a cause of so many adulthood problems— sex.

So, let me begin this article by explicitly stating two important points:

  1. Muslims can no longer keep their heads in the sand regarding sex. I have been consistent about this position in my articles, from discussion of sexual molestation of Muslim children, to my series on parenting. Part of not keeping heads in the sand is for Muslim parents to also understand the nature of sexual education at school.
  2. I strongly oppose exposing our children to “secular”, “religion-neutral”, “exploratory” sexual education at schools, but at the same time vehemently insist that such education be done at home by parents, or other “religion-enhanced” format.  You have to REPLACE, not simply discard the education.

This article will of course speak to point two, as Nadiah unfortunately not only flatly disregarded all the facts presented in my previous article, but also made quite a few below-the-belt jabs, like claiming that “[a]dditionally, as illustrated so effectively by Umm Reem, many Muslims fear that open discussion on sexuality inevitable leads to promiscuity”.

Nadiah should have known (with proper research) that the last thing that I am interested in is closing discussions on sexuality. For Nadiah to conclude that my objection to sex education at school implies that the discussion should be totally closed, is not only disingenuous but also unacceptable coming from a community leader in Muslim affairs. We have to hold our community leaders to a higher standard, one that respects differences of opinions without subjecting others to unsubstantiated personal attacks.

Let’s review Nadiah’s main contentions:

I [Umm Reem] contend that sex education curricula in the US are based on three organizations

What I said in fact was that, “it is primarily based on PPF, AYF and SEICUS”. And this can be confirmed with some basic research.  This is an important distinction because it leaves room open for some schools to NOT follow the curricula of these three organizations, and thus possible explaining Nadiah’s own experiences.

It is equally important that we agree that these organizations SIECUS, PPF and AYF are some of the leading and influential Sex-Education Organizations in America, not just minor players.

Some facts about the leading sex education organizations in America:

While it is true that there is no “concrete” curriculum for sex education in USA per se, and that it can vary from school to school, one cannot deny the fact there are ideologies/beliefs promoted by influential organizations that are dedicated and funded by the government funds to educate and train professionals to deliver and design sexual education. Let’s take a moment to review three of the main sex education organizations again:

Sex Information & Education Council of United States (SIECUS)

According to Janice Irvine, the author of “Talk about Sex: the Battles over Sex Education in the US” this organization has been “the pioneer of Comprehensive Sex Education”, and according to Dr. Grossmam, “it has been the nation’s flagship sex education organization for nearly 50 years”[i].

This group has “trained hundreds of thousands of educators, worked with thousands of policymakers, appeared in the leading print and broadcast media outlets, and led the effort to advance sexual and reproductive health on 6 continents.”[ii]

It receives federal funding through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.”

Planned Parenthood Federation (PPF)

Planned Parenthood is proud of its vital role in providing young people with honest sexuality and relationship information in classrooms and online to help reduce our nation’s alarmingly high rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Nearly 1.2 million youths and adults participate in Planned Parenthood educational programs every year.”

According to 2007-2008 annual report, PPF’s “operating and other funds” totaled $1.038 billion, with over a third of that sum, $349.6 million coming from government grants and contracts.[iii]

Advocates for Youth (AFY):

Designed the popular “Life Planning Education”. Advocates for Youth works to educate Members of Congress, State Legislators and local elected officials on a variety of issues that impact the sexual and reproductive health of young people.  Advocates believes that the time has come for a new approach to adolescent sexual and reproductive health that includes dismantling failed abstinence-only programs, implementing comprehensive sex education programs, addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on youth, providing confidential access to birth control and removing the unnecessary age restriction on emergency contraception.  They also support federal legislation that addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Why am I pointing out these sex education organizations?

Nadiah took great umbrage to my claim that sexual education contributes towards the increased promiscuity. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that despite Nadiah’s unfortunate generalizations, I am not referring to “education” in itself. I am referring to the certain type of education organized by leading aforementioned institutes that can lead increased promiscuity. One should not be afraid of teaching children about sex, but rather one needs to be afraid of what type sex education the children receive.

Since most reasonable people will agree that “wrong education” will lead to “wrong ideas” (doesn’t take a rocket science to make the logical link!), we need to first see what type of education are these major sex-ed organizations promoting and teaching.

What better way to do so than to go to the horse’s mouth! One has to simply visit the websites of sex-education organizations and the sites that these organizations endorse (endorse=agree) to appreciate that “wrong education” is putting it quite mild!  One could ask “why not check with schools”, and my response would be that it is far more accurate to review the vision of the organization providing school materials than to visit the schools. For example, if we were interested in finding out what schools following a certain methodology of teaching math were doing, we would start with the developers and disseminators of that methodology of teaching in order to fully appreciate the style.

These sex-education organizations aforementioned may not be directly teaching their materials in classrooms of course, but one has to only click on their referrals to see what they would want taught. Let’s review just ONE website recommended by our sex education organizations for our pre/teens’s health related questions and queries:

GoAskAlice: University of Columbia’s “health” QA service. It has very good information about HIV, STDs, diet, depression, drugs etc. but at the same time, at a click of a button, children can view information about phone sex, oral or anal sex, erotic techniques, trios, how to be more intimate and make it more pleasurable, how to buy vibrator, porn magazines DISCREETLY, and also information for UNDER 18 how to get contraceptives WITHOUT parents’ knowledge. I have repeatedly encouraged the parents to visit their sites (linked in my original article) themselves, because I can’t cut and paste all info!

Tell me, while these sites are recommended (GoAskAlice is one of many) to pre/teens for any questions about their “health” or “health-related issues” or “sexuality”, pre/teens will inevitably visit it (esp. those who have no communication with their parents). Once these kids get on these “highly recommended” sites by those that they trust (sex-ed educators), is it hard not to expect them to also read extremely sensual, erotic and licentious information. Consequently, will they not get aroused and will they not want to experience and experiment what they read, in other words will it not increase promiscuity?

Sometimes we let demands for empirical data get in the way of pure common sense and normal logic.

It is no doubt true that we are living in a hyper-sexualized society. TV, movies, magazines, books contribute towards the increased promiscuity but so do these sex education organizations.

Nadiah further claims that I :

carelessly proclaims that American public school sexual education programs are responsible for the high STI rate, claiming the “sex education industry is dedicated to promot[ing] radical, social ideologies that value unconditional sexual freedom above any health, science, or parental authority. The aim is to encourage promiscuity experimentation and unrestricted sexual behavior.” As a public health professional trained to appreciate the importance of empirical data, I ask Umm Reem for any evidence supporting such an outrageous claim.

First of all, I never claimed that sex education in of itself is responsible for sexually transmitted infections (STI). I hope Nadiah would care to share where I stated this cause and effect relationship.

Secondly, my “careless” (partly imagined by Nadiah) proclamations comes from a board certified, adolescent & adult psychiatrist’s intensive research on sex education in US, whose experience and education far outweighs. Dr. Grossman states, “There groups [SIECUS, PPF, AFY] claim to provide “comprehensive access” to “accurate” sex education. Take a look, though, at their curricula, their guides for teachers and parents, and-most disturbing- the websites to which they direct your kids: you’ll see how young people are infused with a grotesque exaggeration of the place of sexuality. Promiscuity, experimentation, and fringe behaviors are encouraged. For them, these are personal choices, and judgments are prohibited. At all ages, sexual freedom is a “right”, an issue of social justice. In short, they are dedicated to promoting radical social ideologies, not preventing diseases.”[iv]

To illustrate why “sexy” sexual education could lead to increased promiscuity, let’s take the example of a parent who teaches her child about eating healthy and keeps him from gaining weight, buys him the membership to the gym, and educates him about all the harms against obesity BUT at the same time she keeps cooking unhealthy food, keeps baking cakes, keeps buying junk food and leaving it around him, then will she not share the blame if her child keeps giving into his temptation of “delicious” food and keep gaining weight?

Sex education organizations are doing very well in educating our children about STDs, STIs, contraceptives, and even providing condoms. But, in the schools, they also teach about sex-acts other than copulation and promote licentious, sensual and extremely provocative information & techniques on their websites. In addition, they offer free contraceptives and teach our children HOW to get them DISCREETLY without parental knowledge!

In other words: Eat healthy, watch your diet, but we would like to show you some pictures of delicious cakes and deserts, and you can find out the recipes on our websites, and in case you need we will provide you with numbers how to order ingredients free and discreetly!

Yes, with promiscuous message sex education organizations are promoting, frequency of promiscuous activity will increase, and this would suggest that they take responsibility of increased STIs.

Can health-based information mixed with promiscuous messages protect children?

  • Will the pre/teens be in their “senses” to use condoms/contraceptives when the time comes to try out all those great ideas on GoAskAlice and other recommended sites by sex-ed organizations?
  • How effective are the condoms/contraceptives?

The “neurobiology of decision-making”[v] indicates that when we make choices, we rely on at least 12 different brain regions. These areas include cognitive and affective circuits, meaning decisions are based on both thought and emotions.

PCF is the “thinking” brain, Amygdala is the “feeling” brain. These are parallel systems and evolve with time. Emotional system is present early in life where as cognitive system develops with age and time. “It has been suggested that because the emotional system is more mature than the cognitive one in teens, it sometimes contributes more to decision-making, resulting in less-than-optimal choices.”[vi]

“HOT” and “COLD” conditions: “Dr. Laurence Steinber, an expert in adolescent psychology, draws a distinction between “cool” and “hot” conditions, referring to the intensity or level of emotion at the time a decision is made. To summarize his research, under “cool” conditions a teen might appear to have excellent “executive function” in making a choice and logical thinking. In a hypothetical dilemma, he might resolve: being sexually active is a big decision, I’ll talk it all over with my “partner”, dicuss STDs and contraceptives, use condoms.

Place the same boy in an unexpected situation, an unsupervised party with a cute and willing girl, other friends making out around him; functional MRI says that under “hot” conditions he is more likely to rely on his “Amygdala”, to be shortsighted, emotion-driven, and susceptible to coercion and peer pressure.[vii]

It is not lack of information, but lack of judgment:  “In real life, his strong emotions and drives can “hijack” his ability for self-control and smart decision.”[viii]

Effectiveness of Condoms:

When a panel of 28 experts was asked in 2001, “what is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of latex male condom-use to prevent STD transmission during vaginal intercourse?” the answer was, and still is, “IT DEPENDS!”[ix] There is a lot more research available on this subject. Due to restricted space, I would encourage readers to search on their own.

Undermining Parental Authority

I posted a prime example of “unconditional sexual freedom above parental authority”, the case in California’s Elementary School, where a survey of extreme sexual nature was passed out without parental discretion. Parents were denied the right to object.

To that, Nadiah responded, “There are ethical implications to collecting data from minors, which is why respectable research with publishable data are subject to Institutional Review Boards. Unfortunately, it sounds like these researchers did not go through the IRB – had they gone through – they would have been required to have parental consent before administering the survey.”

Based on the response, Nadiah has obviously missed the main point. It is not about respectable research or data collection, it is about undermining PARENTAL authority. According to the judge in the California case, “public schools have the right to administer sex instruction to any children, at any time and in any manner, notwithstanding the objections of their parents.”

In Massachusetts, one school passing out condoms to even elementary students, “Under the policy, any student requesting a condom from a school nurse must first receive counseling, which includes information on abstinence. The policy does not require the school to contact parents.”

Another example is the Sex-Ed controversy in Helena Montana, where parents are fighting the sex-ed curriculum, “The document covers everything from nutrition to injury prevention, but the section titled “Human Sexuality” is drawing the most concern. It lays out sex education topics for each grade, K through 12. In the first grade, children would be taught that human beings can love people of the same gender; in second grade, kids are taught not to make fun of people by calling them “gay” or “queer.”

By fifth grade, they are taught there are several types of intercourse, and by the sixth grade, the draft document states that students should, “Understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration; using the penis, fingers, tongue or objects.”

Yet, another example from a sites endorsed by our sex education organizations, a question was asked by a young girl:

“My boyfriend and I are thinking of having sex. Can I get the pill without my mom knowing?

Answer: Generally, yes. There is no law that requires a parent’s permission for the pill…A good place to start is a place that receives money from…they can’t tell your mom if you got the pill. You can find a [clinic] near you through [website provided]…

(I am not providing the website link as some parents complained on the previous article regarding links to what most of us would consider promiscuous information, but to others is “education”)

They also teach children how to order porn magazines, masturbation tools etc. discreetly, without parental knowledge.

To conclude: I don’t believe proper sex education will be a contributing factor towards increased promiscuity but “wrong” sex education in present form, as incorporated by the major sex-ed organizations will. And that can be well seen on the official & award winning websites. I encourage the parents to please browse through them.

Young minds are especially vulnerable; in addition they are surrounded by an environment (TV, magazines, books) with increased sexuality. Moreover, when they are exposed to information that is being taught by sex education organizations, we don’t need an empirical data to come to logical conclusion that when youth reads encouraging statements about “exploring their sexuality”, along with the techniques how-to, it will contribute towards increased promiscuity?

My main point, throughout the series, is to encourage parents to become the sex educators and be the primary source of information. Not only parents can offer vulgar-free, pure and beneficial information to their children, but they also live with their children and can be approached at any time (unlike a health profession), will best watch and observe, in real life, the situation and the difficulty of the child, and will offer the most sincere advice. Not to mention how much it will help open communication and strengthens the bond of parent-child relationship.

I pray that may Allah reward Sr. Nadiah for all the effort and good work she is contributing towards our youth.

Further reading/listening: Here is an excellent lecture on the subject.


[i] Grossmna, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What”, who is teaching your children, pg. 19

[ii] www.siecus.com (SIECUS Leadership & Staff)

[iii] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, who is teaching your children, pg. 19

[iv] Grossman, Miriam MD, “You Are Teaching MY Child What, pg. 4

[v] Monique Ernst and Martin P. Paulus, “Neurobiology of Decision Making: A Selective Review from a

[vi] Adriana Galvan et al, “Earlier Development of the Accumbens Relative to Orbitofrontal Cortex Might Underlie rist-Taking Behavior in Adolescents,” Journal of Neuroscience 26, no. 25 (2006): 6885-92

[vii] K. Kersting, “Brain research advance help elucidate teen behavior,” Monitor on Psychology (July/August 2004): 80: John Merriman, “Linking Risk-Taking Behavior and Peer Influence in Adolescents,” NeuroPsychiatry Review 9, no.1 (2008).

[viii] Ronald e. Dahl, “Adolescent Brain Development; A Period of Vulnerabilities and Opportunities,” Annals of the New Yourk Academy of Science 1021 (2004)

[ix] Miriam, Gorssman MD, “You Are Teaching My Child What, pg. 85

 

Umm Reem (Saba Syed) has a bachelors degree in Islamic Studies from American Open University. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She was one of the founders of Daughters of Adam magazine and remained the publishing director until 2007. She had been actively involved with MSA, TDC, and other community activities. She has also been actively involved with the Muslim women of her community spiritually counseling with marital and mother-daughter issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities, including special workshops regarding parenting and issues related to women.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Agieb Bilal

    June 7, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Es Salaamu Alaykum,
    Having been an Islamic school principal and having to deal with this issue, I have found “Sex Roles in Muslim Families” by Dr. Mahmud Abu Saud to be the most authoritative and comprehensive discourse on the subject. Each Muslim family should at least be exposed to this, as it is easily downloadable. Respectfully yours in Al Islam, Agieb Bilal

  2. Avatar

    Carlos

    June 7, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    The more knowledge a growing brain acquires, the better. Learning things that are true is never bad. The only thing anyone should ever fear is learning things that are false. Everyone only has one body, and must learn how to care for it. Not all parents communicate with their children about sex. The author said so herself. Without sex education in school, such children would be completely ignorant, or would only learn from others who are themselves ignorant. Ignorance equals vulnerability, and the propensity to have to learn things the hard way, sometimes too late. Sex is a dangerous thing about which to be ignorant. It is a school’s job to teach knowledge and skills, not morality. If a parent is concerned about how sex education might affect his/her child’s morality, the parent has the opportunity to supplement and explain (to filter) the knowledge the child learned in school.

  3. Avatar

    Umm Reem

    June 7, 2011 at 10:11 PM

    Carlos,

    I said all parents must start communicating with their children. Parenting is a job and it is not an easy one for sure. It comes with certain responsibilities and training one’s children is one of them. Sex-ed is part of that training. Parents don’t have to go through the pain of filtering out the immoral stuff rather they should be the first ones to instill the correct and valuable morals before anyone else does.

    A good school should teach morality too!

  4. Avatar

    Murad Abdul Hakeem

    June 8, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    I like brother shoaibs post about “Dont ask dont tell” I think this applies to me. I feel like an outsider in a majority straight masjid. I try to battle my nafs, but the best of the beef gets to me. I think we should have sex education for same sex mates. Even though its not permissible by most scholars, we should still have the tools necessary to make a judgment in a kufr duna kufr situation. Please elaborate on this subject.

  5. Avatar

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    June 8, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    The sexualisation of children by the government, Dept of Education, ‘pregnancy advice centres’, social workers, school nurses, media aimed at teen girls, contraceptive industry lobbyists, fashion industry and the welfare state to name just a few, is a crime against humanity.

    It is also gross hypocrisy for the police to prosecute paedophiles when the government is overseeing boy scouts being given condoms from the age 11 and girls of the same age being told it is OK to have sex if they use ‘protection’. Boys and girls at age 11 are not allowed to marry but they can have sex and produce children. Every parent is worried about his child being indoctrinated into the idea that gay and sexual promiscuity is “normal” modes of behaviour. At the same time, all parents have the right to control their children and it is their Duty to control them.

    It is an eye opening for the Muslim parents who keep on sending their children to state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers a s role models during their developmental periods. Muslim teachers are in a better position to teach sex education to teenagers according to Islamic perspectives. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. State funded Muslim schools are crucial for social cohesion, religious and cultural harmony. They are preparing children and young people to face the challenges of life in modern Britain and to also contribute in a positive way to wider society. Muslim children will develop self-confidence and self-esteem. According to TES, pupils make more progress at Muslim secondary schools than anyother type of schools. They are promoting tolerance and support the spiritual, moral, social, linguistic and cultural development of pupils.
    IA
    http://www.lonjdonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  6. Avatar

    umm Salih

    June 8, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    salam alaikum ,

    i agree with umm Reem . Sex- education isnt something to be discussed with children in public.
    frequent use of the word sex itself takes away a portion of the ‘haya”and innocence from our children…imagine what a detailed knowledge on it can do.

    parents would know how and when to educate their kids about it / whether they even needed to be educated about it.
    when a child is taught how not to approach the path of lewdness and immorality , the need for explicit sex education for young children does not arise.

  7. Avatar

    ksek

    June 8, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    As-Salamu Aleykum and thank you for the articles.

    I agree that parents should be primary educators when it comes to sex education. However, I fear that Umm Reem’s articles outlining the “horrors of public sex education” may in fact have the opposite intended effect. It might have been better if Umm Reem had focused more on the Islamic importance of parents giving their children comprehensive sex education rather than what seemed to be grossly overblown caricatures of what is presented in schools. I am from a community that has no such kind of scandalous public sex education as you described and fear these articles might influence otherwise responsible Muslim parents to keep their children hidden from the “birds and the bees” rather than confront these questions head-on. I feel as though many will come away from these articles with a stronger urge to keep their children out of public sex ed classes than to teach them about sexuality themselves. It’s always easier to make a reactive move than a proactive one, after all, especially with such salacious caricatures involved.

  8. Avatar

    Mustafa

    June 8, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    I think Nadia will think trice before initiating another pro-liberal faux-shock melodrama (on any given topic) after reading this article. JazakAllah khair.

    Wassalaam.

    • Avatar

      N Kal

      June 10, 2011 at 2:51 PM

      Salaam,

      There was nothing melodramatic about Nadiah’s article. She was totally within her right to critique Ms. Reem’s original article, which basically relied on the theory that sex-education in public schools is detrimental to a Muslim child’s development. Ms. Reem also made broad generalizations, like “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”.” Furthermore, there are numerous studies that link abstinence-only sex-education with higher rates of STIs and teen pregnancies. Although I support the contention that parents should take a front seat in educating their children about a topic as touchy as human sexuality, the snarky tone of this article does not sit well.

      • Avatar

        Mustafa

        June 10, 2011 at 4:52 PM

        Walaykumussalaam,

        Of course she was melodramatic; melodramatic in that hideous how-dare-you-oppose-the-liberal-consesus-you-backward-retard way. If this article was snarky, it had every bit right to be so. Umm Reem didn’t offer any “broad generalizations”; she offered concrete examples for what she was warning everyone against. And she wasn’t promoting abstinence-only sex-education; from an Islamic point of view, the best prevention against illicit sex is marriage, and a rather early one; hardly an abstinence-based approach. If Muslims did have an abstinence-based approach, the research you cite could not be applied to it since those approaches weren’t being studied there. Also, Islamic rules regarding abstinence have some unique characteristics not found among other religious groups that favor it (such as orders pertaining to avoiding contact, lowering the gaze, fasting, etc.) that should guarantee better results if any type of abstinence-based program would be implemented among Muslims.

  9. Avatar

    Dean

    June 8, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Does anyone have any info on how the sahaabah ( may Allaah be pleased with them all) dealt with such issues?

    Salaam

  10. Avatar

    Muslimah

    June 8, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Umm Reem I completely agree that children should be taught sexual education at home, not at school. The example you gave about what 5th graders are taught is just too much information for a child that young to comprehend. There are different stages of knowledge, and children should not be given information unless they are mentally ready to accept it. Otherwise, it just causes confusion and more questions. During my time working in a public high school, I was SHOCKED to see the type of sexual education that is given to children. The school that I worked in outsourced their sexual education classes to an organization that promotes safe sex. In my opinion, they not only promote it, but encourage it. The one class I observed had the teachers demonstrate how to properly put on protection on live replicas of male and female genitalia. They also recommended and advocated products that increase sexual pleasure. Personally, I thought it was way too much information for the class of 9th grade students. Most of the boys constantly made jokes and laughed throughout the presentation (showing their immaturity and discomfort with the subject), and most of the girls kept their heads down and refused to look up for some of the more vulgar demonstrations. This proves that children (even non-Muslim children) have an innate sense of haya and modesty that does not need to be corrupted by organizations that have other agendas. I completely support PARENTS giving sexual education instruction. This way, they can control what information and how much information their children are given, based on their age and maturity level.

  11. Avatar

    deb

    June 8, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    but if your child is going to have sex, despite all the teachings you have given him/her at home about not having sex, would you prefer that he/she is ignorant or knowledgeable about STDs, pregnancy, etc.? And are you the parent sure that you are knowledgeable enough on this subject to instruct your child, and confident enough to teach that which the child will be embarrassed to hear?

    • Avatar

      Yusuf Patel

      June 9, 2011 at 4:53 AM

      The only way to be safe from STIs is be intimite with one person who has also followed the same philosophy, thereby proving marriage is the safest option in terms of health. Condoms do not protect against all STIs and are not even fully effective to protect against pregnancy. As young girls have an immature cervix they are more susceptible to STIs. I do not buy the claims that it is inevitable for young people to engage in early sexual experimentation, research suggests that strong family, a values based upbringing and religious adherence are powerful factors in warding off early sexual experimentation. We do not believe young people are bound to take drugs so we should facilitate this for them, why should we be fatalistic when it comes to discussing sexual experimentation in the young.

      The point Umm Reem makes is important, parents raise children, not schools. If we believe parents are no longer parenting should we drive home their responsibility to do so or do we expect schools to take over this responsibility?

  12. Avatar

    Yusuf Patel

    June 9, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    Assalamualaikum,

    By the way I forgot to say JazakAllahu khairan to Umm Reem for her article and her efforts to challenge dangerous ideas about comprehensive sex education and also to change the thinking of Muslim parents about their role in dissemintaing value-laden sex education to their children.

    Wassalam

    Yusuf

    • Avatar

      Umm Reem

      June 15, 2011 at 11:57 PM

      wa alaikum assalam, wa iyyaka br. yusuf. Looking forward to your feedback at the conclusion of the series inshaAllah.

      • Avatar

        saysay

        November 29, 2012 at 5:41 PM

        Jazakalah khayr from me too sister. I love you for the sake of Allah. There are a lot of people who benefit from your efforts. All your hard work in compling this series has truly paid off because you are teaching people like me (mother of 4year old child) how to deal with this issue in the future inshalah.you are are my teacher and I hope to meet you 1 day inshalah, to thank you personally.

  13. Avatar

    Cartoon M

    June 10, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    This is definitely a touchy subject. But I think the main point is to have parents speak with their children about sex and explain the wisdom behind the Islamic guidelines on it, before they hear it from their friends and sex ed classes. And although this article is about sex ed in schools, that’s really not the main problem. Kids will probably learn about it from their friends before they even take a sex ed class.

  14. Avatar

    melaika

    June 15, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    Sister Umm Reem is doing a great job with boldly going out there and discussing this all important issue in our rapidly globalized society. However I really feel like this article and a few previous ones continue to preach a utopia that we all wished was true–that parents need to have a good communicative relationship with their children.

    I agree with a couple of the respondants in that instead of talking about how we believe parents should have a close relationship with their kids (which again i will repeat is extremely important and believe myself is something all parents and kids desire) sister umm reem should stress heavily on the islamic important of sex education between parents and kids instead of demonizing public schools and their sex ed programs.

    The cases represented about those programs within the sex education sphere is something that is something very rare because its highly unheard of to be incorporated in within the american public education system. Being someone raised solely in public schooling and all my family and friends as well (and i get around!) that we all turned out quite alright.

    The reason I say that is because our parents obviously were and continue to be very insecure and shy over the topic of sex and growing up in that environment it was awkward for us as kids to even discuss a crush with them let alone sex! so when we got that sex education from our schools it was easier for us to learn and ask questions and actually helped the relationship with our parents.

    Again sister Umm Reem is taking initiative on this topic mashaAllah and I commend her on that but I am getting strong tones of talking down on public schooling and repeating this utopian society of all parents teaching kids about sexual education. We need to realize thats not happening any time soon–even ever. That being said educating parents on how its important islamically to have sex discussions to help avoid endangering our children into falling into risky behaviors and living an unislamic way of life. Not only should parents have open discussion about sex ed i think its good for those children to also be educated in the public schools sex ed so that their faith and sense of wisdom since their parents have taught them about sex and are open to questions and clarifications as well.

    Just my two cents :)

    • Avatar

      Carlos

      June 16, 2011 at 5:13 PM

      Melaika, your insight, reason, open-mindedness, fairness, honesty, practicality and wisdom are a breath of fresh air and a beacon of hope. Thank you for your contribution and enlightenment.

      • Avatar

        melaika

        June 17, 2011 at 12:03 PM

        such praises are meant for people like sis umm reem and those of muslimmatters :) but jazakAllah khair, it means a lot !

  15. Avatar

    Umm Reem

    June 16, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Sr Melaika,
    I agree with you and if you read Part 6-8 of my articles (9 will be published next week inshaAllah) I have discussed exactly what you mentioned in your comment: Islamic version of sex-ed, specifically how and what to say to the kids! :)

    • Avatar

      melaika

      June 17, 2011 at 11:59 AM

      I realized that after reading all your articles and mashaAllah they’re great. My only objection is the continuous bashing if you will on public schoolings approach to sex ed. Morality, as you said, needs to be taught by parents from the cradle. and when parents instill that morality throughout the child’s life, the ‘fear’ so to speak of whats being taught in public schools on a secular basis isn’t something to be worried about if that moral ground is properly established using the islamic methods you’ve listed and will list in future articles.

      I’m 20 years old and so my public education on everything including sex ed was in the past decade or less. So my defense of what I’ve learned and benefitted from is fresh and recent :) I went through middle school with many girls who were pregnant in grade 7 and 8 who had NOT taken the sex ed courses. My classmates whom I am still friendly with continue to be abstinent and haven’t gotten pregnant. That in and of itself speaks volumes to me.

      Keep up the good work sis :)

  16. Avatar

    Ali

    July 5, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Oh my God. What is the need for sex ed. Children learn as they grow up. Did your parents give you sex ed?

    • Avatar

      rookey2

      July 8, 2011 at 10:32 PM

      no they didnt and i think it is a big irresponsibility on their path… we are now in an age where everything is outsourced including child upbringing…. we have a saying in western Nigeria, if you don’t teach your child at home, (s)he will be thought outside… so who thought you about sex? your peers (who are as/more confused as you are), the media, the school… whoever it was i’m very sure the last thing they said was the islamic perspective and morality… little wonder pornography and zina is eating out at the fabric of our ummah…

      by the way can you teach what you dont know? many parents are even more ignorant than their kids in the matters of faith…

  17. Avatar

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    July 5, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Salaam

    The introduction of sex education in British schools does not seem to have had a dramatic impacxt on teenage pregnancies.

    This is sickening. It’s no wonder Great Britain is in such a bad shape. Ten years old British girls are haveing babies out of wedlock. They are not allowed to get married but are allowed to have babies.

    Teenage pregnancy rate in Great Britain is the highest in western Europe. It is a civilised country and Yemen is a backward country because it allowes young girls to get married.

    Indiscipline, incivility, binge drinking, drug addiction, gun and knife crimes, teenage pregnancies and abortion are part and parcel of British schooling. These are the reasons why Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies.
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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Chronicles of A Muslim Father: It All Began With a Prayer

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fathers, Muslim fathers

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Family, friends, neighbors, coaches, and teachers are all part of that community and the pillars of that system are the parents. Mothers specifically have and continue to make monumental contributions to this effort. But what about Muslim fathers?

There are thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books on the fundamentals of raising Muslim children in the current climate written by mothers across a diverse array of the spectrum. They have tackled issues that range from Aqiqa’s to matrimonials and beyond, but when I needed a fresh perspective on raising Muslim children by someone like me, a Muslim father, I could hardly find any readily available resources.

I don’t know if this is a cultural deviancy or just men in general, but we leave all the parenting to the mothers and justify skimming over our responsibilities in the name of “breadwinning”. Whatever the case may be, I am a person who is constantly looking for guidance so that I, as their father and the head of the household, can make the right moves for my kids morally, academically and socially.

Furthermore, I am convinced that there are thousands, if not millions of Muslim fathers, just like me looking for the same thing that are coming up empty handed just like I did.

It’s for this reason, with the help of Allah that I have endeavored to fill in this much-needed gap and compose this essential series that will be comprised of archives from my own experiences coupled with advice on best practices and pitfalls in raising Muslim children from a father’s perspective.  

I hope and pray that my work will be a source of guidance for both mothers and fathers on raising Muslim children, if not at the very least a catalyst for a call-to-action for fathers to assume their respective roles. May Allah guide all of us to be the best parents for our children and raise our children amongst the righteous to be the coolness of our eyes. 

Jameel Syed  

Hajj 2000- I find myself at the time of Tahujjud standing humbled with all my faults in front of the ancient house of Allah trying to collect myself under the shade of night, to muster up the courage to address my Lord in efforts to ask…

What makes me think my voice would reach Him amongst a legion of believers who have come to this place with their righteous deeds and all I have to offer Him are years ladened with transgressions? How do I ask? Where do I begin…

Standing at six feet, I began to shrink both in stature and in spirit. Tears began to swell up in my eyes as I stood as still as a statue. I truly felt more insignificant than the idea of the word “below” itself. As natural as rain falling from the sky to the ground, in one action I collapsed into prostration, embracing the ground as if it were life itself. There I remained for what seemed like an eternity— sometimes praising Him, other times asking for His forgiveness as my body shook uncontrollably with tears running a constant flow. I had no concept of my surroundings or that the world existed at all. In that moment in the darkness, I just felt it was me, Him and the appeal that I had to make. I knew that I had no right. It was not my place to ask and that I had come with nothing to offer, but there was no place else to go, nobody else to turn to. I maintained my sajdah for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I summoned up my courage and brought the sentiments of my heart to my lips:

“Ya Allah pair me with a righteous wife who will give me righteous children.” 

At that moment, my prayers that were for me were for them. My tears flowed for them, whatever ramblings came from my mouth were for the unborn children that I have never met. If you think about it, it seemed foolish, so absurd, but in my bones, it felt so right. I didn’t even have a wife and there I was begging for righteous children. The truth in context was that I wanted something very special from the Treasury of His Majesty and I came to His House to humble myself to get it.

It was on the sound of the Fajr adhan that I finally arose from my prostration. My cheeks and kurta (shirt) wet with tears and all that was left was contemplation. It seemed as if I was transitioning into yet a different train of thought. 

I began to take account of who I am, what I wanted and what I needed to do. I didn’t know the first thing about being a husband or father. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I made as a son. I wanted my children to have the best in this world and the next but didn’t have a clue on how to pave that path. I wanted to endeavor to strive to be at least as good as my own father and put my family first. In all honesty, as these thoughts began flooding my head, I felt totally helpless and totally overwhelmed. 

I knew that I would have to sacrifice, upgrade my character, prioritize to put the pleasure of Allah at the forefront of my thoughts and actions. This was a huge shift from how I lived my life for the past couple of decades. My time was mine, my money was mine and I impulsively chased my desires. All that had to change!

Change Brings Change

One thing did, however, make sense to me:

I thought to myself that if I laid down the track based upon my style of thinking, it would certainly be disastrous. I needed to consult with scholars and gather as much information as I could to construct a path in accordance with what Allah has prescribed to give myself a chance at achieving my dream.

This, I concluded, was what was needed to be done in order to ensure a chance of success. I felt resolute to act upon it. At that thought, the Muaddhin began to recite the Iqama and the entire ordeal concluded.

Six months later, I found myself in the living room of Dr. Ahmed Muneeruddin whose lineage goes back directly to AmĪr-ul-Mu’minīn, Umar Al-Farooq (May Allah be pleased with him). I was witness to one of the most profound events of my lifetime. My father (the late) Dr. Abdus-Salam Syed recited Khutbah Al-Haajah for the company that was present, which included immediate family from both sides. He then turned his attention to his host and began to declare with profound emotion:

“Praise to be Allah and blessings and peace be upon His final Prophet and Messenger Muhammad. I enjoin you to fear Allahﷻ. I have come to you to engage your noblest daughter Maria Muneeruddin to my son Jameel Abdul Syed in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet and the pleasure of Allah .” 

He then went on to conclude with Du’a for happiness, well being, prosperity, that the beginning and end of this affair should be on the straight path and that this union should bare righteous children in the future.

She was going to be the mother of my children

It is noteworthy that I had only known my future wife then for two weeks in total with no more than two physical meetings and a half a dozen phone calls.

She presented very strong qualities, which matched all of the qualifiers outlined by the Prophet: Beauty, wealth, status and religion. As most prospective couples do, we dialogued back and forth measuring each other up against our ideals, but truthfully my decision to pursue her at the end had little to do with any of her questions to my answers. Rather it was the fact that when I looked into her eyes, I saw the mother of my future children and I knew that no other woman on the face of this earth could hold that status for me. It was a feeling I knew to be true and the final criterion for my decision that I feel my heart was guided by Allahﷻ. The series of events that led to my engagement was idiosyncratic and unplanned. In my experience, when Allah wants something to happen, it happens rather quickly and arrives unannounced and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. 

Our marriage took place on July 1st, 2001 in Ontario, Canada. Shortly thereafter she became pregnant and learned that it was going to be a baby boy. Both of our families were elated. It was the first child of the next generation on both sides. We debated back and forth about the name until we finally reached a unanimous decision: Muhammad Jibril Syed. Maria constantly listened to Surah Al-Baqarah during her pregnancy and prayed for him during this eight-month period. My job was to keep her happy! 

On March 13th, 2002, Jibril had arrived at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan honoring both Maria and me with the titles of parents. I gingerly picked up the boy and took him to my father who raised the adhan in his right ear and the iqama in his left as per the tradition of The Prophet. The feeling was indescribable. A feeling of pride, disbelief, elation. Maria felt the same, but she was obviously exhausted. The hospital was flooded with friends and family— it was total chaos. I had to escape, if only for a moment.

I broke away from the excitement and retreated to the hospitals chapel to pray. After prayer, I sat by myself in that room and reflected on how I got to this point. That prayer I made during Tahajjud in front of the Kaabah. It was the beginning of my journey into fatherhood. My heart softened and I began to cry. SubhanAllah, I thought to myself. “Just look at the plan of Allah. He didn’t turn a deaf ear to the pleas of a sinner that day. He’s given me so much in such a short period of time. I promised myself that I would not be an ungrateful slave. That I would honor the trust that He’s bestowed on me with this child and any other future children by devoting myself to try and raise them in accordance with His pleasure.

As I walked out of the chapel and back to my family, I thought to myself: “I wonder what he’s gonna call me…”

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Fall Apart: Be Weak to Find Strength in Allah

Hiba Masood

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Growing up in Jeddah, every evening in Ramadan, we would pile into our car and whiz off to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers to Shoaibi Mosque and spend a few spell-bound hours under the reassuring baritones of Sheikh Abdullah Basfar. His beautiful voice became the anthem of my childhood in many ways but more than his voice, it was the building of tradition and memory that became ingrained in my system. By doing the same thing, day in, day out, year in, year out, my parents gave us a sense of stability and predictability that set the tone for our entire adolescence.

How that rhythm seeped into the very bones of who I am is something I am still discovering well into adulthood.

Last night, standing in my grandmother’s garden in Karachi, I experienced my first Taraweeh Khatam-e-Quran since leaving my parents home in Jeddah so many years ago. It is also, incidentally, my first Ramadan without both my parents, who last year seemingly decided they would much rather be together in Jannah than spend more time in this rubbish world and in quick succession, returned to their Maker, leaving me understandably grieving, awash in memories, struggling to steer my ship.

And so it was, that by the time the imam reached Surah Qadr, I was chokey. By Surah Kawthar, I had tears streaming down my face. And by the time the last three surahs, the comforting Quls, began, I was openly sobbing. Probably more openly than what is considered socially appropriate…but honestly, I was restraining myself. Because what I actually felt like doing was throwing my head back and howling up at the sky. Thankfully, I was flanked by women who knew, who understood, who with tears in their own eyes, let me be with my heaving shoulders and a chest that felt it would crack open under the weight of my emotions.

As the imam had recited surah after surah and the end of the Quran had approached, the ghosts of Ramadan Past had flooded into me and my body had remembered. It had remembered years and years of experiencing that same excitement, that same sense of weight as Sheikh Abdullah Basfar gently and methodically guided us over the course of the month through the Book of all books, that same uplifting, heartbreaking, momentous trepidation of offering something up to Him with the hope that He would bestow something shining in return.

Had this Book been revealed to a mountain, the mountain would have crumbled. You get a tiny glimpse of that weight when you complete a khatam. Here I am, Allah, here I am, in my little hole-y dinghy, with my itty bitty crumbs of ibaadah. Pliss to accept?

Back in Jeddah, after the khatam, we would pile back in the car and go for ice cream. Last night in Karachi, after the khatam, the Imam gave a short talk and in it he mentioned how we are encouraged to cry when conversing with Allah. We should beg and plead and insist and argue and tantrum with Him because He loves to be asked again and again. We live in a world of appropriateness, political correctness, carefully curated social media feeds and the necessity of putting our best, most polished face forwards at all times. How freeing then, that when we turn to our Lord, we are specifically instructed to abandon our sense of control. All the facades and the curtains are encouraged to be dropped away and we stand stripped to our souls in front of Him. In other words, He loves it when we fall apart. Which is exactly what I had just done. 

Last night, I found myself wondering what exactly had I cried so hard over. Which tears were for Him and the desperate desire for His mercy? Which were for the loveliness of the Quran, the steadying rhythm of it, not just verse to verse but also, cover to cover? Which tears were for the already achey yearning of yet another Ramadan gone past? Which were for my breaking heart that has to soon face my first Eid day and all the days of my life without my beloved Mumma and Baba? Which tears were of gratitude that I get to stand on an odd night of the best time of the year, alongside some of my dearest people, in the courtyard of a house full of childhood memories, under the vast, inky, starry sky and standing there, I get to fall apart, freely, wholly, soul-satisfyingly?

And which tears were of a searingly humbling recognition, that I am so wildly privileged to have this faith of mine – the faith that promises if we navigate the choppy dunya waters right, we will be reunited with our loved ones in a beautiful, eternal place, that if we purposely, and repeatedly crumble under the weight of our belief in Him and His plans, our future is bright?

Today, I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter why I cried. Because here is what I do know:

1. “If Allah knows good in your hearts, He will give you better than what was taken from you…” (8:70)


2. “If Allah intends good for someone, then he afflicts him with trials.” Prophet Muhammad

3. “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.” Prophet Muhammad

In losing my parents, I have drawn closer to Allah. And though I miss them dizzyingly, I am so thankful that through the childhood they gave me, through the anchoring to the Quran they gifted me with, through their own tears that I witnessed during those long-ago khatams in the Shoaibi Mosque in Jeddah, they left me with the knowledge that if in losing them, I have gained even an atom’s worth more of His pleasure, then that’s a pretty great bargain.

 

As a parent of three young ones myself, I’ve spent my days teaching my children: be strong, be strong, be strong. Stand tall, stay firm, be sturdy in the face of the distracting, crashing waves of the world. But now I know something just as important to teach them: be weak, be weak, be weak.

Crumble in front of Him, fall apart, break open so that His Light may enter and be the only thing to fill you. It’s not easy but it will be essential for your survival in the face of any loss, grief, trial and despair this world throws your way. It will help you, finger to tongue, always know which way the wind is blowing and which way to steer your ship. Straight in to the sun, always. To Jannah. Because how wondrous are the affairs of us Muslims that when it comes to our sorrows and our hopes, out there on the horizon of Allah’s wise plans, it all shimmers as one – The grief of what is, the memory of what was and brighter than both, the glittering, iridescent promise of what will be.

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A Word On Muslim Attitudes Toward Abortion

Dr Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

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The Qur’an describes Muslims committed to its mores as “a moderate nation,” and that sense of balance qualifies them to stand as “witnesses over humanity” (Q 2:143). Contemporary Muslims revel in this assertion, especially when it seems that “Islam” proposes a via media solution to a highly polarizing subject as abortion. What currently constitutes “Islam” on a given topic, however, often reflects the personal prerogative apparently offered to the average Muslim by a list of diverse legal perspectives. In other words, the mere fact that multiple legal opinions exist on one or more topics is now taken as license to appropriate any one of them, without any deep ethical reflection on the implications of the opinion, however anomalous it may be.

“Islam is the golden mean between all ethical extremes” is what certain Muslims would assert. So if one extreme bars abortion under all circumstances and the other seeks to allow it throughout the duration of the pregnancy, one would assume that Islam must land somewhere in the middle, both forbidding and allowing abortion in certain circumstances. This moral assumption isn’t far from the truth. However, the mere existence of multiple opinions on a topic does not mean that each opinion has equal validity, nor does it mean that every opinion is valid for one to adopt. Similarly, “Islam” or “Islamic law” cannot be summed up into a simple formula like “majority rules” or “when in doubt about prohibition or allowance, the action is, therefore, merely disliked.”

Legal positivism plagues both religious and secular-minded people. Just as an act does not acquire its moral strength simply because it is legal, morally appropriate opinions are not always codified into law. If it is true that any unjust law is no law at all, where is the injustice and to whom is it being perpetrated against in the debate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers? Is it deemed unjust to prevent a pregnant woman from disposing of an “insignificant lifeless part of her body” that no one other than herself should be able to decide what to do with? Or is one “depriving a helpless growing person” of the opportunity and right to exist after its Creator initiated its journey into the world? Does a law that prevents a woman impregnated by a family member or rapist from an abortion oppress her? Or does such a law protect the life of a vulnerable fetus, who, like other weak members of society, is expected to be protected by the strong? Does it do both or neither? And if one is taking the “life” of this fetus, what proof is there that it is a living creature?

While these are all extremely important questions, this missive is neither intended necessarily to answer them nor to resolve today’s raging political debate. The main goal here is to offer ideas that should be on the minds of Muslims when deciding to join such debates or promoting the idea that their “religion” provides the best solution to social polarization, when by “religion” we mean the opinion of a small minority of scholars in some place and time in Muslim history.

Islamic law is very sophisticated; the legislative process is not facile, nor is it a place where any Muslim is entitled to pragmatically select the opinions that he/she finds attractive and accommodating. It demands knowledge of particular aims, the ability to properly realize those aims in the lives of people, and understanding the epistemic and metaphysical foundations that ensure that judgments conform to coherent rationale. In other words, the laws of Islam and the opinions of jurists cannot be divorced from their philosophical and evidentiary underpinnings. Otherwise, the thread holding the moral tapestry of Islam together falls apart completely at its seams.

Is Abortion Lawful in Islam?

Many past and present have written about the Islamic view of abortion. The ancient scholars prohibited it at all stages of the pregnancy and made practically no exception. Some would later allow for it only if the mother’s life was in danger. That notwithstanding, six popular legal opinions exist regarding abortion:

  • Unlawful (haram), in all stages of the pregnancy.
  • Permitted (ja’iz), during the first 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
  • Disliked (makruh), before the passage of 40 days but unlawful (haram) afterwards.
  • Permitted (ja’iz), if it is from illicit intercourse (zina).
  • Permitted (ja’iz) without conditions, before 120 days.
  • Permitted only for a legitimate excuse.

The late mufti of Fez, Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil (d. 2015) said,

The first opinion forbidding that during the [first] 40 [days] and beyond, regardless of whether or not it is due to an excuse, even if from illicit intercourse, is the view of the supermajority [of jurists].[1]

The Qur’an is a Book of Ethical Teaching

The reasons for the cavalier attitude among contemporary Muslims about abortion are multiple. The most significant reason may be that at times Islam is seen as a synonym for shariah. The truth, however, is that the shariah is only part of Islam. Islam covers law (fiqh), creed (aqidah), and ethics (akhlaq). Even though the Qur’an consists of laws, it is not a book of law. It is a book of ethical teachings. Merely 10%–12% of the Qur’an relates to legal injunctions. It is not characteristic of the Qur’an to enjoin upon Muslims to command what is “compulsory” or “recommended” and to forbid what is “unlawful” and “disliked.” What is common though is for it to command us to do what is “ma’ruf” and to avoid what is “munkar.”

“Ma’ruf” and “munkar” can be translated respectively as “what is socially commendable” and “what is socially condemnatory.” This is in spite of the fact that social acceptability and unacceptability are often subjective. This does not mean that the Qur’an is morally relativistic. It is quite the contrary. What this means, however, is that the Qur’an’s aim is not merely to teach Muslims what one can and cannot do. It means, rather, that the Qur’an has a greater concern with what Muslims “should” and “should not” do. For this very reason, the companions of the Prophet seldom differentiated between his encouragement and discouragement of acts by the juristic values of disliked, unlawful, recommended, and compulsory. Rather, if the Prophet encouraged something beneficial, they complied. And, if he discouraged from something potentially harmful, they refrained.

The Qur’an permits many actions. However, to permit an act is not equivalent to encouraging it. It permits polygyny (Q 4:3), the enslavement of non-Muslim war captives (Q 8:70), and marrying the sister of one’s ex-wife (Q 4:23). Similarly, some Muslim jurists validate marriage agreements wherein the man secretly intends to divorce the woman after a certain period of time known only to him.[2] This is the case, even though the average Muslim man is monogamous; practically no Muslim today believes it is moral to enslave a person; the vast majority of Muslims find the marriage of one’s sister-in-law upon the death of one’s wife to be taboo; and they chide men who marry with a temporary intention of marriage. If the mere existence of permission or legal opinion permitting a socially condemnable act is a legitimate reason to adopt it, why would Muslims be uneasy about these cases but inclined to take a different stance when it comes to abortion?

The proper Islamic position on any given issue of public or private concern should not only consider what the law or jurists have to say about the topic. Rather, one should also consider how theology and ethics connect with those laws or opinions. That is to say, one should ask, “What wisdom does God seek to realize from this injunction or opinion?” assuming that such a wisdom can be identified. Secondly, one need ask,

“Who and how many will be helped or harmed if this action is undertaken?”

The Qur’an is the primary source of Islam’s ethics. And, one often observes a major difference between its morality and the morality validated by certain jurists, often lacking a clear connection to Qur’anic and prophetic precepts. That notwithstanding, a juristic opinion can sometimes masquerade as one that is authentically Islamic, especially when it aims to appease or assuage a social or political concern. Consequently, one finds some contemporary scholars championing opinions simply­ because they exist, like that of mainstream Shafi’is who traditionally argued that the reason for jihad was to rid the world of unIslamic doctrines (kufr); or certain contemporaries who validated taking of the lives of innocent women, children, and other non-combatants in suicide bombings; those who endorsed the execution of Jews for converting to Christianity and vice versa;[3] or others who classified slaves as animals rather than human beings?[4] For, surely, there are Muslim jurists who validate each one of these opinions, despite their evidentiary weakness. Hence, simply because there is an opinion allowing for abortions does not necessarily mean that it is something Islam allows, even in cases of rape and incest.

When Does Life Begin?

Medieval Muslim scholars, naturally, lacked the scientific tools that we have today to determine whether or not the fetus growing in its mother’s womb was actually a viable creation and a living creature from conception. Other than when the fetus first showed signs of movement in its mother’s belly, scholars took their cues from the Qur’an and prophetic tradition on when the fetus possessed a soul or if it did so at all. For this reason, very few scholars have offered clear answers to the question of when human life begins, while they agreed that upon 120 days, the child is definitely a living person.

According to the Andalusian scholar of Seville, Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 1148),

The child has three states: 1) one state prior to coming into [material] existence …, 2) a state after the womb takes hold of the sperm …, and 3) a state after its formation and before the soul is breathed into it …, and when the soul is breathed into it, it is the taking of a life. [5]

Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) said,

Coitus interruptus (‘azl) is not like abortion and infanticide (wa’d) because it [abortion] is a crime against an actualized existence (mawjud hasil). And, it has stages, the first being the stage of the sperm entering into the womb, then mixing with the woman’s fluid, and then preparing for the acceptance of life. To disturb that is a crime. Then, if it becomes a clot (‘alaqah) or a lump (mudghah), the crime is more severe. Then, if the soul is breathed into it and the physical form is established, the crime increases in gravity. [6]

These are some of the most explicit statements from Medieval Muslim scholars; they deemed that life begins at inception. The Qur’an states, “Does man think that he will be left for naught (sudan)? Was he not a sperm-drop ejected from sexual fluid?” (75:36-37). In other words, the “sperm-drop” phase is the start of human existence, and existence is the basis for human dignity, as with other living creatures. The human being was a “sperm-drop.” If that is so, this strongly suggests that meddling with this fluid, even before the fetus begins to grow and develop limbs and organs, would be to violate the sanctity of a protected creature. The Qur’an further says, “Did We not create you from a despicable fluid? And then, We placed you in a firm resting place, until a defined scope” (Q 77:20-22). The use of the second person plural pronoun (you) in these verses strongly suggests that the start of human life begins at inception. This is not to mention the multiple verses forbidding one from killing one’s children due to poverty, fear of poverty, or out of shame or folly.

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) similarly offers sufficient indication that even though the fetus is not fully formed, it is still an actualized existence and living creature. The Prophet reportedly said, “The miscarried fetus will remain humbly lying with its face down at the gates of heaven saying, ‘I will only enter when my parents do.’”[7] Similarly, it is reported that when the second caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab ordered that an adulteress discovered to be pregnant be stoned to death, the companion, Mu’adh b. Jabal, said to him, “Even if you have a right to punish her, you do not have a right to punish what is in her belly.”[8] The Prophet and his followers after him never executed a pregnant woman guilty of a capital crime until she gave birth and someone had taken on the care of the child. In addition, they imposed a hefty fine on those who were directly responsible for a woman’s miscarriage.[9] All of this indicates that the fetus is to be respected from the time the male’s sperm reaches the ovum of the woman.

Imam Al-Razi’s Ethical Reflection on the Qur’anic Verse, 6:140

God says in the Qur’an, “Ruined are those who murder their children foolishly without knowledge and forbid what God has provided them with while inventing falsehoods against God. They have strayed and are not guided aright” (6:140).

About this verse, Imam Fakr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210) comments,

Many issues relate to the verse: the first issue is that God mentioned, in the preceding verse, their murder of their children while depriving themselves of the sustenance that God provided them with. Then, God brings these two matters together in this verse while clarifying to them all that is a logical consequence of this judgment, such as ruin, folly, lack of knowledge, the deprivation of what God has provided them, false statements against God, straying, and the privation of guidance. So these are seven characteristics, each of which is an independent cause for censure. The first is ruin (khusran), and that is because a child is an immense blessing from God upon a person, so when one strives to terminate its existence, he/she suffers great ruin and especially deserves great censure in life and a severe punishment in the hereafter due to terminating its existence. Censure in life is warranted because people say one has murdered one’s child out of fear of it eating one’s food. And there is no censure in life greater than such. Punishment in the hereafter is warranted because the closeness resulting from childbirth is one of the greatest sources of love. Then, upon achieving it, one sets out to deliver the greatest of harms to it [the child], thereby committing one of the gravest sins. As a consequence, one of the greatest punishments is warranted. The second is folly (safahah), which is an expression of condemnable frivolousness. That is because the murder of the child is only committed in light of the fear of poverty. And, even though poverty is itself a harm, murder is a much graver harm. Additionally, this murder is actualized, while the poverty [feared] is merely potential (mawhum). So enforcing the maximum harm in anticipation of a potential minimal harm is, without doubt, folly. The third regards God’s saying, “without knowledge.” The intent is that this folly was only born of the absence of knowledge. And there is no doubt that ignorance is one of the most objectionable and despicable of things. The fourth regards depriving one’s self of what God has made lawful. It is also one of the worst kinds of stupidity, because one denies one’s self those benefits and good things, becoming entitled by reason of that deprivation of the severest torment and chastisement. The fifth is blaspheming God. And it is known that boldness against God and blaspheming Him is one of the cardinal sins. The sixth is straying from prudence (rushd) with relation to the interests of the faith (din) and the benefits found in the world. The seventh is that they are not guided aright. The benefit of it is that a person might stray from the truth but may return to proper guidance. So God clarifies that they have strayed without ever obtaining proper direction. So it is established that God has censured those described as having murdered children and denied what God has made lawful for them, with these seven characteristics necessitating the worse types of censure. And that is the ultimate hyperbole.[10]

The Ethical Contentions of a Moroccan Mufti

We have already quoted Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ta’wil of Morocco. Like the medieval scholars, he maintained a very conservative opinion on abortion, allowing it only if the mother’s life was at risk. The following is a list of his nine ethical contentions against abortion and those scholarly opinions allowing it. The bulk of what follows is a literal translation of his views. Regarding why abortion is immoral, he says:

  • Firstly, it is a transgression against a vulnerable creature who has committed neither sin nor crime, a denial of it from its right to existence and life that God has given it and Islam has guaranteed as well as the taking of a life in some situations.
  • Secondly, it is a clear challenge to God’s will and a demonstratively defiant act meant to stubbornly contend with God’s action, creative will, and judgment. And that manifests itself in the murder of what God has created, the voiding of its existence, and a commission of what He deems unlawful.
  • Thirdly, it a decisively demonstrative proof of hard-heartedness, the absence of mercy, and the loss of motherly and fatherly affection or rather the loss of humanity from the hearts of those who daringly undertake the act of abortion with dead hearts and wicked dark souls.
  • Fourthly, it is the epitome of self-centeredness, selfishness, narcissism, and sacrifice of what is most precious¾one’s own flesh and blood, sons and daughters¾to gratify the self and enjoy life and its attractions far away from the screams of infants, the troubles of children, and the fatigue resulting from them.
  • Fifthly, it is a practical expression of one’s bad opinion of God, the lack of trust in His promise to which He decisively bounded Himself to guarantee the sustenance of His creation and servants. It also shows ignorance of His saying, “And, there is not a single creature on earth except that God is responsible for its sustenance, just as He knows its resting place and place from which it departs. Every thing is in a manifest record (Q 11:6); as well as His saying, “And do not kill your children due to poverty. We will provide for you as well as for them” (Q 6:151); in addition to His saying, “And, do not kill your children out of fear of poverty. We will provide for them and for you” (Q 17:31). This is in addition to other verses and prophetic traditions that indicate that all provisions are in God’s control and that no soul will die until it exacts its sustenance in full as the Prophet said.
  • Sixthly, it is a bloody war against the Islamic goal, introduced by the Prophet and to which he called and strongly encouraged, of population growth and increase in posterity.
  • Seventhly, it undermines the aims of the Islamic moral code that considers the preservation of offspring to be one of the five essentials upon which the sanctified revealed moral code is built.
  • Eighthly, it goes against the nature to which God has disposed both animals and human beings to of love of children, childbearing, and the survival of progeny….
  • Ninthly, it is the grossest display of bad manners towards God and the epitome of ingratitude towards a blessing and the rejection of it. And that is because both pregnancy and children are among God’s favors upon His servants and among His gifts to the expectant mother and her husband.

These are some important matters of consideration. Every Muslim, woman, and man, will ultimately need to decide what burdens he/she is prepared to meet God with. While abortion is an emotionally charged matter, especially in Western politics, emotions play no role in the right or wrong of legislation. Although our laws currently may not consider a fetus aborted before its survival outside of the womb to be viable, the Muslim who understands that legal positivism does not trump objective or moral truths should be more conscientious and less cavalier in his/her attitude about the taking of life and removing the viability of life.


[1] Al-Ta’wil, Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Qasim. Shadharat al-Dhahab fi ma jadda fi Qadaya al-Nikah wa al-Talaq wa al-Nasab. Hollad: Sunni Pubs, 2010, p. 148.

[2] Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi Al-Zurqani quotes Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr as saying,

They unanimously agreed that anyone who marries without mention of a particular condition while having the intention to remain with her for a period that he has in mind is permitted (ja’iz), and it is not a temporary marriage. However, Malik said this is not an attractive thing to do (laysi hadha min al-jamil). Nor is it part the conduct of moral people (la min akhlaq al-nas). Al-‘Awza’i took a solitary view saying that it is a temporary marriage. And, there is no good in it (la khayra fihi). ‘Ayyad stated it.

Al-Zurqani, Muhammad b. ‘Abd Al-Baqi b. Yusuf. Sharh al-Zurqani ‘ala Muwatta’ al-Imam Malik. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, (no date), 3/201.

[3] Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said about the prophetic tradition, “Kill whoever changes his lifepath”, “Some Shafi’i jurists clung to it concerning the killing of anyone who changes from one non-Islamic faith to another non-Islamic faith (din kufr)…”

Al-‘Asqalani, Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. Hajar. Fath Al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari. Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd Al-Baqi Edition. Riyadh: Al-Maktabah Al-Salafiyyah, (no date), 12/272.

[4] Al-Ra’ini, Muhammad al-Hattab. Qurrah al-‘Ayn bi Sharh Waraqat al-Imam al-Haramayn. Beirut: Mu’assassah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, 2013, p. 78.

[5] Al-Wazzani, Abu ‘Isa Sidi al-Mahdi. Al-Nawazil Al-Jadidah Al-Kubra fi ma li Ahl Fas wa ghayrihim min al-Badw wa al-Qura al-Musammah bi Al-Mi’yar Al-Jadid Al-Jami’ Al-Mu’rib ‘an Fatawa al-Muta’akhkhirin min ‘Ulama al-Maghrib. Rabat: Wizarah al-Awqaf wa al-Shu’un al-Islamiyyah, 1997, 3/376.

[6] Al-Ghazali, Muhammad Abu Hamid. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din. Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, p. 491.

[7] This is how Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi relates the report as related by Al-Wazzani in his Nawazil 3/376. In the Musnad of Abu Hanifah, however, the Prophet reportedly said, “You will see the miscarried fetus filled with rage.” When it is asked, “Enter Paradise”, it will respond, “Not until my parents come in [too].” Al-Hanafi, Mulla ‘Ali Al-Qari. Sharh Musnad Abi Hanifah. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985, p. 252.

[8] Ibn ‘Asakir, Abu al-Qasim ‘Ali b. al-Hasan. Tarikh Madinah Dimashq wa Dhikr Fadliha wa Tasmiyah man hallaha min al-Amathil aw ijtaza bi Nawahiha min Waridiha wa Ahliha. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1997, p. 342.

[9] Among the fines due for causing the miscarriage of a fetus are: 1) prison or flogging; 2) the penance for murder (kaffarah), which is the freeing of a slave, fasting two consecutive months which is compulsory for Shafi’is and recommended for Malikis; and 3) the gifting of a slave to the woman who lost her child.

[10] Al-Razi, Fakr al-Dina. Tafsir al-Fakr al-Razi al-Mushtahir bi Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir wa Mafatih al-Ghayb. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981, pp. 220-221

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