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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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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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Bipolar Exiled: Oscillating between the Mind’s Terrain and Physical Boundaries

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By Farzande Jehan

 

“And what is the matter with you sister, you are not well either?”

She is speaking to me in Urdu. We are both Pathan. And now I am thinking of one universal ailment that I can supply this lady with and leave it at that. I say that I have depression. She looks at me puzzled, looks at the lady sitting next to her, searching her face for a clue but to no avail. Can I explain ‘depression’ to her? This is going to be difficult. Why don’t I..

“I have a mood disorder.”

Pakistanis use the word ‘mood’ and ‘moody’ all the time; she should know. As I wait for a response, the same blank expression on her face. No comprendo. Rescue her furzy, she is losing you.

“Okay, so sometimes I am very happy, bohth khush,” I raise my hand as high as possible, “And sometimes I am very sad, bohth khafa.” I bring my hand down low.

Ahhh!”

The thing’s been expressed in the right words.

To elaborate I say: “What I come here for…” -and there is newfound confidence in my voice too- “…is to make sure that it is leveled.”

This I demonstrate by slicing through the room with my theatrical hand. I resettle in my chair. I have successfully regained my right to be here. I am quiet not because I am rude, but because I need composure.


2009

I was 23, visibly Muslim, living in NYC, and just about ready to enter an adulthood promised to many of the youth of my time. I was a graduate student the year I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had all but completed two of the courses that led to my degree. I owed many of life’s successes and some failures too -but more of the good- to my ex-commuter status. My family preferred that I live at home, so I’d take the D from Brooklyn and transfer to the 1 somewhere in Midtown (God help you on the weekends when maintenance reroutes).

The summer of my onset, two white passengers in an underground train whispered about the news of Michael Jackson’s death. The couple scheduled to get help from martinis to cope with their pain.

The isolation I experienced and the spiritual inclination I harbored from a young age worked as seamless elements in the pursuit of removing me from my reality… your reality. I lived in a place that was in extreme contrast to the ideals I cherished. New York did successfully provide the tools that accurately identified the whatnots so that the whats that mattered remained.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How do you reconcile a reverence for a Deity that felt too far? My jugular vein reminded me of vessels and of things that hold quantity. Water indeed is life and Muslims agree that God is everywhere, so where do we draw the line? If I labored just enough, the distance that separated me from my Creator would shorten, I believed. The city that never sleeps left me sleepless.


A dirty curtain separated the men from the women. We were in the fourth season of the year and I start counting mine from Spring. My family returned to the go-back-to-your-country type of country in 2014, before Trump came to office and after Obama dropped drones on my ancestors’ homeland. A heater was supplied for the menfolk. The woman who was interviewing me earlier tended to her sick child, laid stretched out on the seat because her daughter had difficulty sitting up. Mental distress carries the marker of a plague struck in nations like the one where I live. Poverty exposes what little cover there is.

The office we were in was Dr. Rehman’s. His portrait was grinning at us. It seemed to be saying, “Give me your money you lunatic, you need help!”

An ayat from the Holy Quran about shifa, remedy, that it is ultimately in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), hung on the opposite wall, punching the arrogant grin in the face. In life we seek balance. The verse reassured me: “Don’t worry so.” It seemed to say: “Answer the man’s questions and go home happy – all is well.”

I breathed in as I looked down at my feet. I know that in Spirituality, things have specific destinies too and not just mortals. The thought that visits me from time to time: maybe it’s the shoes I am wearing that are carrying me to places where I don’t belong, belong.

A woman placed a prayer mat in front of me that day for herself. She was facing the qibla for the fourth time. I patiently waited for my number to be called. “Twelve!” I heard. Covering my face -because now I will be passing through rows of men- I got up to leave the patients’ patience testing room.


1997

I was twelve-years old in the year we immigrated to America, eleven when I first landed on the brave soil. We were arriving in two hours and mother wanted everything in order. The first thing she saw was the sight of her younger daughter’s head. My head! It needed attention. It required attention. I almost wanted to cry when she was brushing my hair, and not because she was pulling at the strands. I had tears in my eyes because I had tasted Tropicana orange juice with no pulp for the first time in my short life.

My best friend from high school had paid me a visit on my second hospital stay, I had been in treatment for four months and in denial of my initial diagnosis. The proceeding to dump all medicine and carrying on with life until trouble lurked once more -the serpent raising its head drama played itself out. It’s a common prelude that way too many people experience in the initial processing of a newfound knowledge about the self.

Brooklyn was hit by a storm so severe that my family walked several of the miles on the day I was getting discharged. There were no taxis in sight for hours and the MTA was not functioning. My friend was expecting her first baby and had rushed to see me. She had a bag full of oranges to give to me. The setting and the process of checking in to visit your loved ones -and not to mention the presence of other patients who are sometimes in worse condition than you are- has the potential to throw your visitors off. I did not want to shock her but I was too helpless in offering an alternative view.

People go to zoos to see animals in cages. Seeing me in a gown, though I had my head covered, a scarf -in that was the familiar-, had I seemed weak to her? Was I the sight people conjure when they think ‘mentally ill’? This was my friend, and I wonder how much of the stereotype I filled in for her and to what degree, if at all? Had she had pity on me or was being sympathetic her character trait? Shouldn’t unborn children be kept away from sick persons like me at that time?

Shattering The Stigma of Mental Illness

For those of us in societies where there is  chaos within and a violence outside, was I mentally ill if my brain is part of my body? I was bodily ill, wasn’t I? Organ-ly ill. My mind had not stopped working. I was not pagal*, No! (*refers to somebody who is insane and is mainly a pejorative in South Asian communities) My brain had gone into overdrive and my thoughts were shooting at each other. This I know because I lost control. How did I allow myself to become so wild that I needed to be tamed? What was this force? Was it even my fault and does every event have a cause? I must have looked like a prisoner yet I have tasted freedom. Out of my own free will, I carried a transaction to deposit the ‘me’ in me in the hands of the One who made me. Whereas qismt (destiny) is sometimes cruel, God we know is always Merciful.

It requires strength to hold an image of a person you care for, far removed from a space that you once shared and to meet them at that threshold. An image like that is etched in memories for long times. Sadaf knew of my liking of oranges. Her gesture meant more than any flowers ever could represent her love for me. My employer was her ex-employer, otherwise knowledge of my hospitalization(s) was usually limited to family. After getting discharged and being somewhat stable at this point, I visited her at her house. Ibraheem assumed that the beauty mark on my chin was nothing but a button! That if he pressed on it, I would turn into a walking/talking toy. I let him play for as long as he wanted since I loved seeing the smiles on his face and the way he would giggle. I’d behave like a robot and only stop the awkwardness when he’d press the button again.


The disorder that I have and the control that it has over me is somewhat like little Ibraheem’s curiosity. It presses a button and I turn into a person other than me. I please it. I entertain it to the extent where it starts to get bored or needs a diaper change not when I lose the strength to continue. The only downside in playing this game is that the thing habitually forgets to turn the button off. It leaves me running into walls and breaking things and getting hurt in return. We need a team of rescuers, a hospitalization, and strange medicine with stranger names to bring me back.

I was shocked when I first read in our Islamic literature that the Creator laughs.

Abu Razeen reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) laughs at the despair of his servant, for he will soon relieve him.” I said, “O Messenger of Allah, does the Lord laugh?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Yes.” I said, “We will never be deprived of goodness by a Lord who laughs!” [Sunan Ibn Mājah 181]

I understand a thing like that somewhat differently from how others read it.

After spending my twenties toiling in making sense of it all, my recovery has a lot to do with a change of terrain. It is the distance I needed to sort things out. I studied Orientalism in New York but read Edward Said speak of his love for an aunt who helped Palestinian refugees find shelter in his Out of Place: A Memoir here in Pakistan. The human component of scholarship, something that was missing previously, became vital at closing the gaps of humanity I was made deprived of. Healing begun.

By sharing my story, I’d like for people who are diagnosed with illnesses like bipolar to keep steadfast. No matter your creed or the place where you are from, know that you are not alone. And for family and friends who bear witness to the turmoil that infects a loved one to stand strong. Your strength or lack thereof has a direct impact on our wellness.

In the Quran it says that we will be tested with sons and wealth [Surah Al-Anfal;28]. Having a mental illness is a kind of test that has no beginning, nor a definite end. Take care of your health before sickness visits you is a famous saying of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). There will be days when you feel frustrated and question the just ruling of a Just God. Reach out and feel blessed, for being a Muslim carries the weight of family keeping bonds.

Ideally, the Ummah is one that conducts checks and balances so that the affairs of our Muslim brethren are running smooth. Unlocking and internalizing the goodness and the kheir that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has placed in the world for our taking requires humility, an admittance of our own neediness followed by the realization of and acknowledging our smallness in a universe that is run not by us. Believing in God and trusting in Him are not the same.

The meaning of the word Islam is peace. Muslims exchanging the greeting of peace with other Muslims is an experience. Transferring that practice and truly living that peace needs patience. The challenge of living with and sometimes outliving a mental illness requires a tailored kind of submission. The hush of stability hums low in the beginning when loud is the announcement of a calamity. Faith after all is belief in the existence of hope alongside the tragedy that is life. What is more, our bodies are rented to us. The obligation of living inside them is not a punishment. It is a privilege. The challenge is to be at peace with our predicaments and that can be easily achieved since I believe that all of us are capable of nourishing our minds and feeding our souls, perhaps not at the same pace but the possibility of recovery is guaranteed once we take that initial step. It is realizing the potential of and exercising resilience itself that saved me. To transfer that hope in the mode of words is the least I can offer. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept, ameen.

Show, Don’t (Just) Tell – The Right Way to Tackling Mental Health

 

The writer is currently a doctoral student in American Studies at Area Study Centre 
of Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Previously, she holds a Masters in Liberal Studies from Columbia University. You may reach the editorial team of Muslim Matters if you wish to contact her.

 

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