RSE: Raising concerns of Muslim parents
Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) have been taught in British schools for more than half a century. The aim is to give children a better understanding of healthy relationships, sex and diversity as well as the knowledge of how to keep themselves safe and the confidence to seek help when needed. However, recent reforms appear to mandate the teaching of sensitive topics including homosexuality, LGBT and transgenderism, with little evidence of input from faith groups or even in-depth critique of how best and when these topics should be taught. Consequently, people of different faiths have challenged the government and local schools about the contents of RSE and concerns over age-appropriateness.
The perspectives of Muslim parents
Islamic teachings provide clear instructions and encouragement to live as pious and God-fearing individuals in a society that respects justice. The moral, spiritual and social values that Islam teaches includes nurturing traits of decency, modesty and respect for each other. With this in mind, Muslim parents have expressed concerns about:
- The lack of engagement of the education authorities with the Muslim community and respect of core Islamic religious values.
- Muslim parents believe that the current format of RSE content could spread immorality, which is destructive of respect for human life, family values and the good of our society.
- Schools must make it easier for their RSE policy to be available to parents for scrutiny.
- Goodwill and understanding are needed from education authorities and schools, they should not have preconceived stereotypical views about Muslims parents.
- We believe that RSE is in need of further debate, it’s an expression of the conflict of moral values between different communities.
What are the concerns?
The main concern of Muslim parents is not whether there should be RSE in schools, it’s more about the content and unknown risks of teaching RSE education in this format to young children. They worry about the serious issues of liberal and permissive social attitudes prevalent in the society, which lead to sexual activity in teenagers.
Research suggests children are losing their innocence and purity earlier, resulting in teenage pregnancies, family stress, school-age mothers and fathers and untold other social problems. Furthermore, a society that portrays sex as a commodity and objectifies the body develops in a negative attitude that does not really respect the sexes.
Like people of all faiths, Muslims believe it is our religious right to defend our faith, religious belief and practices. Abrahamic faiths are clear that God created human beings as male and female. The Lord has a great plan for humanity so that they would multiply and spread over the entire planet as his servants.
“People, be mindful of your Lord, He created you from a single person and created his partner from him, and then from the pair, He spread countless men and women throughout the world. Be mindful of Allah in Whose name you make demands from each other, Allah watches over you” (Al-Nisa: 1).
Many Muslim parents object to the inappropriate teaching of their children of the notions of gender fluidity or transgenderism. While they respect the rights of others, their faith does not allow promotion of this lifestyle. We believe that the explicit content of the RSE syllabus is not appropriate, particularly for primary age children. The religion of Islam is clear that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. It is therefore that relationship and sex education must be within the context of marriage, where family values, morality and decency can be promoted. Islam forbids extramarital sexual relationships, which are devoid of any responsibility and accountability.
Schools were expected to start teaching RSE from September 2020, but this has now been delayed till summer of 2021. It is inevitable that schools will carry out the statutory responsibility, our right as parents is to make sure that any content against Islamic faith is not taught improperly. Therefore, we suggest that Muslim parents and scholars should formulate an Islamic RSE curriculum and content. This way we can educate Muslim children about Islamic teachings about relationships and sex. Once we have this curriculum and contents Muslim parents can ask schools to provide this education to their children rather the one provided by other agencies with vested interests.
We hope that state schools with a majority of Muslim children will use this curriculum. The Islamic RSE curriculum must be grounded in pedagogy and character development. So, children in their different phases of education are provided age-appropriate material. As an educational program, the Islamic RSE should be differentiated, taught across the curriculum whether integrated into the core subjects or stand-alone.