Our children are at the cusp of adulthood and it is my turn to inform them concerning the facts of life and all the ways a Muslim adult should think and act in being obedient to Allāh and His Messenger (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Allāh (subhanahu wa taʿala) advised:
“O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones….”
Prior to this undertaking, I approached friends and enquired about their experiences. I noticed certain phrases would repeatedly arise throughout these conversations, “I reverted back to my roots and didn’t say anything” or “My mother didn’t say anything to me” and “I didn’t tell the kids, they just seemed to know already.” I think it is fair to say that many of us have harboured some anxiety preceding these important discussions with our children and, perhaps, some of us were not greatly pleased by our subsequent efforts.
The Education Select Committee recently proposed that S.R.E be made statutory in both primary and secondary schools, the principal aim of the government being the reduction of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. However, the current system of teaching has left many parents naturally concerned. Perhaps it is due to the lack of a moral framework, the sometimes inappropriate resources, the practices we do not find acceptable or the counter-intuitive advice that, while one might engage in sexual activity, there certainly should not be consequences. Regardless of the reasons, some parents suffer an almost knee-jerk reaction and elect to remove their children from such classes without a plan. But, as parents, whether we agree with the subject matter or not, whether we find it comfortable or not, S.R.E does have to be taught in its entirety.
Muʿāwiyah (radiyAllahuʿanhu) reported the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam) as saying,
“When Allāh wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of Dīn.”
Understanding the Dīn implies obtaining knowledge not just of the lawful but of the unlawful issues too, leading us to adjust our actions. A comprehensive knowledge of S.R.E. should serve as a protection from physical ailments, from heartbreak and from our youth losing focus of their ultimate goals.
Parental reticence in discussing S.R.E
Generally, everyone can recall how they were informed about the facts of life and to what extent their parents were involved. For some of us, especially from Asian backgrounds, there would have been a history of silence and taboo. Our knowledge was garnered from school, the playground, TV and books. As parents, our reluctance arises on many fronts: a lack of example from our parents resulting in a difficulty breaking the silence; an uncertainty about some of the subject matter; a lack of preparation in the face of unexpected questions; plain embarrassment; a vague concern that our children may view us differently, and, most importantly, a relationship with our children which has a deficiency in communication.
In order to proceed more successfully in our role as guides let us look to the example of our pious predecessors:
It was narrated from Zaynab (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha):
“Umm Sulaym came to the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and said: O Messenger of Allāh, Allāh is not too shy to tell the truth. Does a woman have to do ghusl if she has an erotic dream?”
We must ask ourselves, are there consequences to our silence? We have to comprehend that our children will eventually realise that we knew, yet we never divulged. At this time, they will also wonder why. Was it that we are not entirely comfortable with Allāh’s creation and methods? Are we inadvertently sending a message that we are unavailable to discuss controversial subjects resulting in situations that might be avoided?
As parents we should proceed as follows:
1 – Appreciate that educating our children about S.R.E. is to safeguard and complete our parental responsibility toward them. It was narrated from Ibn ʿUmar that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for her flock.”
2 – Throughout all discussions, adhere to modesty while imparting complete information. We take the words of Allāh as our guide. He says:
“Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is to approach your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments”.
3 – Be proactive rather than reactive. Give yourself time to contemplate. Prepare what information you wish to impart and decide the best time to convey this.
4 – Understand the religion and the science of your subject matter. This can often ease initial awkwardness.
5 – Initiate the building blocks of S.R.E education early; the basic guidance on how to interact modestly with the opposite sex as advised in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. This will provide a foundation for future discussions. The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Instruct your children to pray when they are seven years old, and smack them if they do not do it when they are ten years old, and separate them in their beds.”
6 – Most importantly, consistently endeavour to build a relationship of mutual trust and open communication. A measure of success in your strategy will be whether your children approach you with their potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable questions or confessions – which might ordinarily induce parents to have an adverse reaction. Sadly, many of our children would not dream of approaching their parents.
7 – Finally, practice schooling one’s facial features into the bland face of the unsurprised. Children tend to watch their parents’ faces closely, looking for a twitch here or there, and they deduce for themselves what is going on behind our eyes.
Many parents prefer to have the privilege of teaching their children S.R.E. as part of our religion and setting the tone for their adult lives. Though we may find the prospect a little daunting, as parents we should take comfort in the fact that this is merely a single milestone amongst many in their lives. InshāAllāh when your children have their shot at parenthood, they will be confident, remember you and say, “Credit to my parents, who told it as it was.”
Notes: Al-Qur’ān, 66:6  Riyad-us-Saliheen Vol 2, Commentary by Hafiz Salahuddin Yusef, Hadith 1376  Bukhāri (130) and Muslim (313) from Islam Question and Answer no. 214990  Bukhāri (583) and Muslim (1829)  Islam Question and Answer 127858  Al- Qur’ān, 2:187  Abū Dāwūd (495)