Nearly 2,000 Muslims in Britain have signed a petition against a proposed sex education curriculum, protesting the government's push for compulsory sex-ed for children as young as five.
Classes about personal, social and health matters including sex and relationships will be compulsory for all schoolchildren aged five to 16 when the new school year starts as part of the Sexual Relationship Education (SRE) curriculum in all of Britain's schools from ages five to 16 according to a government report currently released for public consultation.
The curriculum, proposed by the government as a solution to the country's growing rate of teenage pregnancy, the highest in Europe, is currently open for public consultation. And Muslims are taking advantage of the comment period to tell the government that they oppose teaching sex in school.
The government has also called for more school-based clinics to provide contraception while Britain's Department for Children, Schools and Families has urged schools to begin teaching sex-ed earlier age.
Muslim parents, however, are contesting the SRE curriculum proposal in a petition that questions the moral basis of the government's plans, asserting that "SRE should not be taught within the model of moral relativism, where right and wrong does not factor."
"Our concern is that these teachings are prematurely sexualizing children at a psychological level," Tahir Alam, a spokesperson for the Muslim Council in Britain's education committee, told Al Arabiya. "Such teachings erode the innocence of children."
"The whole subject is not taught from a values framework, but from a value-free framework. It says 'you children you make your own minds up'," he added.
Muslims in the west are not the only faith-based community that opposes sex education in schools. Conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews have also campaigned against sex education in schools across Europe and the United States.
The same debate has raged for years in the United States, where conservative Christians have led the fight against compulsory sex education arguing that they have a religious objection protected under the first amendment.
Our concern is that these teachings are prematurely sexualizing children at a psychological level
Tahir Alam, MCB spokesman
Alam said Britain's plan does not recognize the need of Muslim parents to maintain the Islamic identity of their children and stressed that parents and schools should work together to determine the material taught to impressionable children.
"There are already too many things in our society that encourage kids to grow up too quickly. Girls are instructed to dress like grownups and put on makeup, boys are told what the art of dating and picking up girls is," Mohammed Shokry, a parent of two children who signed the petition, told Al Arabiya. "Now the government wants to instill sex more into the minds of children!" he said.
The petition says sex education is the responsibility of the parent and therefore should be imparted within a domestic framework where it can be taught based on Islamic teachings that prohibit premarital sexual relations. It also demanded the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex-ed classes.
"Ignorance is not the problem," Norman Wells, a conservative Christian author who has campaigned against sex-ed in U.S. schools, was quoted as saying in the Christian Institute, suggesting that the real culprit may be too much information.
But Richard Woolfson, a renowned child psychologist, pointed out that sex education encompasses more than merely teaching about sex.
"SRE is pitched at different levels depending on who the learner is. At the age of five children will learn about how to respect their bodies and about self respect, not how to have sex and wear a condom," Woolfson told Al Arabiya.
Woolfson explained that there is a fine line between informing children and instructing them, whether sex education teaches children or causes them to behave in certain ways they would not have done had they not had the education.
"This is where parents and teachers should meet to figure this out," Woolfson said.
SRE is pitched at different levels depending on who the learner is. At the age of five children will learn about how to respect their bodies and about self respect, not how to have sex and wear a condom
Richard Wookfson, child psychologist
But Iftikhar Ahmed, an education consultant for the London School of Islamics, told Al Arabiya that the bigger problem forms the backdrop of the SRE and that is Muslim parents do not trust state schools.
"There is an unhealthy relationship between Muslim parents and state schools," Ahmed told Al Arabiya. "Muslim parents are not involved in school committees and they must be if they want to influence the curriculum otherwise state schools will go on teaching what they think is best."
Alam from MCB concurred, adding that part of MCB's efforts on the issue is to push Muslim parents to become more involved on school boards and committees in order to have a say in the curriculum they want their children to learn.
A recently released survey on Muslims in Europe and integration found
that the majority of the community showed zero tolerance to homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex and pornography. Muslims in Europe predominantly denounced premarital sex as "immoral."
Muslim parents are not involved in school committees and they must be if they want to influence the curriculum otherwise state schools will go on teaching what they think is best
Iftikhar Ahmed, London school of Islamics
The Gallup Coexist Index survey also found that British Muslims showed the lowest rate of integration with only 10 percent of Britain's Muslims feeling at home while their German counterparts showed higher rating of 36 percent and those in France were at 46 percent.
At least thirty Muslim parents have withdrawn their children from state schools in protest.
Leytonstone School in London decided last week to hold a week-long series of lessons about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history which involved a special adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet re-titled Romeo and Julian. Muslim parents immediately withdrew their kids, but were not prosecuted as previous reports claimed.
"This is an example of how a school's vision of education regarding such sensitive issues does not match with a faith-based community of Muslims," Iftikhar said.
In April two Christian parents in Germany were fined for home-schooling their child rather than letting the school teach the child about sex.
There are already too many things in our society that encourage kids to grow up too quickly
Mohammed Shokry, UK parent