Opinion: Finding the safest path for our children (The Bond)

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of the Islamic Society of Kingston’s newsletter, The Bond.

By Sikander Hashmi

We all want our children to succeed in life. We believe that our children’s future quality of life and overall success depends mainly on their schooling, so we put tremendous effort in ensuring they attend good schools, get good grades, participate in extra-curricular activities and are able to obtain admission in the best universities and in the fields that lead to the most lucrative and prestigious professions.1319861_children_crossing

We do this because we feel it’s our responsibility as parents and rightly so. But that’s not our only responsibility towards our children. Our children have a number of rights upon us. One of them is the right to proper upbringing and training.

There used to be a time when sending your child to a public school would not only ensure a decent to good education, but also that the children were nurtured in an environment where morality and traditional values were emphasized.

While the former may still be true in some cases, it’s the latter that is clearly missing from public schools today. Frankly, the values children are being taught and are picking up from their peers, as well as the experiences they are living at school, should be very alarming to parents.

Just in the past couple of weeks, there have been two tragic cases of teenage girls committing suicide, one in the United States and one here in Canada, because they were sexually assaulted and then cyberbullied, with photos of the attacks posted online. Reports indicate the girls were also repeatedly bullied at school.

Even within our community, students have shared with me the troubles they are experiencing at school because of their faith and their skin colour.

The Ontario government’s Accepting Schools Act, otherwise referred to as the anti-bullying legislation that has now become law, takes an important step in creating a safe environment for all children. It makes it clear that bullying will not be tolerated against any student on the basis of “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

No person with a conscience, let alone a true person of faith, would want innocent children (or even adults) to be bullied or tormented. Hate must not be tolerated in any form, so the effort to stop this is commendable.

However, it is clear that the application of this legislation is going much further than protecting children. It is being used to promote values and lifestyle choices that are inconsistent with the beliefs of many parents.

For example, large pink posters have been put up in some local elementary and secondary schools, posing the question, “What’s wrong with being gay?” If you are a parent who doesn’t believe in homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle choice, this presents a very troubling scenario.

Children often see their teachers and schools as trustworthy sources of guidance, looking up to them and believing whatever they say. Parents have the challenging task of broaching the topic with their young children and convincing them that what they’ve learned in school isn’t actually so.

Another troubling example came to light recently that highlighted the challenges our children face in the classroom, especially when the teachers are biased or ignorant. The class was studying a text in which the setting was a Muslim country. A practice that our faith promotes, covering for modesty, was identified by the teacher as being a “problem.” For Muslim children, incidents such as these can contribute towards an inferiority complex that leads them to see their faith and culture as being problematic and flawed.

These are just a couple of examples of the contradictions that our children face when attending public schools. Others include unnecessary showing of indecent material to high school students as part of instruction, celebrating holidays that promote beliefs and practices that are contradictory to Islamic teachings, dealing with events that go against modesty and morality (such as dances and proms) and completely unrestricted contact (including physical and sexual) between genders.

Now the Ontario government is planning to reintroduce a revised sex education curriculum that was shelved three years ago due to strong opposition from religious groups. Opponents had decried the fact that the curriculum would introduce children to homosexuality in grade 3, masturbation in grade 6 and oral and anal sex in grade 7.

In a Toronto Star article published last fall, Dr. Bruce Ferguson, director of the Hospital for Sick Children’s Community Health Systems Resource Group, was quoted as saying: “But do people think Grade 7 is too young to talk to kids about oral sex? A group of Grade 8 girls at a Toronto school a few years ago were running a little lunchtime business giving Grade 8 boys oral sex for money.”

He went on: “The girls thought if they had toothpaste in their mouth while they gave oral sex they wouldn’t get AIDS — as if the boys had AIDS, and as if toothpaste would prevent it.”

It appears that part of the rationale for feeding children this type of information is because some of this behaviour is already being practiced. In that case, the argument is that children would be better off knowing the facts so they practice safe sex.

The bigger question is: Why is such behaviour being practiced by children in the first place?

Some will argue that children will face these challenges in life, so it is better to expose them now so they can learn to make the right decisions. While there is some truth to it, this is not how parents normally prepare their children to deal with dangers. We first stop children from bodies of water and fire because they’re oblivious to the inherent dangers (i.e. drowning and burning) that lie therein. Then as children grow older, we slowly educate them about the dangers and then train them to deal with the dangers. No parent allows children to be exposed to obvious risks until they are confident that their children are equipped to deal with them safely.

Preparation and education are important and our children must be equipped to cope with the trends and challenges found in society. But they must be educated in an appropriate manner – using the right approach in the right setting and at the right time.

Unfortunately, the methods being used today in public schools to achieve this lack all three.  This doesn’t mean that all children who attend public schools will be lost and yes, significant strides have been made to make schools inclusive and welcoming towards all, which is wonderful. But as Muslim parents, we must ask ourselves: Is it wise to place our children in such a risky environment at such a tender age? Is doing so really in the best interests of our children? Or should we be putting a greater effort towards finding, or even creating, appropriate alternatives for our children?

This can be a difficult task and there are no guarantees that it will be enough. But I believe we must first try our best then leave for Allah the rest. Working on a suitable alternative is simply part of that effort.

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The Pulse: Children’s Character

The Pulse is a weekly program held Friday evenings at the Islamic Centre of Kingston (Ontario) that discusses topics the Imam has been asked about recently.

May 13, 2011: What are the character attributes we should be working on instilling into our children? What characteristics did the Prophet (SAW), his companions and our pious predecessors promote?

The Pulse: Children’s Character

Coming up next week:  Spiritual Healing, Protection and Cures

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