Dec 112015
 

by Sobia Ali-Faisal

If the recent controversy in Ontario over the new sex education curriculum has demonstrated anything, it’s that many Muslim parents are VERY passionate about their children’s sexual education, or preferable lack thereof. For those who may not be aware, the province of Ontario introduced a new health education curriculum to be implemented for all grades, which includes a sexual health component at each grade level. It’s a well-researched, age-appropriate curriculum but many parents, including many Muslim parents, protested when it first was introduced in the spring. In the new school year nearly 700 hundred children were kept out of Thorncliffe Park Public School (almost half their population) on the first day of school and their parents have vowed to keep their children out of school until the new sex-ed curriculum is changed (I’m not sure if that happened but I have heard, anecdotally, that many parents have pulled their children out of public schools and put them in private Islamic schools, which, for their part, have been offering discounted tuition). Other Muslim groups, however, have come out in favour of the curriculum as have a group of local imams.

It’s obvious that many Muslim parents are fearful of what it will mean for their children to learn about sexuality and sexual issues but by denying their children sexual health education, for whatever reason, they are doing their children a huge disservice.

Many Muslim parents are genuinely fearful of the impacts sexual education may have on their children. Perhaps they worry that their children will be more likely to engage in sexual activities if they learn about sexual health. Perhaps they believe that their children will view sex and sexuality differently than they do which may result in cultural and worldview conflicts. For many parents, this may mean they do not understand their children, or worse, that their children will differ from them on fundamental values. So how do we allay their fears? How do we convince parents that sexual health education is nothing to fear?

First, and possibly most important, is the understanding and acceptance of the fact that parents and their children may indeed differ in their values as children get older. Children growing up in North America will have social experiences that will differ in many ways from those of their parents who grew up elsewhere, and these experiences will inevitably influence the ways in which said children view the world.  The key is to not view this difference as a negative development and for parents to understand that these differences, which could include cultural differences, can actually enrich the relationship as long as they are not ignored or denied and are explicitly acknowledged.

Second, parents should not be in any denial that that their children WILL face sex and sexuality related decisions, and most likely sooner than later. From body exploration at a young age to school friends having two dads or two moms to peer pressure in their teens, sexuality issues will be an inevitable part of their lives beginning early in life. When it comes to sex itself my research demonstrated that young Muslims are no different than any other young people. Very often this information conflicts with what many parents expect, believe, or teach their children. Many take an abstinence-only approach, expecting that their children will only engage in sexual activity once married. But that is not the reality for many young Muslims.

Third, parents need to know that all the evidence suggests their children will be much better off, and healthier, being educated about sexual health, relationships, inclusivity, and consent (all of which are included in the Ontario curriculum). Research further suggests that providing sexual health education to young people actually will often result in young people delaying their first sexual experience. Education is a tool that helps us navigate the world. Just as children need to learn the basics of math, science, literature, and history to understand their world, they need to learn the basics of their sexual health to understand themselves, their bodies, their relationships with others, and their boundaries. We cannot place less importance on the health of our children than we do on math, science, and literature. All youth need to be armed with sexual education so that they are able to make healthy sexual decisions, which they will most certainly be confronted with throughout their entire lives.

Finally, Islamically, it is absolutely appropriate to provide sexual health education to children. Islam encourages education and views regarding sex have been relatively progressive. Even the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spoke about sexual relations openly and advised his ummah on the issue. The various hadith on this point demonstrate he did not shy away.

In summary, children of Muslim immigrant parents will experience growing up differently than their parents. These children WILL be faced with sexuality and sexuality-related decisions throughout their entire lives. Providing them with sexual health education will provide them with the tools needed for them to make healthy decisions, whether it be the ability to recognize an abusive and dangerous situation, to respect those of sexual orientations or genders different than their own, or to delay sexual activity until they are completely prepared and comfortable. Islam does not forbid learning or talking about sex. This is often a restriction we place on ourselves. The fears that parents face regarding this topic is real and should not be discounted, but there are ways to allay those fears. Indeed, educating parents and decreasing their fears and anxiety around issues of sex and sexuality needs to be a part of the sexual health education of young Muslims.

Sobia Ali-Faisal received her PhD in Applied Psychology from the University of Windsor in 2014. She currently resides in Canada.

Dec 112015
 

by Amber Khan

In the presence of his wife Umm Salamah, Umm Sulaym asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):  “Messenger of Allah, if a woman has a wet dream must she bathe when she wakes up?”

“What shame!” Umm Salamah remarked. “Do you slander women like this in front of Allah’s Messenger?”

Umm Sualym replied: “Allah is not ashamed of the truth. It is better that we ask about what we do not understand than to continue in ignorance about it.”

The Prophet (pbuh) said to Umm Salamah: “Indeed, you should be ashamed. The best of you are those who ask about what concerns them.” He then turned to Umm Sulaym and said: “Yes, Umm Sulaym, you should take a bath if you see a discharge.”

Umm Salamah then asked: “Do women have a sexual discharge as well?”

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Indeed, how else does the child bear a resemblance to the mother? Women are the full sisters of men.” (Reported by Umm Salamah; related by al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.)

In today’s time, to ask such a question to anyone, let alone a knowledgeable figure, would undeniably evoke an immediate discomfort.  Yet despite its sensitivity, Umm Sulaym had pure conviction that the answer to her question was her deserving right.  So she asked with a balance of decency and directness.  And when Umm Salamah expressed the shock we are so familiar with today, Umm Sulaym pointed out that ignorance is worse than embarrassment.

And the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, defended her.  He clearly expressed that the best of people are those who ask.  It is they who will benefit not just for themselves but also for others who fear to ask.  It is they who will achieve knowledge.  Achieve success.

This caused Umm Salamah to immediately change her demeanor.  It led to herself asking a similar question.

Let’s now compare the above with today’s time.  The following anecdotes are based on real women who came directly to HEART Women & Girls to share their stories.

  • A child gets her period.  She has no idea what it is.  She feels scared.  Confused. She doesn’t know who to turn to, not even her own mother out of fear of what she will think.
  • A young girl discovers that her intimate relationship with her uncle is actually a form of sexual abuse.  She feels violated, ashamed, and guilty.  She fears her parents won’t believe her; that the abuse will continue.
  • A newly married woman feels sexually frustrated.  She didn’t expect intimacy to be so hard and in her case, impossible due to an easily treatable condition called vaginismus.  “What is wrong with me?  Why is this so painful?  My husband doesn’t understand.  Will he divorce me?”

All three women above were denied a basic Islamic right – access to sexual health information.  They lacked available resources, a safe space to ask questions, and a supportive network to guide them with comfort and protection.

Sexual health education is a lifelong journey of acquiring information that shapes our beliefs, attitudes, and values on sex.  It encompasses physical development, sexual and reproductive health, relationships, intimacy, body image, gender roles, and signs of abuse. Ideally, it should begin at a young age and be taught by the primary caregivers on an ongoing basis.

However, when someone goes through life without proper sexual health education they are left with a void during their transition from child to adult.  They lack the necessary decision-making skills and critical thinking process needed for all major adult life stages. They grow up feeling confused, naïve and vulnerable.

The women of Madinah were considered quite bold in character; they were not shy to seek advice and inquire about women’s health issues.  Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters.” (Muslim, Kitab al-Hayd; 168/649).  They recognized that learning about women’s health had a strong influence on their relationship with Allah.

The books of Islamic jurisprudence include several topics promoting sexual awareness such as:

  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Postpartum health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Intimacy
  • Family planning
  • Ghusl (bath)
  • Nocturnal emissions
  • Body Image
  • Self-Esteem
  • Abuse

These matters are essential to our faith and can be learned in a decent and respectable way whilst also upholding an appropriate element of shyness.  When one suppresses a person’s right to learn these topics, expecting them to rely solely on cultural practices and societal standards, the effects can be spiritually, physically, and psychologically damaging.

Through Umm Sulaym’s inquiry, Umm Salamah learned something that she had assumed was impossible for women.  Despite her apparent uneasiness to the question, it gave her added insight to her body and its relation to the deen.

To the child unaware of menstruation, to the girl who was unaware of her sexual abuse, and to the woman suffering from vaginismus: ask as Umm Sulaym asked. “Allah is not ashamed of the truth. It is better that we ask about what we do not understand than to continue in ignorance about it.”

Amber Khan is a trained physician and Director of Education – US for HEART Women & Girls. She lives with her husband and children in Michigan.

Nov 202015
 

by Amber Khan

In the presence of his wife Umm Salamah, Umm Sulaym asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):  “Messenger of Allah, if a woman has a wet dream must she bathe when she wakes up?”

“What shame!” Umm Salamah remarked. “Do you slander women like this in front of Allah’s Messenger?”

Umm Sualym replied: “Allah is not ashamed of the truth. It is better that we ask about what we do not understand than to continue in ignorance about it.”

The Prophet (pbuh) said to Umm Salamah: “Indeed, you should be ashamed. The best of you are those who ask about what concerns them.” He then turned to Umm Sulaym and said: “Yes, Umm Sulaym, you should take a bath if you see a discharge.”

Umm Salamah then asked: “Do women have a sexual discharge as well?”

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Indeed, how else does the child bear a resemblance to the mother? Women are the full sisters of men.” (Reported by Umm Salamah; related by al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.)

In today’s time, to ask such a question to anyone, let alone a knowledgeable figure, would undeniably evoke an immediate discomfort.  Yet despite its sensitivity, Umm Sulaym had pure conviction that the answer to her question was her deserving right.  So she asked with a balance of decency and directness.  And when Umm Salamah expressed the shock we are so familiar with today, Umm Sulaym pointed out that ignorance is worse than embarrassment.

And the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, defended her.  He clearly expressed that the best of people are those who ask.  It is they who will benefit not just for themselves but also for others who fear to ask.  It is they who will achieve knowledge.  Achieve success.

This caused Umm Salamah to immediately change her demeanor.  It led to herself asking a similar question.

Let’s now compare the above with today’s time.  The following anecdotes are based on real women who came directly to HEART Women & Girls to share their stories.

  • A child gets her period.  She has no idea what it is.  She feels scared.  Confused. She doesn’t know who to turn to, not even her own mother out of fear of what she will think.
  • A young girl discovers that her intimate relationship with her uncle is actually a form of sexual abuse.  She feels violated, ashamed, and guilty.  She fears her parents won’t believe her; that the abuse will continue.
  • A newly married woman feels sexually frustrated.  She didn’t expect intimacy to be so hard and in her case, impossible due to an easily treatable condition called vaginismus.  “What is wrong with me?  Why is this so painful?  My husband doesn’t understand.  Will he divorce me?”

All three women above were denied a basic Islamic right – access to sexual health information.  They lacked available resources, a safe space to ask questions, and a supportive network to guide them with comfort and protection.

Sexual health education is a lifelong journey of acquiring information that shapes our beliefs, attitudes, and values on sex.  It encompasses physical development, sexual and reproductive health, relationships, intimacy, body image, gender roles, and signs of abuse. Ideally, it should begin at a young age and be taught by the primary caregivers on an ongoing basis.

However, when someone goes through life without proper sexual health education they are left with a void during their transition from child to adult.  They lack the necessary decision-making skills and critical thinking process needed for all major adult life stages. They grow up feeling confused, naïve and vulnerable.

The women of Madinah were considered quite bold in character; they were not shy to seek advice and inquire about women’s health issues.  Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters.” (Muslim, Kitab al-Hayd; 168/649).  They recognized that learning about women’s health had a strong influence on their relationship with Allah.

The books of Islamic jurisprudence include several topics promoting sexual awareness such as:

  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Postpartum health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Intimacy
  • Family planning
  • Ghusl (bath)
  • Nocturnal emissions
  • Body Image
  • Self-Esteem
  • Abuse

These matters are essential to our faith and can be learned in a decent and respectable way whilst also upholding an appropriate element of shyness.  When one suppresses a person’s right to learn these topics, expecting them to rely solely on cultural practices and societal standards, the effects can be spiritually, physically, and psychologically damaging.

Through Umm Sulaym’s inquiry, Umm Salamah learned something that she had assumed was impossible for women.  Despite her apparent uneasiness to the question, it gave her added insight to her body and its relation to the deen.

To the child unaware of menstruation, to the girl who was unaware of her sexual abuse, and to the woman suffering from vaginismus: ask as Umm Sulaym asked. “Allah is not ashamed of the truth. It is better that we ask about what we do not understand than to continue in ignorance about it.”

Amber Khan is a trained physician and Director of Education – US for HEART Women & Girls. She lives with her husband and children in Michigan.

Nov 162015
 

by Nadiah Mohajir

Cultural stigmas have existed for thousands of years, yet never have I ever been more haunted by the unfortunate effect they have on mental and physical health outcomes. Earlier this week, a young Pakistani teen girl went into labor, delivered a baby in her bedroom, and then, fearful of her mother’s disapproval, dropped the baby out of her 8th floor window. Since I found out about this horrific situation, I have carried it with me. It is likely that the community will be quick to wag their finger at her, deem her irresponsible and even evil. They will be quick to wash their hands of responsibility for this girl’s decisions, and will use her as an example when talking about the evils of sex before marriage. Yet, I carry this woman’s story with me because I believe we have failed her. We have failed her as a community, as fellow Muslims, and fellow citizens, in creating sustainable programming, resources, services, and information that empower women with what they need to  make healthy and sound decisions.

First, the stigma and shame associated with sex outside of marriage, along with our double standards in not holding our boys to the same standards, is literally breaking the mental and physical health and well being of our young women. We don’t have to change the rules of the faith – sex outside of marriage is not endorsed in Islam, but like all faiths, Islam also values repentance and healing above all. We just have to reclaim the way we talk about sexual health decision-making in a way that is less judgmental and more empowering. I hear these sentiments every time I facilitate any workshop on self-esteem, peer pressure and sex with young people. For example, when I asked young women to shout out the first words that came to mind when they heard of “Muslim teen pregnancy” words like, “family disownment,” “social suicide,” “actual suicide,” and even “abortion.” When asked to elaborate, one of the girls stated, “it’s hard to mess up even slightly in a Muslim household.” It is unfortunate that our young women in the Muslim community feel that it is “social suicide” for a Muslim girl to become pregnant out of wedlock, and that many even associate it with self-imposed death and abortion. Moreover, it’s problematic that our boys are not held to the same standard. After all, two people are involved in conceiving a baby – why does the burden of that entire decision fall overwhelmingly on the shoulders of the girl? What’s sad is that these feelings are actually a reality for a certain population of young women in New York City: a study in New York City following young Muslim women who are sexually active found that the abortion rate was 100% for those who became pregnant out of wedlock. The unfortunate reality is that these women would not be asked whether or not they wanted an abortion, but rather, which type of abortion they wanted.

Undoubtedly, these are social constructs our community has imposed on itself and that are further propagated by the fact that we do not have any institutionalized support systems for our young women. The assumptions on the white board during the ice breaker about teenage pregnancy or the young Chicago woman’s story are indicative of the fact that we have no systems to help our young women and that we must bring about institutional and cultural change in order to move in the right direction. The impact of associating strong feelings of dishonor with pregnancy out of wedlock in the Muslim community is astounding, and is leading to some very grave, but often preventable, circumstances. It’s probably most tragically telling that our young women feel that their only choice is abortion or in this most recent case, dropping the baby out of the window, if they become pregnant out of wedlock. In this particular case, women are not making this decision because it is offered as a choice, but because they have no choice. So, in this respect, because of the way Muslim society has enforced and reinforced these stigmas for generations now, we cannot call ourselves a pro-choice or a pro-life community. How’s that for irony?

Second,  we have created a community where our young people feel it necessary to carry the burden of their decisions alone. As such, this young woman was forced to carry the burden of a teen pregnancy, with no support or resources to reach out to because of the paralyzing shame she felt. As explained in this post, shame is different than guilt. Guilt essentially means “I did something bad,” while shame means “I am bad.” Guilt is healthy, and helps one reflect, change behavior and move forward. Shame, on the other hand, is paralyzing and is a direct attack on one’s self-worth and encourages one to suffer alone. And so, she likely didn’t go to prenatal care appointments. She likely didn’t reach out to anyone with questions on her pregnancy or what to expect. She likely spent many of her days living in fear and feeling alone in her situation, when she didn’t have to be.

What’s going on in our community? Why do our women feel that there is no room for imperfection and there are no second chances for making the wrong (culturally or religiously unacceptable) choice? And why is the landscape so much more different for our young men? The Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him) did not teach such intolerance; nor did he endorse continual denial of the problems that exist in society. Homosexuality, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse are all realities for the Muslim community, and have been for decades. Rape and mental illness are tragic circumstances that the victim should not be blamed for. These realities don’t just go away by ignoring them or by ostracizing those individuals.

Third, our young people need to learn to define their self-worth by values, and not by the roles they are expected to play in life, because if they do, they will undoubtedly fail. This woman likely defined her self-worth by her mother’s (and community’s) approval. This is problematic because defining oneself by the role one is expected to play, or by a person’s approval is that those are often fleeting and temporary. Put simply, if one’s entire self worth is defined by their mother’s approval, then what happens when they don’t get that approval (which is a always a likely possibility)? It’s essential to teach young people to define their self worth by everlasting values, such as kindness, justice, loyalty, courage, honesty, etc, rather than by a role or relationship in their lives, as that will help them make better and more informed decisions in high pressure circumstances.

Finally, we need to  realize that simply having access to services or information is not enough. Often times, young people who suffer alone are close to medical and social resources. In fact, this woman lived a block from the hospital. She likely even had organizations such as Planned Parenthood near her. However, one’s ability to access services and information in a way that they feel safe and empowered is dependent on a number of factors, including the environment and messages they get at home. As such, it is crucial that we have open conversations about sex, relationships and decision-making with our kids now more than ever. It is likely this young woman is a function of not having these conversations at home on pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted infections and decision-making, even if she had access to sex education at school. If we do not have open conversations about sex, sexuality, relationships and decision-making in our families and homes, we are putting our children at risk for some serious consequences. They will have limited understanding of sex, values, and how it relates to their worldview, and be unequipped to make time sensitive situations regarding their bodies and sexuality – even if they choose to not have sex until they get married.

We have to work together to come up with a way to address these issues. One of these ways is making a commitment to open conversations about sex in a way that is accurate and culturally-sensitive. Speaking openly about sex to Muslim youth is not giving them permission to have sex or endorsing sex before marriage. In fact, research shows the opposite: that those who speak to their children about sex openly, are more likely to have children who delay having sex, and make more responsible decisions for when they do ultimately have sex. More importantly, prevention of problems such as teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and the like will not even be an option – how can we attempt to prevent problems we aren’t willing to admit even exist? We cannot wait for it to become a reality for our family members before wanting to make a change. Every young woman is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, or someone’s friend, and it is our collective duty to provide them with a safe space to have the option to live a healthy life and be able to receive communal support in their most difficult of times.

We can no longer afford to let our young women rely on abortion or making horrific decisions for their babies because the community finds it easier to ostracize those who become pregnant out of wedlock instead of providing them with healthy alternatives and coping strategies. We must welcome open discourse and education to raise awareness about these problems, and must work together as a society to develop long-term solutions. It is our responsibility to create a safe space for these individuals free of judgment and full of hope – whether it is through shelters, clinics, or community centers – and have a sustainable support system to give these individuals options to make healthy choices and help each other through these circumstances. Only then can we begin to think about reducing the incidence of problems such as teenage pregnancies, abortion, and sexually-transmitted infections in our community. The power of education and open discourse cannot be overstated in its impact on changing attitudes; accepting that these issues exist in our communities is just the first stepping stone in the right direction.

Oct 272015
 

originally published on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/heartfelt/

by Nadiah Mohajir

When thinking about Islamic values around sex and sexuality, two that are often emphasized are modesty and privacy. We are encouraged in Islam to embody modesty – both with respect to external appearance as well as our thoughts, behavior and interactions with others – and we are encouraged to be private about our bodies and our sexuality. Intimacy and sex are seen as enjoyable, but sacred experiences between two people, most often in the context of marriage.

While modesty and privacy are excellent values to honor and uphold, historically, faith communities haven’t done a very good job. More often than not, in efforts to uphold privacy and modesty, communities actually instill shame and promote silence around these issues. Specifically, speaking openly about these issues – especially but not only if – you are not married, is deemed immodest and no longer private. Yet, associating these feelings of shame with sexual health is actually more damaging than beneficial -whether you are a young adolescent girl or boy navigating the many physical and emotional changes of puberty or an adult navigating relationships and sex.

The best example to demonstrate this distinction is to compare menstruation – a natural, monthly, bodily process that most women and girls experience after they reach puberty – to urination and defecation, a natural, daily, bodily process that ALL people experience. We have guidelines in using the bathroom – we close the door, we practice a certain level of privacy and modesty with respect to using the bathroom. For example, we don’t speak about using the bathroom graphically, or at the dinner table.

There is a stigma and shame associated with menstruation that is not comparable to the other bodily functions. Specifically in the Muslim community, this shame and stigma leads many young girls to hide the fact that they are menstruating from the men in their lives, sometimes even being encouraged (or expected) to “fake” pray and “fake” fast, despite being lawfully excused from observing those rituals. For example, a 12 year old who may have her period in Ramadan may be asked by her mother to continue waking up for the pre-dawn meal to eat and to pretend to join in morning prayer as to avoid her father and brothers from knowing she’s on her period.  Similarly, a young mother on her period may lie to her son about why she didn’t pray, rather than just being honest. The result of this approach is two-fold.  First, we are more likely to lie than just be straightforward by saying, “I’m excused from praying and fasting today,” out of fear that our male relatives will feel uncomfortable.  Second, we are teaching our daughters a sense of shame and our sons ignorance towards something that should be approached as a natural part of life for females.

Yet, this same shame does not exist with other bodily processes such as urination and defecation.  So why the shame with menstruation, which also, is just as natural a bodily process as having to use the bathroom?

Before we can talk about how to begin working toward eliminating shame and normalizing conversations on our bodies, reproductive processes, and sex, let’s first understand why using a shame-based approach to speak about puberty and sex is so problematic.

Shame is different than guilt. Guilt can be a healthy emotion, as it makes one feel bad about something they did, whereas shame is unhealthy: shame means you feel bad about who you are, that you are blameworthy for what is happening. The definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” The very definition of shame involves being aware of “wrong or foolish” behavior, when in reality, puberty, menstruation, and sex are all natural, bodily processes and desires, and not something anyone should be blamed for experiencing.

Shame leads to silence, and not reaching out when you need help or have questions. Often times, when girls or women reach out to me about a reproductive health issue they have been struggling with for a while, I’ve asked them why they hesitated initially from reaching out to a trusted adult or professional for help. Their response, almost always, is that they felt ashamed to be struggling with the issue and therefore decided to keep it to themselves.

Shame makes you feel paralyzed and not move forward. Shame is the very emotion that impedes one from dealing with the issue at hand. For example, many survivors of sexual assault are paralyzed by the shame they feel and unable to seek help from professionals trained to serve them. A woman struggling to consummate her marriage due to a easily treatable condition called vaginismus may hesitate to seek professional help because of the shame she feels when talking about sex.

Shame leads to feeling unworthy, less than another. Those who experience shame typically embody lower self-esteem and are less confident, and feel that they are less worthy than others. Moreover, they are more likely to tie that self-worth to certain milestones, like being successful professionally or getting married.

So how can we begin eliminating shame from the discussion while still honoring our faith values of modesty and privacy?

1) Use correct anatomical terms when talking to children about their bodies. There are many who come from faith-based or cultural communities that do not have a tradition of using correct anatomical terms for private parts. Rather, families refer to the general area or use code words to refer to those body parts. This is problematic because it inherently instills shame: the message that children are getting is that it is immodest or shameful to use correct anatomical terms. Using correct terminology in conversation not only normalizes these terms, but also equips your child with the correct language and tools they may need to communicate with you or their doctor should they be experiencing a problem.

2) Commit to having ongoing conversations about puberty and sex with children. Using a developmental approach to talking about sex can be beneficial in building a foundation for an important life skill. When children attend school, they learn academic subjects like Math, Science, and English, and as they grow older, the concepts build off each other and get more complicated, which ultimately provides them with a comprehensive understanding of the subject. In the same way, repeated, age-appropriate conversations about puberty and sex are crucial to give them the information and skills they need to fully process the big picture and figure out how they fit into it.

3) Create safe spaces and an open door policy. Children should feel safe to ask any question they may have about their bodies and sex, without being shamed or reprimanded for thinking about such things. If you create a loving, open and safe space for them early on, they will continue to come to you as they get older and begin  navigating more complicated and nuanced situations.

4) Validate and affirm what your child may be feeling. Simple statements such as “it is normal and not surprising that you have this question” or “you’re doing the responsible thing by speaking with someone, and know you are not alone. Most kids your age have similar questions” can seem like insignificant gestures on your part, but are incredibly important for a teen trying to make sense of the many social emotional and physical changes they are experiencing.

5) Encourage father-daughter and mother-son conversations. Historically, conversations about puberty and sex are gender segregated: mothers speak to their daughters, and fathers speak to their sons. While sex may be an uncomfortable topic for dads to broach with their daughters, or mothers to broach with their sons, it is crucial now more than ever for dads and moms to engage in candid, two-way conversations about sex with all their children as a way of modeling healthy communication about sensitive topics as well as encouraging safe, and healthy relationships. Perhaps a father may not feel comfortable starting a face-to-face conversation, but would be open to journal writing with his daughter, as a way to open up the lines of communication.

As the world continues to become increasingly hypersexualized, it is crucial that we work with our children to avoid mixed messaging so that we can ultimately instill positive attitudes toward reproductive and sexual health issues. Puberty and sex are natural, healthy aspects of everyone’s lives and historically, Islamic tradition has approached them as just that. Yet, our cultural expectations and mixed messaging have led to lacing these issues with much shame and stigma. It is time we reclaim our values for what they were always meant to be: tools of empowerment to facilitate healthy sexual lives and families.

Share with us: What have you found helpful in speaking to your kids about puberty and sex? How do you work to instill a healthy attitude toward sex and our bodies?

Sep 032015
 
A Sexual Education Communication Project About “The Talk”

HEART Women & Girls is thrilled to host Salah Abdul-Razacq as he completes his Masters’ capstone project. Below, you will find a webinar on why having open conversation on sex and sexuality is important between parent and child, and tips on how to begin that conversation. Learn from this important webinar below, and fill out the brief survey here before watching the webinar and once again after watching the webinar.

May 182015
 
Exploring sexual experiences, shame, and access to sexual health information among Muslim Youth in Canada: A Research Study

We welcome guest writer and researcher Sobia Ali Faisal, who recently earned her doctoral degree from the University of Windsor. Her research is compelling and was recently turned into an info graphic. Below is a guest post where she succinctly explains what her research findings were and why it is so important for our communities to begin making a commitment to sex education for Muslim youth. We congratulate Sobia for such compelling research and look forward to more of her work in this field.

by Sobia Ali Faisal

infographicSome of my research findings from my doctoral work were put into an infographic to make the results more accessible than they are right now in the huge dissertation document. It’s great to see the information get out there and be shared. Research on sex and Muslims in Canada and the US is virtually non-existent. People have had some questions on it so I thought I would explain my research a little (and save people having to read my entire dissertation). I’m hoping to get it published in the near future, insha’Allah, but some of this information is relevant right now. Although, the issue is not being covered in the media as much anymore, this is an issue that is and will be relevant for Muslims for a long time.

Muslim Youth Need Sex Education

Yes they do.Why? Because Muslim youth are having sex. I surveyed 403 Muslims in Canada and the US between the ages of 17 and 35. More than half (221) reported they had engaged in sex. I did not ask for any particular time frame. I was simply asking if they had ever had sex. Of those 221, two-thirds (148) said they had done so before marriage. Before anyone thinks that most of those 148 people were men, I found these proportions were the same for men and women – two-thirds of the women and two-thirds of the men had sex before marriage.

Even when looking at those who had not engaged in sex before marriage, half of those Muslims reported that they had considered doing so.

It’s clear that sex is relevant to Muslim youth. Previous research on the sexual education of Muslim youth (done mostly in New Zealand or the UK) has found Muslim parents DO want their children to have sexual education, but not until they are getting married. Knowing that Muslims are having sex before marriage means that having them wait until they are getting married to provide them with this education is too late, and dangerous. They clearly need to know about issues of consent, violence in relationships, and healthy sexual decision making long before that time.

The Greatest Source of Sex Ed is the Media and Parents are the Least Likely Source

I asked my participants to rate, on a scale from 0 – 4, how much sexual education they received from the media, their friends, and their parents. Media received the highest rating and was statistically significantly higher than the rating given to parents as a source of education.

This isn’t unique to Muslims, but it highlights the problem that plagues all young people – parents aren’t talking about issues of sex and sexual health so the school systems need to provide this education. My research simply points out that Muslim youth are no different than their non-Muslim counterparts in this regard.

Lack of Sexual Knowledge -> Fear of Negative Sexual Self-Judgement -> Unhealthy Relationships

The main focus of my dissertation was sexual guilt and sexual anxiety of young Muslim adults. Previous research has found belief in sexual myths and lack of sexual knowledge to be related to higher levels of sexual guilt. Sexual guilt is a fear of negatively judging oneself for either engaging in or possibly engaging in sexual activity.

Previous research has also found a sexual guilt to be related to greater sexual dissatisfaction, higher frequency of sexual problems, and dissatisfaction with a current sexual relationship, which in turn has been found to be related to decreased relationship and marital satisfaction.

Lack of sexual knowledge can therefore result in negative feelings about sexual activity which will have an impact on sexual and romantic relationships.

Conclusion

My conclusion is the same as before – young Muslims need sexual health education, just as their non-Muslim counterparts do.

References:

Brezsnyak, M.,& Whisman, M.A. (2004). Sexual desire and relationship functioning: The effects of marital satisfaction and power. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 30, 199-217. doi: 10.1080/00926230490262393

Cado, S., & Leitenberg, H. (1990). Guilt reactions to sexual fantasies during intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 49-63. doi: 10.1007/BF01541825

Darling, C.A., Davidson, J.K., & Passello, L.C. (1992). The mystique of first intercourse among college youth: The role of partners, contraceptive practices, and psychological reactions. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 21, 97-117. doi: 10.1007/BF01536984

Mendelsohn, M. J., & Mosher, D. L. (1979). Effects of sex guilt and premarital sexual permissiveness on role-played sex education and moral attitudes. Journal of Sex Research, 15, 174-183. doi:10.1080/00224497909551039

Trudel, G., & Goldfarb, M.R., (2010). Marital and sexual functioning and dysfunctioning, depression and anxiety. Sexologies, 19, 137-142. doi: 10.1016/j.sexol.2009.12.009

Witting, K., Santtila, P., Alanko, K., Harlaar, N., Jern, P., Johansson, A.,… Sandnabba, K. (2008). Female sexual function and its associations with number of children, pregnancy, and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 34, 89 – 106. doi: 10.1080/00926230701636163

originally published on sobiaalifaisal.com

Oct 302014
 

by Nadiah Mohajir

This past weekend, HEART Women & Girls had the pleasure of co-presenting at the 14th Annual Diversity Challenge: Racial or Ethnic Discrimination across the Lifespan at Boston College. The 90-minute workshop had three goals:

photo 1 (4)

  • To understand the disparities and challenges in providing mental and sexual health services to American Muslim girls & women
  • To understand the critical link between mental and sexual health
  • To explore innovative strategies and solutions to address these disparities

The workshop was led by HEART co-founder Nadiah Mohajir and Founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation Kameelah Rashad. About ten individuals attended and stayed afterward to share their work, their overwhelmingly positive feedback and invite the presenters to their respective schools and organizations.  We are excited to see what partnerships and collaborations result from this experience.

 

Later that evening, HEART facilitators Nadiah Mohajir and Sameera Qureshi, who flew in from Calgary, Canada, trained over thirty Muslim college women at Tufts University. A collaborative event between Tufts, Harvard and MIT, the workshop focused on facilitating a discussion that explored the sexual and reproductive needs of Muslim women and girls, the barriers to feeling emotionally and culturally safe when seeking and processing sexual health information, and strategies that we can all start employing to create safer communities.

photo 2 (4)

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and the experience has planted the seeds for continued      conversation in the Boston community. In the words of one of our participants, “I just wanted to say  that the idea of creating safe spaces for women is brilliant. Not only just for women who need a safe  space but for other women to awaken and realize that there is a need for it. Thank you so much for (in  my eyes) beginning this type of movement. It is very necessary for a group of women who are very  much in the minority to first begin to welcome each other and be each other’s support before we can go  out in the world and be empowered.”

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 282014
 

originally published on loveinshallah.com

by Nashwa Khan

I.

T E N

I’m about ten-years-old, and have an unwavering love for books. I devour the Harry Potter series,The Magic Treehouse, and tons of chapter books. We can’t afford them and can’t justify purchasing them, so my mom drives my sister and me to the public library every week, where I get to use a computer and roam the bookshelves for hours.

Once I’ve read all the books for my age group, I become adventurous. I wander through the aisles and find a book out of place. It intrigues me. When I open it, there it is a magnified black-and-white image of sperm that was taken under a microscope. I shut the book immediately. Now I have the image of swimming sperm seared into my memory.

I slump back to my mother. I feel guilty, but unsure of why I feel guilty. I confess to her that I opened a scientific book and it had a photo of sperm. My mom does not flinch, but neither does she seem to know how to handle it. We walk out, my basket empty of books, my shoulders burdened with guilt, my heart heavy. I felt awkward but cannot find the source of my discomfort.

This is my sex education, for now.

II.

T H I R T E E N

I’m a high school freshman. The condom stretched over the banana during gym class does not entirely click for me as the demonstration is interrupted by giggles. We all know that the white girl who volunteered to demonstrate is sexually active, so it’s time to laugh at our awkwardness. Even more awkward is the video about female “hygiene” products – narrated by a guy with an Australian accent, dressed in safari gear.

My basic sex education: putting a condom on a banana is somehow comical. I laugh along because, as a brown girl, I need to fit into the sea of sexually active whiteness to survive the next four years.

This is my sex education, for now.

III.

F O U R T E E N

I am fourteen. School, clothes and rotating friends are what keep me going. A trip to Morocco to see my grandparents over the summer, and a cousin’s wedding in Toronto are my priorities. Sex and sexual health education are in my life’s periphery; they will not be taught in gym class again. The condom on banana performance is where my knowledge remains.

Sex may be far away from my mind, but it creeps in slowly. We are sitting at my cousin’s new in-law’s house the day after the wedding. Sitting squished on couches, eating chat masala, drinking chai, gorging on roti, I am much younger than my cousin’s friends, but I am included in their sitting space.

My cousin walks down the stairs to the living room, limping. Her friends begin giggling. I am out of the loop, annoyed by their telepathic communication and understanding. I grab an aloo kabab and munch away. She joins our circle.

Everyone starts whispering, “How was it?”

I begin to understand their giggling. At 26, their giggling is just slightly advanced from the condom-banana awkward giggling of my age cohort. Again, to fit in, I giggle, but I feel even more awkward than I did in gym class.

I do not understand why I am giggling. My cousin came limping down the stairs and looked hurt. Why laugh at someone who is hurt? My mom taught me that that was not respectful. TV taught me that sex was romantic and didn’t hurt. I’d flip the channel in shame when a sex scene came on with my siblings or parents in the room, but I caught enough to know that consensual sex shouldn’t result in limping.

My cousin whispers to her best friend about the pain. I stop laughing. Her friends look concerned, but say that it is her obligation and “that just happens the first time.”

I realize that what we need in Muslim youth communities is sexual health education based on the Qur’an and consent. But I cannot articulate my new learnings.

This is my sex education, for now.

IV.

TWENTY ONE

I am studying for my MCAT, discussing the menstrual cycle, and how in high school I learned a bit about a healthy ovulation cycle.

My mom tells me that my paternal aunt was not allowed to take science classes in high school. My dad’s family were new immigrants to Canada. In Pakistan, they did not educate girls or boys on reproductive organs so of course they would not learn here either.

At twenty-two, as an aspiring healthcare worker, I learn that my aunts did not have basic knowledge of reproductive health, of their own bodies, and the beauty of these bodies given to us by Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala.

I wonder now as they praise me for studying whether they understand what I am studying.

V.

TWENTY TWO

I am twenty-two. University has taught me a lot, both academically and experientially. I am full of self-awareness.

I am the first of over twenty cousins in my extended family to move out on my own before being married. I am careful to “be good” and not hazard my parents having “I told you so’s” flung at them by every auntie from Lahore to Karachi.

I identify as a feminist. Feminism brought me closer to my faith. I volunteer with a student health education center on campus and other groups in the community. In these roles I teach people about consent, conduct pregnancy tests, and do peer-to-peer supports.

At twenty-two, I realize why I am an anomaly in my South Asian Muslim family. I may be unmarried, but I know that sex should not hurt. And, if it does, it should stop.

I realize that my upbringing- filled with love and joy – is not a rare narrative among Muslim youth. I realize that as sheltered as I felt in my Muslim community, I was blessed with progressive, mixed-race parents.  I realize that though they avoided some awkward conversations along the way, my mother explained certain aspects of growing up more than the parents of my Muslim peers did. I appreciate that, but I also had to do a lot of self-study. I love my parents for the freedom and values they gave me.

At twenty-two I grasped all of this at once, because of an encounter while volunteering. A young woman came into a clinic I volunteered at. I saw myself in her, the brownness, her discomfort in asking strangers for a pregnancy test. I volunteered to administer the test and counseling right away because I felt like she was my sister. I thought I could ease her out of the invisible cloud of shame she was constrained in.

I dipped the stick into the pee cup and began to softly ask her questions. As the timer ticked, I emphasized how common and unshameful it was for young women to come in for testing and counseling. I let her know where she could be privately tested for sexually transmitted diseases, as per protocol.

Then, she asked me what a pap smear was. Her question knocked the wind out of me.

The memory of the day after my cousin’s wedding came flooding back. The reality is that young Muslims are becoming sexually active and embarking upon lifelong sexual journeys without even basic knowledge about their bodies. The fact is that being sexually active is part of our religion, yet this complexity and knowledge is left out.

How are women meant to make informed consensual decisions while missing critical pieces of this complex puzzle? To be sexually active in the 21st century without understanding that sex is not supposed to leave you in pain,  or without knowing what a pap smear is?

This is abhorrent, but it is not the fault of young women.

I felt overwhelmed with pain and anger after this realization.  Islam is sex positive as a religion, within the bounds of marriage. The shame we feel in our communities due to cultural taboos hurts so many people, especially the women that I see myself and my loved ones reflected in. This is where the gap exists in our Ummah: basic health discourse is non-existent in most Muslim families.

As a community, we tend to ignore sexual health education until marriage, and then expect the couple to consummate their union immediately. By doing this, we ignore basic health and consent education. The shame I felt at ten is the shame that is perpetuated into adulthood, muzzling honest, knowledgeable discussions among friends, and the dissemination of sexual health education in communities. It leaves our women hurt, couples confused, and the community vulnerable to situations where women can be abused falsely in the name of Islam.

Education is a tool we cherish as Muslims, but we do not always use it to address issues that make us uncomfortable. Sex is inevitable for most, which makes early sex education a must. Sexual health education does not lead to zina. This myth needs to be dismantled. Our community needs to see more peer educators – with bodies and skins like theirs – addressing these topics, so that we do not feel ashamed of our bodies, as we do now.

Today, many Muslim women submit to non-consenual sex believing that sex is a requirement of them when that is not the case. Our girls need to be able to defend themselves and feel dignified in their feelings and choices. Many women are complicit in perpetuating this cultural shame. The Quran is a beautiful book that can guide the discussions we have with youth in our community. I’ve included resources below to help start these necessary conversations.

Nashwa Khan identifies as South Asian/African Diaspora living and learning in Hamilton, Ontario. She calls Florida home. Over her undergraduate career in Hamilton, she served on a number of councils including the City’s Status of Women Committee, as Space Allocation Chair of McMaster’s Women and Gender Equity Network, and currently chairs the city’s Youth Advisory Council. Her work has been published in a variety of places including ThoughtCatalog, Guerilla Feminism, and the HuffingtonPostBlog. She is an avid storyteller and lover of narrative medicine. Feel free to tweet her @nashwakay.

Resources: (By no means is this list exhaustive – leave your suggestions in the comments!)

Check out the Twitter hashtag #MuslimSexEd

Youth + Tech + Health digital apps & resources

Umm Zainab & Zainab bint Younus on the birds & the bees

50 Shades of Gray: What Muslim Teens Need to Know

Embracing Sexuality by Zainab bint Younus

Making Love, the Islamic Way

Sex Ed materials by HEART Women & Girls for Muslim youth including Let’s Talk about Sex Education, Sex Ed for Muslim Youth, & Ending Sexual Exploitation

I Don’t Own My Chlld’s Body 

Scarlet Teen: Teen Sex Ed for the Real World

Sex & the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World 

Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sex Revolution

Innocence Lost: The Religious & Psychosocial Ramifications of Hyper-sexualized Culture on the Next Generation

Muslim Matters articles on sexuality

Sexuality in Pakistan 

Islamic views on rape

UPDATE: Additional resources via HEART Women & Girls

Puberty/Reproductive Health

Menstrupedia

Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health

Women’s Health Foundation

Advocates for Youth

Sex, Etc

Go Ask Alice

WebMD

Answer, Sex Ed, Honestly

Sexual Violence

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network

Rape Victim Advocates (Chicago)

Rape Victim Advocates hotline

1-888-293-2080

Sex Education & Research

Centers for Disease Control

Guttmacher Institute

Pregnancy

Pregnancy Resource Center

Planned Parenthood

Babycenter

1 in 3 – Abortion

HIV/STIs

Reaching out to All HIV Positive Muslims in America

Kaiser Family Foundation

UNAIDS

LGBTQ

LGBTQ Muslim Retreat Resource List

General Empowerment

Forward Together

Jul 132014
 

by Sameera Qureshi

originally published on http://muslimsistah-sq.blogspot.com/

I have a secret to tell.

It’s the grand-daddy of all secrets when it comes to Muslim women during Ramadan. Oh yes fellow sistahs, you know what I’m talking about. You think you can get around people knowing by faking the fast but no, you can’t and you shouldn’t. It’s high time that we educate those around us about the nitty-gritty of fasting permissibility when it comes to women.

And here’s the (not-dirty-at-all) secret…women who are menstruating are excused from fasting. I bet y’all didn’t know that! And it doesn’t surprise me, considering how even within Muslim families, us females are so ashamed of anyone knowing that we can officially take a “break” (missed fasts need to be made up after Ramadan) from fasting, and guilt-free while we’re at it. God is ever so Merciful!

There’s a few reasons why I want to blog about this topic. First of all, no one else is or has, that I know of. I haven’t come across any recent non-Fiqh (religious rules, basically) related blog regarding women, menstruation and Ramadan. Since you all know me so well, I thought it was high time we talk about a natural process that close to 500 million of us Muslim women species go through during Ramadan. Second, I have mixed feelings when it comes to taking a break from fasting. Even though it’s obligatory, and there are times when I’m relieved to get a break, it also throws your fasting routine and rhythm out the window and you also can’t participate in any prayers, which can be tough. So I’ll elaborate on this point. The third reason is because I do not want this generation of young women and the ones to follow to be ashamed of something that is God given and natural. No more fake fasting, no more fake Suhoor (pre-dawn) meals and no more shame. Enough is enough when it comes to this miracle of life that women have been given.

Back to the first point. I have been around non-Muslim friends during Ramadan in the past and when they apologize for eating in front of me during our meet-ups, I have to be honest and tell them I’m not fasting. There’s no way I want them to experience guilt or awkwardness around me when they have no reason to. And I’m not going to lie and say “yeah, it’s really tough this year so I’m taking a break,” because this is not true. And so I tell them the truth. The same goes for close Muslim friends if we’re with each other during community Iftar (breaking the fast) gatherings. If a woman invites me to pray, I tell her I can’t, and I’m sure she understands why! Perhaps try to make a joke out of it and say something like “my uterus won’t let me fast!” (here’s hoping that women know what a uterus is, you’d be surprised). I think most Muslim men (I would hope) know why some women during communal gatherings opt out of prayer…but then, I could be wrong. At least the married men should know. But I think us women need to have less shame around this. If you can’t fast and pray, then you can’t and there’s nothing wrong with it. It shouldn’t stop you from participating in community Iftars and the like. In fact, being in community gatherings during your menstrual cycle will at least give you a sense of Ramadan rather than being holed up at home, watching your family or spouse eat their Iftar meal while you sit and watch them, jealously.

Second, I personally have mixed feelings when it comes to ceasing the fast during this active uterus time. This can be true if you can’t start Ramadan because you’re menstruating, or you have to stop after you’ve fasted and established a routine over a period of time (no pun intended), or the worse case (in my humble opinion) is when you miss fasting the last 10 days (the holiest days) and also when you can’t participate in Eid prayer. This has happened to me before and I was a nutcase. I understand I can’t really control my cycle, but seriously, whenever it happens, I’m in denial and it takes me a while to accept that I will need to sit on the sidelines for a while. Islam still encourages women to be active participants in Ramadan without fasting, such as by preparing meals for those who are fasting, reciting Dua’a (prayers) during the day without actually praying on a prayer mat (which isn’t allowed during a woman’s cycle), giving to charity, performing good deeds, etc. We are blessed to have many additional options apart from abstaining from food, so at least we don’t completely feel left out. But it is challenging to take a break since once you’re in the flow of things (again, no pun intended), you don’t want to stop and have to start the acclimatization to fasting all over again. Boo.

And third, there is too much shame around menstruation, regardless of what time of the year it is. I remember when I lived at home prior to marriage, I use to get up and fake the morning meal so my brothers and dad wouldn’t know that I wasn’t fasting. Then my mom would sneak food into my bedroom, where I’d shamefully eat my PB and J sandwich, ensuring no one could hear or see me. Then I’d have to eat the Iftar meal with everyone else, and have the same late bedtime as everyone. After a while, this became incredibly annoying and also, deceitful. Women are given this time to take a break and rest, and here we go taking religion’s permission, adding a dash of cultural backwardness and shame to it, and we’ve got one heck of a messed up situation that is incredibly frustrating to deal with. When I was teaching sexual health classes to middle school girls this year, this topic came up numerous times: girls having to fake prayers all year round and fasting during Ramadan. They expressed frustration and weren’t sure why they needed to since they were sure their dads at least knew about menstruation (since sexual intercourse is forbidden during this time, I would sure hope so). I felt their pain and offered them advice to talk with their parents about this issue, to save them from faking religious practices they shouldn’t have to.

Finally, while we’re on the topic of Ramadan and menstruation, I really encourage all women to look into more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of dealing with their cycle. Sure, disposable feminine hygiene products may seem convenient, not-so-expensive (they actually are when you do the math for a year of products) and all that is available, but I assure you, we have come a long way and there’s a myriad of additional options. If sanitary pads are more of your thing, check out Lunapads (made in Canada) or Party in my Pants for cloth options (before you judge, do your research!). If you’re looking for a tampon-alternative, check out the Diva Cup, which also belongs to Lunapads. These may seem like “hippie” alternatives that won’t work for you, but I assure you, they are healthier ways to deal with your period (look up all the toxic chemicals in disposable pads and tampons) AND save the environment at the same time. That’s what part of Ramadan is about anyway, isn’t it?

See, reading this wasn’t so bad, was it? Whether you’re a male or female, I’m sure you learned something new, no? And then there’s many of you out there who probably knew all of this. You sexual health keeners you! Either way, this is another topic where there’s a difference between modesty and shame. It’s OK to tell family members and those you need to if you’re not fasting, in a discrete way. But there’s no reason to be shameful about it, and using a ruse to fake the fast and daily prayers for those around you.

So embrace menstruation during this month, fellow women, and stick with what Islam advises around this subject. Remember that God has ordained this miracle of life within our bodies. How can something God given be shameful?

After all, when we treat menstruation as something shameful and wrong, it can really be a pain in the uterus.

Sorry, I really had to try for one final pun :)

Sameera Qureshi, MScOT (c) is an Occupational Therapist and currently manages a mental health promotion project that is school and community based, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Her work over the past six years has been primarily with Muslim populated schools and their families. Since 2011, Sameera has been working to implement Islam-oriented sexual health education programs both within these schools and the greater Muslim community. Her work includes developing the curriculum for both genders and teaching the curriculum to girls in grades 5-9, running parent sessions, collaborating with multiple Calgary agencies around sexual health, and making her work available to interested community member and professionals. She also maintains a blog called Muslim Sistah and can be found on Twitter @muslimsistah