”Shhh! Don’t say sex education”, Wan Nedra cautions, with a smile. Dr Nedra is vice-dean at the Farsi University in Jakarta and a volunteer leader with the Muslimat Nahadat ul Ulama. The Nahadut ul, like the Muhammediya, is one of the leading religious charitable groups in Indonesia. It funds not just schools and hospitals, but also helps mobilize communities to battle problems like poverty.
What is not so well-known is the role the group plays in promoting family planning in the country. It does this not only by counselling couples but also educates students at the Islamic boarding schools, or pesantrens it runs.
”We call it reproductive health education,” says Dr Nedra. Depending on their age, children learn about their body parts, contraceptives and sexual rights. The Nahadut ul publishes literature called the “maslahah” which use ayahs or verses from the Quran and examples from the Sunnah (life of the Prophet) to talk about family planning. The study of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, includes biology, and tahaarah (rules of cleanliness) talks about maintaining internal hygiene, relating it to the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. A far cry from the general practice is most madrassas or for that matter in many religiously oriented institutions. Some things are a strict no-no however. Abortion is not touched upon. Or vasectomy.
This approach of working within the limits imposed by culture and religion is refreshing. Sex education remains a touchy subject in India and there is huge opposition to the idea of introducing it in schools. The Nahadut ul’s approach is an intelligent one. Something we could learn from. Instead of saying a blanket no to a subject that needs to be looked at, not through the lens of morality, but health.