One of the most challenging social issues affecting British Muslim youth in the 21st Century is the prevalence and increasing confusion around notions of sex and sexuality. From the onset, it needs to be clarified that this article intends only to establish open discussion with intent to challenging the stigma associated with any term that includes the word ‘sex’. It does not purport to advocate a religious stance on such issues. Given the relevance and increasing need to have a frank discussion around sex and sexuality, this piece aims to highlight the need for honesty and emphasise the role of faith leaders in the conversation.
We must acknowledge the environment our muslim youth are exposed to, living in, and attempting to navigate with a hybrid identity that embodies religion, ethnicity, nationality and gender. Through recognition of the social reality of British Muslim youth, this article simply advocates for a shift and opening of rhetoric, without defining a specific religious direction to follow. It is within the remit of faith leaders (Imams, Scholars and Alimahs) to understand this reality and provide the religious guidance in a culturally sensitive and contextually applicable way.
The concept of sex, sexuality and sexual health has long been stigmatised in many cultures and traditions, apparent from East to West and peripheral North to South. Yet the society we live in, the only society the majority of us have ever known, is navigating a post-sexual revolution. This major milestone in British history has bred generations that are encouraged to experiment, to defy the ascribed norm and express a freer understanding of sexuality that has been previously seen. This has undoubtable effects on all those living in the UK, especially the youth who are themselves wrestling with identity, conceptions of self and expression and a desire for religious servitude.
This plight is even more evident for Muslim youth, as the intersectionality of their socio-economic, political, spiritual and cultural positions further their struggle. A struggle that intensifies when attempting to address sensitive topics that are marginalised and considered culturally ‘taboo’ by the community.
When British Muslim youth feel like they have no relevant and approachable individuals or institutions to confide in, who do you think they end up confiding in? Where do you think they find this information and counsel? How do you think they are able to interpret information to fit their religiously and culturally sensitive issues when the bodies that are providing this information are non-Muslim entities? How can non-Muslim figures and outlets relate to, represent or alleviate the concerns of, British Muslim youth? If we are not teaching our youth about sensitive social issues like sex then who is?
It is critical that faith leaders look introspectively and ask themselves these questions. We must acknowledge the preeminence of sex and it’s portrayal in today’s society, both indirectly and directly. We must not shy away from the prominence of sex as a universal doctrine. We must educate, rather than shelter, our youth. If we fail to do so, we enable the quest for understanding to be delivered through the media, through pornography, through friends, schools and social environments – outlets that can sow more confusion and despair. When we begin to challenge these norms and answer these questions, we enable a shift in rhetoric, a shift that elevates our youth’s understanding of sex and gives them the comfort and confidence to be healthy contributors to their society
It is within this context that the role of faith leaders in the Muslim community becomes even more important. With religion the primary indicator of identity for today’s Muslim youth, there is no denying the increasing need for religious guidance on sensitive issues such as sex and sexuality. Only when an individual is well-informed do they make decisions that are conducive to this information, as observed in all domains. We cannot expect our youth to make the right decisions when there is no avenue to seek information that is tailored to their specific needs.
We must promote and provide this avenue and ensure that faith leaders understand that they need to be central to the conversation and be providing religious guidance on such matters. The onus is on religious leaders to break the cultural taboo that exists around sex and sexuality in order to provide young Muslims with the confidence to begin the conversation without fear of reproach and an avenue for discussion that provides viable solutions.
By Munibah Qureshi, Policy Researcher.
This article is part of a series highlighting some of the most pertinent social issues affecting contemporary British Muslim youth and the critical need for faith leaders (male & female) to be at the centre of the conversation, providing contextualised religious guidance.