The Call

So I received an “interesting” phone call from a mother whose grade 7 daughter is in my health class. I don’t think anyone has attempted to assassinate my integrity the way she did.

Where do I even begin?

She accused me of telling the girls it’s OK to use tampons (which I did not). Even when I clarified to her that I only told the girls to not use the word “haraam” (Islamically forbidden) when speaking about tampons, she said how I’m encouraging the girls to lose their virginity (false and myth-based) and that endorsing tampons will have disastrous effects because they’ll (logically) want to start having sex too. She went on to tell me that it’s also wrong to make girls feel empowered about their menstrual cycle. When I explained how it’s not healthy for menstruating girls to call themselves “dirty" because it impacts their self-esteem, she continued to focus on me "poisoning their minds". She went on and on about how this class shouldn’t include religion (umm, so you want straight up public school sex ed?!) and even when I assured her the curriculum was developed with Islamic input and experienced teachers, she outright refuted it. Apparently, I’m confusing the girls and making them question being a Muslim.

The next kicker came when I asked how it was that her daughter and friend in the same class are the only 2 out of 250 girls that brought forward these concerns to their moms? And over a month after the menstrual cycle lessons ended? And how is it that many girls and moms have given me feedback that the classes have improved mother-daughter communication about sexual health? Her response: those moms don’t really care about their daughters, they just say what you want to hear, and I’m mistaken because apparently even parents and teachers at the Islamic school warned her about me. She repeated these arguments several times, as if she was speaking for the entire school.

Oh no, more kicker. She said “even though it’s a personal choice, why don’t you wear the hijab? Why are you telling the girls to stop wearing it? How can you stand in front of those girls and talk about being a good Muslim when you don’t wear the hijab?” And she was laughing sarcastically! At this point, I was stunned. I told her with all due respect, my not wearing hijab is none of her business and I never said anything about not wearing the hijab to the girls. She went on and on about me poisoning girls’ minds, how they were "innocent like honey" before my classes and now they’re poisoned...I had to talk over her and calmly say that I’m hanging up the phone. And so I did.

And yes, I broke down for 2 minutes and cried to release the cortisol and adrenaline that had built up, but then I wiped away my tears, walked out of the office like nothing had happened and realized that I had just spoken to a very special person that was the exception and not the norm.

All of this was not easy to hear, given my intentions for teaching sexual health, and the effort and care I take when preparing and teaching. I care about the girls. But the fact that nothing I said appeased her and was used as fuel to increase the flames, I realized that my efforts to help her understand the truth were futile. From what this mom was saying, I know that:

(a) She holds onto a lot of cultural baggage and this clouds her from understanding sexual health information from an ISLAMIC perspective. Even when I tried to debunk myths she stated or give her evidence from our faith, she refuted it outwardly.

(b) She probably doesn’t have a lot of accurate sexual health information herself, as I could tell from the whole “tampons cause girls to lose their virginity and crave sex” myth.

(c) She’s scared of her daughter learning and asking questions, which I pointed out towards the end of the conversation when I realized there was no hope for her being open-minded. I tried to explain that I want the girls to leave health seeking Islamic information rather than accepting “yes, that’s allowed” and “no, that’s forbidden” as the answers. They are responsible for their Islamic knowledge since puberty endows on them the responsibility of answering for their deeds.

(d) Her daughter has a serious case of selective hearing or manipulation.

So I’m writing this post to help everyone understand that while our Muslim community is (kind of) shifting, this mom’s attitude is still very much prevalent. And I’m sorry to culturally stereotype, but I have 6 years of experience to support that this mentality is prevalent within ONE specific Arab cultural group because I don’t see it among South Asians, Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Kurdish, etc communities. Not that all troublemakers are from this culture, but the majority are. The girls who cause the most trouble in class, the girls who giggle when I explain how saying “rape me” isn’t appropriate, the girls who use vulgar language to talk about themselves and their peers, and the ones who come with myths that are hard to break...they’re all from the same cultural group. These are also the families that do not attend parent sessions about the sexual health curriculum, nor do they come and speak directly to me until I call, preferring instead to write letters about my “un-Islamic character” to the school administrators.

So to all of those who are reading this, please clarify your cultural myths from Islamic facts around sexual health and other topics. No, there is no verse in the Quran that talks about tampons being forbidden. No, girls who are menstruating should not call themselves dirty because the ability to bear children in the future is a blessing and is anything but dirty. No, you can’t stop your children from questioning and critically thinking for themselves because Islam encourages believers to do just that, since we can all read the Quran and reflect for ourselves.

And lastly, until we have educated mothers, there is no way we will have educated children either.


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