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Childhood and adolescent sexuality, Islam, and problematics of sex education: a call for re-examination

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This paper offers a critical examination of the problematics of childhood and adolescent sexuality and sex education in an Islamic context. By exploring conceptions of (pre-marital) sexuality, childhood, and maturity/adulthood, it is suggested that: (i) ‘childhood’ and ‘sexuality’ do not coexist harmoniously in Islamic traditions since the latter is recognised as the exclusive realm of adulthood; and (ii) the twin concepts of ‘adolescence’ – as a distinct pre-adulthood life-stage – and ‘adolescent sexuality’ have scarcely been acknowledged in Islamic traditions. Sex education for children and adolescents is widely regarded by Muslims as ‘dangerous knowledge to the vulnerable’ that ‘awakens’ premature (i.e. premarital) sexuality and undermines Islamic identity. Such an understanding is partly rooted in a common (mis)interpretation of the Islamic emphasis on children's ‘deficient capacity’ and their ‘need for protection’, as well as in the invisibility of adolescent sexuality and agency in most Islamic traditions. The increasing overlap between ‘immaturity’ and ‘sexuality’ in the lives of contemporary young people has rendered childhood/adolescent sexuality and sex education a challenging issue for many Muslims in present times. This calls for an acknowledgement of childhood/adolescent sexuality and agency as crucial subjects of (re)examination, particularly in Islamic studies and with reference to young Muslims’ sex education needs.
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Keywords: Islam; adolescence; childhood; innocence; maturity; sex education; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Publication date: May 4, 2015

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