In this article, Amber Khan, D.O., explains why she wrote the six-level book series Islamic Health and what she hopes young Muslims will gain from it. Edited by Issra Killawi, BA.
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“Will wearing a tampon take away my virginity?”
“Is watching pornography haram?”
“I tried alcohol before; does that make me a bad Muslim?”
“If we can’t have boyfriends and girlfriends, then how are we going to get married?”
These were the questions my students asked me. And they wanted answers.
I taught from a public-school health textbook at an Islamic school for several years. There was technically nothing wrong with the textbook – it was medically accurate, age appropriate and comprehensive. But it left out Islamic teachings vital for the well-being of young Muslims.
What’s missing from secular health education?
Muslim youth today have many questions that would go unanswered in a conventional health class and are often overlooked by their parents. But to this date, no Islamic institutions teach a comprehensive health program centered in Islamic values.
In secular health resources, most topics are not addressed from a moral lens – like dating, premarital sex, recreational substances, etc. Secular health resources also label certain practices, like gender and same-sex attraction, as identities and consider this the only acceptable view. But Muslim youth deserve to learn about their health from a holistic perspective that provides both the wisdom behind Islamic rulings and evidence-based answers. This is the goal of my level-book series, Islamic Health. It aims to address Muslim youth’s most common health questions by putting the Islamic way of life at the forefront of its answers.
Islamic Health defines particular health topics as moral issues. It encourages sexual responsibility through understanding inter-gender relations, instilling inner and outer modesty and avoiding sexually explicit content. It emphasizes personal autonomy for one’s body as an amana (trust from Allah). It also addresses personal struggles – like gossiping, anger or envy – and how to overcome them through tazkiyah (spiritual purification).
Sensitive Topics Can Be Challenging
As parents, educators, and community members, we must take a proactive role and encourage our families and Islamic institutions to teach comprehensive health education. But topics like sex, mental illness and intoxicants can be particularly challenging to address. Withholding knowledge on these subjects may lead to poor health, improper hygiene, and risky behaviors. It can also lead youth to seek out unreliable resources (i.e., internet, TV, peers, cultural beliefs) and garner an improper understanding of consent and body boundaries.
Let’s take a look at dealing with sexual desire as an example. In the Islamic tradition, sex is a normal, healthy act of worship and a form of charity between spouses. Our tradition also recognizes that sex comes with great responsibility and therefore only permits it within the context of marriage.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For many Muslim youth today, waiting until marriage to fulfill sexual desires feels like a challenging feat. A 2001 study by Dr. Sameera Ahmed of The FYI found that 54% of American Muslim college students have had pre-marital sex. A more recent study surveyed Canadian and American Muslims ages 17-35 and reported that 67% have had pre-marital sex; of those who didn’t, 50% have considered it. ( Ali-Faisal, 2014)
Sexual desire, albeit natural and normal, is a test from Allah. Muslims are responsible for learning how to overcome their desire rather than allowing it to control them. Islamic Health approaches this topic from a holistic, faith-centered perspective. It focuses on WHY waiting until marriage can benefit and protect individuals/couples from physical, mental, social, and spiritual risks. It addresses HOW to handle sexual desire and pressure through preventive measures like lowering the gaze, regulating inter-gender relations, prohibiting pornography and action measures of fasting regularly, enjoying single life, seeking marriage, and connecting oneself to the deen (religion).
For sensitive topics like this, the Introduction of Islamic Health also provides tips and tools on creating a learning environment with haya (inner and outer modesty), where all topics can be approached candidly and respectfully. This includes learning health in a same-gendered environment, submitting questions anonymously and providing a safe space for triggering topics.
A Look Inside
The Islamic Health book series takes a comprehensive approach to health, including reproductive, sexual, social, mental, physical and spiritual health. The topics are divided into six levels:
- Level 1: Relationship Rights, Community Engagement and Healthy Living.
- Level 2: Puberty, Reproduction, Menstruation and Hygiene.
- Level 3: Self-Esteem and Entertainment.
- Level 4: Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, Intoxicants, Mental Health & Illness and Allah Above All Else.
- Level 5: Reproductive Health Review, Genderism, Sexual Desire & Intimacy, Sexual Attraction and Sexual Violence.
- Level 6: Marriage, Pregnancy and Contraception & Abortion.
The levels can be taught at home between parent and child, in youth halaqas (study circles), at full-time Islamic schools or weekend Islamic schools. While some topics may only be appropriate for high schoolers in one community, youth in another community may inquire about them at a younger age. With this in mind, the levels are not assigned to a specific age group nor do they have to be explored in a specific order. Parents and educators may choose to address each topic at the age/grade level that feels appropriate to their respective youth.
I have three favorite parts of the book. The first is that the boxes throughout the chapters that include stories, anecdotes, research or interesting tidbits of information.
The second is that I was given permission by several organizations (including The Family & Youth Institute, Yaqeen Institute and The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding) to use their research and graphics. This truly elevated the book with evidence-based knowledge to help raise awareness and fuel change.
Lastly, my favorite aspect of the book is the collaborations with content-editors like Duaa Haggag (LPC and community educator of FYI who edited all levels) and Dr. Waheed Jensen (Genderism and Sexual Attraction chapters); graphic designer, Xhengis Aliu (Creative Director of the Islamic Medical Association of North America); and Noorart publications.
Feedback and Endorsements
Council of Islamic Schools in North America
“Islamic schools and Muslim students have waited a long time for a comprehensive health education book like this one that tastefully blends science with Islamic guidance. It combines a variety of authentic Islamic references that help young people navigate the post-modern cultural climate with confidence.”
Muslim American Society Youth Ministry
“The Islamic Health textbook is a wonderful resource for Muslim vouth workers, educators, and barents, and a must-read for Muslim teens struggling to navigate our complex world. This much-needed volume combines solid research in the fields of physical and mental health with a gentle, creative approach to Islamic teachings and tarbiya.”
In 2021, the first edition of Islamic Health was implemented within several Islamic schools and halaqas (study circles) in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and more. Feedback from these institutions was instrumental in creating the second edition level books. Islamic Health has also received endorsements from Islamic organizations including The Family & Youth Institute, Islamic School Leagues of America, Council of Islamic Schools of North America, and Muslim American Society – Youth Ministry.
Additionally, the Islamic School Leagues of America (ISLA) held a webinar about Islamic Health where several Islamic school teachers throughout the U.S. offered advice on how to create a teacher’s manual and curriculum layout. The books were also presented at the 2022 ISNA Education Forum and received positive feedback from several Islamic school teachers, principals, and administrators.
Islamic Health level books will be available on the Noorart website at the end of 2022. You can also follow Amber Khan on Instagram for updates @IslamicHealthSeries or email her at IslamicHealthEducation@gmail.com.