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Religious Figures in Egypt Argue Over Virtue of Sex Education

April 8, 2005

Egypt's most senior Islamic cleric has rejected the possibility of starting sex education courses in the nation's classrooms, according to Al-Lewaa al-Islami (Islamic Banner), a weekly newspaper published by Egypt's ruling party. Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar, one of the oldest and most prominent Muslim scholarly institutions, made the comments as Egyptian media debate attempts to revive long-dormant plans to overhaul reproductive health education in schools. Last month, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa rejected the idea that children should be taught safe sex and how to avoid pregnancy and STDs.

Al-Azhar students already learn about sex "in a way that doesn't stir instincts, or offend public morality," said Tantawi, who was responding to nongovernmental organizations that had questioned whether sex education is allowed, according to Maher al-Haddad, general director of Al-Azhar's research center. Tantawi said Islam recognizes only one way of making a family, through marriage between man and woman -- a way that avoids concerns about premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. The sheik contrasted this negatively to other teachings, including the "equality between man and woman through gender culture."

Government ministries and community groups in Egypt have been searching for ways to teach reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention without provoking religious objections, essentially by treating it as a health matter rather than a sex issue. For instance, the government-associated National Center for Childhood and Motherhood is adopting an awareness program about safe practices and diseases, but terming it "sex education" might set clerics against the program, said Soha Abdel Qader, a center official.

While reproductive health instruction is currently included in science classes, some teachers fail to teach it "because they are shy," Abdel Qader said. "The girls and boys wanted to know" about reproductive issues, said Abdel Qader, referring to the participants of her center's high school seminars. "They had a lot of questions." "It is their families that don't want them to know."

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
04.06.2005; Sarah El Deeb

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