HE was “infectious”, if I can say it that way. He taught me and my classmates Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and its philosophy from 1991 through 1994 at a traditional high school in West Sumatra. Instead of going through every chapter in the textbooks, he used most of the learning time to share stories and facilitate dialogues. In the three academic years I spent under his tutelage, I may have only learned a few dozen pages.
Yet, his students remember him well and can easily share a fond story or memory. We usually agree, eventually, that he had taught us how to live instead of how to memorize pages in a book. Fiqh literally means “understanding”, and he made us understand how to enter the real world with wisdom.
Though we called the other teachers “ustaz” or “ustazah” — Arabic terms meaning teacher or master — we referred to him as “inyiak”, a Minang word used to convey the greatest respect for a teacher. He would always smile whenever he met us and never once got angry so far as I can remember. His classes usually started on time and were well managed.
Inyiak Ibrahim usually started his classes with a question-and-answer (Q&A) session. More than 30 minutes would be spent on dialogues in which students could bring up just about anything, even private questions on teenage life. Many of these questions had to do with “real” sex education.
Weighed against contemporary Feminism, surely in my former teacher’s perspective there were many biases. Since he was a traditional Islamic cleric, he based his understanding on the sources available to him — Islamic books which might have been written centuries ago.
From those pages, therefore, he may have drawn misogynic notions coming from both cultural and individual interpretations.
When he talked about virginity, for example, he told us relatively unfairly about how a girl should protect herself from losing it improperly.
There is a tendency to assert that if a girl is not a virgin, she is less worthy religiously. However, he did teach us that virginity could be lost not only through sex, but also from an accident or the treatment of a disease, such as certain kinds of surgery.
Directly and openly, Inyiak Ibrahim also taught us about venereal diseases, or sexually transmitted disease (STD).
As he was also a traditional healer who provided herbal medications for many kinds of diseases, he could tell us firsthand about the suffering of someone with syphilis, gonorrhea or other STDs. Of course, in his classes, he would recommend avoiding the risk of becoming infected with an STD.
Overall, though sometimes anachronistic, he successfully taught us sex education integrated with the subject of Fiqh. The keys to his success, I now realize, were how he was heard because of his charisma and knowledge as a teacher and that he used the proper method and language to communicate with curious teenagers.
To our good fortune, there was no exaggerated taboo, as most of us would assume is present in religious education on sex. Inyiak Ibrahim repeatedly quoted an adage from the Islamic Minangkabau tradition: “agamo babukak-bukaan, adat basisampiang”, meaning that learning religion should be done in a clear, straightforward way to avoid misunderstanding and wrong practices, whereas in learning adat (customary law) the process is usually organic, emerging from “orchestrated” expressions to ensure and practice hospitality.
Some students, especially girls, may have felt a little shy in the first months of learning. Yet, over time the female students began to participate more in the Q&A sessions. They primarily asked questions related to reproduction and were usually answered with references to Islamic sources and local wisdom.
Amid the recent heated discussions on sex education, virginity tests and the proliferation of STDs, abortion and sexual abuse, the example of Inyiak Ibrahim may give us some lessons.
First, being able to provide sufficient knowledge on sex for teenagers, as they are at the core of the discussion, is a must. We then can facilitate their understanding of sex and what risks might come from having it.
Making it a taboo subject is therefore immoral, based on an insufficient or false understanding of what sex education is and a failure to fully comprehend the basic educational mandate of giving students the information they need for life.
Religion — often made the scapegoat for being the source of prohibiting sex education, especially in the case of Islam — actually provides us with teachings on sex education.
Second, the matter of how the classes are conducted plays the same importance. It is time to prepare teachers with sufficient knowledge and training for sex education. We also need qualified counseling teachers, who not only have sufficient knowledge and psychological instruments, but also religious vistas and universal values.
Third, the technological approach in our education system, which positions the student as a learning machine, should be replaced with a more humanistic model.
Personal dialogues on daily student affairs must be facilitated in the classes and made an educational priority, not just a secondary pursuit beneath serious classes on how to calculate numbers or memorize chemical formulas.
An open, informed approach to sex education is more moral than measures such as senseless virginity tests, which do nothing but show our inability to solve the problem and may end up doing more harm to students than good.
The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.
The Jakarta Post
Wed, August 28 2013