A- Fertility Regulation
Islam permits contraception as long as it does not entail the radical separation between marriage and its reproductive function. Since the time of the prophet contraception has been practiced, but he made it clear that it should be a joint decision between husband and wife. The general recommendation is for the Islamic nation to procreate and grow in numbers, but quality and not sheer numbers was well emphasized by Mohammad. One of his very prophetic sayings was: "There will come the day when other nations will fall upon you like hungry eaters upon a bowl of food." When asked whether this would be due to lack of numbers he said "No. On that day you will be so many, but (quality wise) like the froth on the surface of the torrent."
Throughout Islamic history jurists permitted family planning for a number of reasons: health, socio-economics, etc. up to merely preserving the beauty of the woman's body. Both natural and medicinal methods of contraception are acceptable, provided the method is not harmful and does not work as an abortifacient. Family planning should be the choice of the individual family without coercion or pressure. Countries that adopt a population policy may resort to wide campaigns of education to ensure the accessibility of contraceptive technology, but the decision rests with the family.
Reservations about population programs designed by Western countries for the Third World were referred to earlier. There is a consciousness about a "demographic warfare" to strip populations of their sheer power of numbers or to reduce majorities to minorities in some areas. There is also alarm about contraceptive material banned from use in their (Western) countries of origin while at the same time they are abundantly exported to Islamic and Third World countries, compromising on safety standards. More investment in developing resources and a willingness to transfer necessary technology on part of the West remains to be seen.
This has a prominent place in Islamic teaching. As a family planning method it is not a reliable prescription for the individual family; but it has been estimated on a group (collective) basis to be a more potent contraceptive than all other methods put together, measured by the drop in fertility rate in a community of suckling women. The Quran mentions breast feeding and recommends that its natural course is the span of two years. In Islam, however, breast feeding is more than a nutritional (or family planning) process. It is a "value" and a special bond, so much so that a woman other than the natural mother who breast feeds an infant acquires a special status in Islamic law which is called "suckling parenthood", and this woman is called the infant's "mother in lactation". To accentuate its value, "lactation motherhood" is given the status of natural motherhood in certain legal rulings concerning marriage. The result is that such a mother's natural children are considered "lactation siblings" of the nursed infant, who therefore may not marry any of them.
The Intra-uterine Device
If the device acted to cause abortion it would not be acceptable. Its action, however, was explained on the basis of preventing implantation. The current generations of the device contain a copper wire that releases spermicidal copper ions, or include the hormone progesterone that thickens the mucus in the canal of the womb so it cannot be penetrated by sperm. Both actions put the device in the category of contraception and not abortion. This was confirmed by a release from the World Health Organization
There are no "pro-life" and "pro-choice" lobbies in Islamic communities, with a raging battle such as takes place in America. Islam views abortion very differently from contraception, since the former entails the violation of a human life. The question that naturally arises is whether the term "human life" includes the life of the fetus in the womb. According to Islamic jurisprudence it does. Islam accords the fetus the status of "incomplete zimma". Zimma is the legal regard that allows rights and duties, and that of the fetus is incomplete in the sense that it has rights but owes no duties. Some of these rights of the fetus are: (a) If a husband dies while his wife is pregnant, the law of inheritance recognizes the fetus as an inheritor if borne alive. Other inheritors would receive their shares in accordance with the prescribed juridical proportions, but only after the share of the unborn is set aside to await its birth. (b) If a fetus is miscarried at any stage of pregnancy and shows signs of life such as a cough or movement and then it dies, such fetus has the right to inherit anything it was legally entitled to inherit from anyone who died after the beginning of the pregnancy. After this fetus dies, what it has inherited is inherited in turns by its legal heirs. (c) If a woman commits a crime punishable by death and is proven pregnant, then the execution of the punishment shall be postponed until she gives birth and nurses her baby until it is weaned. This applies irrespective of the duration of the pregnancy, however early, denoting the right of the fetus to life from its beginning. It applies even if the pregnancy was illegitimate, which shows that the fetus conceived out of wedlock also has the right to life. All sects and juridical schools unanimously uphold this ruling.
There is also a money penalty for abortion even if it was inadvertent. This is called the "ghorra". If aggression or willful action causes abortion, suitable punishment by the court is also imposed.
The question of the beginning of life has been discussed since early times, since the admissibility of abortion hinged around the existence of life (some old jurists permitted abortion before four months, others before seven weeks, of pregnancy, on the assumption that life had not started in the pregnancy.) Some ten centuries ago, a notable scholar called Al-Ghazali rightly described a phase of imperceptible life, before the phase that the mother could feel in the form of fetal quickening. Recent juridical congresses reviewed the subject taking into account the applications of modern technology, and concluded that the stage of an individual's life that can be called its beginning should satisfy ALL the following criteria: (1) it should be a clear and well-defined event; (2) it should exhibit the cardinal feature of life: growth; (3) if this growth is not interrupted, it will naturally lead up to the subsequent stages of life as we know them; (4) it contains the genetic pattern that is characteristic of the human race at large, and also of a unique specific individual; and (5) it is not preceded by any other phase which combines the first four. Obviously, these postulates refer to fertilization.
Abortion, however, is permitted if the continuation of pregnancy poses a threat on the mother. The Shari'a considers the mother to be the root and the fetus to be the offshoot; the latter to be sacrificed if this is necessary to save the former. There are some arguments also in favor of expanding the admissibility of abortion to cover drastic cases of congenital anomalies and fetal illness incompatible with feasible life if performed before pregnancy is four months.
Unless done for a clear medical indication this operation is generally frowned upon. It is permitted, however, for women with a reasonable number of children and who are approaching the end of their reproductive life. Voluntary and informed consent should be given by both the husband and wife, giving no promises of a guaranteed successful reversal of the operation if they later change their mind. No government policy should pressure people into undergoing sterilization. The doctor has the right to decline performing the operation if not convinced that it is in the best interests of the patient.
B- Treatment of Infertility
The pursuit of pregnancy is legitimate and individuals may resort to the necessary means provided they do not violate the Shari'a.
This is permissible only if the sperm belongs to the husband (AIH). Donor's semen (AID) may not be used since procreation is legitimate only within the marriage contract and the elements (the couple) that are party to it.
In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
This technology, commonly known as the test tube baby technology, is Islamically acceptable as long as it is between husband and wife, ie. within the boundaries of the marriage contract. The marriage contract should be valid and live. Since divorce or widowhood bring the marriage contract to a conclusion and they are then no more husband and wife, it follows that a woman may not be impregnated by the sperm of her ex-husband kept in deep freeze in a semen bank. Intervention of a third party other than husband and wife and the bearers of their genetic material (sperm and ovum) is not permissible because this would be an intrusion into the marriage contract binding the pair. "Alien sperm," or an "alien egg", or an "alien womb" (to carry a couple's embryo) is not allowed.
Surrogate Motherhood, where a woman carries in her womb the fetus of another couple, is absolutely unacceptable to Islam. It results in the dichotomy of motherhood into genetic and biologic whereas these should be one. It also entails a pregnancy outside the legitimacy of a marriage contract. Competition between the two mothers (!) has led to legal and other problems in America. A contract deciding the fate of the baby is certainly dehumanizing as it treats the baby as a commodity. The implications might prove to be far reaching since the human female for the first time in history is willingly going into a full pregnancy (and delivery) with the prior intent to give away the baby. Because this is done, in the majority of cases, for a negotiated price, it reduces "motherhood" from a "value" to a price. If this becomes established practice, the long term effects on intergenerational bonds will be devastating.
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