Complexities with conception and Islam

We spend a lot of time reading stories that miss an obvious religion angle or ones that don't give enough space to explain some fundamentals. Our eyes widen at stories that do a nice job of explaining complex issues in under 1,000 words.

Enter Annie Snider wrote about the pressures infertile Muslim parents face in a story for Religion News Service. Snider focuses on one woman she calls Dilnaz to show the cultural pressures of infertility when it was important to the one to remain within Islamic laws.

Here, Snider gives two paragraphs for historical background.

In 1980, just two years after the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, a Sunni sheikh issued Islam's first fatwa, or religious edict, on in vitro fertilization. Assisted reproduction (artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization) was allowed, it said, but only with the husband and wife's own materials. That meant donor sperm, donor eggs and surrogacy were out.

Over the past 30 years, the ruling has been consistently upheld across Sunni Islam. A 1999 fatwa by a top Shiite cleric effectively permitted donor technologies, but Yale University medical anthropologist Marcia Inhorn said the bias against technological intervention runs strong among many Muslims.

Now if only we could get two such paragraphs in stories that focus on other religious groups, such as Catholicism, but occasionally we get a good one. As a side note, Elizabeth Comeau, the first American "test-tube baby," wrote a piece for the Boston Globe about giving birth to her own child this past week.

In Snider's piece, we get some sense of all the options and choices this woman faced with implantation, almost willing to pull an Octomom.

Looking back, Dilnaz said she is grateful the Islamic rulings kept her from doing something she would later regret. One doctor offered to implant 10 fertilized eggs. If several resulted in pregnancy, he said, they could always do selective reduction--what others would call abortion.

"I didn't want to do something that I was emotional about but wasn't appropriate," she said. "I knew that as a Muslim I couldn't (abort them), but still, I got to a point where I was like, 'I'll take 10 children at one time,' because I was so desperate to have a child."

I can't copy and paste the whole story, so you'll have to click in to read more about a family adoption and how that fit with Islamic law.

Six months after Dilnaz got the first phone call, she and her husband got another one. "Congratulations," the cousin told them. "You have a baby." The cousin's family brought the child to the U.S. when he was six months old.

Yet even that religiously acceptable solution became complicated three years later, when Dilnaz became pregnant with a son of her own. Some elders asked if she would be returning the adoptive son.

The story looks at one scenario after another, asking what each situation would mean for someone who is Muslim, answering basic doctrinal questions. We don't see that very often in coverage of Islam or reproduction.

Unless you count the Huffington Post (which is fine), no mainstream outlets appeared to pick up the story. Many religious groups offer ethical guidelines for assisted reproduction that can make infertility more challenging for doctors. Religion remains a guiding factor for many, and this article does a nice job of using one woman's story to consider some serious tensions.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, which describes it as graffiti in Lebanon depicting a pregnant woman.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the author of the Boston Globe article, which was written by Elizabeth Comeau.

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