Islamic Bioethics & the Unconventional Gift of Life

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of the Muslim Science.

The ability to have children has always been an important aspect of the lives of many. For Muslim Middle Easters and others as well, having children is highly desired, as parenthood is culturally mandatory. In that regards, many unconventional reproductive technologies are being explored to lessen the effects of infertility. Globally, one in six couples encounters an infertility problem at least once throughout their reproductive life span. Infertility in women is approximately nine percent for individuals aged 20 to 44[1].

Compared with the west, Muslim women have limited options as third party reproductive assistance is largely banned with only Iran and Lebanon utilizing such technology in the Muslim Middle East[2]. “It is important to bare in mind that none of these technologies existed at the time and all that can be done to legitimize them is to interpret what the religion would have said,” says Dr. Soraya Tremayne, Founding Director of the Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group (FRSG), Oxford University. “The Shia have made extensive use of ‘ijtihad’ and allowed all sorts of reproductive technologies, including stem cell research, sex selection etc all within the religious boundaries and through ijtihad.” Ijtihad is an Islamic legal term meaning independent reasoning.

The main purpose of surrogacy is to achieve genetic motherhood via a surrogate who is willing to carry an embryo belonging to a sterile pair (the biological parents) to full term and deliver the infant to them upon birth[3]. To many Islamic scholars, the practice is also referred to as ‘hiring a womb’. Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, the Associate Director of Mosque Foundation believes surrogacy is forbidden in Islam: “It is not permissible to hire a womb (surrogacy) for it introduces a sperm of a man to a uterus of a woman that he is not married to, and God Says in the Holy Quran – Those who guard their private parts except from their spouses…Whosoever goes beyond that are indeed transgressors, 23:5”.

Muslim Science, November 2014.