Fatwas and ARTs: IVF and Gamete Donation in Sunni v. Shia Islam

The Journal of Gender, Race & JusticeNbr. 9-2, January 2006

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Summary


I. Introduction .II. The Role Of Fatwas.III. Sunni Islam And IVF A. The Al-Azhar Fatwa .1. Introduction. 2. In Vitro Fertilization. B. Key Points of the Al-Azhar Fatwa .C. Sunni Muslim Opposition to Gamete Donation. IV. Shi'a Islam And IVF. A. The Fatwa of Ayatollah Khamanei . B. Key Points of Disagreement over the Khamanei Fatwa. V. The Effects Of Fatwas On Marriage And Gender Relations. VI. ConclusionAppendix I. Fatwa by Gad el Hak ali Gad el Hak, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt.

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Fatwas and ARTs: IVF and Gamete Donation in Sunni v. Shia Islam

Marcia C. Inhorn, Ph.D., MPH. Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, Women's Studies, and Anthropology and Director, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

I. Introduction

Since the birth in 1978 of Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) have spread around the globe, reaching countries far from the technology-producing nations of Euro-America. Perhaps nowhere is this globalization process more evident than in the Muslim world, where hundreds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) centers now cater to the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. In the Middle East, the private IVF industry is flourishing, with clinics found in most major cities. In Egypt, for example, nearly sixty IVF clinics cater to a population of approximately seventy million people, while in tiny Lebanon (population four million), more than fifteen IVF centers are found, one of the highest per capita concentrations in the world. In other words, IVF and even newer ARTs are a burgeoning part of everyday life in the Muslim Middle East at the start of the new millennium. Literally thousands of infertile couples from Morocco to Iran are resorting to ARTs in order to bear cherished offspring.

However, in the Muslim world, including the Middle East, ARTs are practiced according to religious norms, which are clearly set out in non- legally-binding, but nonetheless authoritative religious proclamations called fatwas. In this article, I intend to describe the impact of important ART fatwas on the practice of IVF and related technologies. Furthermore, I intend to show how ideological rifts between dominant Sunni versus minority Shi'ite forms of Islam are leading to quite divergent practices of third-party gamete donation in the Muslim world. I will do this through careful examination and comparison of two major fatwa texts, one offered by the leading cleric of Al-Azhar University in the heart of the Sunni Muslim world (Cairo, Egypt) and one offered by the supreme jurisprudent of the Shi'a branch of Islam in Iran. As will be seen, these two fatwas diverge in both style and substance, with implications for the practice of ARTs that are potentially profound. These differences, furthermore, have major implications for marriage, gender relations, and gender equity in the Muslim world, as will be shown in the final section of this article.1

II. The Role Of Fatwas

Islam has often been characterized as an "encompassing" or "comprehensive" religion, in that the teachings of Islam cover many fields of human activity, be they spiritual, social, cultural, educational, economic, political, or medical. Instructions that regulate everyday activities-for example, daily prayer, pork and alcohol prohibitions, and the care of orphans and the elderly-and are meant to be adhered to by observant Muslims, constitute the Islamic sharica.2 Muslims consider the primary sources of the sharica to be the Qur'an, considered the word of God as delivered to the prophet Muhammad; the sunna and hadith, a collection of traditions and sayings of the prophet Muhammad as authenticated by Islamic jurists; ijmac, which is the unanimous opinion of Islamic scholars; and qias...

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