Religion: Islam and Fertility (Part 3 of 3)

This is Part 3 of a three-part series exploring the views of Christianity, Judaism and Islam on infertility treatments. This is an important and intensely personal topic, and one that we encourage you to discuss with your faith leaders.

Below, we consider Islam’s view on marriage and childbirth in the context of male fertility, but generally speaking, no religious objection exists in Islam to infertile couples pursuing fertility treatments including IVF, micro-assisted conception techniques, and surgical sperm collection, as long as it is intended for their own use and not for others.

Though Muslims comprise more than 20 per cent of the global population, the faith of Islam isn’t merely a religion but for followers, is considered a way of life. Islamic teachings include a range of human activities, from individual and social concerns to material and spiritual matters to political and economic issues.

More specifically, as HN Sallam’s March 2016 study explains, Islamic jurisprudence rests on a quartet of principles:

  1. Any act is allowed (known as “halal”) unless forbidden (“haram”) by a text in the Qur’an

  2. Any act should not harm and should not be carried out under harassment

  3. That which is necessary can allow the forbidden; and

  4. Given two necessary acts that could cause harm, the one that produces the lesser harm should be selected.

When it comes to fertility, Islamic law supports the central notions of marriage, the creation of families, and procreation. Though obstacles to adoption exist, Sallam notes, “kind upbringing of orphans is encouraged” – which can result in a permanent foster care.

A 2000 study published in the journal Human Fertility further notes that because there can be many different interpretations of Qur’anic guidance concerning most any issue, “Only a fully qualified jurist of the highest rank can issue edicts on problems that are not already clearly addressed in the Qur'an.”

The study abstract goes on to note that no religious objection exists in Islam to infertile couples pursuing fertility treatments including IVF, micro-assisted conception techniques, and surgical sperm collection.

At the same time, though, gametes (sperm and egg cells) involved in fertility procedures must be those of the husband and wife; any union of sperm and egg outside of the bonds of matrimony is considered “haram”. As a result, any form of sperm-donor pregnancies falls outside the bounds of Islamic law.

It’s important to add that some Islamic scholars approve egg donation and surrogacy when it occurs between wives of the same husband. Freezing of assets is permitted when it is intended for personal use, but not for another person’s use. However, using stored sperm to fertilize an egg following divorce or the death of the father would be considered “haram”.

Yale University professor Marcia Inhorn, a recognized fertility expert, further delves into these issues as they differ and coincide in the two major branches of Islam in her 2006 study, “Making Muslim Babies: IVF and Gamete Donation in Sunni Versus Shi’a Islam”.

Inhorn notes that while IVF and similar procedures were approved by Islamic authorities in the 1980s (so long as they did not include any kind of third-party involvement), differences of opinion between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims have emerged since around the late 1990s. Iran’s ayatollah, for instance, allowed gamete donation in specific instances.

Inhorn’s study goes into great scholarly detail to break down the distinctions in this regard, as does Sallam’s. As with all matters pertaining to fertility and religion, it is vital that couples and individuals consult their own faith leaders for specific guidance and direction.

As is the case with couples of all walks of life and faith, some infertile Muslim couples might have to deal with difficult choices as well as elements of pressure when considering their options for starting a family.

A 2010 article in the Huffington Post describes a Chicago genetics counselor whose discussions with Muslim couples typically focus not on the odds of getting pregnant, as they do when she talks with couples from other faiths, but on the will of the Almighty, or Allah.

One Muslim woman quoted in the article described her dilemma this way: “People would ask, ‘What’s up? Why don’t you have kids? When are you getting kids?’ she remembered. ‘It’s up to God,’” was her reply. And while the 1999 direction from Iran’s ayatollah “effectively permitted donor technologies”, the article goes on to quote Inhorn as arguing that many Muslims are nonetheless hesitant to try to procreate by means of “technological intervention”.

“Many parents would be worried about how their kids would be accepted”, she adds.

Another perspective on the subject published at About Islam and entitled “Infertile Couples: Childless Doesn’t Mean Hopeless”, opens with this frank observation: “Whenever people ask me how can you build a strong marriage without children, I chuckle to myself, wondering how people build a strong marriage with children.”

For those who do wish to pursue conscionable and appropriate paths to procreation in accordance to the teachings of their Islamic faith, Legacy has several options for preserving your assets.