2 Family Planning and Reproductive Technology

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَ‌ٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

And among His signs is that He created for you partners from among yourselves, that you may find repose in them, and He put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for people who reflect.” (al-Rūm: 21)

The family institution is an important aspect of Muslim life. However, the path to building a family unit is not free from challenges. While some couples face difficulties in conceiving, others undertake family planning for a variety of reasons. Technological advances in health sciences have progressed far in providing solutions for both groups. With new techniques come about questions of religious permissibility. In these instances, rulings by the fatwa institution took into account, in addition to religious texts and sources, the society’s socio-economic conditions.

This approach is in line with maqāṣid al-sharīʿa, which, of particular interest here, establishes the protection of lineage and life.[1]Allah SWT states the following:

 وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ

وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

And indeed We have honoured the Children of Adam, and We have carried them on land and sea, and have provided them with at-tayyibāt (lawful good things), and have preferred them to many of those whom We have created with a marked preferment.”
(al-Isrā’: 70)

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ

Verily, We created man in the best stature (mould).” (at-Tīn: 4)

PART I
ISSUES RELATED TO FAMILY PLANNING 

Background

Issues about contraception and reproduction became increasingly prominent as the global population increased rapidly in a post-war baby boom.[2] In Singapore, there were concerns that the economy could not support such demographic growth. Initiatives to discourage procreation in Singapore emerged as early as 1949.[3]

At first, voluntary bodies such as the Family Planning Association of Singapore, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) established in 1949, spearheaded these campaigns. By 1966, the newly independent state had taken over this role[4] by establishing the Family Planning and Population Board (FPPB) to implement a raft of measures designed to limit family size. This board encouraged the use of new medical technologies for sterilisation, contraception and abortion.[5]

The use of contraceptives generated relatively less controversy among the Muslim community in Singapore. A study carried out in 1984 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, compared the fertility of various ethnic groups. The study found that Malays were the most knowledgeable about the availability of contraceptives among the three major ethnic groups surveyed. [6]  In addition, about 55% of the Malay couples surveyed used some form of contraception.[7]

Among the early contraceptive techniques introduced was the Intra-uterine Device (IUD). When it was first produced, IUDs were particularly controversial in the United States because it prevented the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterus, which could be construed as a form of abortion.[8] In Singapore, in line with the government’s “Stop at Two” campaign which was first introduced in 1972,[9] the Malay press published several articles between 1971 to 1973 aimed at encouraging small families and the use of devices such as IUD. This generated heightened interest and concern among the Malay-Muslim community on contraceptive use. In 1976, Fatwa Committee was asked about the permissibility of using the IUD.

Fatwa Decision 31/5/1976
RULING ON INTRA-UTERINE DEVICE (IUD) AND CONTRACEPTIVE

Question:

The question asks the Fatwa Committee to explain the rulings on

(a) Intra-Uterine Device (IUD);
(b) Contraceptives.

Answer:

The Committee has examined these matters in depth and after deliberating in accordance with Islamic law, it has ruled that:

(a) Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) – If it does not pose any harm and used with the husband’s consent, then it is permitted.

(b) Contraceptive – If it does not pose any harm and used with the husband’s consent, then it is permitted.

The brief fatwa outlines several general conditions for the use of contraceptives. One such condition was that contraceptive devices must be safe for use and not cause any harm or danger. Despite scientific certainty at the time, the Fatwa Committee did not elaborate on the safety aspect, possibly due to the lack of information. The Fatwa Committee focused on two matters: the avoidance of danger and harm and the husband’s consent.

The issue of harm is stressed in the Shari’a based on the hadīth of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ):

لا ضرر ولا ضرار
 “Do not inflict harm nor repay harm with another.”
(Narrated by Ibn Mājah and al-Dāral-Quṭni).

According to this ruling, the husband and wife should both be aware of contraceptive use, and ensure that it does not result in harm. This harm includes possible health hazards to users, such as affecting the chances of having a baby in the future. This is further elaborated in the fatwa issued in 1987. 

The 1976 fatwa also stressed that the use of contraceptives requires the consent of the husband, possibly as these devices could be used by the wife without the husband’s knowledge. The rationale for this is that the husband and wife should make decisions on family planning and determining the number of children collectively. This stand is consistent with the decision made by the Islamic Fiqh Academy in 1988.[10]

Sterilization

Sterilization poses religious uncertainty as it differs from other methods of contraception. Tubal ligation was the most common method of sterilization. Initially, sterilization was considered irreversible.

In Singapore, this procedure was legalised in 1970.[11] It was targeted mainly at women, with cash incentives and paid sick leave given to women who chose to undergo this surgery voluntarily. In addition, until 1986, only children whose parents were sterilized before the age of forty were given priority in top primary school registration. Workers in the public sector were not allowed to receive maternity leave for their third child and subsequent children. [12] Sterilisation as a form of birth control was first mooted by Professor BH Sheares from the University of Malaya in 1959.[13] It met with objections from some segments of society especially Christian groups. However, this scheme continued until 1986.

In the early 1970s, there were some discussions in the Malay-Muslim community on the permissibility and safety of taking contraceptive drugs. This followed rumours that claim such medicines had harmful side effects.  A televised forum on family planning chaired by Sha’ari Tadin (then-Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Culture) was held in 1972. Speaking on the forum too were Ustaz Haji Abu Bakar Hashim and Dr. Ghazali Ismail.[14] Muslim community leaders called for individuals to avoid sterilisation unless in life-threatening circumstances, without criticising the policy as a whole.

Fatwa Decision 19/12/1974
RULING ON STERILIZATION

Question:

The question posed is whether sterilization is prohibited or permissible. A woman wants to undergo ligation because she has four children, and if she gives birth to another, she will not be entitled to maternity leave and other educational benefits, and instead will be charged an accouchement fee.

Answer:

Sterilization is prohibited in Islam except in life threatening circumstance, or in cases of emergency.

Fatwa Decision 31/5/1976
RULING ON VASECTOMY AND STERILIZATION

Question:

The question asks the Fatwa Committee to explain the rulings for:

a) Vasectomy
b) Sterilisation

Answer:

The Committee, after examining these matters in depth and in accordance with the Islamic law, ruled as follows:

Vasectomy and Sterilization

According to Islamic law, these are prohibited, except for reasons of emergency.

In both the decision above dated 19 December 1974 and 31 May 1976, the Fatwa Committee issued decisions based on the specific techniques; vasectomy and sterilisation as prohibited, and IUD as permissible.

Family Planning Since the 1980s

A seminar was organised by Darul Arqam Singapore on 27 and 28 June 1987 entitled “Natural Family Planning and Abortion”. Questions on family planning thus resurfaced in 1987 as part of efforts to clarify the religious position on family planning for the Muslim community. This ruling provided more details on the Islamic principles and juristic base in determining the religious position on family planning.

Fatwa Decision 17/6/1987
RULING ON FAMILY PLANNING

Question:

What is Islam’s perspective on family planning?

 Answer:

Islam encourages its followers to marry. For men who could not afford to get married, they are encouraged to fast. Marriage allows mankind to continue his ancestry and to populate the earth. With the birth of children and the strengthening of the family’s foundation, marriage reinforces the spirit of helping amongst the community in their everyday lives.

Rasulullah (ﷺ) forbade Muslims from living celibate lives. Instead, he encouraged the ummah to marry as stated in his hadīth:

تَزَوَّجُوا الْوَدُوْدَ الْوَلُوْدَ فَإِنِّي مُكَاثِرٌ بِكُمُ اْلأُمَمُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَة 

Marry a woman who could bear many children as I would be proud of you on the Day of Judgement for populating the ummah.

 Rasulullah (ﷺ) also stated that :

اَلنِّكَاحُ سُنَّتِيْ فَمَنْ رَغِبَ عَنْ سُنَّتِيْ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي 

Marriage is my way of life, So he who deviates from my way is not from me (not one of my followers)” Ibn Majah

In recent times, the issues of overpopulation have become a concern for many countries. Some of the concerns of overpopulation are issues such as the division of work, housing, education and other matters which affect the lives of the people.

Islam is a true religion. It is suitable for every place and time as it is a religion which is dynamic and not old-fashioned. It constantly gives “nur” (light) to Muslims who are righteous and provides them with spiritual and physical happiness.

Marriage, especially amongst young adults, is encouraged in many Qur’anic verses and hadīth so as to prevent them from committing adultery (zina) or giving in to their sexual urges. It also protects them from Satan’s distractions. Marriage also provides higher goals in life.

On the issue of family planning, we can find a similar situation in the time of the Prophet. In those days, some of the Prophet’s companions practised family planning with a method called “azal”, which is ejaculation outside of the woman’s womb to prevent pregnancy (coitus interruptus). When this matter was raised to the Prophet, he neither forbade nor encouraged it since the true intention of marriage is to conceive children. From a hadīth, it is understood that adopting the practice of “azal“, with the intention of spacing pregnancies, is permissible. In Surah al-Baqara, verse 233, Allah states:

وَالْوَالِدَاتُ يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلَادَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كَامِلَيْنِ ۖ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُتِمَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ

The mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the suckling term.” (al-Baqara: 233)

This verse signifies that the completion of a child’s suckling could bring about the good health of the child and that the period of suckling could last as long two years.

Jurists are of the following view: “To have sexual relations with a wife who is still suckling her child such that she could become pregnant again is highly discouraged. For fear that the pregnancy would bring about harm unto the health of the suckling child, it is then forbidden.”

From this, we understand that Islam encourages us to protect our babies from physical weaknesses and to care for them such that they become strong and healthy. Proper care of the child could only be ensured by spacing the next pregnancy, with at least two years between them. A hadīth states:

عَنْ عُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ، قَالَ نَهَى رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ نَعْزِلَ عَنِ الْحُرَّةِ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهَا2 

 ” Rasulullah (ﷺ) forbids a husband from performing “azal” when ejaculating without the permission of the wife who is a free woman.” Ibn Majah.

“This is because the relations between husband and wife would not be fulfilling and it is cruel towards one of the parties in this relationship. However, with the use of modern contraceptives, the process of “azal” is not necessary.”

From these statements, we can deduce that Islam prioritises quality over quantity. Muslim jurists believe that family planning practices, such as the consumption of pills or other forms of contraceptives, are temporarily permissible so long as these methods do not harm the health of the user. Contraceptives should not render the person barren but allow the person to plan his family with care and order.

Source:
1.Kumpulan Fatwa 1. Muis. First Edition
2 Muḥammad Bin Yazīd Bin Mājah al-Qazwīnī, Sunān Ibn Māja. Vol.1. (Beirut, Dār Al-Iḥyā Al-ʿArabī: 1975). Kitāb Nikāḥ, hadīth number 1928.

This later fatwa provided a more detailed istidlāl in explaining the evidence that permits family planning in Islam. For example, it highlighted the purpose and wisdom of marriage by relating it to the rationale for family planning. This reflects the Fatwa Committee’s emphasis on the intent of Sharī’a by underlining the purpose behind a particular ruling. The safety of contraceptive techniques was no longer touched upon as medical advancements in the 1980s reassuring on the safety of existing contraceptive techniques.

This thus illustrates that the Fatwa Committee kept track of developments in a particular issue so that its guidance remains pertinent to latest findings while being true to the fundamental ethical principle in Islam. Although the approach taken in determining opinions on family planning changed, the principle of protecting both mother and baby from harm remains consistent.

This fatwa also differentiated between temporary and permanent methods of family planning. A different ruling was made on permanent methods of family planning as those methods could cause permanent sterility.

Abortion

Abortion is defined as a procedure to medically remove a foetus from the womb. Abortion was illegal or discouraged in most parts of the world up to the 20th century. However, legal enforcement was uneven and attitudes towards abortion were divided.

Globally, the practice of terminating pregnancies, had existed long before its legalisation. This was mainly done through botanic or chemical abortifacients.[15] Cumin or jintan putih was one of the herbs commonly used by Malays and had an abortifacient effect if used during early stages of pregnancy.[16] In Europe, pennyroyal tea was often used to similar effect. Other herbs used for the same purpose were tansy, savin and opium.[17] In Germany, a tea blend of marjoram, thyme, parsley and lavender was used for the same purpose.[18] Although small amounts of these herbs are not necessarily poisonous, consuming them in large enough quantities or when blended with other herbs to induce abortions could be fatal. For example, in 1994, a young woman in California died after drinking a tea containing pennyroyal extract to induce an abortion.[19] She suffered a seizure when the recommended dose was exceeded.

Surgical methods of abortion such as the use of curettes and vacuum devices developed later, but these methods were not necessarily less dangerous.  Only in 1930 were safer ways to perform abortion developed.  Prior to that, it was still safer to give birth than to have an abortion even in countries like America.[20].

In countries where abortion was illegal, women tended to turn to unregulated abortionists at great risk to their lives. The availability of safe abortion techniques is highly related to society’s views towards abortion itself; whether a woman has the liberty of choosing between continuing with her pregnancy or terminating it.

Proponents of legalised abortions, often known as pro-choice, argue that decriminalising the procedure will offer a safer medicalised option to terminate pregnancies and save the mother’s lives.[21] The flip side of the pro-choice argument comes from a pro-life camp, which asserts that it is paramount to save the unborn life by not offering abortion as an option at all. Abortion remained illegal in many countries for most of the 20th century, largely on the grounds of this argument. However, from the 1960s onwards, many countries started legalising the procedure.[22]  There are some reasons for this shift: the rise of women’s rights movements, better technology to carry out abortions and population pressures from the post-war baby boom.

The decision whether to legalise abortion remains controversial in many societies. One significant area of contention is the question of when human life begins. The decision whether to legalise abortion remains controversial in many societies. One significant area of contention is the question of when human life begins. From a scientific perspective, this question has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. Arguments for a particular position tended to be linked to the development of sub-branches of science itself. From a neurological perspective, life begins at twenty-four to twenty-seven weeks in the womb with the start of discernible activity in the cerebral cortex as measured by an Electroencephalography (EEG).[23]  From an ecological perspective, the start of life is defined when the foetus can sustain itself outside its mother’s womb at around twenty-five weeks.[24] For genetics, life begins at conception as a fertilised egg contains a complete genome for a genetically unique individual.[25]

Although abortion was legalised in 1970 in Singapore, its legality was accompanied by disapproval of the practice among the malay muslim community. Abortion rates were seen as indicators of rising incidence of pre-marital sex, which is a major sin in Islam. In response to increasing abortion rates in the 1990s, several religious leaders in the Muslim community highlighted the importance of not engaging in extra-marital sex through education campaigns and forums, some with the help of the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association.[26] Likewise, church leaders in Singapore also largely disapproved of abortion.[27]

Two fatwa rulings on abortion were issued over a ten-year period, reflecting the corresponding scientific and social developments during this time.

Fatwa Decision 31/5/1976
RULING ON ABORTION

Question:

The Fatwa Committee was asked the ruling on abortion.

Answer:

The Committee has examined the matter in depth, and after deliberation in accordance with Islamic law, decided the following:

Originally, this act is prohibited, but it is allowed (in the following circumstances):

  1. To save the life of the mother;
  2. If the unborn child was conceived out of wedlock (with the condition that it has to be less than 120 days old i.e. before it develops into a foetus).

Fatwa Decision 11/12/1986
ABORTION

Question:

What is the Islamic view on abortion?

Answer:

Scholars agree that abortion after the fourth month is haram, it is in fact is a criminal act. Such an act is similar to killing a living, fully-formed being. Therefore Muslims are prohibited from it unless it is to save the mother’s life.

For abortion before four months, opinions of the ‘ulamā differ. This is because there are disagreements on whether the embryo/foetus is alive. The majority of ‘ulamā view that, based on medical evidence, it is alive; they consequently prohibit its abortion.

Since medical knowledge indicates that a foetus is alive from the point of conception (fertilisation of male and female cells), the Fatwa Committee has decided that abortion is prohibited, no matter the age of the embryo/foetus in the womb.

There is one key difference between the fatwas on abortion issued in 1976 and 1986.  The earlier fatwa allows abortions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk or, in cases of pregnancies outside marriage, for foetuses less than 120 days old. The later fatwa disallows abortion regardless of the age of the foetus unless the mother’s life is in danger, citing medical knowledge that a distinct genome is formed at the point of conception.

The crux of the matter lies in determining at which point life begins in the womb. The crux of the matter lies in determining at which point life begins in the womb. As mentioned in the 1976 fatwa, Muslim jurists differ on terminations of pregnancies less than 120 days long. The root of this difference goes back to determining whether, and at which point, an embryo or foetus holds the same status to that of a living human being, which then prohibits its termination. The sources of Islamic tradition do not clearly specify foetal development and growth. At the time, the technology that could determine this process (known as embryology) was not yet firmly established. The Fatwa Committee relied on Qur’anic verses and hadīth that mention the sanctity of life and the attributes of foetal growth and development. An example is the following Qur’anic verse:

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ ۝ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ  ۝ ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ

   “And indeed We created man (Adam) out of an extract of clay (water and earth). Thereafter We made him (the offspring of Adam) as a “nutfah” (mixed drops of the male and female sexual discharge and lodged it) in a safe lodging (womb of the woman). Then We made the “nuftah” into a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood), then We made the clot into a lump of flesh, then We made out of that little lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We brought it forth as another creation. So blessed is Allah, the Best of creators” al-Muʾminūn: 12-14).

The verse above points to several stages of foetal growth in the womb. However, it mentions the attributes of, but not any specific duration for, each stage, nor did it state the markers that differentiate between each stage. The closest evidence that explains these stages is the hadīth reported by ʿAbdullāh Ibn Masʿūd RA which describes the moment when the soul is breathed into the foetus (known as nafkh al-rūḥ).

ِإِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ يُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا نُطْفَةً ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يُرْسِلُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِ الْمَلَكَ ، فَيَنْفُخُ فِيهِ الرُّوحَ وَيُؤْمَرُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ : بِكَتْبِ رِزْقِهِ وَعَمَلِهِ وَأَجَلِهِ وَشَقِيٌّ أَوْ سَعِيدٌ

“Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a drop, then he becomes a clot of blood for a like period, then a morsel of flesh for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows his soul into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his sustenance, his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (i.e., whether or not he will enter Paradise)” (narrated by al-Bukhārī and Muslim).

Based on this hadith, most ‘ulamā view that the soul is breathed into the foetus after it reaches 120 days. Some others are of the view that all of the stages mentioned above occur in the first 40 days instead of 120 days, and so the soul is present by the 40th day. With the presence of soul, the foetus possesses certain rights that must be protected.

In addition to the above, it should be noted that the 1986 fatwa was published about a year after a large conference of Muslim scholars and scientists in Kuwait debated the issue of when human life begins. The findings were published in a 700-page volume.[28] While no consensus was reached, these findings clarified several major positions. Scientists at the conference generally argued that the zygote becomes human at the moment of conception or when implanted in the uterus because the foetus’ development thereafter is subjective. Religious scholars, on the other hand, were more comfortable with approximating a range of periods – from 40 to 120 days – rather than specifying a particular stage of pregnancy.[29] The fatwa issued in 1986 can thus be seen as in line with the findings of the seminar, and partly as an effort to mirror scientific developments.

PART II
EMERGING ISSUES

Assisted Reproduction and Test Tube Babies

Assisted reproduction underwent several revolutionary changes in the late 20th century. As the field of biological sciences developed, scientists began looking at alternative ways for human reproduction, partially motivated by the need to help infertile couples. These developments presaged experiments in cloning which involved transferring the nucleus from an embryo cell to an egg cell. These egg cells were implanted into a womb using in-vitro fertilisation methods and grew into the complete cloned organisms.

The availability of such techniques opened up new possibilities for solving infertility problems and regenerating diseased cells to cure illnesses. At the same time, they also opened up new ethical issues about the parentage and rights of humans and animals born from such methods. Muslims in Singapore shared those same concerns. The following section focuses on the public discourse and public policies surrounding these ethical issues in Singapore.

Artificial Insemination and Sperm Banks

When it comes to the application of assisted reproduction technology to humans, there was intense discussion of its ramifications among many religious communities in Singapore. In 1960, the Jewish Menorah Club organised a forum on artificial insemination, birth control and euthanasia, with panelists comprising prominent Jewish leaders such as David Marshall – who was also the Chief Minister of Singapore from 1955 to 1956 – and representatives of the Catholic and Anglican churches in Singapore.[30] The discussion produced no clear conclusions – some opposed the procedure while others took a neutral stance.[31] There were also concerns that siblings might not know each other if donor sperm was used during insemination, resulting in unintended incest.[32]

The procedure itself was legalised and made available to the public in Singapore in 1967. In line with the government’s stance towards limiting population growth in the 1970s, the procedure was not particularly encouraged. By 1975, at least 30 known inseminations had been done.[33] A sperm bank – the first in Southeast Asia – was set up in Singapore in 1977.[34] Two types of insemination were available: one using the husband’s sperm and the other using a donor’s sperm. The practice was tightly regulated, not highly encouraged and carried some social stigma; babies born from donor sperm technically had no legal status while doctors often discreetly selected donors with a physical resemblance to the husband.  The sperm bank itself was productive in assisting infertile couples and for research into curbing births.[35]

Fatwa Decision 19/12/1974
ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION

Question:

What is the ruling on artificial insemination?

Answer:

Artificial insemination is permitted if the wife is the recipient of her husband’s sperm. However, using the sperm of another man other than her husband is forbidden.

This paved the way for many different permutations in parentage and implantation. It was then possible for people to not only have children with men or women who were not their spouses, but a couple also has the option to implant their fertilised egg into the womb of a stranger – often referred to as a surrogate – who would carry the child to term. This challenged traditional definitions of ‘father’ and ‘mother’, with the surrogate mother complicating claims to the child. An example of a negative response to reproductive technology is a newspaper article published in 1978, which reported some religious groups considering the act of bearing a test tube baby as “test tube adultery”. [36]  Furthermore, there were also concerns about the rights of the foetus and child conceived through this method. Some people questioned whether it was right to eliminate a deformed foetus from the in-vitro fertilisation. Other concerns include the possible commercialization of the technology that might exploit the needs of infertile couples by providing such services at a high price.[37] At that time, about 15 to 30 percent of married couples had fertility problems, and this problem increased as the median age a couple first marries rose.[38] In addition, egg donors were in short supply, and their emotions towards the possible birth of a child with their genes are hard to determine and manage.[39]

A debate also ensued in the area of research and the ethical use of embryos in such work. In November 1984, the Ministry of Health in Singapore ordered a temporary halt to research work in this area and formed a committee to discuss these issues. Subsequently, the Singapore Medical Association Committee on In-vitro fertilisation and the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Society of Singapore called for an In-vitro Fertilisation Review Board in Singapore to be formed in order to license and monitor the research in these centres. They strongly supported research on the cryopreservation of embryos and for experiments to be conducted on them.[40]

Muslim religious leaders in Singapore took the view that they should keep up with scientific development, and not impede it or remain ignorant.[41]  The fatwa ruling on this issue, which came out five years after the birth of the first test-tube baby, took into account both concerns by forbidding in-vitro fertilisation involving donors and surrogates but permitting the procedure when used by married couples.

Fatwa Decision 8/3/1983
TEST TUBE BABIES

Question:

What is the Islamic view on test tube babies?

Answer:

The Islamic law on matters related to the test tube babies are as follow:

1) A Muslim donating his sperm to the sperm bank: prohibited.

2) A Muslim man giving his sperm to his wife through the test tube method (internal insemination) if his wife is unable to conceive normally: permitted.

3) A Muslim woman who becomes pregnant from sperm other than her husband’s, which was obtained from the sperm bank because her husband’s sperm is not suitable for conceiving a child: prohibited.

4) A Muslim woman who becomes pregnant with an egg donated by a second woman, which was fertilised by the first woman’s husband’s sperm because her egg is not suitable for conceiving a child: prohibited.

5) The sperm and egg from husband and wife were fertilised externally and then inserted into the womb of the wife, because she could not get pregnant through normal intercourse due to damage to the ovum channels: permitted.

6) For the purposes above, the husband’s sperm can be collected either by ‘azal (coitus interruptus); or from the wife’s vagina, or by masturbation, but these must be observed with a legitimate wife in accordance with Islamic law.

This position was further refined when the Fatwa Committee prohibited the use of banked sperm to conceive a child after the death of the sperm owner. This was in response to a case which took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 2002, when the Social Service Administration refused to recognise a set of twins born by using a man’s frozen sperm after his death as his legal heirs.[42]

Fatwa Decision 25/6/2002
FROZEN SPERM FROM A DECEASED HUSBAND

Question:

The Office of Mufti executive informed the Fatwa Committee about an article titled “Gift of life from the dead wrapped in legal problems” published in The Straits Times on 17 January 2002. The article discussed the case of a husband of a woman named Lauren Woodwards who died from leukaemia in 1993. Two years after the death of her husband, the woman used her husband’s frozen sperm to get pregnant, and gave birth to a pair of twins. As the issue had already become a reality, the ‘ulamā will be asked to provide religious guidance on the matter. The article is also attached for the benefit of the Fatwa Committee.

Answer:

After deliberation, the Fatwa Committee ruled that inserting a husband’s sperm into the uterus after his death is prohibited. The ‘illah (reasoning) for the prohibition is that the woman in this case is no longer the wife of the deceased. The husband-wife relationship is terminated with the death of one of them. Similar views have been expressed by both past and present jurists. The latest discussion was held by the Islamic Research Academy in Egypt. Among those present at the discussion was The Sheikh Al-Azhar Dr. Muhammad Syed Tantawi, Sheikh Mahmood Hamdi Zaqzuq and the Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Nasr Farid Wasil. The conference issued the following fatwa:

وَضَعَ مَاءُ الزَوْجِ فِي رَحْمِ زَوجَتِهِ بَعْدَ وَفَاتِهِ حَرَامٌ شَرعًا، لِأَنَّهَا لَم تعد زوجة للمتوفى1
 “Placing the husband’s sperm in the womb of the wife after his death is forbidden in Islamic law, because she is no longer the wife of the deceased.”

They also issued a fatwa deeming the action as prohibited in religion by stating:

وَهَذَا الفِعلُ مُحَرَّمٌ شَرعًا لِأنَّهً يَتَضَمَّنُ وَضَعَ حَيَوَانَاتُ مُنَوِّيَةُ مِن رَجُلٍ فِي رَحمِ امْرَأَة صَارَت أَجْنَبِيَّة عَنْه وَقَد قَطَعَ المَوْت مَا بَيْنَهُمَا2
This act is prohibited in Islamic jurisprudence because it is placing the sperm into the uterus of a woman who is foreign to him; the relationship between them was terminated by his death.
Source:
1 Fatwa issued by Majmaʿ Buḥūth Al-Islāmiyya Egypt, April 2, 2001. See: http://articles.islamweb.net/media/index.php?page=article&lang=A&id=1073
2 Ibid.

 

In essence, artificial and in-vitro insemination drew controversy not because of the technology per se but due to concerns about how such methods impact the creation of a traditional nuclear family with clear lineage. Such techniques could potentially be used to facilitate the mixing of genes of men and women who are not bound by a valid marriage, consequently making parentage ambiguous and impacting inheritance laws. However, given the declining birth rate from the 1990s and the number of couples who were getting married at a later age, artificial insemination technologies also helped to boost the birth rate by assisting married couples with fertility problems. Therefore, Singapore and the Muslim community chose to regulate rather than prohibit the practice.

Conclusion

The progression of fatwas on family planning shows gradual revisions due to new developments and changing contexts. This is common in the process of producing rulings and fatwas, as fatwas are ijtihādī in nature, and muftis and jurists have always taken into account context in order to provide solutions to various issues. This approach also leads to continually evolving religious views.

In the case of family planning and reproduction, the initial approach (before the rapid development of medicine) is to usually prohibit certain actions due to safety concerns and uncertainties as to its efficacy. However, as medical advancements developed, and the safety and effectiveness of these solutions became more established, the fatwa adapts accordingly. The permissibility is tied to stringent requirements in line with the understanding of maqāṣid al-sharīʿa, which includes the preservation of life, and also in line with the higher objective of Islam that honors mankind and secures its welfare and interests.


  1. Please refer to Chapter 4  in respect to scientific and bio-technological research using human tissue.
  2. The world's population is expected to increase in the next century. This will attract global attention on reproductive issues, and impact religious rulings and fatwas.
  3. Yap Mui Teng, “Singapore: Population Policies and Programs” in Warren C. Robinson and John A. Ross, The global family planning revolution: three decades of population policies and programs (World Bank Publications, 2007), 201–219.
  4. Yap Mui Teng, “Singapore: Population Policies and Programs”, (2007), 201.
  5. United Nations Fund, Population Profiles 1: Singapore. United Nations Fund for Population Activities, (1977), (1977), 16-31.
  6. Eddie C.Y Kuo dan Chiew Seen Kong, Ethnicity and Fertility in Singapore, (Singapore:  Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1984).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Pam Belluck dan Erik Eckholm, “Religious Groups Equate Some Contraceptives with Abortion.” The New York Times, February 17, 2012. Accessed on 3 March 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/17/health/religious-groups-equate-some-contraceptives-with-abortion.html?_r=0.
  9. The "Stop at Two" family planning campaign was introduced in 1972, especially following Singapore’s independence when the birth rate shot up after World War II. For fear of rising costs from uncontrolled birth rate, the campaign was deemed necessary by the government as a nation-building project. Various measures were implemented, with certain policies enforced on 1 August 1973, including; (i) the reduction of income tax relief to cover only the first three children; (ii) an increase in accouchement fees in government hospitals; (iii) exemption from accouchement fees and other charges for the fourth child provided that either the husband or wife undergo sterilisation after the birth; (iv) reducing paid maternity leave from three to two; and (v) lower priority for larger families in the Housing and Development Board (HDB) waiting list. In addition, between 1973 and 1974, the IEC Unit introduced the campaign “Family Life and Population Education” in the primary school curriculum, and distributed publicity materials which reflected the SFPPB campaign slogan “Girl or Boy, Two is Enough” which were printed on the Public Utilities Board (PUB) paper bills, as well as the Postal Department stamps in August and September 1974. The campaign proved successful as the birth rate dropped to 17.7 per 1,000 inhabitants in the following year, which was below the target of 18.0 births. The campaign continued until the late 1980s when the declining birth began to cause concern. The announcement in 1987 by the then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong encouraged parents to have three or more children if they could afford it. In August 2004, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced new incentives and financial benefits for every child born to address the declining birth rate. Despite that, Singapore's birth rate remains low at less than 10 births per 1,000 population, with a fertility rate of 1.19 in 2013. See: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/eea3d96d-93aa-455a-ac8a-1564d1b6d215.
  10. The decision to temporarily postpone a pregnancy is permitted if necessary and for reasons accepted by Islamic law, as long as there is agreement between the husband and wife, and the methods used do not cause any harm and do not eliminate any existing pregnancy. This 1976 fatwa preceded the OIC decision by more than a decade. Extracted from Resolution 39, the fifth Daurah of Majmaʿ al-Fiqh al-Islāmī, 10-15 December 1988, Kuwait. http://www.fiqhacademy.org.sa/qrarat/5-1.htm
  11. Theresa Wong dan Brenda S.A. Yeoh, “Fertility and the Family: An Overview of Pro-natalist Population Policies in Singapore.” Asian Metacenter Research Paper Series 12 (2003).
  12. Yap Mui Teng, “Singapore's Three or More Policy: The First Five Years,” Asia-Pacific Population Journal Vol. 10:4, (1995), 39–52.
  13. “Sterilisation? It’s vile, immoral and degrading,” The Straits Times July 3, 1959.
  14. “Jarang beranak dengan makan pil tak merbahaya,” Berita Harian, July 25, 1972.
  15. John M. Riddle, Contraception and abortion from the ancient world to the Renaissance. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 21-56.
  16. Mohamad Zakaria Mustafa Ali Mohd, Traditional Malay Medicinal Plants. (Kuala Lumpur: Institute Terjemahan Negara Sendirian Berhad, 2010) 139-140.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Kathleen London, “The History of Birth Control,” in The Changing American Family: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, (1982).
  19. Gordon Young, “Lifestyle on Trial,” Metro, December 14, 1995. Accessed on November 9, 2015 http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.14.95/pennyroyal-9550.html
  20. J. Lewis, and Jon O. Shimabukuro, “Abortion Law Development: A Brief Overview,” Congressional Research Service, January 28, 2001. Accessed on March 3, 2015.http://www.policyalmanac.org/culture/archive/crs_abortion_overview.shtml
  21. James A. Holstein and Jaber F. Gubrium, Handbook of Constructionist Research (New York: Guilford Press, 2008).
  22. Britain passed the Abortion Act in 1967. In the United States, Roe vs Wade paved the way for the country's government to allow abortions in 1973. In Japan, abortion has generally been accepted since the late 1940s. See: Marlene LeGates, In Their Time: A History of Feminism in Western Society (London: Routledge, 2001), 363-364.
  23. Kanwaljeet J.S, Anand dan P.R Hickey, “Pain and its effects on the Human Neonate.” in The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol.  317:21, (1987), 1321-1329. The alternative neurology view holds that life begins in the fourth to eighth week with the first signs of brain waves in the brain stem.
  24. Oladele O. Arowolo, Human Rights in Life and Death: Basic Considerations for Development Planning.( Xlibris Publishers, 2010)
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Sex in Islam only for married couples,” The Straits Times., April 18, 1995, 55.
  27. For example, in 1971, a Jesuit priest wrote to The Straits Times criticising a sex education forum for not being honest about the effects of contraceptive use, and for encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle.
  28. The symposium organised by the Islamic Organisation for Medical Sciences was titled “Human Life: Its Beginning and Its End from an Islamic Perspective.” It was the second in a series of symposiums held by the organisation under the theme “Islam and the Contemporary Medical Concerns.”
  29. Mohamed Ghaly (2012) “The Beginning of Human Life: Islamic Bioethical Perspectives.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 47:1, pp. 175-213
  30. “Mercy Killing - One of the Subjects for Debate,” The Straits Times, April 25, 1960.
  31. “There is point in living even if there is no hope - by Mrs S,” The Singapore Free Press, April 30, 1960.
  32. “Some dangers of artificial insemination.,” The Straits Times, August 25, 1977.
  33. “Demand for test-tube babies likely to increase,” The Straits Times, June 19, 1975.
  34. “Singapore Sperm Bank,” New Nation, July 30, 1977 and “No lack of donors for Sperm Bank” New Nation, August 1, 1977.
  35. The founder of the sperm bank, Professor Christopher Chen, discovered an antigen in sperms that has the potential to be used and developed as a contraceptive in vaccine form.
  36. “Test-tube babies: S’pore can do it but moral issues come first,” The Straits Times, October 8, 1978.
  37. “What about emotions?” The Straits Times, October 8, 1978, 5.  See also “$25000 to have a test tube baby,” Singapore Monitor, March 8, 1983, 6.
  38. “Singapore's other test tube baby pioneer,” Singapore Monitor, August 30, 1983, 6.
  39. “What about emotions?” The Straits Times, October 8, 1978, 5.
  40. "Doctors propose panel for test tube babies," Singapore Monitor, April 21, 1985, 2. See also "Freeze on test-tube baby experiments," Singapore Monitor, November 6, 1984, 4.
  41. See “Kelahiran bayi tabung uji. timbulkan banyak persoalan [Test tube births raise many questions],” Berita Harian, August 12, 1978.
  42. “Kids conceived after Dad’s death are rightful heirs," The Straits Times, January 4, 2002.

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