Islam and birth control: not a moral conflict.

Author:Mitsuka, Frances
Position:UN-sponsored book on Islamic views on family planning

ABOUT HALF THE world's female population uses some form of birth control. In more developed countries, the figure runs even higher -- up to 72%. Still, the choice to control her own destiny and the size of her family is a basic human right that eludes many women in the Muslim world.

Indeed, it is a basic human right that many Muslim women believe their religion denies them. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has surveys to show that although a good many Muslim women want fewer children and may even know about different methods of birth control, these same women do not practice family planning, because they fear their religion does not allow it.

Now, along comes Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam form the UNFPA, offering centuries of Islamic writings to dispute that popular belief. The book is the result of an exhaustive study of 14 centuries' worth of views on family planning from leading Islamic theologians and jurists, written by Professor Abdel Rahim Omran, chief population adviser to Al Azhar University in Cairo.

While taking care not to advocate a particular viewpoint on birth control, the author offers plenty of evidence, including scores of passages cited at length in Arabic, to show how Islam has been endorsing contraception for 1,400 years. In fact, in reading Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam, one cannot help but be amazed at how many specific references there are to birth control in the Koran and the Sunnah, the Prophet's tradition. It seems there is a discrepancy between Islamic theological and judicial opinion and the real lives of many Muslim women.

It is a real question as to whether this new book can address that discrepancy. After all, it seems more than a little problematic that there are 1,400 years of Islamic teachings condoning the use of birth control and still some Muslim countries exhibit some of the lowest rates of birth control use in the world. Pakistan is a case in point. Its population of 121.7m is expected to double in just 23 years.

On World Population Day in July 1991 Pakistani Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif said: "We know that the high rate of population growth will be the biggest obstacle in the way of socio-economic progress." He said the country's annual population increase of 3.1% must fall to 2.5% within the decade. But achieving that goal could be tough, considering only 9% of Pakistani women use birth control. It seems, then, what is really needed is not an exhaustive account of references to...

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