August 9, 2012, This is Kent
The Christian church's record on teaching sexual morality is patchy.
While Jesus taught the indissolubility and exclusivity of marriage, quite early in Christian history some Church leaders began to show a distaste for sexual intercourse which has had damaging results. They taught that celibacy was a higher way of life than marriage, and that sexual intercourse should be undertaken solely and exclusively for the procreation of children. They excluded the possibility that sexual union might be undertaken simply as an expression of affection and intimacy.
While few people today would argue that celibacy is superior to marriage, but there is still some disagreement over the place of sexual intercourse.
Nearly all Christian denominations teach that sexual union within marriage has a wider function that the production of children, but the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church adds that nothing artificial must be done to prevent conception.
Anything beyond planning a family by "natural" means - such as avoiding intercourse at times when the woman is most fertile - is sinful.
Very few Roman Catholics in western countries feel bound by their church's teaching in this respect; and they use artificial contraceptives, but in the developing world the teaching has what many would see as a damaging effect.
An initiative recently begun by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide family planning facilities for many millions of women who were previously denied them was intended to prevent unwanted pregnancies which often endanger the mother's health or produce another mouth which it will prove hard to feed.
But official Roman Catholic church strenuously resists initiatives of this kind, both on grounds of doctrine and by arguing that the money involved could be better spent in other ways.
Many Christians take another view, saying that it has been conceded that sexual intercourse has a wider purpose than procreation it is hard to see why artificial contraception within marriage should be forbidden.
Jesus All About ToleranceSacremento Bee LTE by Margaret Loehr
Once again, fear and hatred mask themselves as religion and loudly encourages intolerance in the name of Jesus.
Jesus never mentioned homosexuality or abortion.
Nor did he ever suggest that there was a "right" religion or that the purpose of religion was to judge others and get them to do what we want them to do.
Rather, he taught tolerance for the divinity in all.
He railed against hypocrisy. He realized that the reason we condemn others is to distract ourselves from clearly seeing our own improprieties.
If we sincerely want to heal the woes of humanity, we cannot do it through hatred and intolerance. Our hope lies in our ability to move into acceptance of our own humanity and the humanity of others. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Gandhi, Jesus and many others all emphasized this simple message.
New York Times*
Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and most of Judaism and Christianity see responsible parenthood in marriage, including the use of contraception, as a moral good. Highly respected religious leaders, including two Nobel laureates, have opened the door to admit abortion in some circumstances. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the South African constitutional provision legalizing abortion. And the Dalai Lama, while generally opposed to abortion, said in a New York Times Sunday Magazine profile, "I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to the circumstances." Indeed, in mainline Christianity, fairly widespread support exists for population stabilization (not a women's-rights issue) and for family planning and even abortion, as necessary, to save the planet.
Desmond Tutu, Former Anglican Archbishop of CapeTown
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Almost all the influential figures in the world's religions had small families," observed McGill University's Arvind Sharma at the 1999 Hague Forum. "Rama, the popular God of Hinduism, had two sons; the Bud-dha had one son; Mahavira, the last prophet of Jainism, had one daughter (if that); Confucius had one son; Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, none. Abraham had two sons and two daughters; Moses had two sons; Jesus none. The prophet Mohammed was survived by a daughter."
...Ayatollah Ali Khomenei
Religion and Cairo
In the original Cairo conference, 170+ countries approved the principals, but objections came from nations with extremist religious factions, including Catholic and Islamic fundamentalists: Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Vatican; Algeria, Libya, Malta, and Sudan. Specific objections that have been raised include the Commission on Population and Development's recommendations that (a) reproductive health services should include new methods of emergency contraception, (b) abortion be made safe where it is legal, and (c) that young people have full access to sexual and reproductive health education and services.
The population boom in Gulf countries in recent years is alarming. In order to meet the challenge to improve services for citizens, we must have balanced population growth.
We have to ask ourselves: Do we want more children just for the numbers? Do we have the mental, physical and the material capability to raise them? Do we have time for all of them? Are we able to cater to their emotional needs? With the rising number of handicapped children, many due to intermarriage between close relatives, are our educational and health services capable of providing them with the basic services they require?
As Muslims, we do believe that God provides for all. But God also expects us to use our reason and logic. I see in supermarkets, airports and public places the tired faces of women, some in their early 30s, dragging seven or eight screaming children along, snapping at them and occasionally slapping one of them. Last week, I saw a father twist the arm of his seven-year-old son as three younger siblings cowered in fear.
In a region where water scarcity is a major concern, our top priority should be to preserve our resources and balance our population in order to enhance the quality of life and ensure a better future for the younger generation.
The topics of contraception and sexual education are largely avoided in many Muslim countries. And many countries in the Middle East have laws against the purchase of oral contraceptive pills.
However, the Holy Quran does permit contraception as long as both partners consent, it's not permanent, and it doesn't cause bodily harm. Education is needed in order to change the perception of policy makers, and this education needs to be respectful of their traditional values while reassuring them of the benefits of making contraception available to young people.
Middle Eastern traditions and Shariah (Islamic) law dictate that pre-marital sex (even between consenting adults above the age of 18) is punishable by law. This often brands all contraceptive methods as instruments for having sex out of marriage. The uses, risks, and contraindications are not discussed and are unknown to adult women. The general view is that these topics promote sexual behavior among unmarried men and women.
Doctors are an exception and can provide contraceptive advice to married couples. Unmarried men and women have no access to contraceptive knowledge and are at risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Unmarried pregnant women may even attempt suicide when they feel they have no options.
Also, emergency contraception is not widely available, which has led to an alarming rise in cases of fake and often dangerous pills that are purchased online.
Progress in introducing the topics of contraception and sex education may be slow, but every step forward is significant.The significance of providing contraception and improving overall healthcare must be linked. Experts will impart knowledge and train peer educators, to construct policies and to negotiate with government agencies.
Basic awareness-raising can begin through the Friday Islamic congregational prayer and the sermons, while keeping the Islamic law according to the Quran and Hadith in the forefront.
Peer educators also need to be selected on the basis of sex, nationality, language, and communication skills so they can be specifically tailored for specific groups, particularly with the men and women separately.
Feedback from participants is also important to help educators improve their teaching, answer the relevant questions, and dispel the common myths and misconceptions about contraception. Social media and the internet can also serve this purpose.
Akbar Laghari of Pakistan's Department of Population Welfare says large families are fueling a population explosion that is fast becoming the country's most dangerous crisis, having grown from around 33 million in 1947 to more than 180 million people in 2012, making it the sixth most populous country in the world.
Only 20% of Pakistani women use modern birth control and the UN estimates the country will become the world's third most populous country after China and India by 2050.
"I consider the population problem the biggest problem of this country," Laghari said. "The future is bleak because of this." He said the government has not done enough to offer effective family planning services and teach people about birth control. The government is not giving it top priority because of the political upheavals in the country and frequent changes in government.
With widespread poverty, an energy crisis, woeful public services, and a bloody, resource-draining insurgency, Pakistan can ill afford to see this rapid growth continue, Laghari warned.
Zeba Sathar, Pakistan country director for the Population Council, a non-profit organization that specializes in public health research in developing countries says many people are unable to make informed decisions because support services such as family planning are lacking. "The poor end up with many children because they don't have access to right kind of information." she said.
"We're doing a lot of research where women say 'we didn't want that many children,' or they wanted to have them later but they just didn't find the services. ... The philosophy is we're not into controlling the number of children. If you can bring up a healthy family with 20 children, kudos to you. It's a question of running out of resources. It's when the 15th one suffers."
In the case of the family with 20 children, the family can only afford to send four of their offspring to school, the rest have to work to support the family.
While Pakistan is a deeply conservative country where many view birth control as un-Islamic and some say "The process of reproduction will go on until God stops it. Why should a Muslim worry about the increase in population when God has taken responsibility for everyone's care?" - and women are deprived of the right to make important decisions such as whether to have a child - one the other hand, other Muslim countries with similar problems to Pakistan, including Bangladesh and Iran, have introduced measures to curb their growing populations. Those countries started with the political will to do something and spent a lot of time and resources on family planning efforts.
Until recently the subject of family planning in Niger was taboo, but commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's top humanitarian-aid official, was pleasantly surprised this time to see a project teaching women about contraception and the importance of spacing births.
The local Imam where she visited "was quoting the Koran saying there's a verse that says there has to be time between the birth of children so the children and mother can recover and be strong."
The support of the local religious leaders at the health centre she visited in Bambey, in western Niger, was crucial for bringing down the high rate of population growth, she said. The growth was putting a strain on a country that is among the poorest in the world, that struggles with a harsh climate and is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Since independence in 1960, Niger's population has risen from less than 2 million to 15 million plus.
Now there is "remarkable openness to address family planning". "At the level of the president, prime minister, ministers and cabinet there's an openness to discussing family planning. There's an openness that 3.3-percent population growth is not sustainable," she added.
"There are already activities on the ground (for) family planning in a very community-based and respectful manner ... The topic is not taboo anymore."
Mothers need to space their children to avoid back-to-back pregnancies which contribute to malnutrition and keep mothers weak. "That's where there is potential to work hand in hand with community leaders and religious leaders. It has to be culturally acceptable to work."
The annual hungry season in Africa's Sahel countries is expected to begin in late February or early March - several months earlier than usual. Aid agencies say between five and nine million people are at risk.
Talking about population growth in relation to food shortages is a sensitive issue, partly because large families are considered important in many cultures, particularly where people rely on their children to help on the land and to support them in old age.
Many argue that the real causes of food shortages are political and economic. Georgieva says a food crisis is looming in the Sahel due to poor rains, bad harvests, food-price hikes and the return of migrants from Libya, among other factors.
But she also argues more generally that it is time for the world to pay more attention to managing population growth in fragile environments. When she visited Kenya last year she realised that in 1963 it had more or less the same population as her own country Bulgaria - well below 10 million. Today Bulgaria is at 7.5 million whereas Kenya's has soared to 40 million.
The populations of other affected countries had also grown five times and this meant that when there were droughts the impact was all the more severe.
For a very readable look at some of the arguments on why population growth is not the cause of famine, take a look at this article published by Al Jazeera: Famine in the Horn of Africa: Malthus beware. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/08/20118178844125460.html
by Asghar Ali Engineer of Mumbai, Islamic scholar
Many people ask if family planning is permissible in Islam, saying the imams and ulama say Qur'an prohibits family planning and quoting a verse which says, "And kill not your children for fear of poverty - We provide for them and for you. Surely the killing of them is a great wrong." (17:31). .... This does not refer to family planning because you can only kill one who exists.
Some people suggest that it refers to the practice of burying the girl child alive when they cannot provide for them, but as Imam Razi suggests, it refers to both male and female children being kept ignorant. Not killing the body but killing the mind which is as bad as killing the body. The word used here is 'awlad' i.e. children which include both male as well as female and not only female.
In fact a large family means children cannot be properly educated by poor parents and hence parents kill them mentally by keeping them ignorant. They cannot even clothe them properly. In such circumstances one cannot have good quality Muslims and better quality is more desirable than mere quantity.
In early days the problem of family planning did not exist. It is a modern problem. Most of the nation states in third world do not have economic means to support a large population, including feeding them, educating them and also providing proper health services. These are basic duties of modern nation states.
The paucity of resources require the adoption of family planning. When Qur'an was being revealed there was neither any properly organized state nor education or health services being provided by any state agency. It is important to note that Qur'an which shows eight ways to spend zakat, does not include education or health which is so essential for the state to provide today. Thus what Imam Razi suggests is not only very correct and also enhances importance of family planning in the modern times as small family can support better education and health services.
Verse 4:3 is usually interpreted: do not marry more than one so that you may not do injustice. But Imam Shafi'I renders it as 'so that you do not have large family'.
In understanding the Qur'an, even very eminent imams and great scholars differed from each other. One should not impose one single meaning of a verse on all Muslims. It could be interpreted differently by different people in their own context and circumstances. Family planning being a modern need one should not reject it out of hand and quote Qur'anic verses out of context.
The Qur'an also suggests that a child be suckled at least for two years and it is well known that as long as mother suckles she would not conceive. Thus indirectly the Qur'an also suggests spacing of a child.
Even in hadith literature we find that the Prophet (PBUH) permitted prevention of conceiving in certain circumstances. When a person asked Prophet for permission for 'azl (coitus interrupts) as he was going for a long journey along with his wife and he did not want his wife to conceive while travelling the Messenger of Allah allowed him. In those days 'azl was the only known method for planning of birth of a child. Today there are several methods available like use of condoms.
Imam Ghazzali, a very eminent theologian and philosopher allows termination of pregnancy if mother's life is in danger and shows several methods for termination. He even allows termination of pregnancy on health grounds or if mother's beauty is in danger provided it is in consultation with her husband.. Some scholars say that verse 23:14 concludes that one can terminate pregnancy up to three months as this verse describes stages of development of sperm planted in mother's womb and it takes three months for life to begin.
Nearly 4 million babies are born in Pakistan every year, and most are born into poverty. The World Bank says 60% of Pakistanis live on less than $2 a day, according to a new government survey,
Yet clerics in religiously conservative Pakistan tell the Muslim majority that the Quran instructs women to keep bearing as many babies as possible and say that modern family planning is a Western convention that offends Islam.
But a woman can temporarily put off becoming pregnant. The mufti says the Quran encourages mothers to space their pregnancies and to breast-feed their babies for prolonged periods. During that time the man may also use condoms and the rhythm method.
The mufti Zakaria says being poor should in no way limit having babies. Referencing the Quran, he says, "God will provide the resources and no one will starve." The Quran also instructs that children must not be deprived of a proper upbringing. However, in Pakistan 38% of all children under 5 are underweight, and according to government data, malnutrition is widespread among mothers.
The mufti answers: "Every society has its own value system. You should not judge us by yours. Children in the West lead a luxurious life. Earth is their heaven. Our children should not be compared with them," the mufti says. "Muslims don't pay much heed to the mundane pleasures of this world. Our reward will come in the next life."
The mufti adds that the West has taken modern contraception too far by removing the fear of getting pregnant and therefore removing women's sexual inhibitions. In Pakistan, "if a woman's fear is removed," says the mufti, she will stray into bad behavior "and offend God."
70% of married women use no birth control method at all. While the government is ineffectual in promoting family planning, Dr. Yasmin Raashid, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology in Pakistan says if properly followed, the Quran's teachings about spacing pregnancies would automatically mean smaller families. She says more than anything else illiteracy undermines family planning in Pakistan.
"Educated mothers limit their families," she says. "The tragedy in our country has been that the majority of women in Pakistan are not educated." She says educating young girls is the single best policy for reducing the country's high fertility rate and for achieving smaller, healthier families.
In Sri Lanka the literacy rate is 91%. and the fertility rate is 2.3, compared with Pakistan, where it is 3.9. In Pakistan, infant mortality is nearly six times as high as in Sri Lanka - a smaller, poorer country.
"And the only thing that you see different there is that women are educated there," Raashid says. "They know about their rights. They know what has to be done where their children are concerned. They know what to do where their own health is concerned.
In Pakistan, less than 1% of GDP is spent on health care. 12,000 mothers die in childbirth in Pakistan each year. Pakistan must invest in more midwives. Only 25% of women being delivered by skilled birth attendants.
Islamic law prevalent in Pakistan says the soul is deemed to come into the fetus at four months, and so up to four months, abortion may be induced for "good cause." But abortion has become a dangerous form of birth control as women submit themselves to unskilled practitioners. It's the fifth-leading cause of maternal death in Pakistan because of the infections related to incomplete abortions and septic abortions.
On woman the interviewer met said she was already ill and overburdened with seven children. But she's pregnant again. She wants to stop having babies, and told her husband so. But her husband wanted a second daughter.
School's Out for Egypt's Sex EducationOctober 7, 2010, Guardian (London)
In a surprising move, the Egyptian government has decided to scrap all content in the secondary school curriculum relating to sex education, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases.
There will be "activities in which the teacher will lead a class discussion on the subject" - a suggestion that is difficult to take seriously since anything remotely related to sex, really - is usually met in Egyptian classrooms with giggles. And teachers were too shy to teach it.
"The coming generation will be lacking basic knowledge in sex, STDs, birth control, hygiene - all thanks to the minister of education." An increasingly religiously conservative society is also to blame.
Even the country's leading medical school at Cairo University does not teach sex education. Ain Shams University medical school students have a "sexology" class - the "anatomical and biological aspects of sex ed, not the social and psychological ones.
While Iran and Tunisia have taken pioneering steps in reaching out to young people to address their needs, the region as a whole lacks the political commitment and institutional capacity to do so. Only Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Bahrain include a reproductive health module in their national school curricula.
In Saudi Arabia, a recent study found that there is a severe need for sex education in the country and that 80% of parents surveyed approved of it. But an Emirati bestselling book on sex education, which has already earned the approval of the Mufti of Dubai, was banned in Saudi Arabia and its author has received death threats from conservatives who accuse her of blasphemy.
In Syria, the United Nations Population Fund feels compelled to reassure people on its website that sex education does not actually encourage sexual activity. Lebanon, often viewed as the most liberal country in the Middle East, had decided in 1997 to teach reproductive health to the 12-14 age group, only to have a presidential decree scrap those chapters from the school curriculum three years later.
A study reported that only 7% of adolescents had learned about sex from their fathers (while 42% of fathers said they discussed the matter with their kids); a 2006 survey by the Pan Arab Project for Family Health reported that, in Algeria, 95% of male respondents and 73% of female respondents had learned about puberty on their own, without professional or family assistance.
Television is potentially a useful source of information. With the airwaves awash with shows featuring clerics of various levels of religious knowledge and taking live telephone questions from the audience, sex and relationship questions have become a staple of the discussions - though unfortunately it is religious clerics and not sexologists who are dispensing advice.
One cable television show, presented by sexologist Dr Heba Kotb, represents the first groundbreaking effort on Arab television to respond to such queries ranging from the simplest to the more complex. A Syrian radio show - Today's Discussion - has reportedly begun to address questions of sex education.
All these programmes preach abstinence and fidelity and premarital sex is not covered by the mainstream educational media The international basic ABC programme - advocating Abstinence, Being Faithful, and using Condoms - finds its effectiveness curtailed when it stops at the first or second letter.
With local campaigns across the region planned to mark World Aids Day on 1 December, it is important to recall that, despite having some of the lowest incidence rates in the world, HIV/Aids is rapidly on the rise, with a 300% increase between 2004 and 2007, compared with 20% globally. This is a terrifying statistic whose only silver lining might be to remind that prevention is better than treatment - and that prevention starts with proper and accurate knowledge. If we want to address this, sex education in schools is the unavoidable first step.