Tag Archives: islam

Theology and bioethics: is posthumous reproduction O.K.?

The full version of a story originally published on Vibewire here.

In matters of life and death, religious doctrine often plays a considerable role in the formation of an individual’s ethical agenda. For example, the Catholic Church maintains a firm position on abortion, rejecting its use as a violation of the fundamental belief that all human life has a right to life, and must be protected from the moment of conception. As dictated by canon law, both woman and all ‘formal conspirators’ would face automatic excommunication from the Church. Most of these ecclesiastical declarations are based on specific recorded examples of or clerical interpretation of the ancient religious texts.

As modern biomedical science has broken through previous technological restrictions in assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilisation-embryo transfer (IVF), artificial insemination by donor (AID), it is up to religious authorities to establish an official position as guidance for their adherents.

More recently, posthumous reproduction, which involves in vitro fertilisation of a woman using sperm collected from her deceased husband or partner, has enjoyed debate in the wider religious community.

Each of the three Abrahamic faiths has distinctive attitudes towards ART practices. These should be viewed through a strictly moral (and in many ways primordial) lens in contrast to elsewhere in society, where parallel discussions focus mostly on the health and psychological welfare of the resulting children and more ambiguously, on the parentage and inheritance rights of such children.

First of all, all three religions in discussion here require full marital relations and fidelity as a precondition to procreation. Fertilisation is supposed to fulfill a conjugal act between husband and wife for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Artificial insemination by donor (AID) is considered adultery and thus out of the question.

Let’s start with Christianity.

The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church resolutely oppose assisted reproduction in the fullest sense of the practice. Thus, while treatment for low sperm count and ovulation problems is fine, artificial insemination is not (even if using the husband’s sperm).

The Donum Vitae, issued in 1987 by Roman Catholic scholars, instructs Catholics on the importance of marital union and the act of sexual intercourse in the procreation of offspring. These two conditions make it necessarily ‘wrong’ and unnatural to seek IVF-embryo transfer, surrogate motherhood and cryopreservation (slow freezing and storage, usually for later use) of embryos.

For Protestants, it is acceptable to use ART given two stringent conditions: both gametes are to be produced from a married couple (ruling out sperm or oocyte donation and surrogacy), and no harm to the pre-embryo is to be done. No Christian denomination has yet to release official positions on the phenomenon of posthumous reproduction.


Islam encourages the treatment of infertility as a duty borne by the couple and society, as the Koran celebrates marriage and family formation. Artificial insemination by husband (AIH) using IVF is thus acceptable.

Like Christianity, Islam also rejects posthumous reproduction. But while the Christian faith defends the dignity and right of the child to his/her conception without medical intervention, Islam forbids it because the act of conception falls outside the marital term. At her husband’s death, the wife loses her reproductive rights in liaison with him.


In the case of Judaism, it gets interesting – and a great deal more liberal.

While Catholics take their judicial beliefs from canon law and Muslims from Sharia law, Jews operate through Jewish law. All three laws can differ significantly from the civil laws of different countries.

While Israeli law is communally accepted and administered to Israeli citizens of all religions and ethnicities; matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, paternity, and legitimacy are referred to rabbinical courts and judged by the eye of Halakha, the Jewish law. Halakha looks favourably upon AIH if it is medically testified beyond doubt (given 5-10 years of attempts at natural procreation) that such a procedure is necessary.

God’s first commandment to Adam to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is a good approximation of modern Israel’s perspectives on reproduction and assisted reproduction. The multi-ethnic make-up of the Israeli population (25% non-Jewish, the growth of which could be a threat to the Jewish state and security), combined with an emphasis on family integrity makes it a national objective to grow the Jewish population.

As such, Israel is one of the leading countries in research and development of reproductive technologies, with the highest number of fertility clinics per capita in the world. Israeli women are also the highest per capita users of the procedure.

Predating artificial insemination technology, partial surrogacy was practiced in biblical times. In Genesis 16, Sarah wife of Abraham was childless and had a maid bear Abraham a son, Ishmael before being miraculously cured of her infertility. Other stories in the Old Testament serve as a guiding example for modern Jewish clergy when advising infertile couples.

As for posthumous reproduction, the discontinued practice of wedding a man to his brother’s widow was the most feasible way of producing a dead man’s heir. Judaism follows the law of matrilineal descent, which means that a child is a Jew only if born to a Jewish mother.

The marriage ideal in religion comes into play as assumptions of a loving relationship are used to condone the bequest of a man’s sperm to his wife after his death in order for her to have his genetic child (even without prior consent). It is not too surprising then that posthumous reproduction today is supported by both Israeli law and Halakha.

It is important to note that while the sperm of a dead man can be used to fertilise his wife, the frozen embryos of a dead woman is forbidden from being used to produce the man’s genetic heir, as this would involve a third party, the surrogate mother.

Even so, in 2011 the parents of a 27 year old dead Israeli man, Ohad Ben-Yaakov applied for legal permission to use his frozen sperm to produce a grand child. The man was not married or in a relationship, and they would have had to find a willing, single mother who would raise their grandchild. Their lawyer Rosenblum said, ‘It’s an idea of continuation. It’s a dream. It’s magic.’ Cases like these take Israel’s pro-life attitudes to the extreme, signaling an ever-progressive national and global debate on the ethics of posthumous reproduction. The ‘dream’ of postmortem parenthood would shift the odds in favour of life away from the finality of death.

God’s directions to Adam ‘to work the garden and to preserve it’ (Genesis 2) are sometimes interpreted as an order to improve upon the human creation and to meet its needs, which justifies Jewish flexibility in regards to reproductive ethics. The needs of a mother to survival therefore supersede the unborn life of a fetus, making abortion permissible in circumstances where bringing the pregnancy to full term would endanger the mother’s life. Indeed, in Halakha the pre-embryo that is younger than forty days old from conception is described as ‘mere water’.

Religious institutions offer an ethical dimension to the assisted reproductive technology debate. These considerations are often forgotten in the judicial maelstrom that busies itself with semantic battles over legitimacy and social security.

Change is happening already. Posthumous reproduction, amongst other new reproductive technologies, looks set to be part of a new medical and social reality. Society must choose its battles wisely. In championing diversity of family structures and new technology, we cannot ignore the many couples and families who hold staunchly to these religious beliefs.

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Trust in the Hoodie: the Morality of Clothes

Even though it’s part of our ordinary routine, we know that our choices in dressing each morning can be significant. Shirt-and-tie attire is essential for just about any professional job interview. The wrong shoes can get you barred from a nightclub.

But when do the clothes we put on our back become an agent of distrust and crime? For Trayvon Martin, the African-American teenager who was shot in the street by a neighbourhood watch captain in February, the answer is this: when you’re wearing a hoodie.

But you say: of course it isn’t as simple as that. You can’t blame the guilt of an overzealous, racist patrol guard on a jumper for godssake. Perhaps not, but judging from public reactions in the months following the tragedy, Martin brought to our attention that many others identify with the discomfort generated by this single article of clothing.

As attorney and talk-show host Geraldo Rivera explains:

People look at you and what’s the instant association? It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone stickin’ up a 7-11, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie.

What we see in the media also reinforces this psychology – who was even a little surprised that the primary suspect for ABC employee Jill Meagher’s rape and murder was known everywhere as the ‘man in blue hoodie’?

This is ironic of course because the hoodie is supposed to defy association. Walking down the street wrapped in a hoodie you can enjoy a little extra anonymity (or just warmth). The trade-off is that you risk being labeled as an anti-social troublemaker. By choosing to cover part of your head, you cannot be identified from the back. Your face has become hooded, so it follows that your character also becomes slightly shadier to a stranger’s eye. But can we apply this rationale to other articles of clothing?

In particular, I’m talking about the inherent suspiciousness of the hijab (women’s headscarf), and let’s not even get started on the burqa. That Muslims everywhere are, at this current moment in time, unfortunately associated with al-Qaeda extremists and terrorism only adds to the general untrustworthiness of the religious garment. An Anglo schoolgirl experimented with wearing the hijab for a few hours, and the reaction she got was astoundingly negative.

You have to step back for a moment and remember that this is just a piece of fabric. It doesn’t contain any dark magic and it’s not a weapon of mass destruction. But thanks to our basic psychology with some help from reflexive social associations, the trust bank is severely anaemic.

Let’s first explore the psychology of trust. Intuitively, we distrust those who cover their faces. This isn’t so hard to understand. Our faces are our most honest feature: eyes are a window to the soul, facial muscles give away the lie, and blushing means you’re embarrassed. More importantly, your face is the most seen, and therefore the most identifiable part of you.

So trusting someone clearly depends a lot on how well you can identify him/her. How about their reputation? Well, studies show that the known reputation of someone might not matter as much as you’d think. Researchers from Darmouth University found that people are more likely to trust someone whose face ‘is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person’s reputation’. I know what you’re thinking: what is a ‘trustworthy’ face and where can I buy one? Who even knew there was such a standard of measure? I can only guess that bigger eyes and upwardly curved lips constitute trustworthy faces, while highly arched eyebrows and a bigger mouth (for bullshitting) do not.

It’s hard not to feel depressed about the findings of these studies, or ‘trust games’ as they call it. Not only are we really freaking dumb (or just shallow) when it comes to trusting strangers , but we might just have been born with a shifty face and it’s really not my fault officer!

Similar experiments have tried harder to identify exactly what features we are most predisposed to trust. The results from the University of Aberdeen suggest that we are more inclined to trust those who resemble us physically. Um, who invited Narcissus to the party? Participants’ level of trust increased by almost 25 percent towards faces digitally tweaked in a way that increased resemblance to their own appearances – in other words, the sibling you never had.

This hypothesis works – if you trust yourself.

After all, all this dabbling in psychological games is only useful if we can respond appropriately to what our subconscious is telling us. Distrust is but an instinct, the inner roar of the primitive beast within that cares only for survival. Pinky promises and contracts signed in blood mean nothing if you, in your heart of hearts, don’t feel the trust.

Luckily we have experts around the world who make up special terms to help us to understand. Distrust serves a valuable risk-gauge function if we listen to it properly. By that, I mean that we must learn to separate dysfunctional distrust from functional distrust. It is rational to maintain a certain level of distrust towards unfamiliar people and situations in order to protect us from harm. Even when acquaintanceship has been formed, nay, even in intimacy, it would be wise to not throw out your own sense of criticality. This is based on the assumption that all rational beings act in self-interest, and that these interests change reactively and over time. A modicum of distrust now stops you from spilling tears over faults of misjudgment later.

On the other hand, obviously there is such a thing as too much, and distrust isn’t something you want to have too much of. If this is you though, you’re probably being set back by dysfunctional distrust. The danger of this? Well, it’s the induced hostility and paranoia of dysfunctional distrust that leads to hypervigilance and the deaths of innocent people like Trayvon Martin.

So are you damned if you do, damned if you don’t? I have no simple answers for you. Trust and judgment clearly go hand in hand, yet the consequences of each can sometimes be irreversible. But in most cases with some luck, humility and forward thinking you’ll be able to bounce right back. Hopefully this post has made you question whether you really can trust your neighbor, stranger, brother, or indeed yourself. I hope you can – hoodie wearer or not.

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Beauty Beneath a Burqa

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of hidden beauty. More specifically, how people in the Middle East define feminine beauty. To be honest, all this wondering has had me in quite a fix, especially since even we in the west grapple with what makes someone beautiful, or how that differs from the popular media portrayal of beauty. Everyone’s heard of the age-old expression that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. At most, this surmises that the perception of beauty is deeply subjective and varies from person to person. But what if, quite literally, beauty is hidden from the eye? I ask you to envisage beauty when you’ve never seen it before. Beauty that’s not obvious. It doesn’t grab you by the balls and make you look at it. Heck, it’s not even visible. At least, not visible in the way we know it.

Underneath a burqa that covers the female body from head to toe with slots or semi-transparent mesh netting for the eyes, personal expression has to take on a different dimension. Or shall we say, what one says or how one moves becomes the direct channel of personality and character. How would you like to be judged for what you have to say, and for that only? Not by how fat you are, how pretty you are, or how feminine you are. Aussie-turned-Muslim mother Umm Zainab says: “People have to take you for who you are, not for your body or your beauty. You’re taken for who you are.” But for the rest of us, how much stock of our identity do we take from dressing ourselves, beautifying ourselves, and tweaking our appearances? How much individualism would we stand to lose? It’s hard to imagine that some girls have never had to worry about these things.

In a place where beauty is associated not with what one sees, but with what one doesn’t see, or smells, or catches a glimpse of, I’m guessing that the imagination would have to work overtime to fill in those blanks. Emma Watson once said, ‘the less you reveal, the more people can wonder.’ To think of beauty as a construct of the imagination, assembled piece by piece from a phantom limb, a bold gesture here, lowered eyelashes there or a fierce voice, takes genuine interest that goes beneath the skin. By marrying desire with imagination, I’m sure there’s something to be said about patriarchal objectification here, but then again what culture of feminine beauty doesn’t – eastern or western.

Freedom VS Oppression. To many raised in the west, having to cover up any non-sensitive part of the body because a group of men or the Koran tells you to, is a no-brainer form of female oppression, and the burqa is the symbol of that oppression. Australian-born former Malaysian princess Jacqueline Pascarl reveals during her royal studies of Islam that the burqa is a religious sartorial requirement because ‘women are culturally condemned to the role of seductress and are considered untrustworthy, immoral humans, driven to tempt men and bring down the bastions of male self-control’. Many argue that it is a personal choice, an individual right that pledges devotion to their god and prophet. But perhaps the question of freedom and oppression is much simpler for most burqa-donning Muslim women. Fatima, 23, describes it as ’empowering’ and says: ‘When you’re walking down the street and walking past a group of men or boys and you know they’re staring at you, you can do whatever you want, I can just make faces at them.’

To end this simply, we are different – beauty is different. One that asks for substance deeper than just looks shouldn’t be ridiculed. After all, our girls are the ones with the highest rates of eating and anxiety disorders, depression and suicide rates. (And would it destroy everything I’ve written here to throw in this meme?)

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What should we think about ‘Innocence of Muslims’?

In the past week, the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens has become irrevocably linked with the outbreak of a crude video attacking Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

The video, ‘Innocence of Muslims’ directed by Californian Muslimphobe, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was blamed for mass protests in Libya and Egypt of an anti-American nature, which included storming of the U.S. embassy in the Libyan capital of Benghazi symbolically on the eleventh anniversary of September 11 attacks, killing Stevens and three of his embassy staff.

Reactions worldwide have been fairly unanimous in outrage and condemnation of the short, 13 minute video. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy called for the prosecution of the U.S. filmmakers, and appeals were made to the United Nations to formally forbid the denigration of religious faiths.

However, by doing this objectors also inadvertently call for revision to U.S. constitutional laws and its wider, cultural values of liberty and individual rights. In America, where federal and state laws protect freedom of speech without exception, even ‘hate speech’, the publishing of material inciting hatred, is perfectly legal under the First Amendment.

In other, less democratic libertarian societies such as the recently politically re-birthed countries Egypt and Libya, the dominating Islamic faith can be equally as authoritative as constitutional law. What this means is that rudimentary videos – or comments, or essays, or songs, or anything – disrespecting the Prophet are faced with public cries to terminate the source of offense, rather than treating the video merely as ‘hate speech’, to be condemned, certainly but not as impetus for killing four innocent Americans. Notably, Mohammed Hamdy, commentator of a popular Egyptian Salafist television station al-Nas, publicly announced that ‘an apology is not enough. I want them convicted.’

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have scrambled to smooth over diplomatic relations with both Arab states, and tried to salvage its image as a peaceful, democracy-bearing intervener in the Middle East. This is probably a dismal prospect I would say, as after blatant U.S. support of corrupt Arab dictatorships, violent and protracted occupations of two nations (one that was justified on fabricated evidence at that), you can bet that anti-American sentiment is going through the roof. White House officials have also requested Google to remove the original video, and to consider whether the video had breached Youtube guidelines.

On a socially constructive level, it could be argued that the removal of such a video could prevent the further spread of dangerous hate speech and ease U.S./Coptic Christian/Islamic tensions in flash points of conflict across the Middle East.

In its submission guidelines, Youtube states intolerance for hate content:

We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation/gender identity, or their status as a returned soldier).

Is this purely a matter of offending the wrong people? We all know that religious sensitivities are not the same as political bias and support or football team loyalty, but should they be? Up until last century, political ideologues like Nazis, Stalinists, Chinese communists would have reacted with similar violence to public slander. Yet since then, Western political factions have of course managed to moderate their reactions to public dissent.

As much as it would be easy to directly eliminate what is seen as the source of violence, blocking the video doesn’t solve the root of the problem. This should be a fight against extremism. We should, as we do now, continue to embrace freedom of religion, and while such freedoms come with the inevitable conflict and antagonisms of diverse believers coexisting in a single society, we should tolerate and sort these out with each other. Simply shutting down voices everywhere because of their potential to offend is surely an insult to our capacity to overlook and forgive.

Should Google Inc remove such inflammatory videos from Youtube? What do you think?

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