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Islam and Reproductive Behaviour

Padmini Swaminathan

By Sabiha Hussain
Centre for Women's Development Studies, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 280, Rs. 560.00


Sabiha Hussain’s attempt to critically and empirically examine myths associated with Islam and demographic questions relating to fertility and increasing size of Muslim population is not only timely but a welcome addition to knowledge on a subject. A subject long queered by unsubstantiated and misinformed interpretations of religious texts, thereby politicizing what is avowedly a socio-economic issue on the one hand, and failure of the state to provide a safe and secure living environment, including minimum health services, on the other.   The study was conducted in two localities (Gautampuri and Zaffrabad) of Delhi’s resettlement colonies, the latter being the by-product of urban development and consequent displacement of slum populations. While the two localities were similar as far as material endowment was concerned, the composition of the population was different. Gautampuri had almost equal proportions of Hindus and Muslims but Zaffrabad was predominantly populated by Muslims. The author administered three types of questionnaires: one, a household census for general information and for selection of representative respondents; two, a questionnaire administered to men aimed at eliciting information on socio-economic profile of the households; and three, a questionnaire administered to men and women in the age-group 18-49 years with the specific purpose of capturing the reproductive profile of the population. In all, 200 women were chosen as respondents for the study.   The author provides a critical perspective on the relationship between Islam and reproductive behaviour to contextualize, among other things, some of the contemporary Muslim resistance to family planning and to also understand the debate within the matrix of postcolonial power relations, particularly Islam and the West.   Based on her examination of some of the fundamental tenets of Islam and the essentials of Islamic teaching, the author emphasizes the point that there is no central teaching on reproductive rights in Islam, that couples can make a decision to use contraception if they have valid reasons and that abortion is not universally outlawed. In fact the author concludes her discussion on Islam and reproductive behaviour thus:   ‘… when it comes down to the ground realities of women’s everyday lives, it [that is, reproductive choices and planning] is not determined by Islam, but by the political and economic realities of a given society’ (p. 66).   The socio-economic profile of the respondents sketched by the author based on her findings reinforces knowledge already available from other studies, such as lower literacy level among Muslim men and ...

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