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A Family Planning Zealot Reinterprets Islam

Moulana Abdullah Al Maroof, Ph.D, has what he calls a “missionary zeal” for family planning. The esteemed Islamic scholar and deputy director of the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation is one of three authors whom EngenderHealth enlisted to co-write Family Planning in the Eyes of Islam, a groundbreaking book demonstrating the acceptance of family planning in the holy Qur’an and in the Hadith, Islam’s two foremost sacred texts.

The creation of Family Planning in the Eyes of Islam is part of EngenderHealth’s larger effort to actively engage the highly influential imams (religious leaders) in Bangladesh, a country that is 90% Muslim. While imams have tacitly accepted family planning in the past, they have never advocated for long-term and permanent family planning methods. EngenderHealth now sees active discussion and educated involvement as crucial to its efforts to reinvigorate the use of these methods. Dr. Maroof concurs: “Our imams have a very strong influence on people, especially poor people. They are religious and comply with the directions of our imams. Imams are always consulted on any kind of social or personal issue. They have an impact in society. If a political leader directs people to some issue, they treat it as political. But if an imam delivers it, they say that it is right, it is the proper way.”

Dynamic and well-known, Dr. Maroof interprets the sacred Islamic verses applying his unique logic, explaining that his extensive studies and “deep” interpretation of the texts have bestowed on him an understanding of modern health and child care, gender issues, and HIV/AIDS, among other issues. According to Dr. Maroof, the roots of significant misunderstanding about family planning and Islam are outdated and unstudied conceptions of the religion: “Most of our imams are not enlightened with modern conceptions or deep knowledge in our religion. They say, ‘Almighty Allah will give you a child and he will be responsible for the sustenance of this child. So, why are you worried about more children? Why do you go to control the births? Control of birth is in the hand of the Almighty Allah.’ This is a misunderstanding.”

EngenderHealth, in addition to the book, has created interactive community forums where the imams, along with teachers, businessmen, local politicians, and others, are invited to attend meetings with local providers of family planning services. The advocacy meetings, as they are called, are largely held in the rural areas of Bangladesh, where 80% of the people live. Since their inception three years ago, more than 18,000 community leaders have attended the meetings.

As Dr. Maroof notes, “In our society, if a woman gives birth to daughters, her husband or his family say that it is the responsibility of this woman. But we establish [in Family Planning in the Eyes of Islam] that it is not the responsibility of the woman, it is not at the hand of man or woman, it is from Allah. It is a question of chromosomes. We establish it scientifically and at the same time, with evidence from the Qur’an and Hadith. These gender issues are described and we have written these things in the light of evidence from Qur’an and Hadith.”

The two other authors of Family Planning in the Eyes of Islam are Moulana Abdur Razzaq, the head imam of Sobhanbagh Jame Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, and Moulana Mohammad Abbas Uddin, Deputy Director, Islamic Research Cell, Family Planning Association of Bangladesh.

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