Imams and morshidat counter misconceptions about family planning [Archives:2008/1161/Local News]

May 5 2008

By: Sarah Wolff
and Alia Ishaq

SANA'A, June 4 ) With training from various Yemeni ministries and the United Nations Population Fund, known as UNFPA, Yemeni religious leaders once again will be talking about family planning in their Friday sermons; however, this time, their sermons will address the common misconceptions Yemenis have about reproductive health.

Sixty-eight participants, including imams (religious leaders) and moshidat (female religious guidance counselors), as well as members of the Ministry of Endowments and the Ministry of Public Health and Population, met to discuss the next round in their ongoing work to educate Yemenis nationwide about the benefits of family planning.

The group met recently to brainstorm what issues were most confusing to Yemenis and how they can be addressed within an Islamic perspective. The religious leaders and ministerial staff identified a few main misconceptions about reproductive health, most surrounding the use of contraception, such as:

-Contraceptives cause cancer

-Using contraceptives can cause permanent sterility

-Contraceptives cause a woman's hair to fall out

-Using contraceptives causes disturbance of the menstrual cycle (amenorrhea)

Dr. Fardous Al-Bar, a Sana'a-based gynecologist with her own private practice, dispelled these fears, stressing that contraception, including contraceptive pills, injections and Intra-Uterine Devices, or IUDs, is harmless in nearly all cases.

“Pills and IUDs don't cause cancer,” Al-Bar pointed out. “If a woman has a predisposition toward cancer – for which there are tests – then these [forms of contraception] can be a reason [for illness], just like any other medicine.”

She notes that because of certain women's predisposition to cancer, their lifestyle or for hereditary reasons, they should consult a doctor before using hormonally-based forms of contraception like the pill or the IUD.

Al-Bar added that contraception doesn't cause permanent sterility or hair loss and that rather than disturbing a woman's menstrual cycle, contraception actually can regulate it.

Islam permits contraceptive use and family planning The workshop participants also felt that family planning could be shunned by citizens as a “foreign” concept unfit for introduction in Yemeni society. oHow

To the contrary, family planning is deemed permissible and sometimes even mandatory by Islam. There are more than 50 hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) relating to contraception and family planning.

According to Hans Obdeijn, UNFPA's country representative in Yemen, nearly every Islamic country supports family planning. In a speech at the workshop, he said, “As many Islamic scholars have pointed out, regulating family size is fully consistent with Islamic law.”

“The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) declared that, 'The worst hardship is to have plenty of children without adequate means,'” former UNFPA executive director Dr. Nafis Sadiq pointed out. “Therefore, if planning one's family is acceptable, it follows that some means of fertility regulation also must be acceptable.”

Sources such as the Guttmacher Institute, a worldwide reproductive health organization, praise Islam as one of the most liberated religions in terms of contraception and family planning, with many different types of approved contraception methods in order to ensure happy and healthy families.

Planning for healthy families and healthy societies

With one of the world's highest birth rates, Yemen's population has tripled since 1975. The UNFPA found that the number of children desired per Yemeni family is between four and five, but the actual number of childbirths per woman is seven. This religious campaign to raise reproductive health awareness seeks to lessen this disparity, while producing healthy, happy and financially sound families in the process.

Some of the dangers of such a high birth rate include physical damage to both mother and child. Women who give birth to a high number of children risk their own lives, as well as the lives of their children, especially if they give birth once each consecutive year, as is often the case in Yemen.

With this large birth rate come social welfare problems of nearly every type: increased poverty, scarcity of resources and widespread unemployment for younger generations, according to the UNFPA. The UNFPA says it will continue partnering with Yemen to address the complex links between population dynamics, poverty and sustainable development in order to meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty in Yemen by 2015.