The idea of eugenics is not well developed in the Islamic world. Both Islamic law and tradition generally condemn abortion, which is permitted only if the mother's life is endangered, so there is no genetic counseling that would lead to abortion. Both religious law and tradition do include references to a man's choosing an appropriate wife, but these concerns have been interpreted as moral and social, rather than eugenic.

Islamic religious-moral law, the Shari'a, deals with questions concerning laws of incest and consanguinity from the perspective of moral and social relationships rather than eugenic concerns. The general counsel of the Qur'an and the Prophetic traditions regarding marriage is promulgated in the laws that require a Muslim to marry within the community of believers. A Muslim is better than a non-Muslim as a spouse. "A woman may be married for four reasons: for her property, her status, her beauty, and her religion; so try to get one who is religious" (Muslim, tradition 3457). There is no law to suggest choosing a marriage partner with the intention of improving the progeny through the control of hereditary factors. With slight variations among the Sunni and Shiite schools, the law specifies that a woman may not marry a man who is not equal to her. The earliest ruling to require equality in matters of piety and freedom from physical defects detrimental to marriage is found among the Malikis (see al-Juzayri, for variations among the four schools of Sunni law).

In the Qur'an the main source for marriage law is book 4, verse 23. This prohibits marriage between persons closely related by blood, but this ban reflects ethical and social, rather than eugenic, considerations. Thus in Muslim jurisprudence a man and a woman may be forbidden to marry either because of blood relationship (e.g., a man may not marry his mother or either of his grandmothers, etc.) or relationships established through marriage (e.g., he may not marry the mother or grandmothers of his wife, etc.). Moreover, there are women whom a man may marry singly, but not be married to at the same time (e.g., two sisters, a woman and the sister of her mother or father). This latter prohibition seems to be more for psychological than for eugenic reasons.

Evidence that the Qur'an (or Shari'a) considers nurture, or the environment, to have impact on a child perhaps comparable to that of nature, or genetic inheritance, comes from the Book of Marriage, which prohibits marriage not only between a man and the woman who gave birth to him but also between a man and the foster mother who breastfed him at least a certain number of times.

The ruling seems to indicate similar consequences for foster relations established through suckling: "What is unlawful because of blood relations, is also unlawful because of corresponding foster suckling relations" (al-Bukhari, tradition 46; al-E'Amili, 7/281, tradition 2). In establishing unmarriageability, a foster mother who suckles an infant is regarded exactly as the infant's real mother.

There is further evidence of the Islamic tradition's lack of interest in eugenics. Islam abolished one of the four types of marriages among Arabs, the one described in Arab tradition in terms that may reflect eugenic concerns. The tradition says:

The second type [of marriage] was that a man would say to his wife after she had become clean from her period, "Send for so-and-so [whose nobility is well established] and have sexual relations with him." Her husband would then keep away from her and would not touch her at all till her pregnancy became evident from that man with whom she was sleeping. After the pregnancy was established her husband would sleep with her if he wished. However, he allowed his wife to sleep with that person being desirous of the nobility of the child (najabat al-walad ). Such marriage was called

"marriage seeking advancement" (nikah al-istibda).

Islam, which insisted that faith in God was the main source of all human nobility, was uninterested in this practice, traditional in the Arab tribal culture, for the improvement of the human race through the control of hereditary factors.

Other traditions counsel the believers to choose a partner for breeding (al-nutaf) "bravery among the people of Khurasan" [in Iran], sexual potency among the Berber [in North Africa], and "generosity and envy among the Arabs" (al-Amili, 7/29, tradition #6). The Islamic traditions (hadith literature) do reflect explicit knowledge of eugenics in choosing a marriage partner. The source of these eugenic considerations seems to be the Irano-Semitic culture, in which such interests were commonplace. Although these traditions were never used as authoritative precedents for legislation in the Shari'a, they express the popular piety connected with marital relations. For example, the Prophet is quoted saying, "Anyone wishing to follow my tradition should know that among my traditions is marriage. Seek children [through it] Protect your children from the milk of the prostitute and the insane among women, because milk makes inroads [in the character of a child]" (al-Amili, 1969, 7/4, tradition 6). Moreover, in the case of a person drinking wine, the Prophet regarded it permissible to annul the marriage contract, especially, if the person was alcoholic (literally, "sick" with alcohol) (al-Amili). There also existed a warning against marrying fatuous individuals because their offspring would be a loss. However, it was acceptable to marry them for sexual reasons, as long as one did not seek children through such a union. These traditions reveal the concern about hereditary factors in the progeny.

Other traditions encourage marriages within one's own collateral line, to first cousins. The Prophet, who belonged to the Hashimite clan, at one time looked at the children of Ali and Ja'far, two brothers and his paternal cousins by relation, and said, "Our daughters for our sons, and our sons for our daughters" (al-Amili, 7/49, tradition 7). This encouragement is contradicted by other traditions that recommend exogamous marriage and even intermarriage between Arab and non-Arab, and between a free person and a slave. There does not seem to be any awareness in these early traditions of deleterious genetic effects from excessive inbreeding. However, since 1970 there has been a growing debate among traditional Muslim jurists over the authenticity of the tradition that encourages endogamy indiscriminately. Certain injurious hereditary conditions have been detected in the fourth and fifth generations of some tribes in Muslim societies where endogamy is the norm.

Muslim traditions also speak about the negative impact on the fetus of "improper" modes of intercourse rejected by the Qur'an. Yet it was believed that special prayer when one intends to have intercourse with his wife keeps the devil away from what God has ordained to be created. The pure state of the parents' minds and bodies can be transmitted to the child through the invocation of the Divine Name before intercourse. In light of belief in the divine purpose and decree in the creation of offspring ("It is God who brought you forth from your mothers' wombs," Qur'an 16:78), either born with birth defects or normal, there does not seem to be any indication to support genetic diagnosis or screening that would justify abortion, which Islam permits primarily to safeguard the mother's health.


SEE ALSO: Abortion, Religious Traditions: Islamic Perspectives; Eugenics; Genetic Discrimination; Genetic Engineering, Human; Genetic Testing and Screening; Human Dignity; Islam, Bioethics in; Judaism, Bioethics in; Population Ethics, Religious Traditions: Islamic Perspectives; and other Eugenics and Religious Law subentries

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