Not many people realize this, but many Muslim clerics worldwide actually do support family planning. Back in 1979, a fatwa (religious degree) was issued in Egypt by Sheikh Jadel Haq Ali Jadel Haq which stated that “…A thorough review of the Qur’an reveals no text (nas) prohibiting the prevention of pregnancy or diminution of the number of children, but there are several traditions of the Prophet that indicate its permissibility….”
In our country, one may be surprised to learn that back in 2004, 200 Moro clerics jointly issued a national fatwa which stated that family planning particularly birth spacing “promotes the health of the mother and the child”.
The fatwa, also known as the Tanzim al-Usra (Arabic for “Call To Greatness”) Fatwa, was issued after more than a year of careful study and frequent consultations with Islamic universities and scholars worldwide. The edict states that, ”all methods of contraception are allowed as long as they are safe, legal, in accordance with the Islamic shariah (courts) and approved by a credible physician, preferably a Muslim, for the benefit of both the mother and the child”. Overall, the Tanzim al-Usra Fatwa is not more conservative than the position of many Protestant churches.
Family Planning education
After the fatwa was issued, several groups sprung into action to help educate the Moros within ARMM about this “historic” fatwa. For example, the Society for Family Development and Education of the Philippines, Inc. sent a team of trainers in every province in ARMM on Reproductive Health and Family Planning. They helped developed training materials. They involved the aliyma (women religious groups), Moro community leaders, ustads (Islamic school teachers), and the health providers in the dissemination of the information on Reproductive Health and Family Planning. The Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and the Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc. also did a lot of work in disseminating information about family planning. Everything seemed to be running smoothly and all of this was funded by grants and donations.
When Ecumenism Becomes A Form of Intimation
In 2007, an election occurred–I say occurred because the truth is in ARMM I’m not sure if there are actually elections where people can freely elect who they want, but that’s another story. Due to pressure resulting from certain quarters of society, Muslim politicians in general kept quiet about the fatwa. It is also alleged that that certain interfaith networks and “ecumenical meetings” were held where Catholic bishops tried to persuade a number of influential Moro clerics and politicians to ensure that the fatwa follows the same line as the Catholic position and to not promote family planning outside of ARMM. Given that there was an election, a number of Moro politicians outside of ARMM felt pressured to comply and opted to support the Catholic position in the name of “ecumenism”.
Then the following year, hostilities arose in Mindanao over the issues of Ancestral Domain and the Memorandum of Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. There was a resurrection of Christian vigilante groups such as the Ilaga. This caused the issue of reproductive health to be placed on the back burner.
The Reproductive Health Bill
The respite, however, was not to last for long. With the Catholic Church’s increased attention on the Reproductive Health Bill, this created new tensions within ecumenical relations. Some Muslims feel that this is another example of the Catholic Church imposing itself over the Philippines. Other clerics and Moro community leaders, particularly in Manila, complained that the Catholic position on reproductive health is largely being rammed through interfaith meetings and the mass media without any “meaningful” consultation with the Muslim religious leadership.
However, by large, the Reproductive Health Bill–the one the Catholic Church is essentially trying to veto–does not contradict the Tanzim al-Usra Fatwa but rather helps to support it by including the necessary state funding so that it could have a larger impact. When one considers that 70% of residents of ARMM are below the poverty level, it is essential that couples are at least able to space their childbirths. But basically what the Catholic Church hierarchy and their supporters are doing are not just denying the Catholic faithful of access to make informed choices, but everyone else, including Muslims.