Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version

Question

There are medical procedures available today that enable parents to determine the ender of the child they wish to have. This is achieved by way of a surgically placed implant which is now widely available in the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other countries. It does not entail an abortion or the elimination of an unwanted foetus and does not cause any harm to any child that is conceived in the womb.

Is this acceptable in Islam?

Answered by

Hadîl al-Safadî

The issue of pre-determining the gender of your child is a contemporary issue which was not considered by the Muslim scholars of the past, since it was not possible in the absence of modern technology. It is a matter about which contemporary Muslim scholars disagree.

Those who oppose this medical procedure argue that being able to choose the gender of one’s child has dangerous consequences for society as well as for families. It also creates a form of sexual discrimination. Some see it as a violation of Divine Law. Others see it as a way of custom ordering children, making the children some sort of saleable commodity.

Some authorities in the field of Biological Ethics say that couples who are overcome by a strong desire for a child of a particular gender can become quite rigid in their outlook when the possibility of determining the gender of the child is available to them. This makes matters all the worse when the operation fails and a child of the unwanted gender is conceived. This can affect how the parents treat that child.

From a practical standpoint, the operation itself is expensive and does not guarantee success. One in ten attempts to conceive a female child result in a male child being conceived while one in four attempts to conceive a male child result in a female child being conceived. The child, throughout its life, will have to live with the knowledge that it was unwanted.

Some experts believe that determining the gender of a child will create an imbalance in human populations and within the family unit itself.

On the other hand, those who advocate this procedure argue that if certain regulations are put in place, an imbalance of gender in the human population can easy be avoided. It would be as simple as requiring the registration of couples desiring children so that an equal number of operations will be authorized for couples desiring a girl child and couples desiring a boy child.

Some fertility experts argue that ethically, it is the right individuals to exercise the freedom of choice in matters that have a major impact on their lives life as long as it does not cause any harm to the children.

Some go so far to argue that an operation to determine the gender of the child can even become obligatory in some cases to combat heritable diseases where gender plays a crucial role, like haemophilia and muscular dystrophy.

With respect to the position of Islamic Law on choosing the gender of one’s child, Sheikh Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī says the following in his official ruling on the matter:
Initially, it would seem that the idea of choosing the gender of the foetus – whether it should be male or female – runs up against religious sensibilities. This is for two reasons:

First, knowledge of what is in the wombs is the domain of the creator, not that of created beings. Allah says: “Allah knows what each female bears, by how much the wombs fall short or extend beyond (their appointed time or number)…” [Sûrah al-Ra`d: 8]

Knowledge of what is in the wombs is one of the five keys of the unseen mentioned in the Qur’an: “Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah. It is He who sends down the rain, and He who knows what is in the wombs…” [Sûrah Luqmân: 34]

So how can a human being know the gender of the foetus and make decisions about it?

Secondly, claiming to be able to make determinations about the gender of the foetus can seem like an attempt to presume against Allah’s will, for it is by Allah’s will that the two genders are distributed with wisdom and precision, with the balance being maintained for countless ages. This is even considered to be one of the evidences for Allah’s existence, His concern for his creatures, and His governance of His dominion.

Allah says: “To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the Earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows male or female (children) according to His will. Or He bestows both males and females, nd leaves barren whom he will. For He is full of knowledge and power.” [Sūrah al-Shūrū: 49-50]
Al-Qaradâwî then goes on to say:
Why, however, do they not explain “knowledge of what is in the wombs” with particular knowledge of all that relates to the foetus. Allah knows, for instance, whether it will live or die. If it is delivered alive, will it be intelligent or feebleminded? Weak or strong? Prosperous or wretched? As for us humans, the most we can determine is whether it is going to be a boy or a girl.

In the same way we can describe the activities of the human being with respect to choosing the gender of the child. Those human activities do not fall outside the domain of Allah’s wills. Quite the contrary, they are an example of His will being carried out. Everything that a human being does takes place by Allah’s power and determination. Whatever a human being wills, he does so by Allah’s will. Allah says: “And they do not will except that He wills.”
Al-Qaradâwî then makes it clear that Islamic Law could permit a medical procedure for the determining the gender of the child.
However, it must only be a concession to be resorted to in cases of necessity or need. What is safer and better is to leave the matter to Allah’s discretion and wisdom. “And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses. They have no option.” And Allah knows best.
The Islamic Law Council of the Muslim World League arrived at the following ruling:
If the intended purpose is to acquire a male child out of dislike for a female child or if the intent is to know the gender of the embryo in order to abort it, then this is impermissible. If, on the other hand, if the intent is to predetermine the gender of the embryo from the start in a situation where there is a history of heritable illness in the family, especially those illnesses that are passes along with the sex chromosomes, then this is possible. It is best to avoid resorting to this method except in the most extenuating of circumstances.
Dr. Muhammad Ra’fat `Uthman, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Legal Research Committee of the Islamic Research Council of Azhar University, pronounced the ruling that it is permissible to utilize genetic engineering technologies in order to choose the gender of the fetus. He emphasized that choosing the gender of the foetus is permissible in Islamic Law because it is an activity that falls within the domain of what is permissible, since there is no evidence from the Qur’ân or Sunnah to prohibit it. The legal axiom governing the matter is that the default ruling assumed for something is that it is permissible except where prohibition is stated by Islamic Law.

He said: “It is by unanimous agreement (ijmâ`) that it is permissible to supplicate to Allah asking Him to bless one with a male or female child. Everything that it is permitted to ask Allah for, it is permitted for a person to do. Whatever it is prohibited for a person to do, it is prohibited likewise for him to supplicate for.”

Therefore, it appears that using medical measures to pre-determine the gender of a child is permissible as long as no harm comes to any child as a result of taking those measures.

And Allah knows best.