, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 427-450,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 19 Oct 2006

Making muslim babies: Ivf and gamete donation in sunni versus shi’a islam


Medical anthropological research on science, biotechnology, and religion has focused on the “local moral worlds” of men and women as they make difficult decisions regarding their health and the beginnings and endings of human life. This paper focuses on the local moral worlds of infertile Muslims as they attempt to make, in the religiously correct fashion, Muslim babies at in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics in Egypt and Lebanon. As early as 1980, authoritative fatwas issued from Egypt’s famed Al-Azhar University suggested that IVF and similar technologies are permissible as long as they do not involve any form of third-party donation (of sperm, eggs, embryos, or uteruses). Since the late 1990s, however, divergences in opinion over third-party gamete donation have occurred between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, with Iran’s leading ayatollah permitting gamete donation under certain conditions. This Iranian fatwa has had profound implications for the country of Lebanon, where a Shi’ite majority also seeks IVF services. Based on three periods of ethnographic research in Egyptian and Lebanese IVF clinics, this paper explores official and unofficial religious discourses surrounding the practice of IVF and third-party donation in the Muslim world, as well as the gender implications of gamete donation for Muslim marriages.