Sunday, March 01, 2009

Shi'i Perspectives on New Reproductive Technologies & Kinship

Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Lebanon's senior Twelver Shi'i religious scholar, is widely respected across the country's sectarian lines [Lebanon has 18 recognized ethno-confessional sects, generally but not always based on religious affiliation, regardless of members' religiosity or lack thereof]. Much maligned by Shi'i rivals, Fadlallah presents himself, justifiably, as a leader for, as one of his representatives put it in 2008, "modern Shi'is," those who seek a religious guide who understands both religious and temporal issues, and someone who is in touch with his constituency, rather than being aloof, as is the case with other grand ayatullahs. Fadlallah has also been criticized by his Shi'i rivals, and some conservative Sunni scholars, for his progressive views on the rights and status of women and interpretation of certain Shi'i religious practices, such as intercession, and views on certain historical, or claimed historical, events. He is also, to my knowledge, the only senior Twelver Shi'i religious scholar who has condemned the barbaric cultural practice of the, as he says, "so-called crimes of 'honor.' "

Fadlallah on artificial fertilization , the "Relationship between Religion and Medicine," Part I and Part II, contraceptives, and cloning.

By Morgan Clark
Anthropology Today, Vol. 22, No. 5 [October 2006]

لصَديقي عَلي "القَصير"; هُوَ يَكونُ طَبيباً في المُستَقبَل، إن شاء الله
"Posted dans la mémoire (not literal translation of the above) of my friend 'Ali "The Short"; He will become a medical doctor in the future, God willing."

"Lebanon has a thriving and diverse reproductive medical sector: procedures are practized that have aroused much ethical controversy, such as those using donor eggs and sperm. Sunni 'ulama [religious scholars and jurists] have reached a broad consensus on these matters, and do not allow donor procedures. However, Shi'ite authorities allow their followers these controversial treatments, but have evolved concomitant rulings that entail surprising new patterns of kinship relations."


Al-Sayyid Muhammad Sa'id Tabataba'i al-Hakim, one of Iraq's seven resident grand ayatullahs, one of the four residents of the country's southern shrine city of al-Najaf, meeting with Iraqi President and Kurdish political leader Jalal Talabani. Al-Hakim is wearing a green scarf, almost identical to the ones I found and purchased in Yemen, and a black turban to denote his "sayyid" status, or descent from a particular line of the Prophet Muhammad's family.

Morgan Clark, who completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University, provides a brief but fascinatingly detailed about the approaches of several major Twelver Shi'i 'ulama on the permissibility of new reproductive technologies. These include the senior Shi'i religious authority in Lebanon, who has a sizeable following in the Arab Gulf states, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Iranian supreme leader (rahbar-e jamhuri-ye Islami] al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, and two of Iraq's resident grand ayatullahs, al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni al-Sistani and al-Sayyid Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim.

Iranian supreme leader al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei. He was given the title "ayatullah al-Uzma" (Udhma in Arabic; literally "great/grand ayatullah") after becoming supreme leader, rahbar-e jamhuri-ye Islami, despite not possessing the traditionally requisite level of seminary education and expertise. The constitution was changed to allow him to become rahbar.

The title "al-sayyid," for Twelver Shi'is particularly, denotes descent from the Prophet Muhammad's family through a particular line, that of the first Shi'i Imam, 'Ali ibn Abu Talib, and his wife, Fatima al-Zahra, and even more specifically through the sub-line from their youngest son, the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn. In Arabic, the word "sayyid" has a more general meaning too, that of "monsieur," in French, or "sir."

Al-Sayyid 'Ali Husayni al-Sistani, another one of Iraq's resident grand ayatullahs, who also resides in al-Najaf. He is widely considered to be the most followed Twelver Shi'i religious scholar in the world and controls a vast institution of social service centers, mosques, Islamic centers, Husayniyyas [places where the martyrdom of the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn ibn 'Ali, is commemorated], and other institutions in Iraq, Iran, across the Middle East, and in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States.

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