Islam permits artificial insemination if the sperm and the egg are from a married man and woman. And any other situation like getting the egg from another woman or the involvement of a third party is forbidden.
- Insemination under the microscope;
- ‘Test-tube’ babies;
- Rulings concerning artificial insemination.
This refers to pregnancy and childbirth using a procedure other than the natural one, i.e. without sexual intercourse between man and wife. It is done through what is called nowadays, artificial insemination. There are several different ways of achieving artificial insemination, some internal and others external to the woman’s body, and children born through these procedures were known as ‘test-tube babies’, because the insemination of the woman’s egg may be done outside the woman’s body in a receptacle often erroneously described as a test-tube.
Artificial insemination is performed in different ways, some of which are lawful from the Islamic point of view, some unlawful and others hover in between prohibition and permissibility. What is lawful is that the sperm of the husband is used to inseminate the egg of his wife, without sexual intercourse, either inside the woman’s body or outside it. The fertilized egg is then put back into the woman’s uterus. When needed, there is nothing wrong with either of these techniques if the woman is unable to get pregnant in the natural way.
Forbidden procedures are those when the sperm of a man other than the woman’s husband is used, or when the egg is taken from a woman other than his wife, or when the husband’s sperm inseminates his wife’s egg but the fertilized egg is then placed in the body of another woman.
Procedures hovering between permissibility and prohibition are those such as a man being married to two wives and one of them is infertile. Consider the situation where an egg is taken from one wife and inseminated with the husband’s sperm before placing it in his other wife’s uterus. The permissibility of this procedure is questionable. However, caution makes many scholars more inclined to say that it is not permissible, because in matters related to sex and pregnancy, extra caution is required.
The Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League in Makkah undertook an in-depth study of artificial insemination, with all its internal and external procedures, and ultimately approved a decision that considered only two procedures permissible and all others forbidden. The two permissible procedures ensure that the sperm of the husband is used to inseminate the egg of his wife when they are actually married, and without the involvement of any third party. The decision is as follows:
One: General Rules
1. It is strictly forbidden for a woman to expose her body before anyone other than her husband with whom it is permissible for her to have sexual intercourse, except for a legitimate purpose that Islamic law considers to permit such exposure.
2. When a woman needs medical treatment for an illness, or an unnatural condition, or another complaint that troubles her, she may expose her body within the limits of what is necessary in order to have such treatment.
3. When there is a legitimate purpose allowing a woman to expose her body before someone other than her husband, the person administering the treatment should be a Muslim woman whenever this is possible. If not, it should be a non-Muslim woman. Otherwise a Muslim male doctor of integrity, and if not then a non-Muslim doctor. This order should always be considered. It is not permissible for the woman being treated and the person treating her to be alone. Her husband or another woman should always be present.
Two: Rulings on Artificial Insemination
1. The need of a married woman and her husband to have children when the woman is unable to conceive is considered a legitimate purpose, allowing her treatment with a permissible method of artificial insemination.
2. The first procedure, involving taking the sperm of a married man to inseminate the egg of his wife internally, is permissible from the Islamic point of view under the abovementioned conditions, provided that the woman’s need to have such a procedure for conception is confirmed.
3. The third procedure, involving inseminating the wife’s egg by her husband’s sperm externally then implanting the fertilized egg in the uterus of the same wife who produced the egg is acceptable in principle. However, the conditions surrounding it do not make it free of doubt. Therefore, it must not be resorted to except in cases of absolute necessity, ensuring that the aforementioned general rules are observed.
4. In these two permissible situations, the Council decides that the child’s parents are the two spouses who provided the sperm and the egg. The rights of inheritance and other rights of the child are confirmed once the parenthood is confirmed. Once this child is confirmed to be the child of the man and his wife, all rulings and rights, including rights of inheritance, apply to it.
5. All other procedures of artificial insemination, whether internal or external as already outlined, are forbidden in Islam. None may be considered permissible because they involve insemination without considering that the man and the woman are married. Moreover, the surrogate mother is unrelated to the couple.
Considering the general circumstances of artificial insemination, even in the two permissible procedures, and with the possibility of sperms and eggs fertilized externally being mixed up, particularly when this procedure becomes more common, the Council advises people not to resort to it except in cases of absolute necessity. They must take every precaution to prevent sperms and eggs being mixed up. This is the conclusion arrived at by the Fiqh Council regarding this issue of strong religious sensitivity. The Council prays that it has arrived at the right conclusion.
Shaikh Jad al-Haq Ali Jad al-Haq, the former Rector of al-Azhar, was asked a detailed question about the use of artificial insemination. The following cases were mentioned in the question:
1. The husband’s sperm is used to inseminate the egg of his wife who is unable to conceive otherwise, with both man and wife being present.
2. The sperm of a man other than her husband is used to inseminate a woman’s egg, because her husband produces no sperm or because his sperm is unsuitable.
3. The husband’s sperm is used to inseminate an egg produced by a woman other than his wife. The fertilized egg is subsequently implanted in the uterus of the man’s wife. Such a situation might arise in the case of a woman who does not produce eggs.
4. A woman’s egg is artificially inseminated with her own husband’s sperm in a ‘test-tube’, because the woman cannot get pregnant. The fertilized egg is then either: (i) implanted in the uterus of the wife who produced the egg; or (ii) implanted into a suitable animal for a period of time and later the embryo is returned to the uterus of the same woman.
5. What is the status of the husband who agrees to use such procedures and claims the child born in one of these ways, or stays with his wife who used the sperm of another man to get pregnant?
6. What is the status of the child born by any of these methods?
Shaikh Jad al-Haq gave a detailed answer and said:
God says in the Qur’an:
‘He it is who has created man from water and established for him bonds of lineage and marriage. All-Powerful is your Lord.’
In this verse God makes clear that one of the blessings He has favoured man with is the establishment of bonds of lineage and marriage. He made these bonds the basis of what is permissible or prohibited in human relations. Since such bonds are aspects of God’s blessings, the protection of offspring is one of the essential purposes of Islamic law. In this regard, al-Ghazali said: ‘Procuring benefits and removing harm are the objectives of God and serve people’s interests and purposes. What we mean by benefit is the protection of what Islamic law aims to safeguard for people: their faith, life, reason, offspring and property. Everything that helps to preserve these five essentials is a benefit and everything that adversely affects them is a harm and repelling such harm is a benefit.’
In order to protect offspring, God has permitted marriage and forbidden fornication and adultery.
‘And among His signs is that He creates for you spouses out of your own kind, so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you. In this there are clear signs indeed for people who think.’
‘Do not come near adultery. It is indeed an abomination and an evil way.’
A child that is born in a proper marriage grows up under the care of parents who try their best to give it the best upbringing, using all their resources for that purpose. An illegitimate child is hostile to its mother and her people and deprived of the care of a father. It is given the wrong upbringing and he becomes a burden to its community.
Scholars of Islamic law have discussed what should be done for such children, urging the community to ensure that they are well brought up. They have outlined rules and regulations that apply to them as they are human beings that must not be neglected. It is forbidden to insult or humiliate them and they should be given the opportunity to grow up as good people, with the hope that they will be of benefit to society.
‘Because of this did We ordain to the Children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being, for anything other than in punishment of murder or for spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; and that if anyone saves a human life, it shall be as though he had saved all mankind. Our messengers brought them clear evidence of the truth, but despite all this, many of them continue to commit all manner of excesses on earth.’
Islam is keen to ensure that family relations are true and safe. Therefore, it encourages marriage and puts in place detailed laws and regulations to ensure the stability of the family from the moment of one’s birth to the moment of one’s death. Generally speaking, Islam regulates human life in the best way, relying on wisdom and justice and ensuring people’s interests.
As lineage and family are so important, Islam has put in place legislation that ensures that it remains correct and right, leaving no room for doubt and suspicion.
The Prophet says:
‘The child belongs to the marriage bed and the adulterer bites the dust.’
(Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 2,053; Muslim, hadith No. 1,457)
The hadith means that a child should be born into a proper marriage and the wife should bear her husband’s child. It thus lays down an important rule for family life, ensuring the sanctity of proper marriage and confirming parenthood on this basis. If a married woman becomes pregnant through adultery or rape the child is affiliated to her husband, not to the adulterer or the rapist, because the proper marriage bed is in place.
Another aspect of the Islamic way of protecting family lines is the requirement that if a woman is divorced after the consummation of her marriage, or after she and her husband have been together in private, she should observe a waiting period before she can marry another man.
Islam categorically prohibits adoption, and the prohibition is clearly stated in the Qur’an. The prohibition applies when a person attributes to himself another person, in the same way as a child is attributed to its rightful parents, knowing for certain that this person is someone else’s child. This is forbidden so as to keep family lineage correct and to preserve the rights of the family, as they have been regulated by Islamic law in accordance with the degree of relationship.
‘Never has God put two hearts in one man’s body. Nor does He make your wives whom you declare to be as unlawful to you as your mothers’ bodies truly your mothers. Likewise, He does not make your adopted sons truly your sons. These are only words you utter with your mouths, but God says the truth and He alone shows the right path. Call them by their fathers’ names; that is more just in God’s sight. If you do not know who their fathers are then treat them as your brethren in faith and your protégés. You shall not be blamed if you make a mistake, but for what your hearts intend. God is indeed much forgiving, ever merciful.’
Thus Islam does not allow the affiliation into a family of one who does not belong to it, and it does not enforce attaching anyone to people who do not want it.
As Islam takes such care of family lineage and ensures that it remains safe, it regulates the relationship between man and woman, making clear that it must be within a proper marriage, so that man’s sperm that begins the conception of a child is kept pure.
‘We have created man from a drop of mingled fluid, so that We might try him. Therefore, we have endowed him with hearing and sight.’
This drop of fluid does not begin to give shape unless it gets into the woman’s body which is ready to receive it. This may be through proper sexual intercourse. Thus, the child belongs to its father when the sexual intercourse is within a proper marriage. Alternatively, it may be through the implanting of the sperm into the woman’s uterus in a different way.
The first question said: ‘The husband’s sperm is used to inseminate the egg of his wife who is unable to conceive otherwise, with both man and wife being present.’ The ultimate purpose of the marital relation is procreation for the survival of mankind, and the physical relationship between the spouses responds to natural instincts. Thus this relationship and intercourse are the proper means through which they both give what is within them, enabling the sperm to find its place and be settled where God wants it to start its life cycle. This should be done by the means God has given each of the couple and it should be always maintained unless there is good reason for seeking a different method, such as either one of the married couple having an illness, or a natural condition that prevents conception in the natural way. In such a case, and the wife has artificial insemination with her husband’s own sperm without any doubt about its source or its mixing with any other human or animal sperm, such insemination is permissible. Thus, the child definitely belongs to the woman’s husband. The case is analogous to that mentioned by early scholars who make clear that if a woman inserts her husband’s sperm into her vagina the child is her husband’s child, and if she is divorced or widowed she must observe the normal waiting period.
The second question puts the following case: ‘The sperm of a man other than her husband is used to inseminate a woman’s egg, because her husband produces no sperm or because his sperm is unsuitable.’ This is certainly forbidden because it leads to confusion of parenthood, affiliating a child to a man when the child was not conceived with that man’s sperm. Moreover, when such insemination leads to pregnancy, it carries shades of adultery as it produces the same results as adultery. Needless to say, adultery is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
The third question says: ‘The husband’s sperm is used to inseminate an egg produced by a woman other than his wife. The fertilized egg is subsequently implanted in the uterus of the man’s wife. Such a situation might arise in the case of a woman who does not produce eggs.’ This procedure also carries shades of adultery, and like adultery it leads to confusion of family relations. This is something Islamic law is firmly against. Islam wants family relations clear and true, moving them away from adultery and all that may be associated with it. It is true that in this case the sperm is taken from the husband, but the sperm does not produce anything on its own. It only starts the cycle of life by God’s will when it inoculates the wife’s egg. In this case the wife’s egg is missing and is replaced by an egg taken from another woman. As such the wife is not the husband’s tilth, as wives are described in the Qur’an:
‘Your wives are your tilth; go, then, to your tilth as you may desire, but first provide something for your souls. Fear God and know that you shall meet Him. Give the happy news to the believers.’
A woman should only be made pregnant as a result of legitimate relations with her husband, either through intercourse with her or by her insemination with his sperm and the fertilized egg implanted in her own uterus so that the child develops and grows in the natural way. As God describes:
‘He has created you all from a single soul and from it He fashioned its mate; and He has bestowed on you four kinds of cattle in pairs; and He creates you in your mothers’ wombs, one act of creation after another, in threefold depths of darkness. Such is God, your Lord: to Him belongs all dominion. There is no deity other than Him. How, then, can you lose sight of the truth?’
Since the fertilized egg in this case does not belong to the wife, then the resulting pregnancy is not by the married couple: it is by the husband and a woman with whom it is not lawful for him to consort. There is no situation of tilth in this case, either real or conceptual. As such this case is like the previous one: they are both akin to forbidden adultery.
The fourth question cites the following case: ‘A woman’s egg is artificially inseminated with her own husband’s sperm in a “test-tube”, because the woman cannot get pregnant. The fertilized egg is then either: (i) implanted in the uterus of the wife who produced the egg; or (ii) implanted into a suitable animal for a period of time and later the embryo is returned to the uterus of the same woman.’
In the first of these cases it should be clear and certain that the egg belongs to the wife and the sperm to her husband. When the insemination takes place in a test-tube and then the fertilized egg is implanted in the wife’s uterus it must be certain that there is no mix-up or substitution of the husband’s sperm with the sperm of any other person or animal. If there is a medical need for using this procedure, such as either spouse having some illness or condition that prevents their having normal intercourse, and a competent doctor advises that this procedure is the right way for the wife to get pregnant, it is permissible. However, it must be ascertained that the test-tube used for the fertilization of the egg is the right one. Having children is a blessing, and when pregnancy is prevented by some cause that can be treated or overcome such treatment is perfectly permissible, and may even be a duty in some cases.
A Bedouin asked the Prophet:
‘Messenger of God, should we seek medical treatment?’ The Prophet said: ‘Yes. God has not created an illness without creating a cure for it, and the cure may be known to some and unknown to others.’
(Related by Ahmad, hadith No. 3,578)
Like the procedure mentioned in the first question, this method is a type of medical treatment which is perfectly permissible as long as it does not involve anything forbidden. Indeed, medical treatment may be a duty when it leads to the preservation of life or curing a spouse’s sterility.
The other alternative in this question posits implanting the fertilized egg in a suitable female animal for a while which replaces the wife. The Qur’an refers to the stages of development of an embryo from the moment of conception.
‘Indeed, We create man out of the essence of clay, then We place him, a gamete, in a safe place of rest. Then We create out of the gamete a clinging cell mass, and out of the clinging cell mass We create an embryo. Then We create within the embryo bones, then We clothe the bones with flesh. We then bring this into being as another creation. Exalted be God, the best of creators.’
However, the question involves using a female animal to host a woman’s egg that has been fertilized by her husband’s sperm. When this egg goes through these stages, this creature will acquire some of the qualities or forms of the animal that provides it with nourishment. Indeed, it becomes part of its animal host. If it remains there until fully developed it will be a different creature when born. We need only think of a donkey copulating with a mare. The pregnancy results in a totally different animal which is neither a donkey nor a horse.
This is true if the fertilized egg remains in the animal until it is born. If the embryo is taken out after a short time and is implanted in the wife’s uterus, it will have acquired some of the qualities of the animal host and will have lost some human characteristics. The hereditary element is operative in animal and plant species, and features are borrowed from one species to another and then from one generation to another. Islam referred to this before it was scientifically proven.
‘How could it be that He who has created should not know all? He is indeed Most Gracious, All-Aware.’
This is indicated by the Prophet’s advice in relation to the choice of spouses
‘Be selective with regard to your wives and marry [your women to] those who are acceptable.’
(Related by Ibn Majah, hadith No. 1,968)
He also says:
‘Stay away from a pretty woman in an evil environment.’
(Related by al-Daraqutni)
Thus the fertilized egg that is implanted in the uterus of a female animal will take from its host qualities and characteristics if it manages to survive and be born. Although such a creature is born with a human form it will not be a normal human being. To go through this is to pervert God’s creation.
One of the rules established by Muslim scholars, on the basis of the objectives of Islamic law, is that the prevention of harm takes priority over securing benefit. Islamic law focuses more on preventing what is forbidden than the fulfilment of what is obligatory.
‘Remain God-fearing as best as you can, listen, obey and be charitable.’
The Prophet says:
‘Do the best of whatever I bid you to do, but desist from anything I forbid you.’
(Related by Muslim, hadith No. 1,337)
Since conception in this way leads to much harm, then it is forbidden to pursue this procedure.
The fifth question asks: ‘What is the status of the husband who agrees to use such procedures and claims the child born in one of these ways, or stays with his wife who used the sperm of another man to get pregnant?’
We have already said that artificial insemination with the procedure mentioned in the first question or the one described in the first method in the fourth question is permissible. The conditions that need to be fulfilled are that the woman’s egg should be fertilized by her husband’s sperm and that there is real need to follow such procedures because pregnancy cannot take place through the natural method. We also mentioned that all other methods described are forbidden in Islam, either because they are akin to adultery or because of the harm they cause.
Therefore, it is forbidden for a husband to claim a child that was conceived through any of the forbidden procedures. Such a child is not his child, either because there is doubt about his being the child’s father or because there is certainty that he is not its father, since the sperm used in such procedures is taken from someone else. Indeed, claiming such a child is worse than adopting someone else’s child and giving it one’s own name since in these procedures there is an element of adultery. A husband who accepts that his wife conceives using someone else’s sperm, either through adultery or through a procedure that has an element of adultery, loses his dignity. The same applies to a husband who stays with a wife that has conceived through any of these forbidden procedures. Islam forbids these because it wants mankind to keep their noble status and purity. As for adopting someone else’s child and giving it one’s own family name, this is strictly forbidden as the Qur’an clearly states.
The sixth question asks about the status of the child born by any of these ways. In answer we say that any child conceived through any of the forbidden procedures is considered fatherless. It is affiliated only to its mother, as she has given birth in the natural way, and it is like a child born through an adulterous relationship. In this respect we remind spouses of the hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah, who quoted
the Prophet as saying:
‘Any woman who introduces into a community a child who does not belong to them is rejected by God and He will not admit her into heaven. Any man who denies a child he knows to be his own shall be screened from God and God will proclaim his deed to all generations of mankind.’
(Related by Abu Dawud, hadith No. 2,263; al-Nassa’i, hadith No. 3,481)
The Egyptian Dar al-Ifta responded in 2005 to a question put by a woman who wanted to have a child through artificial insemination but her husband refused because he thought it is forbidden in Islam. Doctors said that there was no medical reason why the lady could not get pregnant in this way. In its response, Dar al-Ifta said that certain conditions must be met for artificial insemination to be permissible. The most important of these are that the egg is the wife’s egg and it must be inseminated by her husband’s sperm, and that the fertilized egg must be implanted in the uterus of the woman it was taken from. If any of these conditions is not met, as in the case of taking the egg from a different woman or the sperm from a man other than her husband, or if the fertilized egg is implanted in another woman’s uterus, then the whole process is forbidden because it will then confuse family relations, encroach on rights and deviate from upright human nature. As such, the prohibition is clear.
It should be pointed out that the woman’s request that her husband should help her in this regard and go through artificial insemination is reasonable and there is nothing wrong with it. It certainly does not constitute objection to God’s will.
- Decisions by the Islamic Fiqh Council.
- Fatawa of al-Azhar.
- Fatawa of the Egyptian Dar al-Ifta.
- Shaikh Ibn Uthaymeen, Fatawa.
- Atiyyah Saqr, Mawsu'at al-Usrah taht Ri[ayat al-Islam.
- Decision by the International Islamic Fiqh Assembly.
- This decision was adopted by the Council in its eighth session held in Makkah in 1405 AH, 1985.
- Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Al-Mustasfa, vol. 1, p. 287.