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Muslim Women Call for Critical Review of UN Document on Population Control and Development

by Muslim Women's League
September 1, 1994

On September 5, 1994 the United Nations is sponsoring the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. Before the Conference has begun, heated debates are taking place and several countries are refusing to participate. The Muslim Women's League would like to clarify its position on some of the issues discussed in the document, Programme of Action of the Conference.

Islam calls for the liberation of women. In a revolutionary fashion, women were declared equal to men in the eyes of God. By using the tools provided to us by our religion, we can achieve strength and freedom in order to improve the conditions of ourselves and our communities throughout the world. Unfortunately, many of the guiding principles have been abandoned and women, in many instances, live in circumstances akin to those which pre-dated Islam.

We are encouraged to see that the UN document addresses a variety of issues that are embraced by Islam, namely, focusing on the crucial role of the mother in the family and thus ensuring access to adequate pre- and post-natal care to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality associated with child-bearing; encouraging prolonged breast feeding as one way of decreasing infant mortality; improving access to health care and education as a means of enhancing the life of the girl child and thus ultimately empower her as a woman; calling for increased responsibility among men to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; encouraging abstinence from sex until marriage; providing access to birth control so married couples can have some influence on the size of their families; condemning rape and abhoring it as an instrument of ethnic cleansing; and calling for an end to the practice of female genital mutilation which has no foundation in Islam.

As Muslims, we believe that the life of the fetus is sacred and that abortions are allowed only under extreme circumstances, namely when the life of the mother is endangered. By avoiding pre- and extra-marital contact and by using contraceptives in marriage appropriately, we hope that the need for abortions throughout the world will dramatically decrease. The document in its current edition does not demand that countries legalize abortions, but that where it is legal, it should be practiced safely. The ambiguity in the document, particularly the references to "reproductive health services", has been a source of controversy and confusion. The US should commence a dialogue with American Muslim groups to avoid such ambiguity and disproportionate negative reactions in the future.

The positive features of the document have been tainted by the manner in which they have been introduced. The document claims that a major goal is to improve the quality of life for all people. We believe that development is a prerequisite for controlling birth rates, not vice versa. Security, economic and political self-determination, and freedom are cries that for too long have been met with deaf ears by our leaders in the US government. Consequently, these legitimate grievances have now prevented people from examining the US-led conference and document in a clear and objective manner. Countries should decide on population control individually based on their needs and their beliefs.

We condemn any use of violence as an expression of protest to the Cairo Conference. No group can claim to be struggling for religion and the noble cause of the sanctity of life when that claim is tarnished by unjustifiable acts of violence that result in the loss of innocent life.

Muslim Women's League
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