Islam & Surrogacy

Shiite and Sunni Muslims disagree on whether surrogacy is permitted.
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Surrogate motherhood, in which a woman gives birth to a child to be raised by someone else, raises significant issues in Islamic law, and opinions on the legality of the practice vary among Islamic religious authorities. Among Muslims who believe that assisted reproductive technology is generally permissible, Shiite Muslims tend to allow surrogacy, but the consensus among Sunni scholars has been to declare this technique forbidden, or haram.

1 Assisted Reproductive Technology

As Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi notes, Islamic teaching on ART takes a middle position between an absolute ban and libertarian freedom. Although some Islamic commentators believe that ART is inconsistent with submitting to God's will in procreation, a general consensus holds that ARTs are permissible but only for a married couple. For example, a married couple can use in vitro fertilization so long as the procedure utilizes the wife's ova and the husband's sperm, but using donor sperm from another man would be haram.

2 Surrogacy and Adultery

The majority Sunni branch of Islam considers a surrogate to be inconsistent with Islamic law. According to this interpretation, placing sperm into a surrogate from a man who is not her husband constitutes adultery, or zina, even if she is merely carrying a married couple's own fertilized egg to term. In support of this position, scholars frequently quote the Quran 58:2, "Their mothers are none but those who gave birth to them." Because the child's legal mother is the birth mother, and she is not married to the child's father, the surrogate's relationship is by definition adulterous.

3 Arguments Against Surrogacy

Besides condemning surrogacy as a form of adultery, Sunni scholars have raised several other objections to the practice. Under their interpretation of Islamic law pertaining to lineage and inheritance, the child born by the surrogate is either illegitimate or, if the surrogate is married, legally the child of her own husband, not the child's biological father. Sunni religious scholars also contend that surrogacy for hire violates Islamic ethics by reducing the sacred acts of marriage and childbirth to a commercial contract.

4 Surrogacy and Shiite Islam

In contrast, even surrogacy for hire tends not to raise the same ethical issues in a Shiite country such as Iran. As explained in "Islam and Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Sunni and Shia Perspectives," Shiite scholars argue that in context Quran 58:2 means simply that in an adulterous sexual relationship, the child belongs to the mistress bearing the child, not the wayward father. Accordingly, it is permitted for a surrogate to carry another woman's fertilized egg, so long as it came from a married couple. Moreover, a number of Shiite scholars conclude that it is lawful for a surrogate's own ova to be fertilized by the husband's sperm, although most allow this only if the husband and the surrogate enter into a temporary polygamous marriage.

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.