Two ‘quiet’ reproductive revolutions

Islam, gender, and (in)fertility

Authored by: Marcia C. Inhorn

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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The Muslim world is often portrayed as a region of high fertility – a state of demographic affairs attributed to inherent Muslim patriarchy and pronatalism. However, this portrayal is both outdated and inaccurate. Since the mid-1980s, fertility rates have plummeted across the Muslim world – a fertility decline that has been profound, even revolutionary. Nearly half of the world’s top 15 fertility declines have occurred in Muslim-majority Arab nations, where Islamic authorities have played supportive roles in family planning. Accordingly, Arab couples have enacted a ‘quiet revolution’ in reproductive behaviour, using contraception to create small families. This dramatic fertility decline is not the only reproductive revolution taking place across the Muslim world. The Muslim Middle East has witnessed the growth of one of the world’s largest in vitro fertilization (IVF) sectors. Infertility treatment via assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) has been encouraged by both Islamic authorities and Middle Eastern governments, some of which have subsidized ARTs for their citizens. Men, too, have played critical roles, acknowledging their own male infertility and embracing ART-assisted family building with wives they love. In short, not all contemporary revolutions in the Muslim world are political. Two momentous reproductive revolutions have quietly taken place, meriting our scholarly attention.

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