CAIRO – A proposed family planning program in Senegal has sparked uproar in the Muslim majority country, with rights activist rejecting it as un-Islamic, amid efforts from international organizations to endorse it in a bid to limit the population growth.
“Family planning is not reproductive health, is not space between babies; it’s not health of women, it’s to limit births,” Imam Ahmed Ndiaye, an outspoken critic of family planning programs, was quoted by the Washington Post.
Imam Ndiaye is one of community leaders who have rejected the program as un-Islamic.
Introduced in Senegal, where large families mean power and economic boom, many religious leaders have also criticized the program as "culturally inapplicable" in the Western African country.
“It’s like we expanded from one family to three,” El Hadji Fally Diallo, a 76-year-old village leader, said of his own three wives and expansive brood.
“With 30 children, some can go to the field, some can deal with the cattle, some can go abroad.
"It’s a lot of money you can have with this size family, so that is a lot of power.” Diallo added.
Diallo's son Ibrahima, an imam himself, added that larger families will not negatively affect Senegal.
“In Senegal, we have solidarity; you can take your child to … your brother’s house for help,” he said.
“We can have even a bigger and bigger population, but with solidarity we won’t have problems,” the imam said.
The high rates of birth rates will result in increasing the Population of Senegalese to 58 million by 2100, according to United Nations tallies.
In some Senegalese areas like Mereto, the average birth rate reaches to 6.3 children compared with 5 children in other regions.
Doubting international funding of the program, many Senegalese refused family planning programs, highlighting suspicions about the intentions of the program.
“Some people understand our mission, but some think this is an invasion that came from outside the country because they give us money,” said Fatou Ndiaye Turpin, director Senegalese women’s rights network that promotes family planning.
“If Europeans say the population is too large so we need to limit births, Islam can’t agree with that because God says, ‘You are my people, multiply,’ and it is the duty of God to take care of the family,” Imam Diallo claimed.
“It’s not for Europeans to bring family planning and say, ‘You have a large population, you will have consequences.’ ” he added.
Despite local opposition, family planning programs have a long history in Senegal.
For years, campaigners of family planning program used to promote the benefits of the program which include better health for women and children, economic benefits and smaller families.
One of the family planning advocating groups is Siggil Jigeen, a Senegalese women’s rights network, which has been promoting birth control for more than 20 years.
Members of the network say that moral aspects and religious rumors are the major obstacles that hinder their work.
“If religion allowed it, there would be no problem,” Fatou Ndiaye Turpin, the director of Siggil Jigeen network, said.
Aiming to offer a religious guidance on the issue, the network regularly contacts Muslim scholars to give advice, citing the holy Qur'an verses.
“It’s always men who come and say this is forbidden by Islam,” Turpin said.
“Women don’t know what’s in the Qur’an," she added.
Muslims make up nearly 94 percent of the country's 13 million population, while Christians account for 5 percent and the remaining follows indigenous beliefs.
Islam encourages its followers to marry, procreate and populate the earth. Yet, it allows family planning and the use of contraception as long as the conditions set by Islam in this regard are observed.
Family planning is allowable as long as the method employed is not irreversible as the case in vasectomy for example.
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