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Pomona College

Publication Date

Spring 2008

Program Name

Mali: Gender, Health, and Development


Anxious faces gather at the entrance to La Grande Mosquée de Sanankoroba, an imposing cement structure amongst small mud homes, awaiting the imam’s decision. He is not a mujtahid , but offers fatwas nonetheless; today’s is on birth control. Men crowd around—and a few women at the rear—to hear him speak out against birth control, against the use of oral contraception, for being against Islam and against God’s plan. And when his speech finishes, the faces disappear, back into their homes, and little discussion ensues. Instead, men return to their wives to share the verdict, to denounce family planning as haraam, and add to Mali’s already engorged birth rate. But is family planning truly against Islam, and does this Imam, who is not a mujtahid, have the right to offer fatwas? Is his ruling valid, and does it matter? All that matters now is that an entire village believes birth control is un-Godlike, and few will use it. But what does Islam actually say about family planning? Who determines Islamic biomedical ethics and how? And how does this translate to the people of Sanankoroba?

The complex discourse between science and religion presents itself at every opportunity, its existence offering conflicts since the dual debut of these two faiths. Textbooks, novels, and manifestoes have been written about this conflict, and I do not claim expertise in any area of this debate. Instead, I seek to begin to examine the interplay between science and religion as it relates to Islamic biomedical ethics, and its implications for the people of Mali. Understanding religious approaches to science results in more appropriate, and therefore more effective, treatments, which benefit patient and healthcare worker alike.

Ninety percent of Malians practice some form of Islam, mainly Sunni and Wahhabist Islam, and Islam plays a crucial role in medical care: medications that must be taken on an exact schedule are timed to morning or evening prayers in villages where clocks are not prevalent; excision, practiced by ninety-six percent of Malians, causes extreme pain and excessive haemorrhaging during childbirth. To this end, I wanted to understand how Islamic biomedical ethics are understood amongst Malians, particularly amongst rural Malians, if and how they are applied, what possible conflicts result, and how they can be reconciled.

To enhance the feasibility of this study in the short time available, and enable a slightly in-depth look at complex subjects, I chose three biomedical topics of interest to me: abortion, birth control, and religious observances during pregnancy. I studied these topics through topical, official Islam, using scholarly works as the basis of my research, through medical observations, and through interviews with healthcare workers and patients at my field site. This study was done mostly out of personal interest—to finally link my religious studies major and medical school aspirations—but also out of a desire to understand Malian opinions so to better reconcile medicine and Malian Islam in the future.


Ethics in Religion | Medicine and Health Sciences | Religion


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