D.C. Event: Islam and Reproductive Health Care in Morocco

Islam and Reproductive Health Care in Morocco

Who: Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists

Where: Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC

When: February 4 | 7:00pm


News articles in the post-9/11 moment have referenced the fact that Muslim populations are growing outside of the Middle East and North Africa. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the Muslim population in the United States is expected to double by 2030. After the tragic events of September 11th, the migration and reproduction of Muslims raises concern about the potential for terrorist acts by fundamentalist groups who have settled in places like the United States, Canada, or Europe. It is reasonable to suggest that Muslim fertility has become a political matter in the United States and a topic of popular and scholarly importance. Islamic doctrine has frequently been interpreted (or seen as being interpreted) as prohibiting family planning, but there is no set interpretation of the Qur’an and sacred texts. The interpretation is open depending upon the person (or group) reading or teaching the doctrine and where this is taking place. Muslims’ reproduction and more importantly their bodies have become the subjects of political and popular scrutiny in part to prevent the international threat of violence by future generations. 

In this presentation will explore the ways in which Islam has been interpreted as encouraging the use of family planning and reproductive health care, and along the way, it will complicate our understandings of neoliberalism. In it, I will present data that I collected through extended ethnographic fieldwork in Morocco in order to analyze the relationship between reproductive health, development policy, and popular Islamic beliefs. Responsibility and self-governance are two traits often associated with neoliberal citizenship in scholarly and popular discourses and are clearly the goals of the National Initiative for Human Developmentundefineda program launched in Morocco in 2005 that makes social development and improving citizens’ lives top political priorities. The program is based upon the premise that if the government provides the proper tools and knowledge, it is the citizens’ responsibility to use them to reach their full potentials. Through an analysis of childbearing and childrearing practices of urban Moroccan women living in and near the capital of Rabat, I demonstrate that these women are active in their own governance and accountable for their reproductive behaviors, and in addition, they take advantage of the reproductive health services offered in Morocco, but they did not do this at the behest of the government’s policy, they did so because of their understandings of what Islam says about fertility and motherhood. I suggest that their engagement with religious discourses and teachings illustrates that modern contraception and reproductive health care are pious in nature because they allow women to put their Islamic beliefs of proper womanhood and motherhood into practices, especially being able to provide a quality life for themselves and their children.

Speaker bio:

Cortney Hughes Rinker earned her Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine in 2010. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at George Mason University and is the director of graduate studies in Anthropology. She conducted long-term research (2005-2009) on reproductive health care among working-class women in Rabat, Morocco. She focused on the ways the country’s new development policies impact how childbearing and childrearing practices are promoted to women and how women incorporate these practices into their ideas of citizenship. Before joining George Mason, Cortney was a postdoctoral fellow at the Arlington Innovation Center for Health Research at Virginia Tech where she worked in conjunction with a healthcare organization in southwest Virginia developing projects to improve the quality of end-of-life care and psychiatric services in rural Appalachia. She is currently engaged in a new study on the role of Islam in end-of-life care within the context of the US health care system and is looking at the ways that Islamic medical ethics and popular Islamic beliefs intersect with health policy and discourses in the United States and recommendations for care at the end-of-life. Ethnographic research for her new project has led her to develop a second smaller study on the use of religious apps for the iPhone and other devices to help people develop and/or live out their faith. She is the author of Islam, Development, and Urban Women’s Reproductive Practices (Routledge, 2013) and has published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, the Arab Studies Journal, Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health, and Military Medicine. A chapter of hers appears in Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa: Into the New Millennium (Indiana University Press, 2013) and she has been a guest on WVTF Roanoke to discuss end-of-life care.


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