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Keywords:

  • medical anthropology;
  • family planning;
  • maternal and child health;
  • refugees;
  • Shi'a Islam;
  • Iran

In the West it is often assumed that religion (esp. Islam) and contraception are mutually exclusive. Yet, the Islamic Republic of Iran has one of the most successful family-planning programs in the developing world, and is often looked to as a potential model for other Muslim countries. Although Iran's family-planning program has been extremely successful among Iranians, it has been far less successful among Afghan refugees and other ethnic groups. Afghans and Iranians both seek services in Iran's public health sector for family health care, treatment of infectious disease, and childhood vaccinations. On these occasions, all adult married patients are strongly encouraged to use family planning to reduce the number of offspring. In this article, we explore how Iran's family-planning program is differentially perceived and utilized among low-income Iranian and Afghan refugee families in rural and urban locations. Particular attention is given to how different interpretations of Islam may or may not influence reproductive health-related behaviors and how cultural factors influence reproductive strategies.