The question of family planning and birth control was discussed in detail by the Majma al-Fiqh al-Islaami. They had twenty three scholars research this topic and present their findings on this matter. The participants involved represented many different trends and schools of thought. Among the participants were Muhammad Ali al-Baar, Ali al-Saaloos, Muhammad Saeed Ramadhan al-Booti, Abdullah al-Basaam, Hasan Hathoot and Muhammad Sayid Tantaawi. Their proceedings, papers and discussions may be found in Part One of the Fifth Volume of Majallah Majma al-Fiqh al-Islaami (1988/1409 A.H.). These proceedings are 748 pages all about the question of birth control and related issues.
The following are important points related to the issue of birth control in Islam. These were mentioned by some of the participants in the above program:
The institution of marriage and the want to have children was the custom of the best of creation, the prophets and messengers chosen by Allah. Allah says about them
"And indeed We sent messengers before you and made for them wives and offspring" (al-Raad 38)
The best example for the believers is the example of the prophet Muhammad (saw), who married and had children. These prophets and messengers are the people whom Muslims should look to emulate. Allah says
"They are those whom Allah has guided. So follow their guidance" (al-Anaam 90)
They should be emulated and not the disbelievers of the West, whose new lifestyles - mostly out of concern for enjoying this life or obtaining as many worldly goods as possible - discourage women from having more children.
Islam has forbidden celibacy (state of not being married), monasticism (life of monks & nuns) and castration (removal of the male glands) for such purposes. The prophet (saw) made this clear when he told those companions who were considering acetic forms of life: "I pray and I sleep; I fast and I break my fast; and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my way of life is not from me."
The prophet (saw) not only encouraged marriage but he encouraged marrying those women who are child-bearing. He stated: "marry the loving, child-bearing women for I shall have the largest numbers among the prophets on the day of Resurrection."(Recorded by Ahmad and ibn Hibban.)
From the Islamic perspective, children are a gift and a blessing from Allah. Allah mentions some of the bounties that He has bestowed upon mankind in the following verse: "And Allah has made for you spouses of your own kind and has made for you, from your wives, sons and grandsons, and has bestowed upon you good provisions." (al-Nahl 72)
Allah also said: "Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world." (al-Kahf 46)
The only true provider for all mankind is Allah. If Muslims follow what Allah has prescribed for them, Allah will provide for them. Allah has warned about killing one's children out of fear of poverty for either parents or the child. Allah says: "Kill not your children because of poverty - We provide sustenance for you and for them" (al-Anaam 151)
Allah also says: "And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide for them as well as for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin" (al-Isra 31)
Hence, Muslims should never abort or kill their children out of fear of poverty. It is Allah who provides for them.
Based on the above points and numerous others, the scholars who participated in the research on this question came up with the following resolution:
- It is not allowed to enact a general law that limits the freedom of spouses in having children.
- It is forbidden to "permanently" end a man's or a woman's ability to produce children, such as by having a hysterectomy or vasectomy, as long as that is not called for by circumstances of necessity according to its Islamic framework.
- It is permissible to control the timing of births with the intent of distancing the occurrences of pregnancy or to delay it for a specific amount of time, if there is some Shariah need for that in the opinion of the spouses, based on mutual consultation and agreement between them. However, this is conditioned by that not leading to any harm, by it being done by means that are approved in the Shariah and that it not do anything to oppose a current and existing pregnancy.
These are questions and answers reprinted from "Our Dialogue," a series appearing in the “Arab News” of Jeddah; providing an Islamic perspective to questions agitating the minds of people today. Can a Couple Limit Their Children?
Question: Is it appropriate for a married couple not to have more than two children because of their limited economic resources? Is it acceptable that they take measures to prevent pregnancy after having had two children?
Answer: During the time of the Prophet, some of his companions tried to reduce the chances of conception and pregnancy, because they did not want any more children. The Prophet was aware of that. Some referred to him while some relied on the fact that no edict was given concerning the question of preventing pregnancy. The general rule is that "everything is permissible unless pronounced otherwise." Thus, we have statements by some of the Prophet's companions such as: "We resorted to contraception at the time when the Qur'an was being revealed", and "We resorted to contraception and the Prophet was aware of that but he did not stop us." These statements are clear in their import. If the Prophet's companions had been doing something unacceptable to Islam, God would have either revealed a prohibition in the Qur'an or the Prophet would have given an order in a Hadith.
The fact is that the Prophet did not give such an order. Instead, when he learned from one of his companions that he resorted to contraception, the Prophet said clearly that no method of contraception would stop the creation of a child, should God will that the child be born. As such, no method of contraception can stop God's will being fulfilled.
The method of contraception which was known at that time was coitus interruptus. Modern methods are equally permissible, provided that they are safe and they prevent conception. Sterilization of either the man or the woman is not permissible except when it is made absolutely necessary for medical reasons. Thus, if doctors determine that any pregnancy is likely to present a serious risk to the life of the mother, then sterilization may be approved. But each case must be considered separately on its own merits.
What I have said so far applies at the individual level only. A national policy of family planning which aims to reduce the population is unacceptable because it is likely to have serious repercussion on the health of the nation as a whole. Coitus Interruptus
Question: You advised a young man to get married and delay having children until he has finished his studies. This obviously means that he has to resort to methods of birth control. In our community, most scholars say that birth control is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Please comment.
Answer: In ancient times, before the new methods of birth control were invented, people resorted to coitus interruptus in order to restrict the number of children. This is a safe method, because it does not involve the use of any substance or chemical compound. It is a simple method which involves withdrawal before discharge. It is not highly effective, because some of the sperms may be released before the actual discharge. These could easily fertilize the female egg. This method was practiced in Arabia, as well in many other places. The companions of the Prophet mentioned it to him and asked him whether it was wrong. The Prophet did not forbid them that, but he told them that it could not stop Allah's work. If He wants us to create something, or in this case, if He wants a child to be born, the resort to contraception would not prevent the mother from getting pregnant.
We have reports from companions of the Prophet mentioning that he was aware of their resort to contraception, but he did not forbid them that.
In the light of the foregoing, we can say that using a safe and effective method of birth control is permissible, if it does not involve the use of a harmful substance. The couple must check with their doctor if a particular method is safe for them to use. If so, then they decide whether to use it or not. Contraception and Sterilization
Question: I have four children and I am considering resorting to a sterilization operation to be done for my wife. She is thin and weak and can hardly cope with the demands of the family, especially during my prolonged absence, away from home to work here in Saudi Arabia. May I also say that my financial situation is not that bright. Indeed, I can hardly cope with the great demands placed on me.
Answer: Let us first of all deal with the financial aspect of this question. We know that Allah provides sustenance for everyone of His creation. I personally have experienced an improvement in my financial level with every child I have had. Indeed, that improvement was very tangible in the case of one of my children. Some people may not have such a tangible experience. It is true to say, however, that Allah will not neglect to provide sustenance for any human being. It is up to the breadwinner of the family to make use of the opportunities that Allah provides for him.
Having said that, I should also point out before attending to the question on sterilization that resorting to methods of contraception which are safe and do not affect the health of the mother is permissible. That must be kept at the individual level. By this I mean that a family may resort to contraception in order to limit the number of their children if they determine that such a thing is desirable in their particular circumstances. At the time of the Prophet, some of his companions resorted to coitus interruptus, which was the only method of family planning known to them, and the Prophet was aware of what they did. He did not instruct them to stop, nor did he tell them that what they did was forbidden. Therefore, it is permissible. Other methods of family planning have the same verdict provided they are safe.
Sterilization which involves a surgical operation is a special case. Unlike other methods of contraception it is permanent. Therefore it has to be viewed separately. Preventing pregnancy by surgery is known as sterilization which can be performed for either the husband or the wife. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we cannot make a general, sweeping statement in order to say that such an operation is either forbidden or permissible. Any surgery may be considered, from the strictly religious point of view, as required, recommended, discouraged or forbidden, according to the different circumstances of its person. If a highly competent doctor advises his patient that a certain operation will not only cure his illness but also prevents a speedy deterioration of his case, which is otherwise inevitable, then we can say that the operation is recommended. On the other hand, if there is no strong medical grounds for operating on a certain patient, but the doctor advises the operation only to get his fee, then the doctor commits a sin by giving such an advice.
In the case of sterilization, what we have to look for is the effect of pregnancy on the health of the mother. If a competent doctor determines that every pregnancy is likely to pose a real threat to the life of the mother or to cause serious threats to her health and that other methods of contraception may also have a bad effect on her health, then the woman may have such an operation without any qualm of conscience. It is permissible in her case. On the other hand, for a woman who asks her doctor to perform such an operation because she feels that a pregnancy may spoil her figure or having children may stop her from taking a lengthy holiday every few months, such an operation is forbidden.
In your particular condition, I do not think the reasons you have advanced for such an operation constitute a sound argument to justify the operation. Your wife may be thin and weak, but you can easily delay pregnancy by resorting to other methods of contraception. On the basis of what you say in your letter, you are only with your wife for a month or so every year. If you take adequate precautions, you can almost certainly prevent pregnancy. Therefore, the operation is not required on medical grounds. Hence, it cannot be lawful in your case.