Islam and Family Planning [Archives:1999/27/Health]

July 5 1999


Dr. Azza Mohammed Ghanem
Professor of Psychology
Please let me share with you this excellent presentation, that was given by Sheikh Nasser Al-Shaibani, the Minister of Endowments, at the recent May 1999 meeting of learned men of religion, Decision Makers, Members of Parliament and Mass Media presenters. I am only sorry that you could not personally hear the fascinating comments of this eloquent and knowledgeable sheikh. Hopefully, some of our Non-Muslim readers will be coaxed into becoming better acquainted with Islam, this great religion that is not only an intricate system of belief and worship but also a complex legal and social web, a way of life that has called for equality, justice, democracy and fraternity fourteen hundred years ago, long before any other civilization raised such issues. If a few have deviated and erred on Islamic lands, then it is their fault and their fault only. Generalizations are really dangerous in such matters.
I did try to keep to the actual text of the Sheikh’s paper with no personal additions, but a few omissions of repetitions were made when the partial text seemed to suffice.
The Sheikh’s Speech:
Researchers today pay a lot of attention to the problem of family planning as a social political issue that is of paramount importance to the future of nations. One of the outstanding features of Islam is that it aims to rectify and improve the way of life of human beings, and to solve prevalent problems and set a legal social system that ensures stability, safety and equality for all.
One of the major extant problems is the high population growth rate, and the relatively low increase in production. This leads to a relative drop in the standard of living. There is a need to halt this population explosion, in order to alleviate poverty, misery and deterioration.
Raising animals is easy and profitable, the establishment of factories is also easy once funds are available, but bringing up children is very complicated and arduous, yet few give it much thought. In the human sphere, it is not quantity that matters, but rather quality. We must be able to bring up good children of sound caliber, sufficiently prepared for the tasks of life. This is a great burden, a responsibility that is quite serious.
Islam does not advocate large numbers of weak, sick and ignorant offspring. Islam demands that bring up strong offspring, physically, mentally, spiritually and morally. It refuses a froth of people that are like the froth and bubbles that float on flood water.
The Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed (P) said this:
Nations will encircle you Muslims like hungry people surrounding their food box. People asked if this was due to the meager numbers of Muslims. On the country, came the reply, Muslims would be abundant but similar to the froth and foam that covers a flood. Your enemies will not fear you and Allah will throw into your hearts the weakness caused by the obsession with life and the fear of death.
Islam encourages planning and organization in all matters of life, including family planning. The importance of organization and planning is clear in many verses, e.g. Surat Yassin “It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in their orbit.”
Order and organization are at the core of worship and dealings in Islam, from the basic laws of a group of prayers, to the battle field laws for fighters. Those who ponder Islamic shariah and jurisprudence will realize that the Islamic system stipulated in worship and daily life is clearly outlined in the most intricate details and rules; e.g. buying, selling, money matters, fasting, Hajj, Zakat etc. Without organization and planning, our lives and beliefs will collapse.
The family is the nucleus of society, and its basic cell and must follow a system to fulfill is existence. Family planning in Islam ensues from the love and responsibility of a responsible family supporter. He loves his kids, and cannot watch the young ones in need of things he cannot provide. He brings them up in the correct manner, and educates them in an age when education has become crucial for a healthy sustainable and strong future existence.
The Hadith of the Prophet goes:
It is a child’s right to have the father teach him literacy, swimming, marksmanship, and to be fed and supported by his parents from unblemished sources.
Another Hadith says:
It is a sin for a person to lose the person he brings up or supports due to negligence.
Imam Al Shafee interprets the verses in Surat Al Nisa:
“Thus, it is more likely that ye will not do justice” to mean that it is due to having too many children that you may end up in injustice.
Ibn Abbas, one of the Prophet’s companions, said that the abundance of offspring is one of the two poverties, and the paucity of offspring is one of the comforts.
The Prophet had advised that you ask Allah for relief from the stress of calamities, the path of unhappiness, the evils of injustice and the jeering of enemies. One of his companions clarified that the stress of calamities is being poor and having lots of children.
The Quran tells the stories of prophets like Abraham and Zechariah, who asked not for many children but rather for righteous and good offspring.
Humans pray to God for healthy, strong and righteous offspring that can create goodness, power and happiness for the family and community.
Imam Abu Hanifa advised his friend not to marry until he was sure he could cover the spouse’s needs.
However, all this does not mean that Islam is against having children. On the contrary, when the Prophet was asked by a man interested in marrying a sterile woman he said “Marry those who can bring you children, because I want to show you off on the day of judgment.” This is one of the main sources of support that Muslims quote for producing lots of children. But is it this quantitative aspect that is important for the general benefit of Islam, irrespective of whether it weakens Muslims qualitatively? The flexibility of Islam allows for family planning.
If individual and collective benefit is conditioned upon quantity and numbers, then that is what should prevail, but high quality must simultaneously be maintained. How could the Prophet be proud of a weak, ignorant, retarded nation, no matter how profuse.
Organization and planning is a relative matter which should be compatible with regional needs. Thus, when a country suffers from population increase then it needs planning. However if a country enjoys a low population growth, with high production and habitable areas, then it needs to increase its growth. Some nations may exercise family planning for a period of time and relax that later when conditions improve. There are numerous examples of health, social, and economic circumstances that necessitate family planning.
Successive pregnancies could lead to poor health in the mother and child. The Prophet has warned against non-precautionary relations between husband and wife that could result in pregnancy during breast feeding. Breast feeding milk is spoilt by a new pregnancy and weakens the infant permanently, affects the fetus and exhausts the mother. Breastfeeding should last for two years as in Surat Al-Baqara:
“Mothers should breastfeed their infants two years for those who wish to complete the suckling”. Because total abstinence would be a hardship, withdrawal was practiced by the Prophet’s companions and accepted by him.
Amongst the other circumstances are the presence of a hereditary disease in one of the parents that passes to the offspring, poor health of the mother, or fear of wrong doing.
What is meant by planning is the postponement and delay of pregnancy by using a safe, medically supervised means for a period of time. The prevention of becoming pregnant is not tantamount to abortion or killing a fetus.
The Quran states:
“Do not kill your children for fear of need. We shall provide for both you and your children.”Surat Al Anam.
“Do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We shall provide for both you and them, slaying them is terrible sin.” Surat Al Israa.
These two verses refer to the actual murder of children, because the Arabs before Islam used to bury the female infants alive for fear of poverty or future shameful misconduct. That practice was forbidden and stopped by Islam.
As far as the prevention of pregnancy is concerned, there is not destruction or killing involved because the conception has not occurred. Imam Al-Ghazali explained the difference between abortion and withdrawal. The latter is permitted. In abortion something that exists is dislodged and destroyed, calling for punishment.
Family planning can be a necessity at times for our present and future well being.
All spheres should cooperate, especially the mass media, to create awareness, to enlighten, and to educate the citizens. There are many factors which kept the proper change in attitudes from affecting all for the good. The previous attitude that strength is in numbers has to be rectified in the light of the present circumstances that may show that numbers could be more of a burden than an aid. But personal freedom of choice is so very essential, that these choices must come from within an individual’s acceptance and espousal of the basic principles.
We must show everyone that Islamic law and jurisprudence has a clear objective of ensuring the goodness and righteousness of all in their life, in their beliefs, and in their daily life problems.
We need to seek for a happy life, rather than foreboding hardship. “Allah wishes for you ease rather than hardship.”
Surat Al Baqarah.