Fertility issues and contraception in Islam: The choice to have children (Ethics 1.6)

Fertility Issues and Contraception

The Choice To Have Children

Fertility is the ability to produce children. Muslims believe fertility is a blessing from Allah. Most people in our times have the choice of having children or not. Many people nowadays wish to have a fulfilling sex-life without having children. To achieve this means that they must use some form of contraception. Contraception is a method used to prevent pregnancy taking place. This can be in form of a drug (a pill), or a barrier (such as a condom), or ‘coitus interruptus’ or ‘withdrawal’ (where the man does not allow his sperm to enter the vagina of the woman). If things go “wrong”, emergency contraception (the “morning-after pill”) is available as an option nowadays.

The question is: What is the Islamic perspective on childbirth and contraception? In Islam, children are believed to be a gift from Allah, and childbirth is encouraged. Unlike some other faiths, Islam has no problem with a married couple enjoying intimate marital relations with one another. Indeed it is one of the main reasons for marriage in Islam. However, also from the goals of marriage in Islam is to have children that can be raised as pious Muslims, who worship Allah alone and lead righteous, good lives, benefitting themselves and others. However, there are situations wherein Muslims are permitted to use contraception.

A Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) called Jābir (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “We used to practice ‘withdrawal’ during the time of Allāh’s Messenger, and he heard of that but did not forbid us.” (Reported by Muslim in his Saheeh) On an occasion a man asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) about ‘withdrawal’ saying: “A man would have sexual relations with his wife who is breastfeeding a newborn, and he dislikes that she should get pregnant [again].” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied: “You do not have to stop ‘withdrawal’. Allah has not decreed a soul except that it will be created.” (Reported by Muslim). So these narrations prove that safe forms of contraception are allowed for a good reason and need. However, in Islam, contraception and birth prevention is generally discouraged. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Get married so that on the Day of Judgement I will display you outnumbering the other nations. And do not practice celibacy like the Christians.” (Al-Bayhaqee, and authenticated by Al-Albānee). Note also from this hadith we understand that if Allah wills a child, then it will occur.

The Muslim scholars have discussed the situations wherein contraception is permitted. Shaikh Al-Albānee said: “If the use of contraception is based on the advice of trustworthy doctors in order to guard the wife’s health that has been adversely affected by having too many children, then this is allowed. However, if the incentive to use contraception is fear of poverty and financial loss, then it is not permitted.” (Al-Hāwee min Fatāwa, 2/14, abridged).

Shaikh Ibn `Uthaimeen stated: “If a woman wished to organise her pregnancies to one every two years or so, then it is permissible to use contraception with the condition that her husband permits that, and that it does not cause her harm. The evidence for this is that the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) performed `Azl (withdrawal prior to the sperm entering the woman) during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) so that their wives would not get pregnant, and they were not prohibited from that.” (Fatāwa wa Rasā’il lin-Nisā, p. 87 – abridged).

These scholarly rulings bring forth other important factors: 1. That the use of contraception is a decision that is decided by both the husband and wife and not only the wife, nor only the husband, after considering whether the reasons are valid. 2. Since Islam forbids sex outside marriage, contraception is only discussed in the context of marriage. 3. Contraception in the form of drugs and chemicals are not permitted if they cause harm to the body. 4. Permanent methods of contraception (such as sterilization) are forbidden in Islam, unless there is a danger for the mother’s life or great harm. This is because one of the goals of marriage is to have children, and sterilization permanently prevents conception and childbirth. 5. Withdrawal was the most commonly practiced form of contraception in early Islam, but today other safe methods are permitted.

“Contraception” in the form of the morning-after pill is forbidden in Islam, as it is considered an “early abortion”. Refer to sheet “Ethics 1.4 Abortion” which discusses the limited situations where abortion is permitted.

Fertility Problems

This refers to either the husband or wife finding it difficult to have children.  Centuries ago great Muslim scholars such as Ibnul-Qayyim discussed the merits of Prophetic and natural medicine to help with fertility problems – Islam has no issue with the use of medicine to aid with fertility as long as the treatment does not involve things forbidden in Islam or harmful chemicals. Advancements in modern medicine and science has led to treatments that may help with fertility. There is no problem with this. Shaikh Ibn `Uthaimeen in his Fatawa volume 17 has stated that there is no problem with these treatments if there is a need for it. Some people wrongly believe that ‘scientists have taken over from Allah in deciding who should have children.’ Allah has stated: “And no person can ever die except by Allah’s permission and at an appointed time.” (Qur’an 3:145) Muslims believe that whatever is pre-decreed by Allah will occur, so a person merely strives to get the best out of his situation, and the rest is in the Hands of Allah. In this regard, a Muslim embraces any proven medical or scientific advancement so long as it is not forbidden (e.g. contains pork, alcohol, etc) and it is does not cause harm. Furthermore it is authentically reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Strive in attaining that which will benefit you and seek Allah’s aid and do not sit back without acting.” (Sahīh Muslim)

Questions:

  1. Explain Islamic attitudes to contraception.
  2. Explain why you think Muslims oppose contraception that causes very early abortion, e.g. the “morning-after” pill.

NOTE:

I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who are working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school can also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.

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