It is not allowed to limit families except for a good reason―
To limit children to a specific number, such as one or two, is harām (impermissible) because having many children is encouraged in Islam so that the number of Muslims, those upon right-guidance and worshipping Allah are numerous. However, organising gaps between children and delaying getting pregnant for a good reason is allowed, and there is no harm in that. For example, if a woman is weak after her previous pregnancy, or that she is occupied with breastfeeding her present baby, then there is no harm in delaying her pregnancy through safe contraception. But this should not be taken as a general allowance to avoid having children altogether or for waiting years and years in-between children.
So, there is no objection to women who use contraception for a legitimate reason―for example, she may be from those mothers who are physically weakened and become ill by having one child after another without a break in-between.
As for the saying of some of the fiqh scholars, “It is allowed to cast away the semen before the forty days”― what they intend by that is that it is allowed to use something to terminate what is in the womb within forty days of conception (i.e. within 40 days of the husband inseminating his wife).
However, it is not allowed to terminate a pregnancy unless there is a danger to the life of the mother. That is because pregnancy is something expected from her in the Religion―and having children prevents harm to individuals and to society. But, if she sees it necessary to prevent pregnancy after consultation with a group of trusted and expert physicians, then stopping (or terminating) the pregnancy is allowed (even after 40 days).
Preventing herself from pregnancy is not permitted due to the “advice” from family planning nurses (who want to see reductions in childbirth), or because one fears a loss in wealth, or because a child is “too expensive to maintain”, or because “a baby gets in the way of my career”, or because the parents are afraid of raising children, or because their house is too small, etc.
But if there is a valid reason for using contraception such as placing two years in-between each child because she fears weakness, or sickness or inability to breastfeed or take care of the other children she already has― then the husband and wife should discuss these matters and come to an agreement on the best form of safe contraception.
Birth control without a valid reason opposes the Shariah. The Prophet (ﷺ) commanded with marriage and with children in his saying:
تَزَوَّجُوا الْوَدُودَ الْوَلُودَ فَإِنِّي مُكَاثِرٌ بِكُمُ الأُمَمَ
“Marry women who are loving and fertile, for I shall outnumber the rest of the nations due to you on the Day of Judgement.” (Abu Dāwūd, no. 2050)
Couples should not use birth control fearing the evil of society around them because the future is unknown to them―no one knows the future except Allah. A person does not know what goodness lies in their children, so parents must strive to cultivate and educate them, and guide them in the right way to the best of their ability, and trust in Allah―and leave the end result to Him, the Most High. Those same children that they feared to bring into this world may become a cause of their happiness in this life and the next. The hearts of people are between the two fingers of the Most Merciful, and you should continually ask Allah to keep your hearts and the hearts of your children firm and steadfast on His Religion and upon obedience to Him.
So don’t fear a loss in your provision, Allah will provide for you and for them from ways you could never have imagined so long as you fear Allah and are dutiful to Him.
Is it allowed for parents to not have children because of medical advice which indicates that their children will be afflicted with illnesses?
It is obligatory for them not to worry about these possible outcomes because the fetus and what it goes through in the womb of the mother or after its birth is not known except to Allah (and modern medicine cannot encompass the actual outcomes)―and all the affairs of a person are in the Hand of Allah, and He arranges them as He wills. So, it is upon the parents to have true and sincere hope in Allah, to have good thoughts of Him and to abandon bad thoughts and pessimism. Furthermore, even if the child is born with illnesses or disabilities, then that is the decree of Allah that the believers are satisfied with; they do not complain, or become depressed or gloomy―because our children have a right to life even if they are disabled or sick―and by caring for them, there is huge reward with Allah. There are few things in life that are more rewarding, spiritually uplifting and charitable than caring for one’s children and likewise children caring for their parents.
(Based around several fatāwā from Al-Imām Ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh)―see Al-Jāmi’ fī Fiqhil-‘Allāmah Ibn Bāz (pp. 883-886), also Fatāwa Al-Lajnah Ad-Dā’imah)
Withdrawal as a form of birth control―
Coitus interruptus, also known as withdrawal or the pull-out method, is a method of birth control in which a man, during sexual intercourse, withdraws his penis from a woman’s vagina prior to orgasm (and ejaculation) and then directs his ejaculate (semen) away from the vagina in an effort to avoid insemination.
The Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), 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 from this hadith we understand that if Allah wills a child, then it will occur.
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 the 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) 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 to the mother’s life if she was to become pregnant. This is because one of the main goals of marriage is to have children, and sterilization permanently prevents conception and childbirth.
5. Withdrawal was the most commonly practised form of contraception in early Islam, but today other safe methods are permitted.