Badruddin Ajmal is wrong, Islam encourages family planning

In response to the Assam government’s recent decision against providing government jobs to people having more than two children, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Maulana Badruddin Ajmal has said Muslims will continue to produce children and they will not listen to anyone. The maulana from Assam is merely reiterating the conviction of many among the ulema in India that Islam is opposed to family planning. However, basing herself on the Quran, Hadith and the Shariah, activist-scholar Qutub Jahan Kidwai, debunks such claim

badruddin Ajmal

The 14th century Muslim philosopher HaydarAmuli sees perfect harmony between faith and reason and compares religion (al-shar’) and reason to the body and the spirit. Just as the spirit cannot function without the body, the body cannot find meaning, life and wholeness without the spirit. Thus “neither religion dispenses with reason nor reason with religion. A renowned, eleventh century, Muslim scholar of Quranic exegesisRaghib al-Isfahani, quoted by Amuli, states in strikingly unambiguous terms that “reason can never find the right path without religion and religion can never have clarity without reason”. Logic and transcendence thus work together to reveal the nature of things and realize our humanity. But this can happen only when we see human reason working in a larger context of thinking and contemplation.

The Qur’an uses a number of terms that are closely related to reason/intellect and thinking. Tafakkur, “thinking”, qalb, “heart”, fu’ad, “inner heart”, and lubb, literally “seed” meaning “essential heart”, are among these terms and each corresponds to a different aspect of the act of perceiving, thinking and reflecting. There are also other terms which fall within the same semantic field of ‘aql: ‘ilm, “knowledge”; fahm, “understanding”; fiqh, “perceiving/understanding”; idrak, “grasping”; shu’ur, “consciousness”; burhan, “demonstration”; hujjah, “evidence”; bayyinah, “clear evidence”; sultan, “over-whelming evidence”, furqan, “discernment”; tadabbur, “contemplation”; nutq, “talking/ thinking”; hukm, “judgment”; hikmah, “wisdom”; and dhikr, “remembrance/ invocation”.

The Qur’anic usage of these terms, whose full exposition requires a separate study, establishes a context of integrated thinking in which our encounter with reality unveils different aspects of the all-inclusive reality of existence. More importantly, it leads to a mode of thinking that combines empirical observation, rational analysis, moral judgment and spiritual refinement.The elaborate vocabulary of sensing, reasoning and thinking which the Qur’an employs is necessitated by the nature of reality itself. A multilayered and multidimensional reality cannot be perceived by a single cognitive method. It requires a larger toolset of conceptual abilities. At this point, the Qur’an speaks of alam al-ghayb, “the world of the invisible” and ‘alam al-shahadah, “the world of the visible”. The invisible world refers to that realm of existence known to God alone. God has given intimations of this world but no comprehensive knowledge of it has been made available.While not accessible to the human experience, the invisible world guides our encounter with the world of visible existence and thus functions as a signpost for our conceptual analyses and moral judgments.

The move from reason and rationality to moral behavior and back is a recurrent theme in the Qur’an and forms the basis of the Islamic ethical tradition. Reason, when properly cultivated, leads to moral action; moral behavior, in turn, nurtures reason. The Qur’an considers this simple syllogism to be self-evident because it is a contradiction to accept something as right and true and then not act accordingly. So is hypocrisy: “Do you order other people to be righteous and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Will you, then, not reason?” (al-Baqara 2:44). The Qur’an condemns hypocrisy as much as disbelief and in some cases more so because hypocrisy, besides being a failure of the human will, breaks the logical connection between reason and morality and thus lands us in incoherence. “O you who have believe, why do you say what you do not do? {2} It is most hateful in the sight of God that you say that which you do not do.” {3} (al-Saf 61:2-3).

The Holy Quran deals with number of subjects. Above all it is a book of moral guidance. One find most exalted moral concept in it. The Islamic teachings fulfill all the modern parameters. For example the democratic form of governance, concept of individual rights or human rights, individual accountability, women’s rights and freedom of faith. Another important criterion of modernity is use of reason and the power of intellect. The Holy Quran has never devalued reason, but has accorded to reflect deeply and to think with their own intellect and not to follow blindly the traditions of their forefathers. (Book- Rational Approach to Islam- Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, pg-60)

Now let us understand the concept of Islamic law which is a complete legal science. The corpus of Law is called Shariah. The study of Principle of Jurisprudence known as  usul-ul-fiqh is the study and critical analysis of the origins, sources and the principles. The Sunni Islam bases Shariah besides the Holy Quran on Sunnai.e sayings and doings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(pbuh), then on Qiyasi.eanology and finally Ijmai.econsensus. The legal foundation of Islamic law is based on these fundamental values i.e. Adl, Ihsan, RahmahandHikmah. The Holy Quran talks about these values in imperative way. The verse says “ And surely Allah enjoins justice and benevolence to others” (The Holy Quran 16:90). Thus justice is very central to Islamic value system. It is this concern for justice makes the Holy Quran show deep concern for weaker section of the society. The Islamic jurisprudence has to imbibe the spirit towards the weaker sections of society. A women certainly belongs to this category due to patriarchal system. One finds in the Holy Quran full support for sexual equality in several verses. There are verses on right to choose partner and marriage, on marriage dower, divorce, maintenance of wife, economic rights, property rights etc. Therefore I wish to highlight the right to reproduction in this paper. This subject is rarely discussed or publicized among the Muslim community. To have progeny is also associated with the worship of Allah where our religious leaders Ulama say giving birth will take one to paradise. Secondly they are against of aborting the feotusand preventing pregnancy, calling it a sin. These days Ulama issues Fatwa (dictats) against use of contraceptives and family planning. Muslim women suffers from high mortality rate during child birth and if they survive their health status is poor. The Ulama argues that the Holy Quran’s clearly states that ‘don’t kill the child and the God is the provider.’ Therefore it’s a sin to use contraceptives or go for abortion. I am going to counter their claim with the help of the given verses and narration from the classical sources of renowned jurist in the history of Islam.
The Reproductive rights in Islam
The Holy Quran and the Prophetic speeches have confirmed in a very accurate scientific manner the conception and the stages of  creation in the womb.
“He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness.”
(Quran 39:6)
The creation of man from a mingled fluid-drop (nutfaamshaj) (First stage of conception), as coined by the Holy Quran, which says ;
( إِنَّاخَلَقْنَاالإِنسَانَمِنْنُطْفَةٍأَمْشَاجٍنَبْتَلِيهِفَجَعَلْنَاهُسَمِيعًابَصِيرًا) (الإنسان:2)

“Verily We created man from a drop of a mingled fluid-drop (nutfaamshaj), in order to try him: so We gave him (the gifts), of hearing and sight.” (76:2).
(ثُمَّخَلَقْنَاالنُّطْفَةَعَلَقَةً) (سورةالمؤمنون)

“then of that  fluid-drop (nutfa) We created a  leech-like clot” (23:14) .Thus, the stage of alaqa is the second stage of embryonic stages, and is mentioned in the Quran in several verses.  He the Almighty says;
(أَلَمْيَكُنُطْفَةًمِنْمَنِيٍّيُمْنَى .ثُمَّكَانَعَلَقَةًفَخَلَقَفَسَوَّى . فَجَعَلَمِنْهُالزَّوْجَيْنِالذَّكَرَوَالأُنثَى) (القيامة: 37-39) “Was he not a drop of sperm emitted (in lowly form)?  Then did he become a leech-like clot; then did (Allah) make and fashion (him) in due proportion. And of him He made two sexes, male and female.”(75: 37-39),
Second stage of conception as given in the Holy Quran- And in a surah called al-alaq, i.e., a leech-like clot, Allah says; ( خلقالإنسانمنعلق ) (العلق 2) “ (We) Created man, out of a leech-like clot.” (96: 2).

The third stage of mudgha comes after the stage of alaqa.  This coincides with the Holy verse (فَخَلَقْنَاالْعَلَقَةَمُضْغَةً) (المؤمنون: 14)“And of that clot We made a (foetus) lump.” (23: 14).  Of the characteristics of mudgha is that it elongates and changes shape.

“O mankind!  If ye have a doubt about the Recreation (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a chewed-like lump of flesh, formed and unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term And clothed the bones with flesh; then We developed out of it another creature( child who is born) So blessed be Allah, the best to create ” (23: 14).  

After the development of the cartilaginous skeleton, clothing it with muscles, and the head and the limbs are distinguished, the embryo changes into a human creature.” (22: 5). The baby which is born is termed as walada or aulad . The highly important thing to note here is the Holy Quran prohibits killing the child which is born. In pre – Islamic period the tribals of Mecca used to kill their daughter or buried them alive after birth. Hence, the verse which says not to kill the children is actually the warning to prohibit the inhuman act. People are warned by Allah in the given verse. It is highly important to understand the language of the scripture. There are many such verses which warns, shows God’s displeasure, imperative commandments and many warning signs as well. To pick and choose verse out of context leads to distorted understanding and it dwarfs the effort to bring reforms if we are not equipped with the knowledge.

The Qur’an and Sunnah;prophetic traditions which are both considered primary sources of authority in Islam, do have unambiguous and explicit teachings relating to family planning. Within Islamic legal philosophy, issues that require independent intellectual exertion in light of a changing context and varying individual circumstances are called ijtihadi issues. Ijtihad is based on the assumption that in dealing with issues that are not explicitly addressed in the primary sources, jurists, informed by the spirit of the Qur’an, use their moral capacities for creative reasoning and judgments to arrive at relevant legal solutions. Thus this opens up the possibilities for more dynamic Islamic approaches to understanding the issues of family planning in the current context.

“Kill not your children, on a plea of want, we provide sustenance for you and for them” (Q 6:151).
It is important to look at the context of revelation of this verse. This verse was a response to the pre-Islamic Arab custom of burying female children alive. It was therefore a condemnation of infanticide and of the deep misogyny of that culture. Proponents of family planning have argued that these Qur’anic verses to counter all family planning initiatives are therefore a misreading of the text.

Contraception has a long history in Islam that needs to be situated in relation to the broader Islamic ethos of marriage and sexuality. Historically the various Islamic legal schools with an overwhelming majority have permitted coitus interruptus, called azl, as a method of contraception. This was a contraceptive technique practiced by pre-Islamic Arabs and continued to be used during time of the Prophet with his knowledge and without his prohibition. The only condition the Prophet attached to acceptability of this practice, which was reiterated by Muslim jurists, was that the husband was to secure the permission of the wife before practicing withdrawal. Since the male sexual partner initiates this technique, there needs to be consensual agreement about its use by both partners for 2 primary reasons. Firstly, the wife is entitled to full sexual pleasure and coitus interruptus may diminish her pleasure. Secondly, she has the right to offspring if she so desires. These requirements speak to the priority given in Islam to mutual sexual fulfillment consultation as well as consultative decision making between a married couples in terms of family planning.

As early as the 9th century female contraceptive techniques like intravaginal suppositories and tampons, were also a part of both medical and judicial discussions in Islam. While medical manuals listed the different female contraceptive options and their relative effectiveness, legal positions differed around whether the consent of the husband was necessary or not with the use of female contraceptive In classical Islamic law which informs contemporary Islamic jurisprudence law, the majority position in eight out of the nine legal schools permit contraception.

Due to this broad based legal permissibility of contraception in Islamic law, Muslim physicians in the medieval period conducted in depth investigations into the medical dimension of birth control, which were unparalleled in European medicine until the 19th century. IbnSina in his book “Qanun” lists 20 birth control substances and physician Abu Bakr al- Razi in his book “Hawi” lists 176 birth control substances. The permissibility of contraceptive practice in Islamic history at the level of both theory and practice is abundantly evident in both its medical and legal legacies.

While different legal scholars discussed the acceptability or reprehensibility of particular individual motives for using contraceptives, this discussion did not contest the overarching permissibility of contraceptive practice. The scholar Al- Ghazzali (d. 1111) supported the use of contraceptive practice for a number of different reasons including economic factors where a large number of dependents would impose financial and psychological hardship on the family. He reasoned that a large family may cause one to resort to unlawful means to support these excessive responsibilities. Fewer material burdens, he adds, are an aid to religion.

He also supported the decision to use contraception in order to protect the life of the wife, given the possible physical dangers that childbirth posed to the life of the mother. In addition, he considered the need for the wife to preserve her beauty and attractiveness for the enjoyment of the marriage as a reasonable justification for contraception.

While the last mentioned rationale may characterize a patriarchal emphasis on the primacy of the wife’s appearance to the enjoyment of the marriage, it nonetheless simultaneously illustrates the high levels of tolerance for contraceptive practices in the Islamic legacy. This is reflected in the fact that there are many other influential jurists and theologians in different historical periods who discussed the permissibility of contraception (azl) for similar and additional reasons.

Another issue is issue of breastfeeding. A wife has right to deny breastfeeding of their new born child and husband is duty bound to provide a midwife to breastfeed his baby. The verse from the Holy Quran which says-  {Surah 2. Verse 233:}

“The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years, if the father desires to complete the term. But he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child. Nor father on account of his child, an heir shall be chargeable in the same way. If they both decide on weaning, by mutual consent, and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If ye decide on a foster-mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided ye pay (the mother) what ye offered, on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what ye do.”Al-QuranTranslation by A.Yusuf Ali

“And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women.” [Noble Quran 2:228]
The Quran, in addressing the believers, often uses the expression, ‘believing men and women’ to emphasize the equality of men and women in regard to their respective duties, rights, virtues and merits. It says:
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” [Noble Quran 33:35]. Thus, the reasoning, wisdom and intellect are the core part of Islamic system. The dogmatic understanding has harmed the very spirit of the Divine revelation.

Thus, faith though fundamental to leading a meaningful life is insufficient by itself. It needs to be enriched by reasons. Faith and reasons are two wheels of religion and both are equally necessary. The Quran therefore rightly stresses the role of critical reflection- what it calls tafakkur, tadabbur or hikmah. The element of trust leads to Faith and trust itself is virtue which helps in evolving, progressing and enriching the life. Many rationalist believe that Faith and Reason the two are antagonistic. Goal is laid down by fundamental values and values are arrived at either through intuition or revelation.

The Qur’anic narrative of Joseph’s’ planning and preservation of food in anticipation of the famine is an act of agency that does not demonstrate a lack of trust in Gods sustenance. Similarly there are prophetic traditions that address the combination of human agency with trust in God as is reflected in the Prophet’s advice to a man to tie up his camel and then trust in God; or the caliph Umar’s statement that reliance on God means to plant the seeds in the earth, then trust in God for a good crop. Family planning including contraceptive usage may be seen as extension of the human capacity to plan, to respond to and to actively make choices in terms of contextual needs and emerging realities.

The notion that Gods unity is reflected in the equality and unity of human kind provides a basis for a strong critique of sexism and gender hierarchy. The Qur’an explicitly asserts the fundamental equal worth of male and female believers as well as the fact that gender relations are intended to be cooperative and mutually enriching. This ethos of reciprocity between women and men is further reinforced in the Islamic understanding of man and woman relationship.

Muslim scholars have argued that the Qur’anic view of the inviolable sanctity of every human being, both male and female, implies a duty to protect each person’s one’s physical, emotional, psychological, social and intellectual integrity. This implies that that the whole range of explicit violations of women’s personhood, including physical violence against women, honor killings, cliterodectomy constitute a transgression of spiritual sanctity of the individual and therefore of a disregard for the principle of Tauhid (Oneness of God).

The Holy Quran, authenticated traditions and saying of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), Ijma and Qiyas (analogy) and the contemporary ethical principles are emphasized in Islamic Shariah, should be observed when providing reproductive and sexual health services for Muslim families or communities. The Family is the basic unit in Islam. Safe motherhood, family planning, and quality reproductive and sexual health information and services and assisted reproductive technology are all encouraged within the frame of marriage. While the Shia sect permits egg donation, and surrogacy the Sunni sect forbids a third party contribution to reproduction. Harmful practices as female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are prohibited in Islam.

Therefore it is important to highlight more such issues which empower women with the help of religious source. Also there is great need to have objective examination of theQuranic teachings. On the methodology of understanding the Holy Quran, it proves that Religion or Revelation doesn’t means only rituals but an inclusion of reflection, wisdom and intellect too. Reason along with faith enables us to liberate ourselves from ignorance.

Qutub Jahan Kidwai is Regional Cordinator, West India and Deputy General Secretary, URI Asia Executive Council. URI is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.



Related Articles