By S Y Quraishi
July 6, 2017
A news headline that grabbed my attention
recently was from the neighbouring Pakistan about three men who among them have
fathered nearly 100 children making their modest contribution to Pakistan’s
skyrocketing population, which is being counted for the first time in 19 years.
Allah, they say, will provide for them, a standard reply of most Muslims in
Fortunately in India, religion is not a
factor for high birth rate among Muslims. Nor is the birth rate comparable in
the two countries. While in Pakistan it is 3.7, in Indian Muslims it is 2.4
(national average 2.3) (2016 World Population Data). It is clear that the
prevalence of family planning among them is the lowest of all communities but
that is because they are at the bottom of the ladder in education, economic
status and the access to health services – the main determinants of fertility
behaviour. That can be analysed in a separate article. Here I examine if
religion is the contributor to high birth rate. This is a subject which is
characterised by mass ignorance and it is time someone explodes the myths.
At the centre of the debate is the belief
that Islam encourages polygamy which leads to a spurt in population growth. The
reality is that though Islam does permit polygamy but it is subject to not one
but two conditions – that they are orphans and will be treated with absolute
“And if you fear
that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that
please you , two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just,
then [marry only] one”. (Al Nisa: 4.3)
The polygamists conveniently miss both the
conditions. This is the only verse in the Quran that refers to polygamy and
that too in the context of fair treatment of orphan girls. The emphasis of the
Holy Quran is very clearly on monogamy.
Is polygamy widely prevalent among Muslims?
The only report on the subject is that of the Committee on the Status of Women
in India, 1974, which revealed that polygamy was not exclusive to Muslims but
was prevalent among all communities of India: tribal (15.2), Buddhists (9.7),
Jains (6.7) and Hindus (5.8). Muslims were, in fact, found least polygamous
Polygamy is not even statistically possible
in India as the number of women per 1000 men is only 940. Experts have opined
that polygamy cannot lead to high birth rate, since the number of polygamous
men, small though they are, would leave an equal number of men unmarried. It is
also observed that second wife of a man has lesser number of children than the
first/only wife. A study showed that the average number of children from the
second wife of Muslims was only 1.78 as compared to 4.67 from the first wife.
Polygamy Apart, What Does Shariah Say
About Family Planning?
Quran and Hadith are replete with verses
and traditions supportive of the concept of family planning. It is extremely
important to note that nowhere has the Quran prohibited family planning! There
are only interpretations, whether for or against.
Anti-family planning interpretation is
based on the following concepts: Tawakkul (Reliance on Allah), Qadr
(Predestination), and Rizq (Provision).
“Do not kill
your children (for fear of poverty); We make provisions for you, and for them
too.” (Sura 6:152 and 17:31)
“And Allah has made for you, your mates from
yourselves and made for you, out of them, children and grandchildren.” (Sura
16:72). “Your wives are as tilth unto you, so, approach your tilth how you
wish” (Sura 2:223)
Pro-family planning interpretations, on the
contrary, are many more and these are based on: Tranquillity of conjugal life,
emphasis on ease, injunction about breast feeding (that delays conception and
promotes spacing), preference for quality over numbers, and permission for Al
Azl (withdrawal method), etc.
Foe me the clinching verse of the Quran is:
“Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage, keep themselves chaste,
UNTIL Allah gives them means out of His grace”. (Sura 24:33). This is amplified
by the Prophet: “O young men! Those of you who can support a wife and household
should marry. For, marriage keeps you from looking with lust at women and
preserves you from promiscuity. But those who cannot should take to fasting,
which is a means of tempering sexual desires”. (Bukhari)
Then there is Hadees that refers to
restricting the size of the family. Abu Sa’ad, a companion of the Prophet,
reported, ‘A man came to the Prophet to ask about the practice of al-Azl
(withdrawal) with his mate. He added “I do not like her to get pregnant and I
am a man who wants what other men want. But the Jews claim that al-Azl (withdrawal)
is minor infanticide.” The Prophet strongly dismissed this contention saying
“The Jew lied, the Jew lied.” (Authenticated by Abu Dawoud, lbn Hanbal and
Please note that the first is the Quranic
injunction, the second is the elaboration of the same by the Prophet and the
third describes the method of birth control. I consider this a complete
prescription for family planning.
This interpretation is strongly reinforced
by the following narrative based on Quranic versus and traditions of the
Islam is a Religion for Ease. This is what
the Quran says: “Allah desires for you ease (Yusur); He desires not hardship
(Usr) for you”.(Sura 2:185). “No soul shall impose (upon it) a duty but to its
capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer injury on account of her
child, nor shall he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) on account of
his child”. (Sura 2:223). And know that your wealth and your children are a
persecution (or trial) (Fitna). (Sura 8:28 and 64:15).
And the Hadees amplifies it. “The most
gruelling trial is to have plenty of children with no adequate means”.
(Al-Hakim) “A multitude of children is one of the two poverties (or cases of
penury), while a small number is one of the two cases of ease”. (Musnad al-
Importantly, Even The Purpose Of
Marriage Is Conjugal Tranquillity.
“It is He who created you from a single
soul (Nafs) and there from did make his mate that he might dwell in
tranquillity with her.” (Sura 7:189). “And among His signs is this that He created
for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with
them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.” [Sura 30:21)
Islam is a Religion for Quality. “How oft,
by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a numerous force”. (Sura 2:249).
“Allah has given you victory in many battles; but on the day of Hunayn, when
you exalted in your multitude, it availed you naught. And the earth, vast as it
is, became tight for you, then you turned back in retreat.” (Sura 18:46)
The prophet is emphatic about quality. “The
right of a child on his parent is to be given good breeding and good name”.
(al-Baihaqi). “To leave your heirs rich is better than leaving them dependent
upon people’s charity.”( al Bukhari)
Quran also prescribes the right of children
to breastfeeding which not only ensures their health but also helps child
spacing. “And mothers shall suckle their children two full years to complete
breast-feeding” (Sura 2:233) and (Sura 31:14)
Islam’s emphasis on gender equality is also
important. There are numerous Hadees on this. “Men and women are equal halves.”
(Abu Dawoud). “Do not hate having daughters, for they are the comforting
dears.” (al-Tabarani). “It is a woman’s blessing to have a girl as her first
It is well known that many Indians, driven
by the cultural/traditional son preference, continue to have children ending up
with a large family. Islam enjoins gender equality. Fortunately,
Indian Muslims have less discrimination
against the girl child and least female foetus abortion. This explains the
marked improvement in their female gender ratio.
The Opinion of the Great Imams:
Based on their understanding of the Islamic
law, the opinion of the great Imams is supportive of family planning.
Interpreting verse 4:3 of the Holy Quran, Imam Shafei opined that more children
should not be produced if they cannot be properly supported. Imam Raghib,
interpreting 17:31 verse of Quran, says that it is not only the physical
killing of children which is prohibited in Islam, but also spiritually and
intellectually. The denial of access to education, for example, amounts to
killing them intellectually. “Those few (Qaleel)”, records a Hadith, “who are
virtuous are superior to those many who are undesirable”. It implies that the
number of children should be restricted to the capacity of parents to make them
virtuous. Imam Ghazzali, a Sufi of great eminence, mentions a tradition from
the Prophet: Smallness of a family (Qillat Al’ayal) is a facility
(Yusur) and its largeness (Kathrat) results in Faqr (indigence, poverty).
A plethora of opinions of contemporary
Ulema and Fatwas strongly support family planning. For example, Sheikh Sayyid
Sabiq (Saudi Arabia, 1968) opined, “The use of contraception is allowed,
especially if the husband already has a large family, if he cannot bring up his
children correctly, if his wife is weak or sick or has repeated pregnancies, or
if the husband is poor.” (See more opinions and Fatwas in full article in IE
There is no verse in the Quran forbidding
the wife or husband to practise family planning. I, for one, do not feel that
Islam interdicts family planning to ward off hardship in Muslim married life”.
(Haji Nasiruddin Latif, Indonesia, 1974)
“Family Planning in Islam starts with the
choice of the wife and places a great emphasis on raising children physically,
educationally and spiritually, that is why quality is favoured over quantity.”
(Sheikh Abdel Aziz, Jordan, 1985) Several Hadiths listed by Imam Ghazzali
underline benefits of ‘Azl’: (1) preservation of wife’s beauty and charm; (2)
protection of her health and life; (3) shielding her from hardship (Kathrat
Al-Haral) on account of child birth; and (4) keeping away financial
hardship from the family.
Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, Great Imam of
Al-Azhar in his fatwa of 1959 “strongly endorsed the use of contraceptives on
an individual basis for health, social or economic reasons.” Under certain
conditions contraception becomes mandatory, he added. Fatwa of Advisory Council
on Religious Matters (Turkey, 1960) allowed contraception with the wife’s
consent and even without wife’s consent in case of war, turmoil or conditions
where bringing up children becomes difficult.
Opinion Of Indian Ulema Is On The Same
Allama Shah Zaid Abul Hassan Farooqi,
All the four Imams regard Azl as
permissible. However, in one Hadith, a condition has been prescribed that it
should be done only with the wife’s consent. Ibn Abidin, Tahtawi and Abus Saud
opine that even a woman has the right to shut off the mouth of her uterus
without the permission of the husband to avoid pregnancy.
Anti-Pregnancy Pills And Medicines Are
When permissibility of Azl is proven, the
use of other comparable measures (like condom, etc.) stands automatically
endorsed. (Maulana Masood Ahmad Qasmi, Nazim-e-Deeniyat, Aligarh Muslim
University) “Preventing conception temporarily which does not lead to
permanently impairing the capability is legal. The use of loop (IUDs) and
Nirodh (condom) is equivalent to the practice of Azl.”(Maulana Khalid Saifullah
Rahmani, Sadar Mudarris, Dar-ul-Uloom, Sabeel-ul-Islam, Hyderabad)
To prevent short space between children
which will make them naturally weak, use of temporary contraceptive methods
like loop (IUD), Nirodh (condom), medicine or ointment is valid. (Maulana Jamil
Ahmed Naziri, Jamia Arabia, Ahya-ul-Uloom, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh)
“If there is a valid reason or disease
because of which a woman cannot bear the hardship of pregnancy, in such a
situation, Shariat allows temporary birth control measures.” (Mufti
Zafir-ud-din Miftahi, Mufti, Darul-Uloom, Deoband)
“It is thus amply clear that Islam is fully
supportive of the temporary methods of family planning. However, sterilisation
or irreversible methods are disallowed by almost all sections of the Ulema
though some Ulema have a positive interpretation about sterilisation too.
Prof Abder Rahim Omran (1992) of the most
respected Islamic University, Al Azhar, observes, “It is a wonder to the
thinkers of today that Islam should give so much (importance) to child spacing
and family planning so early in human history, and in the absence of compelling
The above analysis should cause a rethink
among those who think that Islam is opposed to family planning. On the
contrary, it should be understood that Islam is indeed the originator of the
concept. It is true that Muslims are most backward in family planning practices
but the reason lies in their socio- economic backwardness, not their religion.
Literacy, income and better delivery of health services hold the key to
planning of family size. The future of the country and all its constituent
communities lies in the quality of upbringing of the children, with education
as the key strategy.
S Y Quraishi is former Chief Election Commissioner of India. The views
are personal. A longer version of this article is available on