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FAMILY PLANNING. High population growth rates over the past forty years coupled with worries about economic and social development have spurred debate on the use of family planning measures by Muslims. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, populations in Muslim countries grew slowly as high birth rates were offset by high mortality rates. Following World War II and continuing today, countries with a majority of Muslim citizens are, generally speaking, characterized by high birth rates, which are falling gradually, and a mortality rate that, although still higher than average, is declining. A variety of factors have combined to decrease the total fertility rate (number of children born), including availability of medical services, widespread community health and sanitation programs, greater literacy, the education of women, migration to urban areas, and employment availability.

Although some Muslim countries have the resources to support a growing population, others with more limited resources fear the impact of population growth on their ability to provide services for their citizens. National family planning programs have been implemented in a number of countries with varying success.

Since the beginning of Islam, the Muslim community has encouraged large families to ensure a strong and vibrant Muslim population. However, religious scholars (`ulama’) assert the religious permissibility of family planning in the fiqh (jurisprudence) literature on marriage and family. The Qur’an makes no mention of family planning measures, but a few hadith texts mention `azl (coitus interruptus). The fiqh discussion centers on the question of the permissibility of `azl, and schools differ in their response. `Azl is judged to be makruh (reprehensible), but major variables in determining the permissibility of `azl is the status of the woman involved (free or slave) and whether she gives her consent to its use. As `azl is considered to be detrimental to the woman, depriving her of her right to children (some schools believe it deprives her of sexual satisfaction), it was only permissible with a free woman if she consented to its use. All but the majority of the Shafi’i school ruled that the permissibility of `azl was contingent upon her consent.

As the jurists were male and `azl was controlled by the male partner, this was the only contraceptive method discussed in the fiqh literature. Medical texts, however, document that women have utilized a variety of other means of contraception. These methods included infusions, suppositories, sexual techniques, and magic (Hines, 1970).

Contemporary `ulama’ tend to resolve the religious permissibility of family planning along the same lines of reasoning as their medieval colleagues. The twentieth century introduced a variety of contraceptive methods whose usage is primarily controlled by women. Accordingly, the majority of `ulama’ rule that use of contraceptive methods is permissible for Muslims as long as the husband and the wife agree to it. This position follows the logic of the classical texts in that, although use of contraception may be injurious to the wishes of one spouse, if both agree, then the rights of both are guaranteed.

Less well-educated religious leaders in small towns and villages often hold that family planning is prohibited by Islam. Their reasoning follows a different line, which argues on deterministic grounds. They base their premise on a hadith that states: “Marry, have children and multiply that I will be proud of you on Judgment Day.” They prohibit family planning on the basis that it opposes the supremacy of the will of God.

Some Muslim scholars, as well as economists and development experts, have challenged Islam’s pronatalist policy by questioning whether the traditional way of defining the strength of Islam as proportional to the number of its adherents still applies. Mahmud Shaltut, rector of al-Azhar University during the early part of the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, argued for both the permissibility of family planning and the role of the state in implementing family planning programs. Although in early Islam strength was equated with a large population, Shaltut maintained that in the twentieth century, large populations may weaken rather than strengthen communities. Factors such as poverty, malnutrition, and lessened public morality that are concomitant with large populations in developing areas all make the Muslim community vulnerable to enemies. Shaltut stated that if family planning would contribute to alleviation of these social ills, it was then permissible in Islam; he implied that the state was responsible for the facilitation of such programs.

Contemporary `ulama’ who oppose family planning generally cite reasons having as much to do with politics as religion. The terms used for contraception often indicate political stances. “Birth control” (tahdid al-nasl) carries the negative sense of limiting or eliminating progeny; “family planning” (al-takhtit al-`a’ili or tanzim al-usrah) has a more positive connotation of spacing births in the best interests of all family members. While most `ulama’ hold that any family has the option to employ privately family planning measures, at the same time they may oppose government programs that disseminate birth control measures and information. Many see state-sponsored programs as an attempt at coercion.

Some Muslims regard the Western development experts’ linkage of population control and economic development as both damaging and fallacious. They postulate that the West seeks to weaken Islam by limiting the size of the Muslim community, and they reject all family planning programs on that basis. Muslim activists or Islamists are among the most vocal opponents of family planning. Islamists in Egypt attack contraceptive use in an attempt to counter the government’s two-decade-old family planning program. In 1977 the shaykh (rector) of al-Azhar wrote an essay, “Birth Control is a Refuted Idea,” which held that family planning is both unnecessary and counter to Islamic belief. He called for greater human reliance on God for sustenance and for Muslim inventiveness and dedication in the conquest of the desert and better use of resources. Many Islamists hold that use of birth control contributes to greater immorality in the form of premarital sexual activity, adultery, and abortion. These arguments are common in Islamist circles throughout the Muslim world, and are often tied to attempts to restrict greater latitude given to women in personal status laws. All Muslim religious leaders oppose sterilization on religious grounds as it permanently alters what God has created.

Dr.Zakir Naik on Family Planing


Bowen, Donna Lee. “Islam and Family Planning in Morocco.” Maghreb Review 3.10 (1980): 20-29. Presents views of present-day Moroccan religious leaders on family planning.

Bowen, Donna Lee. “Muslim Juridical Opinions Concerning the Status of Women as Demonstrated by the Case of Azl.” journal of Near Eastern Studies 40.4 (1981): 323-328. Presentation of Muslim legal schools’ positions on contraceptive use.

Bowen, Donna Lee. “Pragmatic Morality: Islam and Family Planning in Morocco.” In Everyday Life in the Contemporary Middle East, edited by Donna Lee Bowen and E. A. Early, pp. 91-100. Bloomington, 1993 Presentation and analysis of contemporary Muslim views on family planning.

Hines, Norman E. Medical History of Contraception (1936). Boston, 1970. Chapter 6, “The Islamic World and Europe during the Middle Ages,” details contraceptive methods used in that period. Musallam, Basim F. Sex and Society in Islam: Birth Control before the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, 1983. Excellent study of family planning in theory and practice, and the demography of Muslim nations during the medieval and early modern period.

Nazer, Isam R., ed. Islam and Family Planning. 2 vols. Beirut, 1974. Collection of articles by Muslim theologians (`ulama’) on all aspects of marriage, family, and family planning. First published in Arabic.

Omran, Abdel Rahim. Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam. London and New York, 1992. Comprehensive collection and discussion of Qur’anic, hadith, and jurisprudence references relating to marriage, the family, and family planning.

Shaltut, Mahmud. “Tanzim al-Nasl.” In Al-isldm: `Aqidah washari ah. Cairo, 1966. Controversial reading of Islamic social theory by the politically astute rector of al-Azhar.

Weeks, John R. “The Demography of Islamic Nations.” Population Bulletin (Washington, D.C.) 43.4 (1988). Handbook on demography and population issues in Islamic countries.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/family-planning/

  • writerPosted On: November 7, 2012
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