Contraception is an extremely important issue for Muslim women. Women’s access to contraception affects women’s quality of life and their ability to control their bodies. Contraception is halal in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (saws) allowed for its use. During his time, the form of contraception used was ‘azl or coitus interruptus:

According to Jabir, “We used to practise ‘azl in the Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime while the Qur’an was being revealed.” There is another version of the same hadith, “We used to practise coitus interruptus during the Prophet’s (pbuh) lifetime. News of this reached him and he did not forbid us.”

Despite this hadeeth and others which attest that the Prophet clearly had no issue with it-in fact he is reported to have said “You do not have to hesitate, for God has predestined what is to be created until the judgement day” in regards to ‘azl-there seems to be more reluctance to endorse birth control by some Muslims. As evidenced in this fatwa, this fatwa, this article, and this fatwa, there seems to be a trend among Muslim scholars to allow birth control with conditions. There was even this bizarre fatwa issued by an Indian Mufti prohibiting contraception. The view espoused in these fatwas is that birth control is ok as long as there are some strings attached. Birth control is ok with many of the scholars as long as it doesn’t interfere with populating the ummah and making the ummah as big as possible. Saving the mother’s life is also seen as a valid reason for birth control. Using birth control to delay children simply because one is not ready to have children is seen as denying the view that children are a gift. Sheikh Ahmed Kutty said:

Islam encourages us to marry and procreate. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Marry and procreate.” Procreation is definitely one of the stated purposes of marriage in Islam. Children are Allah’s gifts, which we must welcome and cherish as a divine gift.

Islam is opposed to ways of life which consider children as a burden; the unfortunate outcome of such hedonistic philosophies is to prefer pets such as dogs and cats over children. Muslims must never be carried away by such materialistic philosophies; they can immunize themselves against such negative influences by strictly conforming to the Qur’anic teachings on marriage and procreation.

Viewed from this perspective, Islam does not look favorably at family planning if it is carried out for the simple reason of enjoyment and unwillingness to take on the responsibility of parenting.

However, this view of contraception was not always the norm for Muslim scholars. In Sex and Society in Medieval Islam and Women and Gender in Islam, classical Muslim scholars held very liberal views on contraception and abortion as well. This because in medieval Muslim societies, men had a vested interest in preventing pregnancy. If a concubine had children, she couldn’t be sold, she became free after the man’s death and her children became heirs to the father in the same way that his wives children would be. Even preventing wives from having children presented an economic advantage to men:

Given this system, it was evidently economically to men’s advantage that wives not bear many children and that concubines in particular not bear any children, for if they did, they ceased to be a profitable investment. And, in a system that permitted polygamy and unrestricted divorce and concubinage, a wife who did not give birth would present no hardship for the man, because he had the options of divorcing her, taking another wife without divorving her, or taking a concubine. (Ahmed, 1990)

Ahmed goes on further to explain that during this period, sexual services were considered a wife’s duty but not necessarily procreation and that it was actually to a woman’s advantage to have children. My point in bringing up historical views on birth control is to show that Muslims’ views on contraception are shaped just as much by our social context as much as it is by the Qur’an and Sunnah. We interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah in light of our circumstances. The current emphasis on using birth control only to space children or for health reasons fall in line with the the current view that children are a blessing and more importantly a blessing for the ummah.I put emphasis on ummah because the current view on contraception and the former view on contraception both seemed to be based, not on women’s autonomy, but on what is perceived as best for the community. Many Muslims see the high birth rates in Muslim countries as one of the things that distinguishes Muslims. It is something that distinguishes us from the “hedonistic West”. There is also the tradition from the Prophet which states that his ummah will be the largest ummah on the day of judgment. Thus, there is this “need” among some Muslims to have many children in order to fulfill this prophecy. However, this doesn’t take into account factors such as born Muslim apostatizing from Islam or not practicing Islam.

We need to recognize that there are a variety of reasons for the use of contraception and that they are valid. Marriage in Islam has never been solely for procreation. Companionship and a legal outlet for sexual activity are two reasons for marriage. Thus, using contraception until a couple feels that they are ready to have children should not be an issue. Also, we need to be more considerate of women’s health and well being. Not only their physical health but their mental health as well. There are many sisters who have many children who are having a hard time coping in terms of their own spiritual and mental well being. There’s little time for these women to focus on bettering themselves personally and as Muslimahs because they have so many little ones to care for. Additionally, we need to give Muslim women more autonomy in choosing what they want their family to be like. We shouldn’t guilt trip women into having children that they may not want. If a woman wants to have two children, we should respect her decision.

While family planning may help women, it may also be in the best interest of the ummah as a whole. Controlling population growth leads to better standards of living. In Iran, the higher education rates and family planning efforts have alleviated pressure on their water supply and arable land supply. Iran is now seen as a model for other developing nations. As Muslims, we have to be more considerate of resources. Yes, Allah will take care of us. However, we cannot take the naive view that because Allah takes care of us that we have no responsibility in providing for our welfare. “Theologian Fazlur Rahman says that using the Qur’anic references to God’s power and promise to sustain all creation to argue “for an unlimited population out of proportion to the economic resources is infantile. The Qur’an certainly does not mean to say that God provides every living creature with sustenance whether that creature is capable of procuring sustenance for itself or not”” (taken from this site).

We need to be more critical in our views towards contraception. Muslim women need to have the choice to decide whether they want to engage in family planning. She should not be made to feel guilty or that she lacks faith in Allah.