By Adeela Kasoojee-Gathoo
Modern Muslims are faced with a veritable plethora of choices. To study or join the world of trade and industry; to marry or wait a little while and experience something of what life has to offer, to have children or to strengthen and fortify the bonds of marriage prior to starting a family. The choices faced by Muslims through the ages may have changed somewhat but the solutions never differ. Starting a family is one of a number of issues faced by many Muslim couples and while people may feel that this is a personal decision, it must be taken with due consideration to the constraints set out by our Faith. Islam is not inflexible or rigid in this regard– for every situation there is a clarification. If anything is expressly forbidden – it is categorised as Haraam with the utmost justification and rationalisation. There is nothing that the Qur’aan al Kareem and the Sunnah does account for or address in the most specific terms. Our present-day ‘Aalims are schooled in a wealth of accessible knowledge that includes a solid foundation of Qur’aan, Hadith, Fiqh as well as classical and contemporary Arabic and the capacity to address even the most delicate and personal issues that people experience in their lives.
Abdelwahab Bouhdiba in his book Sexuality in Islam discusses the Islamic understanding of sexuality, saying:
“Islam in no way tries to depreciate, still less to deny the sexual and invests it with such a transcendental significance that any trace of guilt is removed from it. Taken up this way sexuality is full of positivity. Islamic life becomes an alternation and complementarity of the invocation of the divine Word and the exercise of physical love. The dialogue with Being and the dialogue of the sexes punctuate our daily lives.”
[Abedlwahab Bouhdiba. Sexuality in Islam. London:Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. p. 8.]
It is stated in the Qur’aan al Kareem –
“Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful.” [The Holy Qur’aan, Surah Al-A`arãf, 7:157]
One of the most beautiful aspects of Islam is that our beloved Nabi SAW did not shy away from sensitive issues. He approached every aspect of life with pragmatism. His instructions remained clear and lucid and made sense to his Ummah in his own time. The enduring nature of his advice means that it is applicable to the modern-day Ummah, as well. Nabi Muhammed (PBUH) was not afraid to address any problem, whether of a delicate nature or not. The ṣaḥābiyy and ṣaḥābiyyah found him to be open-minded and compassionate in dispensing advice and so approached him regularly with all their concerns so that he could find a solution and resolve the issue at hand. (“Like a Garment” by Shayk Yasar Qadhi, available for download at the following webpage – http://muslimfaith.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/download-like-a-garment-question-answer-by-yasir-qadhi/, Date accessed: 6 December 2012).
An issue which was raised during the Prophet’s (PBUH) lifetime and which is very pertinent to contemporary Islamic society is that of contraception and starting a family. Is contraception expressly forbidden in Islam (as with other religions) or is it permitted (with restrictions on certain methods, based on reason)?
There are many different types of contraception. For explanatory purposes, I will list and explain each type briefly. According to Abu Ibrahim’s article entitled “Islamic Birth Control” (http://islamiclearningmaterials.com/islam-birth-control/; accessed: 6 December 2012) which appears to be a researched and informed source, the globally recognised methods of contraception are as follows –
Surgical Contraception which involves:
Vasectomy – “a surgical procedure for male sterilization and/or permanent birth control. During the procedure, the vasa deferentia of a man are severed, and then tied/sealed in a manner such to prevent sperm from entering into the seminal stream” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasectomy, ; accessed 11 December 2012) This procedure allows a man to have intercourse without transferring any sperm cells to his wife, effectively preventing conception from taking place. According to Abu Ibrahim, vasectomies are not permissible. His perception is that no medical purpose justifies the procedure. He goes on to state that “…every reputable scholar in Islam has ruled that vasectomies are haram, or forbidden” and reasons that the end objective of such a procedure is sexual freedom without the accountability that arises from the conception of a child.
Hysterectomy – This procedure involves surgical removal of the uterus and/or ovaries from a woman. This results in permanent sterilisation of the woman and an inability to conceive. Hysterectomies should be performed for medical reasons but an increasing number of women favour this drastic measure as a form of contraception. From an Islamic perspective, it is only permissible if performed for justifiable medical reasons, e.g. where a woman is at risk of losing her life in the event of another pregnancy or if she has a debilitating illness such as endometriosis or cancer and a hysterectomy has been prescribed as the final recourse.
The author of the article also makes reference to a somewhat contentious category, he calls ‘Permanent Sterilisation’ which includes Intra-Uterine Devices which prevent implantation of a zygote (fertilised egg) in the uterine cavity, an act akin to an induced abortion since the ovum is fertilised at this juncture. He goes on to state that use of these devices take the same ruling as having a hysterectomy. They are deemed permissible only if there is a life-threatening medical reason.
Hormonal/Medical contraceptives are birth control methods that typically utilise hormones to disrupt the natural menstrual cycle of a woman in order to prevent conception. There are many different forms of medical/hormonal contraception, most of them temporary in nature. These include the combined oral contraceptive known as ‘the pill’, hormonal release patches, and other injectable drugs that temporarily prevent conception – preventing the release of an ovum by chemically altering the hormonal cycle and creating a unreceptive chemical environment in the uterus. There has been some research into hormonal methods of birth control for men but studies have proven that a 10-15% of men do not respond to treatment at all and the research project is still not conclusive due to this anomaly. (http://malecontraceptives.org/methods/hormonal.php )
(The Long Wait for Male Birth Control, Adam Goodman, Sunday, Aug. 03, 2008 http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1829107,00.html#ixzz2EjgBjCYy ,
Date accessed: 11 December 2012)
Islamically speaking, Abu Ibrahim explains that these hormonal or medical methods are usually prohibited unless there is a medical reason for doing so or the husband and wife are in agreement (both fully aware of the implications and that reasons for resorting to contraceptive measures are not contrary to Shariah, such as a fear of want or because people wish to be sexually free or promiscuous without accountability)
An additional category of contraception which is not expressly forbidden is that of Physical/Mechanical Contraception methods which do not alter the body in any way and simply prevent the sperm from meeting the egg. These include methods like condoms, diaphragms, the Rhythm Method and coitus interruptus¹ . All mechanical methods/forms of contraception are not categorically prohibited if the couple is in agreement.
It was also an Arab custom at the time of our beloved Nabi (SAW) to abstain from intercourse whilst a wife was breastfeeding (for a period of two years) because the Arabs feared that this may cause harm to the child. It is reported that Nabi (SAW) was predisposed to prohibit such intercourse due to its alleged complications, but then he noted that the Romans and Persians practised intercourse during the period of lactation and there was no ensuing harm at all. In fact, he noted these nations were proliferate and fruitful civilisations. The companions (RA) subsequently asked Nabi (SAW) for permission to practise ‘Azl, which in present-day terms, refers to coitus interruptus, the equivalent of which is a temporary method of contraception. Nabi (SAW) expressed his displeasure at this since he felt this was not the conviction of a true believer. (Mirqaat vol.6 pg.238).
We should always bear in mind that our convictions should lie with Allah (SWT) alone. Allah Ta’ala can create with, without and even against all means as indicated in the hadith narrated by Abu Dawud. However, if the husband and wife fear that intercourse during the breastfeeding period will be detrimental to the lactating child, then it will be permissible to use a temporary contraceptive method (Contemporary Medical Issues; Qaadho Mujaahidul Islam) (www.askimam.org/ , date accessed:11 December 2012)
From the explanation above, one may ascertain that while it is generally disliked (Makrooh) to utilise any form of contraception except with well-founded medical reasons or for the purposes of maintaining or recovering good health, if they are used for any other reason (perhaps a couple is not quite ready to have children and would prefer strengthening the bond of marriage for a period of time, or new parents who would like to focus on the growth and development of a child that already lives) then the choice of contraceptive method should be something that is non-permanent and reversible in nature and both husband and wife should agree to the use thereof.
Without doubt, Islam has a solution to every problem and offers a choice in most circumstances. It is up to the individual and the couple to make the choice that is right for their circumstances and which is acceptable and within the limits as prescribed by the Sharīʿah.
¹ Withdrawal Method