Monday, 20 June 2011

An Islamic Perspective on Contraception

An Islamic Perspective on Contraception:

Contraception may be defined as any measure undertaken to avoid
the possibility of giving birth to children. Hence, such a measure
necessarily implies the non-fulfillment of one of the purposes of
marriage, namely procreation of the human species. We will examine
the sources of the issue and then the reasons given to justify it.

Islamic Sources:

The basic sources assessing the morality of contraception on Islamic
law are the Qur'an, ahadith (Prophet's tradition), and the use of
ijtihad (the exertion of effort on the part of a qualified Islamic
scholar to deduce an Islamic law for an issue about which there
is no clear, specific text), and analogy. The Qur'an, which is the
verbatim word of Allah (SWT), does not make any categorical statement
either in favour of or against contraception as such.

There may be a weak analogy in its condemnation of infanticide,
which was generally restricted to female infants and in vogue in
pre-Islamic Arabia. For example, it states: "Kill not your
children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them
as well as for you. Verily killing them is a great sin" (17:31).

And likewise it states: "Kill not your children on a plea
of want; We provide sustenance for you and for them." (6:151)

Some scholars like Mawdudi reflected on these verses and came to
the conclusion that if procreation is stopped due to fear of scarcity
of resources and food, then it would be tantamount to the crime
of infanticide. This position is far-fetched. These verses were
revealed in order to put an end to the inhuman practice of female
infanticide, a custom that prevailed in pre-Islamic Arabia. Girls
were considered a liability to the family. Hence, the moment they
were born, they were buried alive.

Although there is no doubt that Islam prohibited or eliminated this
practice, no deduction may be made from this prohibition to condemn
contraception. The latter is, by nature, different from infanticide.
Infanticide is the actual killing of an already existing child,
whereas contraception involves no killing and the supposed "child"
does not yet exist. It is a common fact that during the process
of reproduction only one sperm finally succeeds in fertilizing the
ovum. Does this mean that all the other countless sperms that eventually
die are dead children?

Others analogize from the Qur'anic support of natural fertility
control. The Qur'an encourages mothers to nurse their children:
"The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole
years" (2:233).

We can only conclude form the Qur'anic verses on nursing and intercourse
that the Qur'an is silent on contraception, which means that we
must look for guidance in the ahadith or inspired words and practice
of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS).

If jurists cannot judge the morality of acts on the basis of guidance
in an explicit Qur'anic statement applicable to the issue in question,
they turn to the Hadith or Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWS), which categorizes
all acts in a spectrum of desirability. The five categories are:

1) Halal, i.e., good and encouraged without restriction;

2) Mandub, i.e., desirable or recommended in general;

3) Mubah, i.e., permissible, neither encouraged nor discouraged;

4) Makrooh, i.e., generally blameworthy, hated, improper, or, undesirable;

5) Haram, i.e., bad nature, absolutely unlawful.

The contraceptive method that was practiced during the lifetime
of the Prophet (SAWS) is known as al'azl. Al'azl is derived from
the Arabic verb 'azala, which literally means to put apart, set
aside, to remove or separate. Technically speaking, "it is
used to describe the process of withdrawal by the man at the time
of emission to prevent insemination of the ovum."

Imam al Shawkani has compiled al the ahadith dealing with 'azl
in his celebrated work "Nayl al Awtar" of which some are
quoted below:

1) Jabir (RA) narrates, "We used to practice 'azl (coitus
interruptus) I the prophet's (SAWS) lifetime while the Qur'an was
being revealed." Another version of the same hadith reads,
'We used to practise 'azl during the Prophet's lifetime and he was
informed about this and he did not forbid us."

2) Abu Sa'id (RA) narrates, "The Jews say that 'azl is minor
infanticide, so the Prophet (SAWS) said, 'The Jews are wrong; for
if Allah wanted to create something, no one can divert Him'."

3) 'Umar ibn al Khattab (RA) narrates, "The Prophet (SAWS)
forbade the practice of 'azl with a free woman except with her permission."

4) Judhamah bint Wahb (RA) narrates, "I was there when the
Prophet (SAWS) was with a group of people when he said, 'I was about
to prohibit the ghila (the act of engaging in sexual intercourse
with a woman in lactation), but I observed the Byzantines and the
Persians, and saw them do it, and their children wee not harmed.'
Then they asked him about 'azl and the Prophet said, 'it is minor

Now, the first two ahadith, mentioned above, clearly reveal that
the Prophet (SAWS) was aware of the practice of coitus interruptus
among the people during his lifetime and did not stop them from
it. But, hadith no. 3 above, stipulates that the permission of one's
wife (free woman) should be sought before engaging in this practice.
Hadith no.2 makes it clear that whoever is destined to be created
will be by Allah's (SWT) infinite power and even practicing coitus
interruptus would not frustrate Allah's plan. Hadith no. 4 of Judhamah,
however, poses a problem. In it, the Prophet (SAWS) likens 'azl
to minor infanticide while in hadith no. 2 he belies the Jews for
holding 'azl to be akin to minor infanticide.

Muslim scholars have attempted to explain the apparent contradiction
in these two ahadith in several ways. We shall here cite the survey
by Imam Ibn Hajar in this respect. In his famous commentary on Sahih
al Bukhari, Fath al Bari, Ibn Hajar discusses the issue in depth.
First, he points out that some scholars regard the hadith narrated
by Judhamah as weak (da'if) in view of the fact that it contradicts
a number of ahadith (on the issue), and he notes that these scholars
question how it could be possible for the Prophet (SAWS) to condemn
the Jewish teachings and then elsewhere teach the same thing.

Secondly, Ibn Hajar says that other scholars hold the hadith of
Judhamah as abrogated. Thirdly, Ibn Hajar noted that Ibn Hazm, the
strict Andalusian scholar, was more inclined to abide by the hadith
of Judhamah. He considered that this hadith abrogated all the previous
ahadith allowing the practice of coitus interruptus.

Finally, Ibn Hajar argued in support of Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah
that the Jews were contradicted because they held that pregnancy
could not occur if 'azl was practiced, which means that they ranked
it with infanticide in preventing progeny. The Jews we corrected
and informed that 'azl does not necessarily prevent pregnancy if
Allah (SWT) so wills it to happen, and if Allah (SWT) does not will
creation then 'azl cannot be regarded as true infanticide.

The Four Schools of Fiqh on Contraception

Hanafi School:

Imam al Kasani, a scholar of this school states that it is undesirable
(makruh) for the husband to practice 'azl with his wife (free woman)
without her permission, because the intercourse that results in
ejaculation is the cause for procreation, and she has the right
to have children.

Maliki School

Imam Malik bin Anas, the author or compiler of al Muwatta, the
basic text of this school, says that a man has no right to practice
'azl with his wife (free woman) without her consent.

Shafi'i School

Imam al Nawawi, a scholar of this school, explains that al 'azl
is to engage in sexual intercourse, but prior to ejaculation (the
man) removes (his penis) and allows the ejaculation to take place
outside the vagina. He states that "this act is makruh (undesirable
or not commendable), in any condition, whether the woman consents
or not… But if his wife (the free woman) consents to it then
it is not haram (forbidden) and if she does not give her consent,
there are two opinions and the correct opinion is that it is not
haram (forbidden).

Hanbali School

Ibn Qudamash, a jurist of this school, says that practicing 'azl
without any reason is makruh (undesirable of improper) but it is
not haram (forbidden) … 'Azl should not be practiced with
a free woman without her consent.


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