Chapter 3; Section 4: Contraception


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Chapter 3; Section 4
The Halal And The Haram In Marriage And Family Life

The preservation of the human species is unquestionably the primary objective of marriage, and such preservation of the species requires continued reproduction. Accordingly, Islam encourages having many children and has blessed both male and female progeny. However, it allows the Muslim to plan his family due to valid reasons and recognized necessities.

The common method of contraception at the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) was coitus interruptus, or withdrawal of the penis from the vagina just before ejaculation, thus preventing the entrance of semen. The Companions of the Prophet (peace be on him) engaged in this practice during the period the Qur'an was being revealed to him. Narrated Jabir, We practiced coitus interruptus during the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) while the Qur'an was being revealed. (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim )
In a version transmitted by Muslim, he said,
We practiced coitus interruptus during the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him). He came to know about it, but he did not prohibit it.

A man came to the Prophet (peace be on him), saying, "I have a slave girl. I desire what men desire, but I do not want her to become pregnant, so I practice coitus interruptus with her. The Jews say that this is a minor form of burying your children alive". The Prophet (peace be on him) said, "The Jews are wrong. If Allah wishes to create a child, you cannot prevent it," (Reported by Abu Daoud, Ibn Majah; al-Nisai, and al-Tirmidhi.) meaning that despite the employment of coitus interruptus, a drop of semen might have been deposited in the vagina without his awareness, resulting in conception.

In a gathering at which 'Umar was present, someone remarked, "Some say that coitus interruptus is a minor form of burying a child alive." 'All then said, "This is not so before the completion of seven stages: being a product of the earth, then a drop of semen, then a clot, then a little lump of tissue, then bones, then bones clothed with flesh, which then become like another creation." (Ali was paraphrasing the Qur'an 23:12-14, considering the creation of Adam from wet earth as the first stage of development of every human foetus. (Trans.)) "You are right," said 'Umar. "May Allah prolong your life."


Valid Reasons for Contraception

The first valid reason for employing contraception is the fear that the pregnancy or delivery might endanger the life or health of the mother; past experience or the opinion of a reliable physician are the guides in determining this possibility. Allah Ta'ala says: ...And do not be cast into ruin by your own hands....(2:195) ...And do not kill yourselves; indeed, Allah is ever merciful to you. (4:29)

Another reason is the fear that the burden of children may straiten the family's circumstances so much that one might accept or do something haram to satisfy their needs. Allah says: ...Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you....(2:185) ...It is not Allah's desire to place a burden upon you....(5:7 (6))

Again, fear that the children's health or upbringing may suffer may be a valid reason. On the authority of Usama ibn Zayd, Muslim in his Sahih reported that a man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him), saying, "I practice coitus interruptus with my wife." "Why do you do that?" asked the Prophet (peace be on him). He said, "I fear for her child," or he may have said, "for her children." The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) then said, "If it (the pregnancy of a nursing mother) were harmful, it would have harmed the Persians and the Greeks."

Another valid reason is the fear that the new pregnancy or a new baby might harm a previous suckling child. The Prophet (peace be on him) termed intercourse with a nursing mother, or rather the intercourse which results in pregnancy while the mother is still nursing a baby, "gheelah," thinking that pregnancy would ruin the milk and weaken the suckling infant. Since he was greatly concerned with the welfare of his ummah, he dissuaded them from what was harmful. Among his personal opinions (The Prophet sometimes expressed his personal opinions in worldly matters, which he distinguished from his binding judgments in matters of religion. (Trans.)) was the saying, "Do not kill your children secretly, for gheelah overtakes the rider and throws him from the horse." (Reported by Abu Daoud. It is said that the child who nurses from a pregnant mother will suffer from it in later life like a horseman who is thrown from his horse. (Trans ))
The Prophet (peace be on him) did not, however, go so far as to prohibit intercourse with a nursing mother, as he noted that the Persians and Greeks, the two most powerful nations of his time, practiced it without any resulting injury to their children. Moreover, he feared that it would be a great hardship for husbands to abstain from their wives during the period of suckling, which may last up to two years. He said, I intended to prohibit gheelah, but I considered the Persians and the Greeks and saw that they suckled their children during pregnancy without any injury being caused to their children as a result. (Reported by Muslim.)

Ibn al-Qayyim, in discussing the relationship of this hadith to the one quoted just before it, "Do not kill your children secretly..." says, The Prophet (peace be on him) saw that pregnancy harms the suckling infant in the same way as being thrown off a horse harms a rider: it is injurious, but not to the extent of killing the baby. He advised them to avoid intercourse leading to pregnancy while the woman is nursing an infant but did not prohibit it. He then intended to prohibit it in order to save the health of the suckling child but realized that the resulting hardship to the husband, especially for young ones, would be much more injurious to the society. On balancing these matters, therefore, he preferred not to prohibit it. Moreover, he saw that (in) the two most powerful and populous nations of his time, (women) suckled their children during pregnancy without its affecting their strength or numbers, and accordingly he refrained from prohibiting it. (Miftah Dar al-Sa'adah by Ibn al-Qayyim, p. 620; also see Zad al-Mi'ad, vol. 4 p. 26)

In our time new methods of contraception are available which realize the objective intended by the Prophet (peace be on him), that of protecting the suckling infant from any possible harm which may Occur due to the pregnancy of its mother, (Although the primary issue discussed here is the welfare of the child, the mother's health and well-being is also an object of concern here as well. (Trans.)) while at the same time avoiding the hardship to the husband in abstaining from sexual relations with his nursing wife. From this we may conclude that from the Islamic point of view the ideal spacing between two children is thirty months, or, if one wants to nurse the baby for two full years, (Two full years is the maximum period for the suckling of an infant in Islam. (Trans.)) thirty-three months.

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal is of the opinion that contraception requires the consent of the wife, because she has a right both to sexual enjoyment and to decide whether or not she wants a child. It is reported that 'Umar forbade the practice of coitus interruptus without the consent of the wife. This was, on the part of Islam, a noteworthy step toward establishing the rights of women in an age in which they had no rights.



While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow doing violence to the pregnancy once it occurs.

Muslim jurists agree unanimously that after the foetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, aborting it is haram. It is also a crime, the commission of which is prohibited to the Muslim because it constitutes an offense against a complete, live human being. Jurists insist that the payment of blood money (diya) becomes incumbent if the baby was aborted alive and then died, while a fine of lesser amount is to be paid if it was aborted dead.

However, there is one exceptional situation. If, say the jurists, after the baby is completely formed, it is reliably esthat the continuation of the pregnancy would necessarily result in the death of the mother, then, in accordance with the general principle of the Shari'ah, that of choosing the lesser of two evils, abortion must be performed.
For the mother is the origin of the foetus; moreover, she is established in life, with duties and responsibilities, and she is also a pillar of the family. It would not be possible to sacrifice her life for the life of a feotus which has not yet acquired a personality and which has no responsibilities or obligations to fulfill. (Al-Fatawa by Shaikh Shaltut p. 164.)

Imam al-Ghazzali makes a clear distinction between contraception and abortion, saying, Contraception is not like abortion. Abortion is a crime against an existing being. Now, existence has stages. The first stages of existence are the settling of the semen in the womb and its mixing with the secretions of the woman. (It was then believed that the mingling of the semen with the secretions of the woman in the uterus caused pregnancy. (Trans.)) It is then ready to receive life. Disturbing it is a crime. When it develops further and becomes a lump, aborting it is a greater crime. When it acquires a soul and its creation is completed, the crime becomes more grievous. The crime reaches a maximum seriousness when it is committed after it (the foetus) is separated (from the mother) alive. (AI-Ihya, book of "Al-Nikah" (Marriage), p. 74.)