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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; and
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 infanticide'."

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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