What is the Islamic verdict on contraception and birth control in general? Is it only permissible at times of need?
First of all, it should be known that, one of the main aims of marriage in Islam is procreation. Islam encourages its followers to reproduce in large numbers in order to increase the size of the Ummah of our Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace).
Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:
“So now hold intercourse with your wives and seek (the children) what Allah has ordained for you.” ( Surah al-Baqarah, V: 187)
In a Hadith recorded by Imam Abu Dawud, Imam an-Nasa’i and others, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Marry women who are loving and reproduce in abundance, for I shall outnumber the other nations by you.”
It is clear from the above, that Shariah encourages its followers to abstain from practicing birth control, especially, when it is given a formal, organized and general approach. Therefore, one should refrain from practicing contraception unless necessary.
As far as the Shar’i ruling is concerned, there are two categories of birth control and the ruling of each is different. The ruling of each category is as follows:
1) Permanent Irreversible Contraception
This type of contraception is carried out when the couple decide never to have a baby. It is done with a sterilization operation carried out either on the man (Vasectomy) or the woman (Tubectomy) and renders the couple incapable of ever having children.
The ruling with regards to this is that, it is unlawful (Haram) to carry out such operations. There are many Narrations of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and clear texts of the Fuqaha (Jurists) which determine this.
The Companion, Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) said:
“We use engage in Jihad in the company of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and our wives did not accompany us. We said: O Prophet of Allah! Shall we not castrate ourselves? He forbade us from doing so.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The great Hanafi Jurist, Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) says:
“Castration of humans is Haram.” (Radd al-Muhtar).
Imam al-Ayni (Allah have mercy on him) says:
“Castration (and sterilization, m) is prohibited with the consensus of all the scholars.” (Umdat al-Qari)
However, in cases of extreme necessity, Irreversible contraception will become permissible. For example, a woman’s life is in danger or repeated pregnancies gravely damage her health, etc. This however, should be advised by a Muslim qualified doctor.
2) Temporary Reversible Contraception
There are many methods by which reversible contraception can be performed. Coitus interruptus (Withdrawal method), the pill, using of the condom, i.u.d, spermicidal, just to mention a few.
The ruling on reversible contraception is that, it is somewhat disliked (makruh tanzihan) if practiced without any reason. If there is a genuine reason, then it will be totally permissible with the permission of the wife. Some of the reasons (for the permissibility of reversible contraception), which the Fuqaha mention, are:
a) Physical state of the woman,
b) Weakness and illness,
c) The couple are on a distant journey,
d) The couple’s relations are unstable and divorce is likely,
e) Spacing out children in order to give them adequate care and attention,
If contraception is practiced due to a reason contrary to the teachings of Shariah, then it will not be permissible. Some of these reasons are:
a) Fear of poverty and not being able to provide,
b) For the fashion of keeping small families and imitating the Kuffar,
c) Being ashamed of having a girl,
There are many narrations from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) which signify the permissibility of reversible contraception, but at the same time indicate it to be undesirable.
Sayyiduna Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) says: “We used to practice Coitus interruptus (Withdrawal method) while the Qur’an was being revealed. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) knew of this and did not prohibit us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim )
This has more or less been mentioned by the scholars in their books. (See Imam Nawawi in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, Mulla Ali al-Qari in al-Mirqat, Ibn Abidin in his Radd al-Muhtar and others.
For more details, please refer to my book on this subject titled Birth Control and Abortion (Revised Edition), available from the Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK.
And Allah Knows Best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK