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Family Planning

 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA


The Qur'an   does not prohibit birth control.   The authority to forbid anything belongs only to Allah (SWT). No one can declare anything forbidden without clear evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunnah. Therefore, anyone who claims that birth control is forbidden must produce his evidence.

"Do not kill your children in fear of poverty. It is Us who feed you and the child as well." (Al-An`aam 6: 151)

We know that Allah provides sustenance for everyone of His creation. It is up to the breadwinner of the family to make use of the opportunities that Allah provides for him.

"And do not kill your children for fear of poverty: We give them sustenance and yourselves (too): surely to kill them is a great wrong." (17:31)

Muslim scholars have generally based their opinion of the prohibition of birth control on these verses. However, these verses are not related to birth control or planning a family.

A close look at these verses shall show that they refer to the prohibition of killing one's child due to the fear of poverty.  Planning a family or planning the birth of a child can, by no means, be termed as "killing a child". Therefore, the directive of these verses cannot and should not be extended to the prohibition of birth control or planning a family.1

Maududi in his book "Birth control" argued against birth control being "the" policy of a state; but he said that birth control at the individual or family level is acceptable.

Birth control is permissible according to Islam. The sexual act is more than just a means of procreation and even there is a Sawab for this act when performed between married couples.

Various birth control techniques have been known since the dawn of time. Methods of contraception which are safe and do not affect the health of the mother are permissible.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the most commonly practiced method of birth control was 'azl or the withdrawal method. ‘Azl is technically called coitus interruptus.  According to the ulama (scholars), withdrawal is permissible but generally thought to be makruh (reprehensible), since it deprives the woman of her right to be able to have sexual satisfaction and to bear children if she so desires, so therefore the conclusion reached by most scholars is that withdrawal should not be practiced unless the woman agrees to it, in other words by mutual consultation. If repeated pregnancies have weakened the woman's body or becoming pregnant would threaten her life, such birth control may be construed as a necessity, and not makruh.

Some of Prophet's (pbuh) companions resorted to coitus interruptus, which was the only method of family planning known to them, and the Prophet was aware of what they did. He did not instruct them to stop, nor did he tell them that what they did was forbidden.

Contraception & sterilization 2
The institution of marriage and the want to have children was the custom of the best of creation, viz., the prophets and messengers chosen by Allah. Allah says about them:

"And indeed We sent messengers before you and made for them wives and offspring" (al-Raad 38)

Islam has forbidden celibacy, monasticism and castration for such purposes. The Prophet (saw) made this clear when he told those companions who were considering acetic forms of life:
"I pray and I sleep; I fast and I break my fast; and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my way of life is not from me."  

 Birth Control: Through sterilization 3

 Sterilization, which involves a surgical operation, is a special case. Unlike other methods of contraception it is permanent. Therefore it has to be viewed separately. Preventing pregnancy by surgery is known as sterilization, which can be performed for either the husband or the wife. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we cannot make a general, sweeping statement in order to say that such an operation is either forbidden or permissible. Any surgery may be considered, from the strictly religious point of view, as required, recommended, discouraged or forbidden, according to the different circumstances of its person.   In the case of sterilization, what we have to look for is the effect of pregnancy on the health of the mother. If a competent doctor determines that every pregnancy is likely to pose a real threat to the life of the mother or to cause serious threats to her health and that other methods of contraception may also have a bad effect on her health, then the woman may have such an operation without any qualm of conscience. It is permissible in her case. On the other hand, for a woman who asks her doctor to perform such an operation   for cosmetic purposes such as to maintain her figure or other ulterior motives, then such an operation is forbidden.   

Needless to say, proper spacing between pregnancies is perfectly acceptable from the Islamic point of view, as long as it is done through legitimate means. When sterilization of either man or woman is done for compelling health reasons or to protect a person's life, then it is acceptable.

Modern scholar Shaykh Ahmad al-Sharabassi of Egypt has pronounced the following as genuine reasons for practicing contraception:

  1. So that the woman may rest between pregnancies.

  2. If either partner has a transmittable disease.

  3. For the sake of the woman's health. For example if she is already breast-feeding a child it would be damaging for both her and the child to have another pregnancy.

  4. If the husband cannot afford to support any more children.



The contraceptive methods during our time work in different ways. For the medical opinion about the reliability or any side effects of these methods, the reader must consult his or her physician.

1. Oral Contraceptives:

Birth control pills prevent conception by inhibiting ovulation. The pills alter hormonal levels and suppress the hormonal signal from the gland for the ovaries to release an ovum. These pills are taken orally on a precise schedule for 20 or more days during each menstrual cycle. Since all such pills inhibit ovulation, there is absolutely no problem in using them. However, the individual must consult the physician about possible side effects.

There are some pills, which work after the intercourse has taken place, for example, the 'morning-after pill' or the recently developed RU486 pill. Since in our definition, pregnancy begins at implantation, use of any pill, which may prevent implantation, is all right. Therefore, the pills like the 'morning-after' and RU486 may be taken after the intercourse BUT not after feeling or knowing that pregnancy has already occurred.

2. Depo-Provera:

Depo-Provera works exactly like the pills, but instead of taking it orally it is injected once every three months. This and other similar contraceptive methods by injection are also permissible.

3. Intrauterine Devices (IUD):

IUDs are plastic or metal objects, in a variety of shapes that are implanted inside the uterus. The medical experts do not exactly know how IUD works. Presently there are two opinions: one says that IUD prevents fertilization; and the other says that it prevents the fertilized ovum from implantation onto the uterus. According to the shari’ah pregnancy begins at implantation, there is no problem in using IUD as a birth control device irrespective of the above differences among the medical experts.

4. Barrier Devices:

All barrier devices prevent the sperm from entering the uterus. This is done by sheathing the penis with a condom, or by covering the cervix with a diaphragm, cervical cap, or vaginal sponge. The use of spermicidal substances, which kill the sperm before reaching the ovum, is also a barrier device. There is absolutely no problem in using these contraceptives either.

5. Abstinence During Fertile Period:

There are three basic procedures to predict ovulation so that sexual intercourse can be avoided during the approximately six days of a woman's most fertile monthly phase. These three methods are as follows:

(a) Ovulation Method: A woman learns to recognize the fertile time by checking the difference in the constitution of the cervical mucus discharge. The cervical mucus discharge signals the highly fertile period; and thus avoiding sex during the fertile days prevents pregnancy.

(b) Rhythm Method: A method similar to the first, but it depends on observing the monthly cycles for a whole year to determine the fertile days.

(c) Temperature: In this method, besides keeping a calendar record of her cycle, a woman also takes her temperature daily to detect ovulation. She can know her ovulation whenever her basal body temperature increases.

6. Withdrawal (Coitus Interruptus):

Coitus interruptus means withdrawing the penis just before ejaculation. This was the most common method of birth control before the invention of modern devices.

The majority of our mujtahids believe that coitus interruptus is allowed but makruh without the wife's consent. (Sharh Lum'a, vol. 2, p. 28; al-'Urwah, p. 628; Minhaj, vol. 2, p. 267)

All methods mentioned above do not involve surgical operation and they are also reversible. A woman (or man) using these methods can stop using them at anytime in order to have a child.

7. Sterilization:

Sterilization involves surgical operation.

Sterilization in men, known as vasectomy, means the severing or blocking of the tube in the male reproductive tract. This tube or duct passes sperm from the testes to the prostate and other reproductive organs.

Sterilization in women, known as tubal ligation, involves the blocking or severing of the fallopian tubes, which transport the ovum.

The permissibility of sterilization depends on whether or not it is reversible. At present, the rate of reversibility (40%) is not good enough to make sterilization permissible. Greater success may be achieved with improved micro surgical techniques. And until we achieve at least 80 percent reversibility, it is difficult to permit sterilization. 

Abortion 4

Islam's approach to the issue of birth control and abortion is very balanced. It allows women to prevent pregnancy but forbids them to terminate it. Abortion after the implantation of the fertilized ovum in the womb is absolutely forbidden and is considered a crime against the law of God, and the fetus.

In case of rape the woman should use the morning after pill or RU486 immediately after the sexual assault in order to prevent the possible implantation of a fertilized ovum

Modern technology (like ultra sound scan) has made it possible to know whether or not a child has a defect long before he is born. Some people justify the abortion of a defective fetus.

The shari'ah allows abortion only when doctors declare with reasonable certainty that the continuation of pregnancy will endanger the woman's life. This permission is based on the principle of the lesser of the two evils known in Islamic legal terminology as the principle of al-ahamm wa 'l-muhimm (the more important and the less important). The Prophet said, "When two forbidden things come [upon a person] together, then the lesser will be sacrificed for the greater." In the present case, one is faced with two forbidden things: either abort the unborn child or let a living woman die. Obviously, the latter is greater than the former; therefore, abortion is allowed to save the live person.


Permissibility of Abortion 8

"And do not kill your children for fear of poverty: We give them sustenance and yourselves (too): surely to kill them is a great wrong." (17:31)

The abortion of a fetus from the mother's womb is a different issue, since the sperm and egg have already met and fertilized what could become a human being. The scholars all agree that abortion is forbidden after the first four months of pregnancy, since by that time the soul has entered the embryo but it would allow the use of RU486 (the "morning-after pill"), as long as it could be reasonably assumed that the fertilized egg has not become implanted on the wall of the uterus. Most scholars say that abortion is legal under Islamic shari’ah (law), when done for valid reasons and when completed before the soul enters the embryo. To abort a baby for such vain reasons as wanting to keep a woman’s youthful figure, are not valid.

"...And do not slay your children for (fear of) poverty -- We provide for you and for them --- and do not draw nigh to indecencies, those of them which are apparent and those which are concealed, and do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice: this He has enjoined you with that you may understand." (6:151)

While planning to raise a family, a man and a woman should consider all the variables in their lives that may affect the life of the mother, the child as well as that of the father.

If a person should - and must - plan sensibly for things like quality of life, then it is more than obvious that planning a child - giving life to another human being - deserves much more attention and consideration on our part. Moreover, it is not just the child, but also the mother whose health and other related conditions should be considered.

Qur’anic verses misinterpreted 9

There are, however, some Qur'anic verses which prohibit infanticide and these are used by some Muslims to discourage birth control.

"And do not kill your children for fear of poverty: We give them sustenance and yourselves (too): surely to kill them is a great wrong." (17:31)

But contraception does not amount to killing a human being. These verses in fact were revealed to forbid the pre-Islamic Arab practice of killing or burying alive a newborn child (particularly a girl) on account of the parents' poverty or to refrain from having a female child. Perhaps in those days, people did not know safe methods of contraception and early abortion.


Embryonic development was central to the Muslim arguments on abortion. According to Muslim scholars, it is lawful to have an abortion during the first 120 days, but after the stage of ensoulment (after the soul enters into the fetus), abortion is prohibited completely except where it is imperative to save the mother's life. After ensoulment, however, abortion is prohibited absolutely and is akin to murder.


The Hanafi scholars, who comprised the majority of orthodox Muslims in later centuries, permitted abortion until the end of the four months. According to them, a pregnant woman could have an abortion without her husband's permission, but she should have reasonable grounds for this act. One reason, which was mentioned frequently, was the presence of a nursing infant. A new pregnancy put an upper limit on lactation, and the jurists believed that if the mother could not be replaced by a wet-nurse, the infant would die.


Family planning, understood by Islam, is not opposed to marriage or to the begetting of children, nor does it's concept imply disbelief in the doctrine of fate and Divine dispensation--for Allah Almighty has bestowed reason upon man to enable him to distinguish between the useful and the harmful, and to help him follow the path that would assure him happiness in this world as well as in the world to come.


1. Birth Control on line at WWW.ISLAMICINSTITUTE.ORG

2. Birth control: Contraception & sterilization.   On line at

3. Family Planning in Islam by Alyssa

4. Marriage and Morals in Islam. Chapter 4: contraceptives and Abortion. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Pub. By Islamic Education and Information Center, Scarborough, Ont. Canada.

5."Contemporary Jurisprudence Research Journal," 15th Ed., 4th yr., Oct. & Nov. & Dec. 1992, pp. 57-59,

6. "Biomedical Issues Islamic Perspective," Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim,

7. "The New Birth Control Book," by Howard I. Shapiro, M.D.,

8.         1st March 1999

9.Family Planning and Islam: A Review by Khalid Farooq Akbar Hamdard Islamicus Vol. 17, No. 3, 1974


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