Family planning in Islam is one of the recent issues that includes its own rules and regulations. The issue of family planning is usually observed from two dimensions; population control which is the political aspect, and birth control which is based on the decision of the family (husband and wife).
The political aspects differ from country to country, based on the decisions made by the government of each region. Depending on social and political conditions, the government may encourage people to have more children or to limit their family to one or two children. However, this aspect is not the issue in this article; rather we would focus on the Islamic view about family planning and birth control, based on the couples’ decisions.
At the same time that many traditional families or the older adults in families encourage young couples to have more children, we keep hearing from some young couples that it is not logical to have many children in this era for different social reasons.
The issue of family planning became significant when the lifestyle of people changed. After the modernization of the world and changing the lifestyle from rural life to urban lifestyle, everything was affected.
Children who used to be a workforce in rural lifestyle became sole consumers in the urban family for many years, until they became independent. Therefore, parents needed to have reasonable plans to provide for their children who were to be consumers for years.
Based on their situations and goals, and their experiences from their childhood, people have different reasons for having fewer children. Reasons like:
We cannot afford the cost of living for more than one or two children.
We have to work hard, and we cannot spend enough time to raise and treat children.
There is not enough wealth on the earth for future generations.
Children may be an obstacle on our way to success and may deprive us of reaching our goals.
This world has become a cruel place, and it is not fair to bring any more humans to this brutal world.
And many other reasons that convince some couples not to have children, or have only one or two kids.
Now, let’s see what the Islamic viewpoint is about human reproduction and birth control.
There are no specific verses in the Holy Quran to cover the issue of family planning in Islam. However, there are a few verses that some jurists use to justify their agreement or disagreement with the issue of family planning in Islam. For example: “Do not kill your children for fear of penury: We will provide for them and for you. Killing them is indeed a great iniquity.” (17:31)
The above verse not only shows that the issue of providing for children has always been an issue for parents, but it also shows how God understands human beings, and how beautiful He tries to assure them that the aliment of every creature is provided by Him. These are the things that we usually forget. We forget that it is Him who has been nurturing us from the very beginning. So being worried about other creatures’ aliment is not a good reason to prevent us from having children.
Another point in considering family planning in Islam is that it's not correct to have fewer children, fearing from poverty and being unable to afford for their costs as “There is no animal on the earth, but that its sustenance lies with Allah, and He knows its [enduring] abode and its temporary place of lodging. ….” (11:6)
Besides, having children is such a sweet blessing from God that he warns us not to get so much engaged with these gifts, in a way that they distract us from remembering God and our mission of life: “O you who have faith! Do not let your possessions and children distract you from the remembrance of Allah, and whoever does that—it is they who are the losers.” (63:9)
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) encouraged people to have more children so that the earth would be filled by people who glorify God and praise him day and night. Also, it is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) that “I would be proud of the number of my companions on the day of resurrection” .
Reading the above verses and narration may encourage anyone to step forward to have too many children. But is that correct to do so? Are there any prohibitions against having children?
Although many narrations encourage people to have more children, there is no obligation in doing so. Instead, it is recommended to have many children, provided that it does no physical, mental or spiritual harm to parents or children. In narrations, it is recommended to have enough children, not as many as possible .
We should also keep in mind this phrase from the Holy Quran “Allah does not task any soul beyond its capacity” (2:286). This means that the number of children should be as many as they do not cause any harm to parents, while at the same time parents would provide all their juridical, legal, spiritual, cultural and educative rights.
Having mentioned the above overall issues about family planning, let’s see when it is specifically allowed to avoid having children.
In Islamic jurisprudence, it is allowed to avoid having children if:
The husband may decide not to have any children if:
The woman is old.
The woman would not breastfeed the baby.
The woman is not able to nurture a good child.
The woman is in temporary marriage.
The woman is indecent.
It is physically harmful to the woman to give birth.
But if a woman has none of the above issues, and the man does not wish to have children from her, for any other reasons, then he should refer to his source of emulation (Marja’ taqlid), since different Muslim jurists have different opinions on this matter. The agreement of both parties upon having or not having children can solve the problem.
But if they do not agree, the woman has the right to request for a divorce, hoping to marry another man with whom she can have children, keeping in mind that divorce is the most hateful allowed (Halal) act in the eyes of God Almighty .
But if the husband wants children, and the wife does not want to have one, without having any specific physical problems, then either both couples should come to an agreement on this subject of having or not having children, for a specific amount of time or forever, or the woman should permit the man to have children with another woman (through temporary or permanent marriage) .
However, it should be noticed that if the woman does not obey her husband in this case or any other circumstances, she has committed a forbidden (Haram) act, since it is obligatory for a woman to obey her husband. And if they do not come to an agreement and the man wants to have children, they may go through a divorce. (Again keeping in mind that divorce is the most hateful allowed (Halal) act in the eyes of God Almighty) .
In conclusion, although it is recommended to have many children, family planning in Islam, considering the situation of parents in different times and places, is a rational act and is allowed.
Also, couples should not avoid having children for fear of their aliment. Since God has guaranteed the aliment of every single creature on earth; rather they should improve their spiritual level so that they can be great parents and capable of nurturing good children who are to become great believers and good servants of the religion of God.
- Jami’ al-ahadith, vol. 20, p. 58
- Bihar al-anvar, vol. 72, p. 58
- Sayed Ali Khamenei, Istifta
Issues concerning freedom may arouse a special sense of curiosity; they always look appealing and interesting to people. Perhaps it is because freedom has been human beings’ ideal throughout history. Everyone is so interested in the freedom that they have tried to achieve it through any available means. However, freedom is a broad concept with many aspects that are related to all areas of our lives. This essay will refer to one of its effective and fruitful aspects, which is freedom in marriage.
The first step in forming a family is choosing a spouse. Now let’s see Islam's point of view toward freedom of choice in marriage:
"A marriage is not correct and valid unless through freedom of choice."
Such a condition for marriage at the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was very strange and caused fright and anger among people since it was in complete contrast with their core beliefs; at that time women were given a very low rank compared with men, and they were considered inferior to them.
To clarify the Islamic model of a free marriage, here are two stories from that time:
A frightened girl came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) and while she could hardly breathe, said to him: “…oh, why is my father like this?”
“What has he done?” said the Prophet (PBUH&HP).
“He wants me to marry his nephew without asking my idea about him. I do not love him and how can I marry a person whom I do not love?” said the girl.
“If you do not love him forget about him and marry the one whom you love.” said the Prophet (PBUH&HP) calmly.
The girl was pleased after hearing the Prophet’s (PBUH&HP) words. She said then, “actually, I love him very much and I would not choose anyone else as my future husband instead of him. But since my father did not ask my opinion, I intentionally came here to know your idea. Now that I know what you think, I will tell all the girls that their fathers do not have the right to choose their husbands.”
This woman is one of the thousands who made our history, those poor people who lived in the darkness of ignorance. The story mentioned above is a sample of the situation of women in the era of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP).
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) had one child named "Fatimah Zahra" (AS). She was so dear to the Prophet (PBUH), and everyone knew that. There were some great men who wished to marry her. One of them was Imam Ali (AS), the first successor of the Prophet (PBUH&HP) and the leader (Imam) of Muslims.
When he went to the Prophet (PBUH&HP) and asked for his beloved daughter’s hand, the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) said that some others came to him for this reason too, and he shared their requests with his daughter, but she respectfully rejected their marriage proposals. “Now, I will deliver your proposal to her,” said our dear Prophet (PBUH&HP). Then, the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) informed his beloved daughter about Ali’s (AS) proposal, but this time and unlike her reply to previous proposals, she remained silent as a sign of satisfaction. So the Prophet (PBUH&HP) went to Ali happily and congratulated him on the good news.
The last-mentioned story is a very good example of portraying Islam's approach towards marriage and the importance of freedom in it, regarding the lifestyle of our holy leaders.
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (30:21)
The concept of marriage is very ancient dating back beyond Abrahamic religions and recorded history and was practiced by all people of many cultures, religions, and ethnicities throughout the earth. Among all belief systems, Islam is the only religion that accords great importance to marriage and humans’ marital life.
The religion of Islam holds that the progress and development in all aspects of a person’s life roots in how his/her family is formed. Therefore, it provides the people who are ready for committing themselves to marriage with a comprehensive guideline.
According to Islam, the first criterion of the most eligible person to marry is having faith and being pious; In other words, the candidate should have a firm belief in Allah and the principles of Islam. This characteristic is so important that without it no other criteria is worthy of attention.
The holy Quran says: “And do not marry polytheistic women until they believe. And a believing slave woman is better than a polytheist, even though she might please you. And do not marry polytheistic men [to your women] until they believe. And a believing slave is better than a polytheist, even though he might please you” (2:221).
If a person believes in God and whatever He commands him/her to do, consequently he/she will not be seduced by temptations of Satan, will be totally devoted to his/her own family and observant of his/her behavior towards them, and will treat his/her spouse and the whole family fairly.
Another important feature in evaluating the suitable person for marriage is being good-tempered and following the codes of morality in his/her behavior. This characteristic has been defined as “being modest, well-spoken and good-natured”  by Imam Sadeq (AS).
Nevertheless, acting morally is not only restricted to being good-tempered but includes honesty, chastity, using decent language, forbearance, politeness, contentment, benevolence, faithfulness, and generosity as well. The presence of morality in one’s behavior is so vital that when Imam Reza (AS) was asked for his advice in marrying a person who was famous for being ill-natured, he strongly disagreed .
It is stressed in the religion of Islam that one should choose her/his spouse from a decent and noble family. Family nobility does not mean fame, wealth, or social status; rather it means modesty, chastity, purity, and religiousness, which will be all passed on to the next generations.
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) has said in this regard: “Marry in the lap of a decent family, since the semen and the genes have an effect.” . He has also said to avoid the greenery (herbs) growing over a sewer (cesspool); i.e., a beautiful woman born and raised in an indecent family .
Islam also lays special emphasis on compatibility in marriage. The marrying partners must be Kufw of each other; i.e., they should be equal and close to one another in terms of religiosity and morality, as well as social, financial, and also physical aspects. Spouses in the Quran are likened to clothing: “They are clothing for you, and you are clothing for them” (2:187). Just like clothes that should be of the right size, color, and material to suit you well, your spouse has to be a suitable match for you. But do not forget that in the Islamic view, the main point of similarity is in the couple’s belief and faith. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has said: “a faithful man is suitable for a faithful woman and a Muslim man is good for a Muslim woman” .
Someone who is inferior in faith to you may degrade your belief as well. Marriage is a means of the elevation of the soul, so if it results in the opposite way the whole purpose of this holy union will be wasted.
Although health problems do not preclude marriage, they have negative effects on the continuation of married life. There are various narrations in the Islamic teachings on the importance of marrying someone healthy and of sane state of mind: “when you intend to marry a woman, ask about her physical characteristics since this will create a bond of affection and love between you and your spouse” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) .
It has also been narrated from him that “Avoid marrying a stupid person since her/his company is a woe” . Moreover, we are advised by him to reject the proposal of a person who is accustomed to drinking alcohol for its detrimental effects on the body and soul.
It is noteworthy that there are other features for choosing the right person to marry like financial matters, age differences, racial differences, etc. Though there is a lot of psychological and religious advice on these issues as well, they are not of much importance in Islam as long as the girl and the boy are Muslims and have taken the five above-mentioned significant aspects into consideration.
Allah has promised to fulfill the other needs of the married couple Himself: “And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty, and Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing” (24:32)
- Usul Al-Kafi , v. 2, p.563
- Wasa’il ul-Shi’a, v. 14, p.54
- Makaremul Akhlaq, v. 1, p. 432
- Al-Kafi, v. 5, p. 332
- Wasa’il ul-Shi’a, Vol. 14 , p.44
- Shaikh al-Hur al-Aamili, Wasa’il ul-Shi’a, chapter 35
- Al-Jafariat, p. 92
- Choose a Spouse in Islam