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4. Islam and Birth Control

4.1. Islam condoning birth control

������ It is routinely assumed in Hindu circles that Islam prohibits family planning.But against the talk of Muslim "demo�gra�phic aggres�sion", secul�ari�sts like to empha�size that, unlike Chris�tianity and Judai�sm, Islam explicitly allows birth contr�ol.And this is entirely correct.As Yoginder Sikand argues, "Islam is one of the few religi�ons that allow for birth control".���

������ In the Golden Age of Islam (7th-11th century), various writers freely wrote instructions for birth contr�ol, e.g. Al-Jahiz wrote in a book about the animal king�dom: "The difference between human beings and other species is that only human beings practise birth control�."Of the four Sunni schools of jurispruden�ce,���� the Malikite prohibits abortion altogether, the Hanbalite and Shafiite allow it in the first forty days, while the Hanafite school allows abortion in the first four months of preg�nancy.All the schools permit the use of contrac�eptives.The Shii�tes con�sider birth control, in pre-modern times mostly co�tus interrup�tus, the normal prac�tice in case of temporary (Muta) marriages, "so much so that a man who wanted child�ren had to make a special provi�sion in the Muta Marriage Contract so as not to practise 'withdraw�al'."

������ For this reason, there is a lot of practical advice on birth control in Islamic literature, far more than in the fabled Hindu and Chinese sex manuals.A number of medi�eval authorities on Islamic law and medicine have writ�ten about birth control in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental way.The greatest Muslim medic, Ibn Zakaria al Razi (Latin Razes) has given a list of 176 contrac�eptive or abor�tive techniques or preparatio�ns, while Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avic�enna) mentioned several dozen.The Han�a�fi jur�ist Ibn Abadin allowed women to use birth control and to have an abortion until the 120th day of pregnancy, even without their hus�bands' consent.

������ Even Ibn Taimiya, the 13th-century Hanbali theol�ogian who in most matters is the ack�nowle�dged godfather of today's "fu�ndame�ntalis�ts", permitted the use of contr�acep�tive devic�es.Ibn Taimi�ya's argument was based on a para�dox�ical implication of the doctr�ine of God's om�nipot�ence: no matter how you try to pre�vent concep�tion, if God has decided that a child will be con�ceived, schem�ing human beings are power�less to thwart His designs.Now, since God can always overrule the plans of man, the use of contra�ceptives does not really interfere with God's designs, ergo it is per�mitte�d.

������ In their innocence, some Islamic apologists use ar�guments to prove Islam's progressiveness concerning birth control regard�less of their nega�tiv�e implications in other respec�ts.Thus, the principal of an Islamic college writ�es: "Islamic jurispru�dence has always allowed the above-mentioned family plan�ning method with slave girls as it is one of its fundamental dictates that a slave girl becomes free the mo�ment she gives birth to a chil�d."��So, to keep her in slavery it was al�lowed to preve�nt� her from getting pregnant, which says a lot about the centrality of the institution of slavery to Islamic civilization.

������ Even more troubling is the context of the main in�cident in Moham�med's career which jus�tifies birth control (and is theref�ore routinely men�tioned as proof of Mo�hamm�ed's progres�siv�ene�ss).Mohammed's men had captured women from Mecca in the raid on a Meccan caravan at Badr (see next para), inten�ding to sell them back to their famil�ies for a handsome ran�som, but asked Mohammed if they could use them for their sexual gratif�ication.Con�sider�ing that the ransom would go down if the women were not retur�ned in their original con�dition, the Prophet told his men that they could freely go and rape them as long as they prac�tised coitus interrup�tus (Arabic azl).So, the Prophet con�doned host�age-taking and rape.Nonethe�l�����e�ss,�� these two instances of clumsy apolo�g�����������������etic����s do con�firm that Islam approves of birth control.


4.2. Islam prohibiting birth control

������ In spite of this solid tradition of at least toler�ance to birth control, there is now a strong countercur�rent which objects to birth control and propagates a natalist policy.After at�tacking "the protagonists of Hin�dutva" for having "perfected the art of demagogy, deception and venom�ous communal propaganda" including the "oft-repeated ac�cusations that Islam is stri�ctly opposed to family plan�ning", Yoginder Sikand admits: "Their loud procl�amat�ions have been further legitimised by some ignorant and obscu�rantist mullahs, who also assert that Islam and family plan�ning are not compatible with each other."Even the al�leged Hin�dutva prop�a�ganda that "Muslims are furiously mul�tiply�ing as part of a grand Islamic conspiracy to swamp the coun�try and con�vert it into a Muslim-majority state" is candid�ly con�firmed by these "ignorant and obscurantist mul�lahs".

������ Leave alone Urdu pamphlets, a neatly published English book from the impec�cably Islamic Noor Publishing House (Delhi), Muham�mad Samiul�lah's Mus�lims in Alien Socie�ty, is suf�ficiently explicit about the demog�ra�phic desig�ns of contemporary Is�l�am.����������Samiul���������������������lah rejec�ts family�� plan��������������������������ning as a W�est�������ern ploy to diminis��h the num�bers of the Muslim population in order to maintain its hegemo�ny.The core of his argument is that birth control has no sanct�ion from the Quran nor from the example and sayings of the Proph�et.Since others have claim�e�d just the op�posite, a close reading of the source texts of Islam is needed.

������ As Samiullah notes, Moham�med sanct�ioned, even com�manded, the practice of coitus inter�ruptus, the then most read�ily availa�ble method of birth control, in the after�math of the battle of Badr, his first great victory which yiel�ded him a number of woman hostages.For the present dis�cus�sion, the point which Samiul�������������lah wants to make is that this guidel�ine laid down by the Prophet was contrad�icted by the Prophet himself on later oc�casi�ons.Samiul�lah reco�unts a number of Ahadis (episodes of the Prop�het's life ser�ving as the authoritative basis of Is�lamic law) where the Prop�het opposed this method of birth control.

������ Thus, after the cam�paign against the Banu al-Mus�taliq, the Mus�lims wanted to rape the hostages and asked Moham�med whether they should practise azl, but the Prop�het replied, with reference to the futility of human scheming before God's omni�potence: "It does not matter if you don't do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrec�tion will be born."Since this (and similar ones) is a later Hadis than the one containing his pro-azl in�junction at Badr, it over�rules the ear�lier one, at least accor�ding to the theologi�cal principle that in case of contradiction, the earlier pronoun�cement is overruled by the later one.

������ Admit�tedly, the fact that the Prophet encouraged azl on at least one occasion does create some legal room for birth contr�ol, and Samiullah concedes that it is exp�lic�itly permitted in case the woman is in poor health and could not bear the burden of preg�nancy and the effort of deliv�ery.But the main weight of Mohamm�ed's nor�mative opini�on�, Samiul�lah argues, is certainly on the side of natalism and against birth-contr�ol.Hence the Prophet's prohi�bition, at least on one oc�casion, of knowi�ngly marrying a sterile woman; his prohi�bition of non-vaginal inter�course (another primi�tive form of birth contr�ol); and his strict prohibition of sterili�zation and of voluntary celibacy.


4.3. Islamic natalism

������ Hindu Revivalist authors have dug up some more quotati�ons to support the perception of natalist designs in Islam.K.S. Lal quotes Mohammed as saying in so many words: "Marry women who will love their hus�bands and be very prolific, for I want you to be more numerous than any other people".Ram Swarup quot�es������ the Prophet as saying: "In my Ummah, he is the best who has the larg�est number of wives�."Even a secul�ar Muslim can�did�ly calls it "one of the fun�damental tenets of Is�lam -- namely, to multiply the tri�b�e."

������ Samiullah's point is that as a general policy, the Prophet opposed any behav�iour which was demographically was�teful and unproductive.He was less fussy about oc�casional loss of semen in sterile forms of inter�course than Moses' laws had been, but as a rule he favoured the same natalist policy.�Samiullah opines: "Had the monster of 'Birth Contr�ol' as an instrument of state policy raised its head in the days of the Holy Prophet, he would surely have declared Jihad against it in the same manner as he waged Jihad against Shirk (polytheism�)."And he concl�u��������d���������������������������������es: "The Qur�'an� says that 'Chil�dren are an ornament of life' and Ha�dith lit�era�ture views with favour larger families for the gre�ater strength of Ummah, and as such birth control / family plan�ning cannot be in any way com�patible with the Shari'�a�h."

������ Samiullah argues, not unconvincingly, that the Sharia position is supported by modern science.He cites findings that both the birth-control pill and vasectomy, once (or still) propag�ated as entirely harmle�ss, are in fact harmful to the concerned person's health.He also shows that the popularization of the pill and other mo�dern forms of contraception has contributed immensely to freer sexual mores in the West, or what he calls immorality.With all this, Samiul�lah has put together a battery of Islamic plus secular arguments which are bound to sound convin�cing to the Muslim mas�ses.

������ Another Indian Muslim author telling Muslim women to "shun birth control" is Muhammad Imran, whose book is published by the Markazi Maktaba Islami ("Isla�mic Educati�onal Centre"), Delhi, the leading provider of Islamic school�books.He em�phasizes that "birth control should be resorted to only in cases of extreme neces�sity, such as the wife's ill-health owing to constant births.Imam Abu Hanifa holds it makruh (abomi�nable)."He too invokes the auth�o�ri�ty of Wester������n scien�tists to dismiss it as un�healthy, and points to its "unde�rmining" effects on mor�al�ity in Wes�tern socie�ty.


4.4. The Rabita's natalism

������ The Indian Muslim authors quoted are not alon�e.���Thousa�nds� of preac�hers instil the same natal�ist resolve into their flock, even in coun�tr�ies like Egypt and Banglad�esh where this position is actual�ly subver�sive of the Government's official anti-nata�list policies: "Even in over�populated Egypt the theologi�ans reject family plan�ning, at best they merely tolerate the generally inef�fective steps which the Gover�nment take�s."�

������ The natalist and anti-contraceptive line is even defended by the world's most powerful Islamic or�ganizati�on, the Rabita al-Alam al-Is�lamiyya (World Is�lamic Leag�ue).At the UN Conference on Popul�at�ion in Cairo 1994, a number of Muslim countr�ies joined hands with the Vatican in opposing contraceptives and abortion.On the occasion of this UN conference, the Rabita called a meet�ing chai�red by the Saudi king, where a resolution was passed "against the legalization of abortion (...) against a policy of con�ceding sexual rights to adoles�cents and unmarried persons (...) against raising the marriageable age (...) We want to make it clear: the Islamic Sharia is against abortion. (...) We strongly oppose the prop�osed resolution which pleads for complete equality between man and woman."The resolution also alleges that birth control polic�ies are but a Western ploy to mask exploitative desig�ns, and conclud�es: "If the world's riches are hone�stly divid�ed, there will be enough for all, and there will be no reason to limit the number of children."

������ The Cairo Conference was a bone of contention in the Muslim world.Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia boycot�ted the Conference.The Egyp�tian Grand-Mufti Mohammed Sayed Tantawi defended the Conference against a condem�nation of its agenda by Al-Azhar unive�r�sit�y.Egyp�tian opposition newspapers at�tacked the Conference, alleging that its anti-natalist agenda would lead to all kinds of immora�lity and the unde�rmining of parental authorit�y.Thirty prominent Muslims ap�proached the courts in a failed� attempt to have the Conference banne�d.����Is�lamic spokes�men denoun�ced� the UNO plans as a conspira�����������������cy� agai�nst "the Islamic bomb, viz. the exponen�tial incre�ase of the number of Muslims worldwid�e".

������ The Sudane�����������������se Gover��nment denoun���ced the Con�ference as "a ploy to depopulate the Arab count�ries [and] to mini�mize the popul�ation increase in the Muslim world", and ap�plauded the state�ment by a professor of Al-Azhar that the Con�fere�nce inten�ded to "dest�roy the Muslim nati�on".��While some Muslims favour a realis��������tic popu�l�ation polic��������y, it is un�denia�ble that others approach the matter in terms of demog�raphic war�fare.


4.5. Why Muslim natalism?

������ The contrast in the Muslim world between the medieval tolerance of birth control and the modern opposition to it can be expla�ined.First of all, even these medieval writi�ngs on con�tra�ceptive meth�ods have never prea�ched popula�tion cont�rol as a gene�ral policy.Samiullah is probably right to the extent that he distinguishes bet�ween people's private lives, where Moha�mmed did not prohibit birth control, and public policy, where Moha�mmed took a natal�ist posit�ion.In prac�tice, birth control as con�doned by Moh�ammed and the medieval Muslim authors was never on such a scale that it en�dange�red the steady increase of the Muslim per�centage, if only because there was a cons�tant trickle of converts from the non-Muslim com�muniti�es.Most importantly, there was a situation of unchal�lenged Muslim dominati�on, not one of Muslim decline and subser�vience to other powers, as in the 20th century, nor one of permanent conf�ron�tation with a non-Muslim majority as in con�tem�porary India.

������ Demography is a bigger concern today because Islam is fighting for its survi�val, if not for world supremacy.Muhammad Samiullah is explicit about the good reason for natalism: "There is no denying the fact that the politi�cal prest�ige and military strength of a country depends upon the size of its popul�ation. (...) In the Islamic context greater populat�ion has a double sig�nifica�nce because one cannot wage an effective Jihad without an expanding popula�tion."

������ We may probably generalize that the demographic ebul�lience of Muslim com�munities is for the largest part the innocent and autom�atic result of, firstly, the age-old desire to see the tribe incre�ase, which Mohammed merely confirmed but did not in�vent; and secondly, of the status of woman in Islam, which is strongly conducive to her exclusive motherhood.However, in the pres�ent geopo�litical cir�cumst�ances, certain powerful Islamic or�ganiza�tions have added to these natural fac�tors a deliberate strategy of strength�ening the posit�ion of Islam by multiplying its num�bers.Though they do not have a monopoly on Islamic or�tho�doxy, they do influence Muslim collective behaviour to a subs�tan�tial extent, espec�ial�ly in (what is to Islam) a frontline state like India.


4.6. So, who was right?

������ The Hindu revivalists are essentially right about the ongoing subs�tan�tial incre�ase in the Muslim percentage of the Indian popul�ation.A realistic extrapolation into the future of present demogra�phic (incl�uding migratory) trends does predict a Muslim majority in the Subcon�tinent well before the end of the 21st century, and a Muslim majority in the Indian Union sometime later, but in some regions much earlier.The demogra�phic dif�ferential is not of such a magnitude that Muslims will soon outnum�ber Hindus in the whole of India; but it is large enough to create Mus�lim‑�ma�jority areas in strategic corners of the country, "two, three, many Kashmirs!"

������ Hindu revivalists who argue that Muslim have a higher birth rate, that their percentage is growing fast, and that this is the result of an intentional policy on the part of at least a section of the Muslim leade�rship, are right.It is not just that they "have a point" or that they "�deserve a hearing", no: they are nothing less than right.Only the exact quantity of the trend is a matter for dispute.

������ And why stop our conclusion with finding the Hindu position right?The data just surveyed also teach us something about the secularists who have ridiculed and thoroughly blackened the said Hindu position: they are wrong.We have not used any esoteric figures inaccessible to the common man; all these data were at the disposal of the secularists.Yet, some of them insist that the Muslim percentage will remain constant, or that the Muslim incre�ase is proportionate to relative Muslim poverty.The fact deserves to be noted: a whole class of leading intellec�tuals brutal�ly denies easily verifiable facts, i.c. the accelerating increase of the Muslim and the decrease of the Hindu per�centage, and the inten�tionality behind this Muslim demographic offensive.