the ruling of using birth control
What is the ruling of using birth control?
There are two principle sources for rulings in Islam: the Holy Qur’an and the honorable Prophetic sunna. This is indicated in the words of the Messenger :
I have left you two things which, if you hold on to them, you will never go astray: the Book of Allah and my sunna. They will not part until passing over the trough on the Day of Judgment.1
Through comprehensively reading the verses of the Noble Qur’an we notice that is no text explicitly prohibits reducing or preventing the possibility of conception. Rather, what it does include is that maintaining progeny is a necessary objective in legal rulings.
However, the Sahih and other books of hadith mention narrations permitting ‘azl [coitus interruptus, also known as withdrawal or the pull out method], meaning that the man ejaculates his semen outside his wife’s vagina after sexual penetration but before orgasm. Muslim relates that Jaber bin ‘Abdullah said:
We practiced ‘azl during the time of the Messenger , when the Qur‘an was being revealed.2
We practiced ‘azl during the time of the Messenger . [News of] this reached the Prophet and did not forbid it.
Legists have held different opinions on the permissibility and offensiveness of ‘azl (according to what was described above) as method of contraception and limiting the number of offspring. Imam al-Ghazali writes in his book Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, in the section concerning the etiquette of marriage, concerning the ruling of ‘azl, that scholars have held four different opinions concerning its permissibility and offensiveness: some permit ’azl in all instances; some prohibit it in all instances; others permit it only when the wife consents; while others permit its practice with slave girls but not with the wives who are free of slavery. al-Ghazali then says: “the valid opinion with us [meaning the Shafi‘i school] is that it is permissible."
Legists from the various schools have almost reached an agreement that ‘azl, i.e. attempting to prevent the husband’s sperm from reaching his wife’s ovum, is permissible with the couple’s mutual agreement. It is not permissible for either of them to practice it without the other’s agreement. The evidence for this being permissible is what has been mentioned in the books of Prophetic hadith: that the Companions practiced ’azl with their wives and slave-girls during the time of the Messenger , and that news of this reached him and he did not forbid it 3.
If this be so, the permissibility of birth control does not contradict the Prophetic texts since it is analogous to ‘azl which was performed and permissible during the time of the Messenger of Allah - just as Imam Muslim has mentioned in a narration from Jabir bin ‘Abdullah, who said: “We practiced ‘azl during the time of the Messenger , when the Qur‘an was being revealed," Bukhari included a narration in his Sahih.
The objective of family planning - following this meaning - is: spacing out pregnancies, preserving the mother’s health, protecting her against numerous harm resulting from frequent pregnancies and sequential deliveries, or allowing the mother time to devote herself to raising her existing offspring. However, it is mentioned in al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din and al-Shawkani’s Nayl al-Awtar that matters which promote using ‘azl include looking after the interest of an infant and fearing pregnancy while nursing, avoiding having many children, and avoiding having them in the first place.
However, birth control as a permanent means of ending the possibility of conception contradicts Islam and its objective of preserving human procreation until whatever time Allah sees fit. Allah says:
Do not kill your children for fear of poverty—We shall provide for them and for you. [17:31]
This does not contradict the opinion of the majority of Muslim legists who have stated that it is permissible to use ‘azl to delay pregnancy, or temporarily suspending it for a legitimate reason; since this verse concerns forbidding infanticide. Prevention of pregnancy by preventing fertilization, which is the first step in an embryo’s formation, is not considered murder since the embryo will not yet have been formed if ‘azl has been used and the husband’s sperm has not reached the wife’s ovum, since the sperm and egg have not changed and passed through the developmental stages mentioned - and Allah knows best - when Allah says:
We created man from an essence of clay, then we placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. [23:12-13]
This is further clarified by a hadith narrated by ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud who said that the Messenger of Allah , who is the truthful and the believed, told us that:
The creation of each one of you is brought together in the womb of his mother in forty days and nights, then he becomes a blood clot for a similar period, and then a morsel of flesh for a similar period. An angel is then sent to him with the command of writing four words: his livelihood, life span, deeds, and whether happy or unhappy; and then blows the breath of life into him. So one of you may behave like the people of Paradise until there is but an arms length between him and Paradise, but what which has been decreed overtakes him and so he starts behaving like the people of Hellfire and thus he enters it. And one of you may behave like people of Hellfire until there is but an arms length between him and it, but what that which has been decreed overtakes him and so he behaves like the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.
4 . Based on the above, it is permissible to use anything that does not lead to killing the embryo after its formation - in any stage of its development, no matter how early.
Allah the Almighty knows best.