By Hamis Kaheru
The just released final results of the 2002 population and housing census show Muslims are the smallest group among the three major religious denominations. This is in spite of the fact that Muslims have larger families mainly because of polygamy.
Islamic scholars have argued a small Muslim population explains why Muslims are reluctant to practice family planning. Yet, Muslims are usually looking for ways of increasing their number. For example, it is believed a Muslim who marries a non-Muslim and converts the spouse to Islam enters the good books of God.
Oustath Khalifa Jammeh from Gambia says some Muslim preachers have argued family planning is prohibited because of concerns about the size of the Muslim population. Such preachers cite the Hadith (sayings) of Prophet Muhammed which says, â€œMarry and multiply, for I will make a display of you on judgment day.â€
In a paper titled Islam and Family Planning, Jammeh says some Muslim preachers have also used the Koran to condemn the use of contraceptives or other family planning methods as infanticide.
One verse says, â€œDo not kill your children in fear of poverty, we shall provide for them and you, killing them is a big sin (Suratul Israh, 17:31). Other scholars use this verse to argue family planning is allowed except economic (poverty) ones.
Jammeh says injection or withdrawal is not tantamount to the killing of the off-spring and, therefore, Surat Israh (17:31) should not be used to discourage family planning. â€œSemen is not yet a human being before 120 days in the womb,â€ he argues.
He says the correct interpretation of this Koranic verse could be arrived at from an understanding of the ways of an ignorant Arabian society known as â€œArab Jahilliyyaâ€. This society, he says, used to kill male babies for fear of poverty and baby girls were buried alive to avoid disgrace. Subsequently, Allah revealed Suratul Israh (17:31) to put a stop to that evil practice, but not to stop family planning.
The withdrawal method was reportedly being used during the time of Prophet Muhammed while the Koran was being revealed. One of the prophetâ€™s companions, Jabir Ibn Abdullah, reportedly said, â€œWe used to practice withdrawal while the Koran was being revealed. If the practice were to have been prohibited, the Koran would have prohibited it.â€
The question of whether family planning is acceptable in Islam arose at a recent conference of Imams, Islamic leaders, scholars and women activists in Abuja, Nigeria.
The conference had to look at the definition of family planning first. It was defined, according to the report of the World Congress held in Rabat in 1971, as â€œuse by both partners, in collaboration, of legal means to delay a pregnancy or to hasten it, taking into account their medical, social and economic situation, in the framework of their liability towards their children and their very individuals.â€
Ibrahima Diop Braham, a Senegalese scholar, said nothing in the Sharia prohibits family planning.
However, a distinction was made between family planning and birth control. Family planning is child-spacing while birth control is to stop giving birth after attaining the desired number of children. Muslim scholars said birth control is prohibited in Islam.
Barham identified the chief motivations for family planning as economic, cultural and health.
There have been sharp differences on economic considerations and poverty in particular. Some scholars argued Suratul Israh (17:31) mentioned above meant God would provide for everyone. Poverty was disallowed.
After a heated debate, participants agreed family planning is acceptable to Islam. A declaration issued at the end of the five-day conference said, â€œPeople can adopt all modern and contemporary methods that are medically soundâ€ but added that â€œabortion is not a method of family planning.â€ Thus family planning is allowed in Islam only if a woman has close pregnancies or is medically weak, but not because a man is poor. It is legal to use contraceptives, but not to put a permanent stop on giving birth to determine the size of the family.
The writer is a journalist