How Islam views birth control, abortion and adoption
In this article we take a look at Islam’s stance on birth control, abortion and adoption. Whilst we understand that birth control may be the main topic of interest to readers, it is also worth noting Islam’s views on abortion and adoption.
Birth control (Tanzim Al-Haml)
As procreation is the main objective of marriage, and Islam encourages having many children, birth control is permitted for valid reasons only. These reasons include:
- if pregnancy or delivery of a baby would threaten the life of the mother;
- to allow an appropriate gap between children, especially if the mother is still breastfeeding a child. Islam considers the ideal period between having children to be thirty months, or thirty-six months if the mother breastfeeds until her baby reaches two years old, the maximum period of suckling an infant;
- if the married couple are very young and not yet mature enough to start a family;
- if one or both spouses are students and having a child would cause them difficulties.
However, the use of birth control can be deemed haram under the following circumstances:
- if birth control is intended as a permanent solution and any form of birth control that can lead to permanent sterility is forbidden. Permanent sterilisation, such as hysterectomy or vasectomy, can only take place if medically necessary;
- if it is used because the couple fears that they will not be able to afford to provide for a child for this suggests a lack of faith in Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Taala سبحانه و تعالى) to provide for couple and their offspring;
- if a method of birth control is used that allows conception but causes an early abortion, such as the morning-after pill.
Whilst it is not haram, Islam looks unfavourably upon spouses who wish to delay starting a family merely for enjoyment of each other.
Birth control has been used since Islam began, the most common method being withdrawal (azl, coitus interruptus). Azl is permitted by all Islamic schools of law; however a man’s wife should consent to this, because it may impair her sexual satisfaction. A number of Ahadith indicate that the Prophet Muhammad (ṣall Allahu ʿalayhi wa sallam صلى الله عليه وسلم) knew that birth control was being practised and approved of it in appropriate situations.
There is some discussion as to whether the Qur’an allows or prohibits abortion; however all Islamic schools of law agree that abortion should be permitted if the life of the mother is in danger and most agree to termination of the foetus should it have a defect or deformity which would compromise its ability to lead a normal life. In the latter case, two medical opinions confirming this are required before the abortion can be performed.
Abortion without good reason (for example, as a method of birth control) is considered a sin, which increases as the length of time since conception increases. Although it is not a punishable sin, those who carried out the procedure and the parents who allowed it to take place or even requested it are considered guilty of it. An exception to this rule applies to women who have been raped and have become pregnant as a result of the crime against them.
Even in permitted cases, Islam forbids abortion once the Ruh (soul) has been given to the foetus. There is some argument about when this is; some schools say 120 days; some say 40 days; others say that the Ruh is given at conception; and others suggest that it takes place when the foetus first begins to move voluntarily. In any case, 120 days is the latest point at which an abortion can be legally performed.
Although Muslims are permitted to look after and provide for children who are not their own, the adoption of these children is prohibited.
In Western countries, where adoption is common practice, the adopted babies or children take the name of the family that adopts them. The majority of these children have no contact with their real parents and do not know who they are. They may, unknowingly, come into contact with their birth families and, in some cases, can end up marrying a sibling because they are unaware of their true heritage.
Islam prevents this problem by placing great significance on the name of a child and thus ensuring that lineage is traceable. Names are important in Islam as many laws relate to blood relationships; these include marriage, custody and inheritance, among others. This is also one of the reasons why women keep their names after marriage, unlike their Western counterparts.
Thus, the relationship between guardian and child is more of a foster relationship, where the adults do not replace the biological family but perform an extremely valued role in looking after a child who will always belong to someone else. The child who is raised by “parents” who are not blood relations is not permitted to inherit from them; however he or she may marry “relatives” created by this bond.
Even if a child has been abandoned and its father is not known, he or she may not be named after the family that takes him or her in.
“Nor has He made your adopted sons your (biological) sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers; that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if you know not their father's (names, call them) your brothers in faith, or your trustees. But there is no blame on you if you make a mistake therein. (What counts is) the intention of your hearts. And Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.” [Qur'an 33:4-5]
However, the extended Muslim family is usually very large in size and it is rare that an orphaned child cannot be looked after within the family.