Zaheer Ahmad Khan, UK
Birth control and the termination of a pregnancy have always been sensitive topics in most cultures. Throughout history, there have been a variety of reasons for the prevention of procreation, or for the termination of pregnancies. Whilst this has always been and is a crucial topic, currently it has taken an even more global focus, with events in the US and other places, bringing it into headline news. Our purpose here is to outline Islam’s teachings on abortion and birth control.
Irrespective of the era, one of the biggest reasons cited for either abortion or birth control is poverty and a lack of sustenance.
Distinguishing Between Birth Control and Abortion
Whilst stating the difference between birth control and abortion, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Caliph (rh) and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has given a detailed explanation, which is important to quote here. He says:
‘Abortion and birth control are two different things. Birth control applies to a situation where a child has not taken root as an embryo. To prevent such happenings is called birth control. But once the child has been rooted in the uterus of the womb it begins to grow – that is called abortion if you abort such a child. Islamic attitude on both these things are very clear. As far as birth control is concerned, Islam is not against it. Provided, the birth control is not for the fear that the family will be left without food if there are more mouths created to eat and share the food, Islam totally rejects it and inhibits birth control for this reason, and only for this reason. For other genuine reasons, birth control is not forbidden.
So, you see, in the early society of the Holy Founder of Islam (sa), people used to exercise birth control in the sense that they would take whatever way is available to them not to make their wives pregnant, and this is called “Azl” in Arabic. This was common knowledge, and everybody did it, but the question of doing it for the sake of “saving one’s food” and not permitting other mouths to share it, this is dejected by God very strongly…For every other genuine reason, it is not forbidden. For the reason of health of ladies, for instance, for the reason of upkeeping of children, for instance, no birth control is forbidden.’
The Fourth Caliph (rh) further states:
‘Now I turn to the question of abortion. According to the Qur’anic teaching, abortion can take place at an early stage when the child is not given a real, genuine identity of its own and that happens at four and a half months, according to doctors. Almost at half time of pregnancy, suddenly the child gains a sort of inner consciousness and is granted an independent soul of its own. There are two periods, one of that stage and one of the previous stage. In the previous stage, if a woman – that is a would-be mother – feels that she cannot carry the load, and is disturbed by the inner symptoms of pregnancy, she is free to get her child aborted, which has not yet become a real child; it is a potential child, [it] could have become a child, but has not yet been given an independent identity. So, abortion at this early stage is less dubious. Women can go to doctors and tell them that we feel that this is too much for us, so examine us, and if you think you agree with us to remove the child, this is not a religious crime in Islam. But when, at a later stage, the child has gained its own independent identity, that is to say if he is delivered in that stage he can be brought up under incubation as a regular human, but prior to that stage if something is aborted it can never be taken care of under any incubation, these are two different stages. So, at that stage, the attitude of Islam regarding abortion stiffens, according to Islam. Unless doctors tell a lady that it is a danger to her life, if you do not abort this child it may pose a real danger to your own life, then Islam has no objection against abortion. But for other, lesser reasons, Islam does not support abortion.’
God’s Fundamental Teaching About Birth Control and Abortion
Islam is a complete religion and its teachings are to be implemented until the end of times. It is a source of guidance and has given a fundamental teaching with regards to birth control and abortion. Allah the Almighty states:
اِنَّ رَبَّکَ یَبۡسُطُ الرِّزۡقَ لِمَنۡ یَّشَآءُ وَیَقۡدِرُ ؕ اِنَّہٗ کَانَ بِعِبَادِہٖ خَبِیۡرًا بَصِیۡرًا وَلَا تَقۡتُلُوۡا اَوۡلَادَکُمۡ خَشۡیَۃَ اِمۡلَاقٍ ؕ نَحۡنُ نَرۡزُقُھُمۡ وَاِیَّاکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ قَتۡلَھُمۡ کَانَ خِطۡاً کَبِیۡرًا وَلَا تَقۡرَبُوا الزِّنٰی اِنَّہٗ کَانَ فَاحِشَۃً ؕ وَسَآءَ سَبِیۡلً وَلَا تَقۡتُلُوا النَّفۡسَ الَّتِیۡ حَرَّمَ اللّٰہُ اِلَّا بِالۡحَقِّ ؕ وَمَنۡ قُتِلَ مَظۡلُوۡمًا فَقَدۡ جَعَلۡنَا لِوَلِیِّہٖ سُلۡطٰنًا فَلَا یُسۡرِفۡ فِّی الۡقَتۡلِ ؕ اِنَّہٗ کَانَ مَنۡصُوۡرًا
‘Surely, thy Lord enlarges His provision for whom He pleases, and straitens it for whom He pleases. Verily, He knows and sees His servants full well. Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We Who provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin. And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way. And kill not the soul which Allah has forbidden save for just cause. And whoso is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation, but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying; for therein he is helped by law.’ (17:31-34)
People can be very limited in their scope of thinking, and due to their shortsightedness, some may believe that if there are too many children then they will be unable to take care of their needs. However, they forget that the true Provider and the Lord of All the Worlds is Allah the Almighty, Who provided for those who came before and will continue to do so. In fact, if there are more children, it can lead to the future end of poverty altogether. Hence, while commenting on the verse above, the First Caliph (ra) mentions the same topic and states:
‘Humans possess the ability to become angry; when this exceeds the limits, it manifests in various forms. An angry person curses and kills their progeny – which is predominantly owing to their misdeeds. Then, there is also the fear of poverty, just as these days, there are some who claim that they do not wish to have many children as that is the reason for the nation’s poor state…I would be a great disbeliever if I were to think that their survival is dependent upon my wealth, whereas Allah the Almighty states:
وَلَا تَقۡتُلُوۡا اَوۡلَادَکُمۡ خَشۡیَۃَ اِمۡلَاقٍ ؕ نَحۡنُ نَرۡزُقُھُمۡ وَاِیَّاکُمۡ
[“Kill not your children for fear of poverty. It is We Who provide for them and for you”] (17:32)
When God has promised to provide, then why should I worry?’
On the same topic, the Fourth Caliph (rh) stated the following:
‘To kill out of fear of being poor means that one should not employ the use of family planning for fear that they will have many children ultimately resulting in the lessening of their provisions. In fact, the solution for poor nations is to have many children. If there are many children, then they become compelled to travel and migrate outside of the country and much of the wealth which comes in to poor nations from foreign nations stems from there being an increased number of children. The second meaning is that at times, the Companions would use family planning, but not for fear of increased progeny, for they knew that it was in Allah’s hands to provide. Therefore, if family planning is not employed out of fear of provisions, then there is no harm in it. In that case, the standard practices can be adopted, however family planning for fear of one’s provisions is indeed forbidden.’
With regards to birth control and abortion, Allah the Almighty states at another instance:
قُلۡ تَعَالَوۡا اَتۡلُ مَا حَرَّمَ رَبُّکُمۡ عَلَیۡکُمۡ اَلَّا تُشۡرِکُوۡا بِہٖ شَیۡئًا وَّبِالۡوَالِدَیۡنِ اِحۡسَانًا ۚ وَلَا تَقۡتُلُوۡا اَوۡلَادَکُمۡ مِّنۡ اِمۡلَاقٍ ؕ نَحۡنُ نَرۡزُقُکُمۡ وَاِیَّاھُمۡ ۚ وَلَا تَقۡرَبُوا الۡفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَھَرَ مِنۡھَا وَمَا بَطَنَ ۚ وَلَا تَقۡتُلُوا النَّفۡسَ الَّتِیۡ حَرَّمَ اللّٰہُ اِلَّا بِالۡحَقِّ ؕ ذٰلِکُمۡ وَصّٰکُمۡ بِہٖ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ
‘Say, “Come, I will rehearse to you what your Lord has forbidden: that you associate not anything as partner with Him and that you do good to parents, and that you kill not your children for fear of poverty—it is We Who provide for you and for them—and that you approach not foul deeds, whether open or secret; and that you kill not the life which Allah has made sacred, save by right. That is what He has enjoined upon you, that you may understand.”’ (6:152)
If we look closely at the aforementioned verses of Surah Bani Isra’il [Chapter 17] and Surah Al-An’am [Chapter 6], we see that Allah the Almighty has reminded us of three highly important facts:
- Firstly, we are reminded that God Almighty is the Provider. Just as He provided for humankind in all eras before, so will He provide for new life that is to come. For this reason, you should not prevent the birth of your child solely for fear that you may not be able to provide for them. To do so is to repudiate Allah the Almighty’s attribute as the Provider, which is sinful and forbidden.
- Secondly, we are reminded that for the propagation of the human race, men and women should only engage in copulation that is permissible and abstain from illicit sexual intercourse, because such activities lead one down a path of manifest evil and immodesty.
- Thirdly, we are reminded of is that if Allah the Almighty has not deemed it lawful to terminate a life, then to end that life without the permission of the Shari’ah and law is a grave mistake and sin.
In these verses, Allah the Almighty has imparted three principles regarding birth control and abortion. The propagation of the human race is only allowed by the methods that have been made lawful. If a husband and wife are using birth control or must get an abortion out of necessity, then it should not be for fear of a lack of provisions or becoming poor. Finally, no one has the right to terminate a life without cause.
The Holy Prophet’s (sa) Guidance About Birth Control
As far as contraception, or birth control is concerned, we find guidance from the Holy Prophet (sa) in the following narration. Hazrat Abu Sa’id Khudri (ra) narrates:
فِي غَزْوَةِ بَنِي الْمُصْطَلِقِ أَنَّھُمْ أَصَابُوا سَبَايَا فَأَرَادُوا أَنْ يَسْتَمْتِعُوا بِھِنَّ وَلَا يَحْمِلْنَ فَسَأَلُوا النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ الْعَزْلِ فَقَالَ مَا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ لَا تَفْعَلُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ كَتَبَ مَنْ هُوَ خَالِقٌ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ۔
‘When the people received handmaids from the spoils obtained after the expedition of Banu Mustaliq and desired to copulate with them whilst avoiding impregnation, they inquired from the Holy Prophet (sa) about coitus interruptus (Azl). In response, the Holy Prophet (sa) said, “Even if you do not perform coitus interruptus, it will cause you no harm for Allah has written the names of all who will be born until the Day of Judgement.”’
The Holy Prophet (sa) did not deem coitus interruptus unlawful, however, he also made it clear to the companions that God Almighty possesses power over all things. For this reason, if He so desires to bring life into this world, that child will be born whether coitus interruptus is practiced or not.
Apart from handmaids, there is also guidance found from the Holy Prophet (sa) regarding coitus interruptus with one’s wife, in which the Holy Prophet (sa) clearly states that it is forbidden to perform coitus interruptus without the permission of one’s wife. As such, Hazrat Umar (ra) narrates:
قَالَ نَھَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَنْ يُعْزَلَ عَنْ الْحُرَّةِ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِھَا۔
‘The Holy Prophet (sa) has forbidden coitus interruptus without the permission with one’s wife who is a free woman.’
Whilst elaborating on the two aforementioned Ahadith [sayings of the Holy Prophet (sa)], Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) writes:
‘The Holy Prophet (sa) declared that on the basis of necessity or wisdom, it is lawful for a man to employ any such method by which his wife does not become pregnant as a result of intercourse. In light of this edict, it is permissible for a Muslim to employ birth control for the health and well-being of his wife or children, or for any other genuine purpose. However, as derived from a Qur’anic verse, Islam does not permit the use of birth control for the fear of poverty or financial difficulty, nor does it permit the use of such methods without the wife’s permission.’
The Relationship Between a Husband and Wife
In respect to the relationship of a husband and wife, Allah the Almighty states:
نِسَآؤُکُمۡ حَرۡثٌ لَّکُمۡ ۪ فَاۡتُوۡا حَرۡثَکُمۡ اَنّٰی شِئۡتُمۡ ۫ وَقَدِّمُوۡا لِاَنۡفُسِکُمۡ ؕ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ وَاعۡلَمُوۡا اَنَّکُمۡ مُّلٰقُوۡہُ ؕ وَبَشِّرِ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ
‘Your wives are a tilth for you; so approach your tilth when and how you like and send ahead for yourselves; and fear Allah and know that you shall meet Him; and give good tidings to those who obey.’ (2:224)
In accordance with the prophesies of our Holy Master and Chosen One, Muhammad (sa), Islam was revived in this era with the advent of the Judge and Arbiter, the Promised Messiah (as). In his ever-insightful commentary of this verse, he states:
‘Your women are your tilth for yielding your offspring. Thus, approach your tilth in whatever manner you please. Bear this similitude of a tilth in mind; in other words, do not copulate with them in a manner that prevents the conception of a child. In early Islam, some men would restrain themselves from ejaculating and would ejaculate after withdrawing themselves. This verse has forbidden them from doing so and has thus regarded women as a tilth – land which yields every type of produce. Thus, in this verse God has unequivocally stated that because a woman is likened to a tilth that yields offspring as its produce, it is impermissible to prevent this tilth from bearing children. Indeed, if the woman is ill and it is certain that pregnancy will risk her death and if there are any other preventative factors then these would be considered as exemptions. Otherwise, according to Islamic law, it is unlawful to practice birth control.’
It is evidently clear from these words of the Promised Messiah (as) that the Holy Qur’an has declared abortion for fear of poverty and lack of provision to be unlawful. Apart from this, if for any other reason that is legitimate reason someone decides to have an abortion then it is permissible.
The Second Caliph (ra) makes several deductions in light of this verse. He states:
‘In this verse, the following matters have been stated:
- Permission for intercourse between male and female has been given, but this has been mentioned in a subtle manner. That is to say, by referring to the woman as a tilth, it has been conveyed that what humans can practically do is limited and in order to widen the scope of their output, the human race should be propagated. Thus, just as a farmer does not leave his land as it is, why would you leave those means by which you can attain fruits? If you do not adopt this [practice], you are wasting your seed, as it were.
- The second point derived from this is that man should establish [physical] relations with a woman in a manner that does not diminish their faculties, nor the man’s. If too many seeds are sown in the land, then the seeds become spoilt and if the land is continuously cultivated, then the land becomes spoilt. Hence, it is stated that this should all be done within reasonable limits. Just as a wise farmer utilises his land in an intelligent manner and assesses as to how many seeds should be sown and the extent to which the land should be harvested, one ought to adopt the same principle.
It is also evident from this verse that those who claim that it is necessary to procreate under all circumstances and consider birth control to be impressible, are wrong. If, after having harvested the crop, the land is immediately cultivated again, the subsequent crop would not be of a good quality and the third yield would be of even lesser quality. Islam does not prohibit one from procreating, in fact it commands it, but at the same time it enjoins that the Divine laws which one adheres to for the cultivation of their land should also be kept in mind when it comes to procreation. An astute farmer does not utilise his land to such an extent that it deteriorates, or the land becomes infertile, or that he loses his own strength and is not even able to harvest the crops, or the crops become spoilt. In the same manner, one ought to show consideration to their wives. If one is unable to facilitate a good upbringing for their children or the wife’s health could be endangered, then one should abstain from procreating.’
The aforementioned extract of the Second Caliph (ra) is a strong argument in favour of birth control owing to legitimate reasons and also a beautiful commentary of the verse of the Holy Qur’an.
Birth control is also permissible if there is a risk that the child could be born with mental or physical disabilities. In relation to this, the Second Caliph (ra) has stated,
‘In my view, birth control is not permitted for fear of poverty. However, it is permissible if there is danger to the health of the child or the mother. For example, if there is a risk that the child could be born with mental or physical disabilities, or if the woman’s health is so weak that giving birth could risk her life. In such circumstances, one can utilise birth control. However, in general, the main reason cited by those who are proponents of birth control is fear of poverty.
The fact is that under normal circumstances, the human mind cannot reach the same potential as it does in the face of challenges or difficulties. Those who are proponents of birth control fail to recognise this and claim that if the world’s population increased exponentially then how would they be able to provide for its sustenance? In fact, when such circumstances arise, God Almighty shall provide the means and He will enable the human mind to attain the capability which is necessary for resolving that difficulty…Their ill-thinking of God Almighty forms the basis of their theory for they think that God Almighty is not able to provide for such a vast population, nor is He able to fulfil its various other needs. However, those who believe in God Almighty and His powers cannot even entertain such a thought.’
Not only is birth control permissible on the grounds of legitimate reasons, but in fact, even in the last stages of pregnancy when the birth of the child is very close, if the doctors are of the view that the mother’s life could be at risk by giving birth then according to Islam, it is permissible to abort the child. In relation to this, the Second Caliph (ra) states,
‘It is wrong to abstain from procreating simply because of the fear of how one would be able to provide for their children. In light of this, abstaining from procreation would be akin to killing one’s children and the killing of one’s children is unlawful in all circumstances and a grave ill. Thus, it is impermissible for one to kill their children, in other words, to adopt birth control owing to the fear of poverty. However, in certain cases, it is permissible as well. For example, if the woman is not in good health, then it would be permissible to adopt birth control. The reason why birth control is prohibited [for fear of poverty] is because it would be based merely on an assumption. Thus, to adopt birth control for such reasons is prohibited. However, it is not prohibited to adopt birth control in instances where there is an obvious and established risk.
Apart from birth control, there are instances where even after the development of the fetus, the pregnancy can be terminated. For example, if there is a risk that the natural birth of the child could prove fatal for the mother. In such a case it would be permissible to abort the pregnancy. This is because it cannot be said for certain whether the child would survive after its birth, however the mother is already a valuable member of the society. Thus, a definite loss would be given priority over a possible loss and the child would be aborted.’
Commenting on a report of Majlis Ifta [Department of Jurisprudence] on the issue of abortion, His Holiness, the Fifth Caliph (aba) stated,
‘Apart from illness and risk to life, there are some other instances as well whereby abortion is permitted. However, it is completely forbidden to have an abortion owing to خَشۡيَةَ إِمۡلَٰقٖ [fear of poverty].’
Recently in a programme on MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya) a question was asked as to whether Islam permits abortion in the case of rape or if there is risk to the mother’s or child’s health. Answering this question, His Holiness, the Fifth Caliph (aba) stated,
‘That is the burning issue in the United States, nowadays. Islam says that you should not kill your children because of the fear of their upbringing or because of finances. That is the only thing which Islam prohibits for abortion. Otherwise, Islam says that if the health of the woman is not good, they can do abortion; if the baby is not properly developing, they can do abortion, even from the fetus stage to the later stage. So, in the case of rape, also, if the woman likes that she cannot bear the burden of this child because of the society, they will raise fingers at her all the time, and even if the child is born, the child will also face difficulties in his or her environment, then the mother can decide to get it aborted. Islam permits it.
But not because [of the reason] that how can I take care of the child? This is the only thing. Allah says that ‘I provide you for your wellbeing, I provide you your food and I am the Provider.’’
In conclusion, based on Islamic teachings, it is prohibited and unlawful to adopt birth control or have an abortion over the fear of a lack of provisions. In accordance with the guidance of the Holy Prophet (sa), every individual can make their own judgment based on their individual circumstances as to whether they have legitimate grounds for birth control or abortion. The Promised Messiah (as), the Judge and Arbiter of this age, whose advent was in accordance with prophecies made by the Holy Prophet (sa), has very comprehensively explained this matter in the following words,
‘Likewise, providing one’s intentions are pure, if there are any other preventative factors then these would also be considered as exemptions.’
In normal circumstances, it is necessary for both the husband and wife to be in mutual agreement because the Holy Qur’an states,
لَا تُضَآرَّ وَٰلِدَةُ بِوَلَدِهَا وَلَا مَوۡلُودٞ لَّهُۥ بِوَلَدِهِ
‘…The mother shall not make the father suffer on account of her child, nor shall he to whom the child belongs make the mother suffer on account of his child…’ (2:234).
The child has a relation with both the mother and father, therefore both parents have an equal say in relation to their child.
However, in the case of adultery and rape, just as His Holiness (aba) has already explained, the mother would need to decide as to the best course of action based on her personal circumstances and in view of her future.
With regards to decisions based on medical grounds, doctors would be able to decide best. If the birth of the child poses a risk to the mother’s life or could cause complications for the child, then the decision of aborting the child would be ultimately for the doctors to make based on their medical expertise.
About the Author: Zaheer Ahmad Khan is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who has specialised in the field of Islamic Jurisprudence [Fiqah]. Amongst his various responsibilities, he is a senior lecturer at Jamia Ahmadiyya UK in the subjects of Hadith and Fiqah, where he also serves as the Head of the Academics Committee. He is also a member of Dar-ul-Qaza [Ahmadiyya Arbitration Council] and regularly appears on MTA International as a panellist on programmes related to Islamic Jurisprudence.
 Referring to coitus interruptus
 Question & Answer Session in Germany, 31 August 1998
 Haqa’iq al-Furqan Vol. 2 pp. 532-533
 Al Fazl International 22-28 February 2002 p. 6
 For further reading on the subject of ‘handmaidens’ refer to The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets (sa) Vol. 2 p. 227
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tauhid, bab Qaul Allah hua-Allah al-Khaliq al-Bari’ al-Musawwir
 Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Nikah, bab al-‘Azl
 Life and Character of the Seal of Prophet (sa), Vol. 2, p. 445
 Chashma-e-Ma’rifat, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 23, p. 292
 Fazail-ul-Quran, No. 3, Anwar-ul-Uloom, Vol. 11, pp. 605-606
 Al-Fazl Qadian, No. 145, Vol. 20, 6th June 1933, p. 7
 Tafsir-e-Kabir [Surah Bani Israel], Vol. 4, p. 327
 Letter of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) addressed to the President of Majlis Ifta on 05.05.04
 This Week with Huzoor, 3rd June 2022