Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Children As A Choice

Originally published in SISTERS Magazine, January 2013

It is a global expectation: Muslim women are pressured into marriage, pregnancy, and then more children, one after the other. Ahadeeth about the virtues of children and RasulAllah’s encouragement to procreate become a constant mantra repeated in a married Muslim woman’s ears. Should she express even a murmur of disagreement, of desperation, she is browbeaten into silence by exclamations of “How could you say such a thing!” and disapproving glares.
Allah created all mankind with different qualities and characteristics; human beings are not mass-produced robots, but individuals with different personalities and capabilities. RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came as a mercy to mankind, embracing and encouraging every person he came across to excel in what they were able to, without forcing anyone into something they could not cope with.
Unfortunately, too many Muslims have forgotten those points. Culture is merged with religion and used as a tool to force unwilling individuals to conform to strict behaviors; should anyone reject these standards, they are stigmatized and treated as deficient, or outcasts.
At some point, some Muslim societies began treating women not as individuals with various obligations to their Lord and different ways of fulfilling them, but as a monolithic group with only one role to perform: to marry, and have children – the more, the better!
While absolutely no one denies the high status of mothers in Islam, and the virtues of children, there are those who act as though it is waajib upon every married woman to have children. Those who express their desire to wait, or to limit the amount of children they have, are told that they are selfish, not following the Sunnah, do not have enough tawakkul in Allah, or that they’ve been “corrupted” by “evil Western ideas”!
However, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself gave permission to the Muslims to practice family planning, as related by Jabir (radhiAllahu anhu) who related: "We used to perform coitus interruptus during the time that the Quran was being revealed.” (Sahih Muslim)
There are so many reasons that some women do not want children, or do not want more than a few. 
 ·        Health risks. Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health – which many Muslims do not realize or acknowledge (partially because mental health issues are also considered taboo). Muslim women are told that as long as they are physically healthy, they should be reproducing. Very little thought is given to the psychological or emotional state of the woman herself!

A woman who is already having difficulties in her life, or who is not in a situation amenable to having children, should not be pressured into pregnancy, as it could weaken her eman greatly and cause further issues. 

Maryam suffered from major depression before and after her pregnancy, but was treated as though she was making it up or faking. As a result, her eman plunged and she spent the majority of her pregnancy resenting her marriage and the child growing within her.

·        Personality. Some women may be capable of physically giving birth very easily, but that doesn’t mean they have the desire to have five or ten children! Motherhood is difficult and trying; not every woman is capable of dealing with more than one or two children. In fact, there are some women who do not have any desire for children whatsoever – who are we to force something upon her which Allah did not make an obligation? Those who emphasize the barakah of children to convince reluctant women should also remember that: "And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial (fitnah) and that surely with Allah is a mighty reward." {Surah al-Anfal, 28}
Nasreen always knew that she was not the “nurturing type.” After giving birth to two children, she knew that she simply could not handle another child – she did not have the patience or the energy to be a loving mother to anyone else. Despite witnessing her struggles, Nasreen’s mother insisted that having two children was not enough, and that she should continue the tradition of having a large family.

·        Quality over Quantity. There are too many examples, within the Muslim community itself, of women who have many children but do not give their children the Islamic rights of time, attention, patience, and education that they deserve. Muslims need to remember that numbers are not sufficient, as RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) warned us: “…you shall be numerous, but you will be like the (useless) foam of the sea. (Sunan Abu Dawud) Mothers should not be overly concerned with how many children they have, but how well those children are raised in the path of Allah. If a parent cannot give one child their Islamic right to correct tarbiyah, what is the point of having four or five children who are equally uneducated?  
Tasneem already had four children before giving birth to her fifth. Unfortunately, none of the older children had any real interest in Islam, and most were involved in distasteful activities that their parents were not aware of. Tasneem felt that her duties were restricted to cooking, cleaning, and having tea with her friends rather than providing her children with a quality Islamic education. 

·        Other Acts of Worship. Motherhood entails huge sacrifices and is possibly the greatest jihad a woman will experience. This does necessitate, however, that every Muslimah is obliged to undertake it! Indeed, the ajr of adopting an orphan is far more clear-cut and known than is the fate of one who gives birth to children who may or may not be Muslim. There are many other acts of worship that Muslim women can undertake that will inshaAllah increase them in reward and barakah, and to refrain from having children (or more than a certain amount) is not tantamount to sinning. 
Iman had always wanted to adopt or foster an orphan, even before she got married. When she brought it up with her husband, he was hesitant about it but promised to consider it. When her in-laws heard about it, they were outraged and told Iman’s husband that he could never think about bringing in a stranger into their home.

·        Dreams, Ambitions, and Different Roles. It is high time that Muslims realize that women are not limited to the home and family spheres. Islamic history is rife with examples of Muslim women scholars who both were never married, or who were married but had no children, and who fulfilled many other roles in their societies. It is hypocritical for Muslims to declaim the many rights that Islam provides women, if Muslim communities do not encourage and facilitate Muslim woman to fulfill necessary roles outside of the domestic arena. 
Batool was happy with her brood of three, but now that they were growing up and in school, she longed to fulfill some of her youthful dreams. She began to research ways that she could get her degree in Social Work. However, sisters in the community would tell her that getting her degree was a “waste of time” and that it would be better for her to have another child instead. 

Although most sisters who ask other women at the masjid if “they’re ready for the next one!” have good intentions, such sisters need to keep in mind that not every woman is ready for children, whether the first or the fifth!
Rather than making du’a for a sister that she have more children, it is better to make du’a for her that Allah grant her what is best for her, and the patience and strength to face her current challenges with greater emaan.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is the mother of a 2 year old toddler whom she loves dearly, and is not looking forward to getting pregnant anytime soon.


power to the soul said...

Brilliant post, well presented.

Pixie said...

I agree with so many of the points. I am not a nruturing personality, and my one child is about all I can manage to raise correctly. Even now, the temptation to get rest and puther out in front of the TV is great, lol. I have noticed myself that I have less time to learn my religion, having to cook, cahnge and wash clothes, diapers, teach things not to with Islam. Motherhood is hard. I know some women who can raise 12 kids to be good Muslims but don't know anything about deeper Islamic issues. I doubt that I am one of those women but I do know I have a hunger for the former. Allah created us into varied souls. And why is there less emphasis on the duties of men towards their children? Their education is generally thought to be from their fathers in ahadith but culture seems to say the opposite. Alhamdulilah my husband seems very intent on this with my daughter so I have less trouble.

Mama Hen said...

Asalaamu alaikum. You know sister, I totally agree with all of your points. There are so many reasons Muslims are allowed to delay, postpone, or avoid having children.... But as a mom of six, I've actually experienced the opposite! "Ugh, is she pregnant again?" "Ugh, when is she going to stop" "Doesn't she know its not good for her body" "She's going to look so old and tired" "Enough is Enough" and so on... I wish people would just stay out of other peoples' business. How many children a couple wants is no one's business but their own.

Anonymous said...

AlSalamualaykom.. MashAllah I completely agree with everything you said its a great article. I myself am not married yet however I know myself I'm the type of person that can't handle too much of a busy lifestyle with too many children. Some women can do it and I applaud them but I dont think a huge family is for me.. InshAllah I marry someone with a similar mindset

Amal said...


I wanted to ask. What about a woman who wants to marry, but doesn't want children at all? Either because she is not emotionally or mentally capable of bearing a child. Not all women dream of becoming pregnant. It's not as glamorous as people think it is.

Please don't say she might change her mind. If she wants to have children, she can adopt. It's the pregnancy part that's scary.

My question is, is she allowed to have her "tubes tied" or get an Essure planted?

AnonyMouse said...


I personally never wanted to get pregnant, but ended up having a child anyway... alHamdulillah 'alaa kulli haal. I have already resolved that when I choose to remarry inshaAllah, I will make it extremely clear to any prospective husband that I do not desire any children.

If this is a first marriage, then I advise contraception after a serious talk with your husband. If this is a second or third marriage, and the husband agrees, then I would advise seeking the advice of a scholar as to whether it's permissible to get one's tubes tied.

Mohamed Ajmal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mohamed Ajmal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mohamed Ajmal said...

Surprised by some of the content.. To be considered as a Islamic content, we need to verify if any of these have a reference or a approval from the Salaf...

1. Health Risks - Agreed that health risks are there in pregnancy, where the fiqh clearly supports the mother than the unborn child in terms of rights. But the issue of psychological makeup seems to be a recent phenomenon, in earlier historical accounts, we do not find mention of females enmasse suffering from depression due to Pregnancy. If it is then considered as a medical ie psychological issue, then taking treatment for it is the obvious solution rather than gloating over it. As mentioned we donot find post partum depression etc in a historical context - enmasse - as is now projected by the western media.

2. Personality - If Islamic rulings are to be taken for the majority, then Quran, Sunnah and the practice of the Salaf are sufficient to prove that having more children was encouraged.The question of it being forced is a extended argument as there is also a narration encouraging to marry those who are fertile. Being a Salafi I find it resentful that verse of "children are fitnah" is brought in the context of Family Planning, which none of the Salaf or the Scholars have did.I would rather say, it is distorted analogy.

3. Quality over Quantity - This argument produced here is completely against the hadith where Prophet sal mentioned him being proud of the number of his followers on the day of judgement. That hadith clearly promotes the Quantity aspect of it. Again bring the hadith in the discussion of family planning is not correct nor the way of the Salaf.

4. Other Acts of Worship - Can you point out from which Islamic references you are basing that motherhood can be sacrificed keeping in view of other ibadah.

5. Dreams, Ambitions, and Different Roles. - Islam has not curtailed a Muslim women's dreams or ambitions, but it has placed her roles of being in the family not a sole bread winner. If at any point the dreams and ambitions require her to sacrifice Islamic ideals, its it her dreams which need to be evaluated rather than Islam being blamed.

With all due respect - giving examples or negatives - are analogy, if any of the above points have to be considered, it has to be referenced from Quran and Sunnah & from the Salaf, which is lacking completely in the article. Paraphrasing Quranic verses and Hadith out of the context they were used by the salaf is to prove that our understanding of it is better than them, which is a innovation.

Hope you would consider and edit it by giving references from the Salaf or their practices, or correct the above mistakes.

Faadiah Petersen said...

You are eloquent - but you just don't get it.
Just because "post partum depression" was not recorded by scholars of old, doesn't mean it didn't occur. My guess is, husbands were to ashamed to mention that their wives were "out of sorts".

And when did men, scholars and others, decide that it was/is their right to interpret "the average woman's capacity for successful motherhood".

The Qur'anic verse is also completely relevant to the article.
It is my opinion that those who over-rely on ancient sources of scholarship (excluding Qur'an and authentic ahadith), don't have the courage to deal with the realities of life today.

I shall stand before Allah on my own, and will have to answer for what had been recorded in my book.

Fathers provide sperm - while mothers are responsible for everything else - by right therefore, a mother should have a greater say in how she will exercise all her responsibilities.

Angel101 said...

It would be interesting to see your response to the above points, sister feminist salafi 😀

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the sisters points. But not the advise given here or the message it carries forward to sisters who wish to have that choice. The sister seems to be sidelining the fact that the life is shared between a wife and a husband. A western Muslim husband may well agree and compromise significantly in that favour without much debate for obvious reasons but most likely not Arabs, Asians or Africans etc.

I believe, the advise should've tilted more towards how a sister can potentially create a dialogue around the issue with her husband so there is a chance for discussion rather than 'it is my body, my choice' type conflict.

Furthermore, labeling a movement that started some what out of rightful frustration and now has become some what a distant shadow of what it once stood for as a 'Salafi' is beyond me but hey it's a choice and that must be respected even if not accepted.

Mohammed Sanaan said...

Why are Mr Ajmal's comments being removed ?

Anonymous said...

Really? A Salafi Feminist? That's oxymoronic! The place of women in traditional Islam is de facto subordinate to that of men.

But I must confess that if truly the author is Salafi, then her article represents a departure from the Salafi ideology. I guess fellow Salafis will say something like:

"Sister, this is how it starts - questioning the opinions of the Salafs until you eventually question the Hadith and then the Quran and then the existence of God himself. You're on your way out of Islam if you care to know."

But it's good news people are waking up. I wish the author a hitch-free journey to a complete intellectual awakening.

More grease to your elbow!

PS: Be careful with such articles as this. You might end up being labelled a blasphemer, apostate, Kaafir etc on the internet.

Anonymous said...

I agree!