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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

Division over family planning

By P.M. Damodaran

Lucknow: The Muslim community and the all-powerful All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) are sharply divided over whether the family planning methods have the sanction of the Islamic doctrines. The controversy arose after the AIMPLB vice-president and a prominent Shia leader, Syed Kalbe Sadiq announced that the Board might discuss steps to promote family planning at its next executive meeting to be held at Kozhikode in December. But many other members of the Board did not agree with his views.

TOI misquotes Prof Ansari 
Prof. Iqbal Ansari issued the following statement: 
In the wake of the publication of census data, the issue of the need and permissibility of family planning for Indian Muslims is being debated in the press. The Times of India of September 16 (p.7 col.3) has attributed to me the statement that the Prophet spoke of “exercising restraint and managing family size,” which is not true. I have issued the following clarification:

What I really stated was that “during the Prophet’s time people practiced ‘coitus interruptus’ to prevent undesirable birth; and although they were curious about its religious permissibility, no definitive injunction against it was proclaimed either through God’s revelation or by the Prophet himself. This silence implied that the practice lay in the domain of the permissible. There was no question of the Prophet advising the people “to manage family size”. On the contrary I stated that like other religions, Islam has been traditionally poronatality.

However in view of the fact that the Quran and the Prophet did not impose any clear prohibition, the conclusion has been rightly drawn by many renowned Islamic scholars like Imam Ghazali in the past and many others in our times that using reversible, temporary contraceptive devices lay in the realm of the permissible. However small family cannot be treated as a desirable norm for all people in all situations, even in India.

Use of sterilization should not be taken recourse to except when medically advisable. Moreover, any coercion including disincentives like denying some civil or political rights to those who have more than two children is violative of human rights norms and should not be adopted as a policy by any democratic government. I must add that those Ulama and Muslim religious fanatics who are opposing voluntary adoption of contraceptive devices as unIslamic need to revise their opinion
.

Maulana Sadiq, who belongs to Lucknow, at a press conference in New Delhi recently said that it was wrong to assume that Islam was against family planning and that the Board was shying away from the issue. Syed Sadiq clarified that Islam was not against family planning and to buttress his claim, he pointed out that Islamic country like Iran had achieved zero per cent population growth. The Maulana even went to the extent of suggesting that the community was ready to work with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to find solutions to the problem ‘as long as it did not involve murder and assassination’. 

Syed Sadiq hoped that if the ulema, maulvis and the Board appealed in favour of family planning, it would definitely have some effect. He, however, admitted that certain sections in the community had encouraged people to have more children. The Shia leader urged all sections of the people not to politicize the issue.

Maulana Sadiq’s comment had come in the wake of census findings on the rate of growth of Muslim population in India and a dig on the community by the Sangh Parivar outfits. The census figures for 2001 had earlier given high growth rate among the Muslim population. But the revised figures had indeed shown a decline in the growth rate of Muslim population. The earlier census figures for 2001 had included the population of the Muslim-dominated states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam while compiling the data. But the 1991 census figures had not included the population of these two states and that give a wrong impression of a high growth rate of Muslim population in the first report of 2001 census.

A day after Maulana Sadiq made his views known, the chairman of the Board, Maulana Rabey Hasan Nadvi, head of the Nadva college here, clarified that there was no proposal before the executive of the AIMPLB to discuss the family planning issue at its executive meeting at Kozhikode in December. He termed family planning among the Muslims as un-Islamic and ‘it is not proper to stop the birth of those whom God has destined to be born.’ He felt family planning as not necessary. When pointed out that family planning had succeeded in Iran, Maulana Nadvi felt that there was no need for Muslims in India to follow the edicts of other Muslim countries. He termed as personal the views expressed by Maulana Sadiq on the issue.

Another Board member and a leader of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani concurred with the views expressed by Maulana Nadvi. He pointed out that the Board was created to protect the personal laws of the community and not to discuss family planning, education or health. Other Muslim bodies are taking up these matters. Their (Maulana Nadvi and Mr. Jilani) views were supported by other members of the Board like Maulana M.A. Raheem Qureshi and Maulana Hameeduddin Aqil Hussaini of Hyderabad. 
Many members of the Board feel that there was no need of any discussion on the issue at its executive meeting because the Board had already taken a firm view against any type of ‘permanent family planning method’. They pointed out that the Board had taken a firm view against a legislation brought during Emergency in 1975 for compulsory sterilization. But some of them clarified that Islam was not against temporary methods in family planning but was opposed only to permanent disability. In fact the chairman of the Board has already finalised the agenda for the December meeting and the family planning was not a part of it. Yet, any member can raise any issue at the meeting with the permission of the chair.

However, two main political parties, the BJP and the Congress have supported Maulana Sadiq’s views. Lauding the Maulana’s view, the BJP vice-president and the Muslim face in the Sangh Parivar, Mr. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi contended that the Islam did not prohibit family planning and several countries, including Islamic, had implemented family planning measures. The Congress was, however, reserved in its comments and said while referring to Maulana Sadiq’s views that it welcomed any initiatives taken by individuals or organisations to deal with the problem.

Prominent Muslim academics and intellectuals have welcomed Maulana Sadiq’s views. They pointed out that the Holy Quran was not against contraception. It also did not forbid control of the family size. Some edicts, however, prohibit infanticide. Since family planning is not infanticide, it should not be opposed, they felt. They also point out that all nations have signed a United Nations document on family planning. Among those who expressed in favour of family planning included scriptwriter and civil society activist, Javed Akhtar and Dr. Rafiq Zakaria.
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