What is the Islamic verdict on contraception and birth control in general? Is it only permissible at times of need?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
First of all, it should be known that, one of the main aims of marriage in Islam is procreation. Islam encourages its followers to reproduce in large numbers in order to increase the size of the Ummah of our Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
Allah Ta’āla says in the Qur’an:
فَٱلۡـَٔـٰنَ بَـٰشِرُوهُنَّ وَٱبۡتَغُواْ مَا كتب ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡۚ
“So now hold intercourse with your wives and seek (the children) what Allah has ordained for you.” (Surah al-Baqarah, V: 187)
In a Hadith recorded by Imam an-Nasa’i (rahimahullāh), the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said:
عَنْ مَعْقِلِ بْنِ يَسَارٍ، قَالَ: جَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَقَالَ: إِنِّي أَصَبْتُ امْرَأَةً ذَاتَ حَسَبٍ وَمَنْصِبٍ إِلَّا أَنَّهَا لَا تَلِدُ أَفَأَتَزَوَّجُهَا؟ فَنَهَاهُ ثُمَّ أَتَاهُ الثَّانِيَةَ، فَنَهَاهُ ثُمَّ أَتَاهُ الثَّالِثَةَ، فَقَالَ: “تَزَوَّجُوا الْوَلُودَ الْوَدُودَ، فَإِنِّي مُكَاثِرٌ بِكُمْ”
السنن الكبرى للنسائي(3227)
It was narrated that Ma’qil bin Yasar (radiallahu anhu) said: “A man came to the Messenger of Allah and said: ‘I have found a woman who is from a good family and of good status, but she does not bear children, should I marry her?’ He told him not to. Then he came to him a second time and he told him not to (marry her). Then he came to him a third time and he told him not to (marry her), then he said: ‘Marry the one who is fertile and loving, for I will boast of your great numbers.'”(Nasa’ī-3227)
It is clear from the above, that Shariah encourages its followers to abstain from practicing birth control, especially, when it is given a formal, organized and general approach. Therefore, one should refrain from practicing contraception unless necessary.
As far as the Shar’i ruling is concerned, there are two categories of birth control and the ruling of each is different as detailed below.
1) Permanent Irreversible Contraception
This type of contraception is carried out when the couple decide never to have a baby. It is done with a sterilization operation carried out either on the man (vasectomy) or the woman (tubectomy) and renders the couple incapable of ever having children.
The ruling with regards to this is that, it is unlawful (haram) to carry out such operations. There are many Narrations of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and clear texts of the Fuqahā (Jurists) which determine this.
The Companion, Sayyidna Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (radiallahu anhu) said:
قَالَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ: كُنَّا نَغْزُو مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، وَلَيْسَ لَنَا شَيْءٌ، فَقُلْنَا: أَلاَ نَسْتَخْصِي؟ ” فَنَهَانَا عَنْ ذَلِكَ
صحيح البخاري (5075)
“We use to engage in Jihad in the company of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and our wives did not accompany us. We said: O Prophet of Allah! Shall we not castrate ourselves? He forbade us from doing so.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
The great Hanafi Jurist, Allamah Ibn Aabidīn Shāmi (rahimahullah) says:
“Castration of humans is Haram.”
Allāmah Badruddīn Al-Ayni (rahimahullah) says:
“Castration (and sterilization) is prohibited with the consensus of all the scholars.”
However, in cases of extreme necessity, Irreversible contraception will become permissible. For example, a woman’s life is in danger or repeated pregnancies gravely damage her health, etc. This however, should be advised by a Muslim qualified doctor.
2) Temporary Reversible Contraception
There are many methods by which reversible contraception can be performed. Coitus interruptus (Withdrawal method), the pill, using of the condom, i.u.d, spermicidal, just to mention a few.
The ruling on reversible contraception is that, it is somewhat disliked (Makruh Tanzihī) if practiced without any reason. However, it should not be done without the wife’s permission. If there is a genuine reason, then it will be totally permissible without the permission of the wife. Some of the reasons (for the permissibility of reversible contraception), which the Fuqahā mention, are:
a) Extreme weakness and illness,
b) The couple’s relation is unstable and divorce is likely. 
It is not permissible to practice contraception for the following reasons:
a) Fear of poverty and not being able to provide,
b) To keep up to the fashion of keeping small families,
c) Being ashamed of having a girl.
And Allah Ta’āla Knows Best
Student Darul Iftaa
Venda, South Africa
Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.