“Islam does not oppose birth spacing and, in fact, the concept of spacing has been taken from the Holy Quran. Hostility towards family planning was encouraged when the government introduced reforms on family planning without consultation with the religious scholars.”
These views were expressed by Maulana Muhammad Khalid, religious scholar and head of Jamia Masjid at Bara Gate in Peshawar, while commenting on the changing attitudes among the Muslims of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the concept of family planning and birth spacing.
According to the demographic indicators of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, 274 women in every 100,000 die during pregnancy or in childbirth. According to health experts, majority of these deaths can be prevented by proper birth spacing because it helps a woman recover from the nutritional deficiency caused by pregnancy, and short birth intervals increase maternal and neonatal mortality rate.
In recent years, religious clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have started emphasizing the concept of birth spacing in the light of Islamic teachings. Today, most people have a better understanding of the concept and methods because discussion on the topic has become more common as opposed to a couple of decades ago.
“It is a tragedy that mothers and infants die because of repeated and closely-spaced pregnancies. The Holy Quran clearly says that mothers should breastfeed their children for two years so as to allow them to space pregnancies. Religious scholars may have different views on family planning but they are unanimous that birth spacing is allowed for the health of the mother,” Maulana Muhammad Khalid added.
The change in attitudes towards family planning has come because of involving religious clerics in disseminating information on family planning. Many seminars and conferences on birth spacing and family planning have been arranged at the national and provincial levels by governmental and non-governmental organizations.
A similar conference in this regard was held earlier this year in the provincial capital, Peshawar, in which Ulema from Nowshera and Haripur districts took part. Speakers from Egypt, Indonesia and Iran were invited to enlighten the Ulema on the concept of family planning in their respective countries.
Risman Musa, former minister of Indonesia and a speaker at the conference, stressed the need for involving religious leaders in disseminating the concept of family planning, especially in countries where life of a common citizen is governed by religious principles.
“A common Muslim will need religious justification for any change in his lifestyle and, if you force him, he will always think of it as a conspiracy against his beliefs. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important to involve Ulema in the exercise so that people may accept new ideas without hesitation,” Risman Musa explained.
Although efforts are underway to involve local Ulema in disseminating information on family planning, yet there is a dire need to take the leaders of different schools of Ulema on board as it will have far-reaching consequences. Schools of thought, such as Akora’s Haqqania, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-S and the Barelvis, should be involved because they have influence over a large number of Ulema in the province.
Every cleric gets a degree from one of these institutions and therefore it becomes increasingly necessary to include teachings of Islamic concepts on family planning in their syllabi. Once this practice is complete, a majority of people will view family planning as something permissible in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
Qari Sulaiman, a religious cleric from Peshawar, is of the view that the concept of family planning needs to be made part of the syllabus taught at religious schools. This can be achieved by taking the leaders of different schools on board, he explained.
“Convincing a few hundred Ulema from villages and cities on family planning may have limited effect. If we are able to make this concept part of the syllabus by taking the leaders of the schools on board, it will be followed by millions at once. During my study, we were never lectured on family planning. It’s completely new to us,” he said.
With the involvement of religious clerics in disseminating the concept of family planning, there are hopes that soon people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will realize this as the right of women and children, thus bringing considerable reduction in maternal and neonatal deaths in the province.