It is a global expectation: Muslim women are pressured into marriage, pregnancy, and then more children, one after the other. Ahadith about the virtues of children and RasulAllah’s (SAW) encouragement to procreate becomes 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 (SWT)) created all mankind with different qualities and characteristics; human beings are not mass-produced robots, but individuals with different personalities and capabilities. RasulAllah (SWT) 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 behaviours; should anyone reject these standards, they are stigmatised and treated as deficient or outcasts.
At some point, some Muslim societies began treating women not as individuals with various obligations to their Lord (SWT) 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 wajib (mandatory) 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 (trust) in Allah (SWT), or that they’ve been “corrupted by evil Western ideas!”
However, RasulAllah (SAW) himself gave permission to the Muslims to practice family planning, as related by Jabir (RA) who related: “We used to perform coitus interruptus during the time that the Qur’an 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:
Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health – which many Muslims do not realise 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 iman greatly and cause further issues.
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 (SWT) did not make an obligation? Those who emphasise the barakah (blessing) 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.”
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 (SAW) 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 (SWT). If a parent cannot give one child their Islamic right to correct tarbiyah (education), what is the point of having four or five children who are equally uneducated?
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 (reward) 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 insha Allah increase them in reward and barakah (blessing), and to refrain from having children (or more than a certain amount) is not tantamount to sinning.
Dreams, ambitions, and different roles
It is high time that Muslims realise that women are not limited to the home and family spheres. Islamic history is full of 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 they do not encourage and facilitate Muslim woman to fulfill necessary roles outside of the domestic arena.
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 (SWT) grant her what is best for her and the patience and strength to face her current challenges with greater iman (belief).
UmmKhadijah (AnonyMouse) is the mother of a little girl whom she loves dearly, and is not looking forward to getting pregnant anytime soon.
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