Q: How does Islam view "family planning?" Moreover, are the various means of contraception, such as: condom, IUD, the pill, RU486, etc., and surgical procedures, such as: hysterectomy, vasectomy, or tubal ligation permissible?

A: There is no difference among the mujtahideen about the legality of family planning methods such as the condom, IUD, birth control pills, or spermicidal agents, since they are analogous to the coitus interruptus that the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) allowed. The goal here is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy prior to conception so RU486, for example, is not an approved solution as this pill can be used up to a few weeks after conception to terminate a pregnancy. Some Sunni and Shia scholars do make it a condition that both spouses must be in agreement on the method of control, with the Shias being quite particular about the woman's agreement. On the matter of the pill, some research shows adverse hormonal effects on the woman, therefore, some consider the pill to be injurious to a woman's health. The Qur'an says:

"And do not by your own hands hurl yourselves to destruction."

The medical research on the matter, to the best of my knowledge, shows that the effects are negligible, and since Islam rules on the general, we must allow it. For in a case where a woman's life is endangered, the doctor will advise and prohibit the use of any contraception methods that are deemed harmful.

As far as surgical procedures go, the shari'ah prohibits the excision of any organ that is not diseased, or otherwise injurious to the body. A vasectomy or hysterectomy is therefore not lawful under normal circumstances. Tubal ligation or any artificial blockage of the vas deferens or the epididyamal duct, may be done if the possibility of reversal is 100 percent. At this point in time, medical technology does not allow for this certainty, and the procedures must be treated as medical emergencies wherein the life of a person is threatened.

If a woman's condition is such that childbirth will endanger her life, and her body is already in such a state that an operation will further enervate her, or stop the hormonal production that might be vital to her well being, the husband may elect to have a vasectomy. He should do this only if he is sure that he will stay with her, knowing that should she die and he were to remarry, his other spouse will not be able to have children.

Posted September 26, 1998. This question and answer was printed in the July/August 1995 issue of the Voice of Islam newsletter. (This newsletter is published by the Islamic Society of the Washington Area).