A widespread narrative in India suggests that Muslims produce too many children, skewing the national demographic balance. The right-wing propaganda alleges that this is all part of a deliberate plan by Muslims to capture political power in the country.
The common belief that Islam is against family planning, which is why Indian Muslims practise polygamy, has for decades caused bitter acrimony between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The demand for a uniform civil code is also born out of this belief.
This book seeks to cover the facts, figures and myths about the prevalence of family planning practices among Muslims in India.
A study of family planning practices in India throws up some of the following interesting facts.
Muslim acceptance of family planning has been increasing
The demographic ratio has indeed changed, with clear increase in the percentage of Muslims in India – from 9.8 in 1951 to 14.2 in 2011. There is a corresponding decline in the Hindu ratio – from 84 per cent to 79.8 per cent – during the same period...
Muslims have indeed the lowest level (45.3 per cent) of family planning practice, but Hindus have the second-lowest level among all communities, with a practice prevalence of 54.4 per cent.
The Muslims are, however, taking to family planning fast – in fact, faster than the Hindus. This is why the family planning gap between the two communities is narrowing, despite many Muslims believing that Islam is against the concept of family planning. There is no evidence of organised resistance to family planning among the Muslims.
The high birth rates in India are dependent on purely non-religious factors, such as levels of literacy, income and access to health services, among other reasons...
The reasons for high fertility among Muslims are an obvious result of the community’s backwardness in these determining factors...
Wide regional variations in family planning practices across states also indicate that there is no “Muslim” or “Hindu” birth rate.
Islamic tenets nowhere come in the way of adoption of family planning by Muslims...
If acceptance of family planning is to be an index of nationalism/ patriotism, as often projected by some sections in India, it is not only the performance of Muslims that needs improvement but that of other communities as well (including the Hindus.)
In terms of total fertility rate, both the Hindu and Muslim communities are actually at the same end of the spectrum, since both have large sections that are most backward socio-economically.Giving all this a political angle is not only wrong but counterproductive too...
The exact Islamic position in the light of the Quran and Hadith
The book argues that the Holy Quran has nowhere prohibited family planning. There are only interpretations, both for and against, the concept. Nor are there any traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) opposing it. The interpretations by Islamic jurists seem to conclude that though sterilisation is not permitted, family planning by means of birth-spacing methods is not only allowed, but encouraged.
For example, the mandate of the Quran for compulsory breastfeeding of children for two years has been interpreted as a measure to ensure gaps between births, in the interest of the health of both mother and child. There are numerous verses of the Quran and citations from the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) which emphasise proper conditions as requisite for the upbringing of children, possible only when the number of children is small. These verses stress quality over quantity – an extremely progressive idea.
Even in India, several ulama (scholars) have interpreted Islamic injunctions as being supportive of family planning other than through the means of sterilisation...
Family planning in major Islamic countries
The book describes family planning programmes being actively pursued as a development priority in several Islamic countries, including the most conservative ones, such as Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Bangladesh, in spite of the fact that there are no political compulsions to do so, unlike in India. This obviously indicates that these countries, despite their powerful clergies, did not find Islam antagonistic to the concept...
Why is only Islam singled out for scrutiny in the context of family planning? We must look at the family planning practices of all religions.
While the focus of the family planning debate has been on Muslims, many other religions that do not approve of family planning are left out of the narrative. For instance, Christianity’s opposition to contraception of all kinds is well established. Many other religions also have a clear position on family planning, but very little of this seems to be public knowledge.
This book explains the comparative position of major religions on the subject and argues that though the prevalence of family planning among Muslims varies across countries, especially in India, where it is the lowest, Islamic injunctions are not the reason...
How a statistical analysis shows that polygamy (more accurately, polygyny) is just not possible in India. Nor can it contribute to population explosion.
In India, the gender ratio is skewed: in 2020, India has 924 females per 1,000 males. In such a situation, polygyny is just not possible. Even if there are some polygynous marriages, their impact on population growth is negative, as then there would then be a corresponding number of unmarried men. Besides, the number of children from a second wife is always much lower than from an only wife.
“It is also significant to note that the assertion that Muslims are predominantly polygamous is a myth.” Reports show that all communities in India are polygamous and Muslims are indeed the least so!...
Absence of effort to dispel myths about Muslims and family planning
Although the high fertility rate among Muslims has been referred to in all the policy and plan papers, no efforts especially addressing this issue have ever been made by the government... ven health staff has not been trained or equipped to deal with any resistance among the community on this score.
The birth rate among Muslims has continued to be the highest among all communities in India, but surprisingly, it has been declining at a rate faster than that of Hindus for almost three decades. There has been a lack of effort on the part of the government, NGOs and scholars to communicate this truth and dispel the myths about Muslims. At the same time, the Hindu right wing has continued to provoke Hindus to produce a large number of children by creating the fear that Muslims will outnumber them soon to capture political power in India...
The way forward
On the basis of what emerges from the detailed analysis of the subject in this book, there are enough facts around which a carefully planned strategy can be evolved to remove misconceptions among our communities so that they may coexist in harmony. We also have to address the fears – genuine or imagined – of those Hindus who actively oppose family planning among their community just to prevent Muslims from outnumbering them. The myth that there is organised resistance on the part of the Muslim community to family planning must be dispelled.
This book exhorts Muslims to disregard the right-wing call to Hindus to produce a large number of children, and instead encourages Muslims to adopt family planning as the wisest course of action. It suggests strategies to promote family planning among Muslims.
In India the population debate has political connotations, as it attempts to create unfounded hate and fear among Hindus about Muslim population growth. This book seeks to dispel those myths empirically rather than with political or emotional arguments.
Excerpted with permission from the Introduction to The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, SY Quraishi, HarperCollins India.