Should Muslims Observe It or Not?
According to the hadith literature, Muslims practiced a form of natural birth control known as azl (coitus interruptus), which refers to withdrawing the penis before climax.
Furthermore, the hadiths contradict each other on the question whether Muhammad approved of such an act or not. For instance, this specific narration asserts that Muhammad looked down upon this practice:
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
That during the battle with Bani Al-Mustaliq they (Muslims) captured some females and intended to have sexual relation with them without impregnating them. So they asked the Prophet about coitus interrupt us. The Prophet said, "It is better that you should not do it, for Allah has written whom He is going to create till the Day of Resurrection." Qaza'a said, "I heard Abu Sa'id saying that the Prophet said, 'No soul is ordained to be created but Allah will create it." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 506)
Other Muslims discouraged this as well:
Yahya related to me from Malik from Nafi that Abdullah ibn Umar did not practise coitus interruptus and thought that it was disapproved. (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.98)
Muhammad even likened this practice to burying alive:
877. Narrated Judama daughter of Wahb: I was with Allahs Messenger along with some people when he was saying, "I have intended to prohibit suckling during pregnancy, but I considered the Romans and the Persians and saw that they suckled their children during pregnancy without injury being caused to their children thereby." Then they asked him about Azl (withdrawing the penis before emission of semen to avoid conception), and Allahs Messenger replied, "That is the secret burying alive." [Reported by Muslim]. (Bulugh Al-Maram: Attainment of the Objective according to the Evidence of the Ordinances, Compiled by Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani with brief notes from the Book of Subul-us-Salam, written by Muhammad bin Ismail As-Sanani [Dar-us-Salam Publications, Riyadh-Saudi Arabia, 1996], 8. The Book of Marriage, pp. 361-362)
But other reports exist which either approve of it or, at least, do not discourage its observance:
879. Narrated Jabir: In the lifetime of Allahs Messenger when the Quran was coming down, we used to withdraw the penis, so if it had been something to be forbidden, the Quran would have forbade us from doing it. [Agreed upon]. (Bulugh Al-Maram: Attainment of the Objective according to the Evidence of the Ordinances, p. 362)
We used to practice coitus interrupt us during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 135)
We used to practice coitus interruptus while the Quran was being revealed. Jabir added: We used to practice coitus interruptus during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle while the Quran was being Revealed. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 136)
Section: Coitus Interruptus
Yahya related to me from Malik from Rabia ibn Abi Abd ar-Rahman from Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Habban that Ibn Muhayriz said, "I went into the mosque and saw Abu Said al-Khudri and so I sat by him and asked him about coitus interruptus. Abu Said al-Khudri said, 'We went out with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, on the expedition to the Banu al-Mustaliq. We took some Arabs prisoner, and we desired the women as celibacy was hard for us. We wanted the ransom, so we wanted to practise coitus interruptus. We said, 'Shall we practise coitus interruptus while the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is among us before we ask him?' We asked him about that and he said, 'You don't have to not do it. There is no self which is to come into existence up to the Day of Rising but that it will come into existence.'" (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.95)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Damra ibn Said al-Mazini from al-Hajjaj ibn Amr ibn Ghaziya that he was sitting with Zayd ibn Thabit when Ibn Fahd came to him. He was from the Yemen. He said, "Abu Said! I have slave-girls. None of the wives in my keep are more pleasing to me than them, and not all of them please me so much that I want a child by them, shall I then practise coitus interruptus?" Zayd ibn Thabit said, "Give an opinion, Hajjaj!" "I said, 'May Allah forgive you! We sit with you in order to learn from you!' He said, 'Give an opinion! 'I said, 'She is your field, if you wish, water it, and if you wish, leave it thirsty. I heard that from Zayd.' Zayd said, 'He has spoken the truth.'" (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.99)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Humayd ibn Qays al-Makki that a man called Dhafif said that Ibn Abbas was asked about coitus interruptus. He called a slave-girl of his and said, "Tell them." She was embarrassed. He said, "It is alright, and I do it myself."
Malik said, "A man does not practise coitus interruptus with a free woman unless she gives her permission. There is no harm in practising coitus interruptus with a slave-girl without her permission. Someone who has someone else's slave-girl as a wife, does not practise coitus interruptus with her unless her people give him permission." (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.100)
Here are some more names of specific Muslims who performed azl:
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abu'n-Nadr, the mawla of Umar ibn Ubaydullah from Amir ibn Sad ibn Abi Waqqas from his father that he used to practise coitus interruptus. (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.96)
Yahya related to me from Malik from Abu'n-Nadr, the mawla of Umar ibn Ubaydullah from Ibn Aflah, the mawla of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari from an umm walad of Abu Ayyubal-Ansari that he practised coitus interruptus. (Maliks Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.32.97)
As if this werent bad enough, other traditions assert that Muhammads statement that withdrawing is equivalent to burying alive was a claim made by the Jews, which Muhammad condemned as a lie!
Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri:
A man said: Apostle of Allah, I have a slave-girl and I withdraw the penis from her (while having intercourse), and I dislike that she becomes pregnant. I intend (by intercourse) what the men intend by it.
The Jews say that withdrawing the penis (azl) is burying the living girls on a small scale. He (the Prophet) said: The Jews told a lie. If Allah intends to create it, you cannot turn it away. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2166)
878. Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: A man said, "O Allahs Messenger, I have a slave-girl and I withdraw the penis while having intercourse with her and do not want her to conceive, but I want (from her) what men want from women and the Jews used to say Withdrawing the penis to avoid conception is the minor burying alive." He replied, "The Jews told a lie, for if Allah wishes to create it you would not be able to turn it away." [Reported by Ahmad and Abu Daud, the version is of Abu Daud; An-Nasai and At-Tahawi reported it too. Its narrators are reliable]. (Bulugh Al-Maram, p. 362)
This places Muslims in a precarious position since one Islamic narration attributes to Muhammad this very specific argument of the Jews, which basically means that Muhammad lied as well. Note, for example, how this work outs:
It is possible that Muhammad changed his position and realized that the Jews were correct, which means that he was wrong and rather too hasty in assuming that they were lying. Or, he may have agreed with them at first but then came to the conclusion that this view was wrong, which means that for a period of time Muhammad was teaching a lie that he thought was true!
Whatever the case, all of the above views reflect rather poorly on Muhammads alleged prophetic infallibility and sinlessness.
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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