Infertility is a rising problem among couples world wide. It has many interlinked aspects, such as the mental and emotional well-being of the couple, treatments and related expenses, social behaviors toward infertile couples and much more. Before coming to the key issue, let us first undertake an overview of its definition.
What is Infertility?
According to the WHO, “Infertility is defined as inability of a couple with normal sexual relations to conceive after a year of trying.” There are two types of infertility found in married couples. One is primary and another one is secondary. According to WHO’s September 2020 fact sheet details, “Primary infertility is when a pregnancy has never been achieved by a person, and secondary infertility is when at least one prior pregnancy has been achieved”.
It affects up to 15% of reproductive aged couples world wide (1) and in India, the percentage is 17.5% or more (2). Primary infertility ratio is higher and common among couples in India than secondary infertility i.e 3.9% – 16.8% (3). According to the NFHS 5th Round, the General Fertility Rate (GFR) in India has declined by 20% (4).
Is only the woman responsible?
Most of the time, particularly in Indian society, the myth is very common among people that they only blame female partners for not conceiving. A woman is being targeted for infertility for so long in society. But medical science says that both male and female could be equally responsible for Infertility. According to a report only 30% of Indian males have normal sperm quantity (5) which is the very basic and male factor for reproduction or fertility.
Factors of Infertility in Couples:
I will not discuss here all the medical male and female factors, but will mention some common factors. As of now we are aware that the couple (both male and female) are responsible for infertility not only the female. So there may be many reasons for infertility in couples and mostly couples in urban areas face more difficulty than couples in rural areas. The reason why urban couples face this could be unhealthy routines, food, environment, improper sleeping times and stress. In addition, bad and unhealthy habits or addictions etc. also contribute significantly.
According to NFHS I & II survey reports, late marriages of girls also is a very important reason behind infertility. But we can’t ignore the reasons why girls are getting married late. Interestingly, the reason behind delaying marriages is often due to pursuing higher education. It also raises many questions here, that instead of blaming education, questions should be asked of Indian society which often does not allow girls to pursue education after marriage freely, thus making marriage into a roadblock for personal growth instead of being a means of nurturing it.
Social Attitudes towards Childless Couples:
We can see both negative and positive responses in society toward the infertile or childless couple. But the fact is that a female partner faces more negative responses than a male partner. This includes creating an unhealthy environment by husband, in-laws and relatives and the many questions that are asked of a woman immediately after marriage.
She sometimes has to bear comparisons between her and other relatives who have children. Slurs are also used to label ‘barren’ women. She is rushed into pursuing multiple medical treatments and medications often without medical need or guidance. This is also contributing to the mushrooming of fertility centers (6). These kinds of negative attitudes and behaviors affect the mental, physical and emotional health of a woman.
It doesn’t mean that a man faces nothing. He also goes through many emotional and mental pressures from his family and society. Some even pressurize him for a second marriage while having the first wife or by divorcing her. Some agree, some do not. But the sword continues to dangle on the heads of the couple constantly.
There is a saying that “the world exists because of good people”. And this is true that some people are there who do and say good to people in pain. There are many examples around us in which we see that childless couples become the support for each other for the rest of their life.
The Teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah:
It is clearly described in the Qur’an that it is entirely Allah’s will and every thing that happens is under the sovereignty of the Creator, including the blessings he gives or withholds to a married couple. As Allah says in the Holy Qur’an in Surah Ash-Shuraa, verse No 49-50 that:
لِلہِ مُلکُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأرْضِ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءیھب لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ إِنَاثًا وَیھَبُ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ الذُّکورَ، أَوْ يُزَوِّجھمْ ذکرانًا وَإِنَاثًا وَيَجْعَلُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ عَقِيمًا إِنّہ عَلِيمٌ قَدِيرٌ۔
“God has control of the heavens and the earth; He creates whatever He wills — He grants female offspring to whoever He wills, male to whoever He wills, or both male and female, and He leaves whoever He wills barren; He is all-knowing and all powerful.”
One more example from the Holy Qur’an is Hadhrath Zakarya AS who was blessed with a son in his old age, and even after his old wife was infertile. In Surah Maryam Verse 7-9, Allah says:
“Zachariah, We bring you good news of a son whose name shall be John. We have not given such a name to anyone before.” “My Lord!” [said Zachariah], “How shall I have a son when my wife is barren and I have reached such extreme old age?” He said, “It will be so! Your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me for I created you when you were nothing before.’”
The third example is Hadhrath Ibrahim AS and his wife Sarah who was also blessed with Ishaaq AS in very old age. The entire conversation between the angels and Sarah and Ibrahim is very interesting. It highlights in a very simple manner that Allah has all the sovereignty and absolute power over every occurrence. So, the Qur’an says in Surah Hud, verses 71-73:
“His wife, who was standing there, laughed when We gave her good news of Allah’s giving her a son Ishaq (Isaac) and after him a grandson Ya’qoob (Jacob). She said: “O wonder! Shall I bear a child now when I have become an old woman and my husband has become well advanced in age? This is indeed a strange thing!” They said: “Do you wonder at Allah’s decree? May Allah’s mercy and His blessings be upon you, O residents of the household; for He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of all glory.”
It means that the married couple should not lose hope. They should keep trying but the efforts should not affect the marital peace between the two.
Examples from Prophet Muhammed’s (SAW) life:
Our beloved Prophet Muhammed (SAW) is the best example for any kind of situation the Muslim Ummah faces. He set himself as a role model to deal with issues either of the home or matters of the state. In this matter, we also see that he beautifully taught us the best possible ways to deal with people with no children. He even did not mention this as a defect or even as deprivation as he never ever even brought these topics into discussion. Rather he put all his efforts to empower womanhood in every aspect of human and social life.
Let’s see some examples from his own life.
The Wives of the Prophet:
Our beloved Prophet PBUH did not have any child from any of his wives except Khadija RA and from her he only had daughters who survived into adulthood. His beloved sons did not survive beyond their childhood. We found that he loved all his daughters very much and brought them up as responsible and sensible Muslim women. Additionally, Aisha RA and Maimuna RA were married for the first time to the Prophet SAW but did not bear any children, Umm Salamah RA was a widow and also had a child with her late husband, Zainab bint Jahsh RA was a divorcee and had no children from his first husband. All these wives did not conceive after marrying Prophet Muhammed SAW.
How did Prophet Muhammed PBUH treat them?:
All were treated equally: No one was discriminated against on the basis of childlessness, no one was given priority over the other. No one was chosen or preferred over the other due to their status as mothers or the lack thereof.
• All were declared as the Mothers of Believers: They were trained by Prophet PBUH for the purpose of spreading the message of Islam and given immense responsibilities as pillars of the community by Allah SWT, as Allah says in Surah Ahzab, verse 30 to 31:“O wives of the Prophet! If any of you were guilty of open indecency, her punishment will be increased to double and this is easy for Allah. Those of you (O wives of the Prophet Muhammad) who obey Allah and His Rasool and practice righteousness, shall be granted double reward, and for them We have prepared a generous provision.”
The womanhood of the Prophet’s wives was not diluted because of the lack of children to perform their responsibilities towards their faith. None of them were ever taunted as ‘infertile’. Instead the Prophet PBUH nurtured his wives’ abilities and created opportunities for their healthy progress. We can see many examples, some are mentioned below:
• Khadija RA’s business was the only source of income for the whole family after Prophethood was given to Prophet Muhammad PBUH until her death.
• A female tutor was appointed to teach Hafsa RA reading and writing.
• Zainab Bint Jahsh RA pursued the profession of dyeing clothes to earn and give sadaqah from her own income.
• Aisha RA was an expert of Linguistics, Fiqh, Fataawa, Personal Law, a Socio-Political Analyst, and a teacher of men and women of Masjid e Nabawi for a long period of time. She had keen interest seeking knowledge of islam and had a lot of knowledge about medicine as well and used to serve the Mujahideen on the battlefield. She was also Hafidah of the Qur’an and expert of Hadith, and a narrator of Hadith. Almost 2210 Ahadith have been narrated by her (7).
• Umm Salamah RA was also a narrator of Ahadith. She was a keen observer of the Prophet’s sayings and she is remembered as an advisor of Prophet Muhammed PBUH on a very crucial event of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. (For more details please refer to Women’s Emancipation during the Prophet’s Lifetime: The Character of the Muslim Woman, an 8 part set by Abd-Al Halim Abu Shuqqah.
- Daughter of Saeed bin Musayyib, daughter of Imam Malik, granddaughter of Asma bint Abu Bakr RA were all experts of Islamic Sciences and used to make corrections in their father’s and husband’s lessons who themselves were Imams of the hundreds and thousands of students (8)
- Amrah Bint Abdurrahman RA was the greatest Muhaddisa of her time.
- Women were Mudarrisaat of the three most important mosques of Islam, a) Masjid ul Haram: Umm Sarah bint Abdurrahman, b) Masjid un Nabawi: Ummul Khair, Umm Muhammed Fatima bint Ibrahim, and c) Masjid ul Aqsa: Umm Darda (9)
- Allama Shams Uddin Zahbi said in his famous book that “I am not aware of a woman’s hadith being abandoned because of her poor memory or any deficiency. (10)
- Shifa Bint Abdullah RA was made the market manager of Makkah by Caliph Umar RA in his reign. (11)
On the day of judgment no one will be rewarded on the basis of how many children they have produced, rather all the men and women will be rewarded only on the basis of their good and bad deeds. As Allah says in Surah al Nisa:
لِلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ وَاسْأَلُوا اللَّهَ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا
“Men shall be rewarded according to their deeds, and women shall be rewarded according to their deeds. You should rather ask God for His bounty. God has knowledge of all things.”
(Chapter Al-Nisa, Verse No. 32)
Additionally, he addressed both at the same time and announced who is going to enter in Jannah and why. In another verse of Surah Al-Nisa:
وَمَنْ يَعْمَلْ مِنَ الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنْثَى وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُولَئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا
“Anyone who performs good deeds, whether it be man or woman, provided that he is a believer, shall enter Paradise. No one shall suffer the least injustice.” (Chapter Al-Nisa, Verse No. 124)
It is mentioned in Surah al-Ahzab that:
إِنَّ ٱلْمُسْلِمِينَ وَٱلْمُسْلِمَـٰتِ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنَـٰتِ وَٱلْقَـٰنِتِينَ وَٱلْقَـٰنِتَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰدِقِينَ وَٱلصَّـٰدِقَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ وَٱلصَّـٰبِرَٰتِ وَٱلْخَـٰشِعِينَ وَٱلْخَـٰشِعَـٰتِ وَٱلْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَٱلْمُتَصَدِّقَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰٓئِمِينَ وَٱلصَّـٰٓئِمَـٰتِ وَٱلْحَـٰفِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَٱلْحَـٰفِظَـٰتِ وَٱلذَّٰكِرِينَ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرًۭا وَٱلذَّٰكِرَٰتِ أَعَدَّ ٱللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةًۭ وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًۭا
(Chapter Al Ahzab: 35)
Surely for Muslim men and women, believing men and women, devout men and women, truthful men and women, patient men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, men and women who guard their chastity, and men and women who remember Allah often—for all of them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.
This is a summation of the ideal path that Muslim women, and the broader Muslim community should take – whether in our dealings with each other or in submission to our Creator.
• It is permissible for a couple to plan when they wish to have children as long as it is not harmful or permanent, or delaying endlessly due to the fear of poverty. One should not go against divine law by refusing to have children altogether.
• A woman is not born only to produce children, or just be a means of procreation. So, the women who do not have children should not feel guilty, incomplete or inferior to any other woman. Nowhere does the Creator deem them as having defects or less than any other human.
• Don’t let anyone violate your emotional and mental health. In this path, Swabr and Silence are very powerful weapons to respond to negative comments and to strengthen yourselves.
• Utilize your time to explore yourselves, instead of losing yourself in the endless advice given by passersby, because at the end of this journey, you will only be answerable to Allah not society.
• A couple can plan for treatments and medical interventions by keeping in mind the Shariah-approved limits and methods. One thing must be remembered that no treatment should cause undue pressure for both the spouses. They should support each other and maintain their marital bond in this journey.
• Last but not the least, there is always an option of adoption of a child. A couple can offer an orphan a better life and can fulfill their own desire of having children through this. Umm Salamah RA is a very good example as she brought up her servant’s child as her own, trained him well and gave him education. That child is known as the great Islamic Scholar of his time, Hasan al Basri RA.
(1). National Health Portal of India by GOI
(2). NFHS Official Website:
http://rchiips.org/nfhs/about.shtml & Ganguly, S, And S. Unisa, Trends of Infertility and Childlessness in India: Findings from NFHS Data. Facts Views Vis Obgyn, 2010.
(3). National Health Portal of India by GOI
(4). National Family Health Survey, GOI, Survey 5 Report
(5) A. Dr. Rutuja, The Rising Problem of Infertility in India, Deccan Herald, 2022;30.08.
(6). NFHS-5 report:
(7). Seerat e Ayesha RA by Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, Al-Balaagh Publishers and distributors.
(8) Uloom e Islamiyah Mein Khawateen ki Khidmaat, Razi-ul-Islam Nadvi, Markazi Maktaba Islami Publishers. (9). Ibid
(11). Urdu Translation of Dr. Abdul Haleem Abu Shuqqah’s book named “Aurat Ahd e Risalat Mein” by Qaz