This piece has been co-authored by my wife, Safa Munim.
The questions began just a few weeks into our marriage.
Whenever I attended the masjid, brothers came to me and asked, “Where’s the baby?” Some related stories of others who had children immediately after marriage, insinuating that it would be best for me to follow their example. One elderly sister even approached my mother, asking if everything was okay between us, and offered herself as a marriage counselor! These comments were uncomfortable to listen to, and it was impossible to find an appropriate reply for them, other than sheepishly muttering “Insha’Allah, soon” and trying to escape as soon as possible.
We know that Allah has instilled a desire in us to compete for worldly things in human beings. The Qur’an mentions this trait in a verse in Surah Hadid: “Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children” (57:20). This sense of competition naturally leads us to compare our wealth and children to that of others. Unfortunately, some people go too far, and unknowingly hurt their Muslim brother or sister, particularly in the matter of children.
Many cultures highly value children and believe in starting a family immediately. As soon a couple departs from the wedding hall, the expectations begin. In the first weeks come rumors, then after a couple of months come allusions, and then, if a year passes with no news (God forbid!) come direct questions. Those who have been in this situation might recall the following comments:<
“Is the good news coming masha’Allah insha’Allah?”
“You’ve been married for some time now… If there’s any problem then I know a doctor who may be able to help…”
“Aww, it’s okay. At least you have a pet cat.”
“You’re lucky you’re married for two years now, and you can still sleep at night”
Or even this gem: “I’d love to invite you but we only invited other parents so…”
Giving Proper Consideration
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Part of the perfection of one’s Islam is his leaving that which does not concern him.” [Tirmidhi]
Instead of falling into the temptation of inquiring into what does not concern one, it would be more appropriate to consider all the reasons as to why a couple might not be having children.
Many couples choose to pursue professional careers rather than have children right away. They prefer to establish their careers so they can keep up with the highly competitive nature of today’s world. Others enjoy spending quality time with their spouse and may hold that this would not be possible with a screaming newborn. Not having kids is a lifestyle choice for many not just in the Western culture but is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the rest of the world as well.
- Early Marriages
Marriages at an early age are common in most Muslim cultures, and they come with their own challenges. Some marriages take place even before the couple graduates from college, in which case the newlyweds have to spend most of their time studying for exams rather than planning kids. In other cases, the marriage takes place when the groom is a fresh graduate and either hasn’t acquired a job or has a job that doesn’t generate enough income to support a family. In either case, the young couple is in a novel, stress-inducing situation to which children might not be the best addition.
Some couples are simply not prepared to take on the responsibility of children right after tying the knot. They choose to gain emotional maturity before they take on the draining task of raising children. They prefer to spend a little more time solidifying their marital relationship and growing themselves before focusing their energy on growing a family.
Infertility is one of the most difficult ordeals a couple can go through, and many who Allah has not tested in this manner do not realize what a sensitive issue it is for a couple. There are several different situations in which a couple may be dealing with either temporary or permanent infertility. Some couples get married in their early teens and consequently their bodies may not be ready for conception until it fully matures. For some that get married much later in life, they may not be able to conceive as their bodies age and their biological clocks stops ticking. In the case of many couples that get off of birth control, they may not be able to conceive for a certain period of time due to lasting effects of the medication.
Infertility, whether temporary or permanent, is from the Qadr (decree) of Allah. He chooses to bless some over others and His decree is not in our control.
Whether a couple is not having children purposefully or Allah has not given them a child yet, it is almost never appropriate to ask them about it. The question will only make the couple uncomfortable, or even hurt them. There is no benefit to such an inquiry.
What would the Prophet ﷺ Do?
After considering the reasons, if one is still tempted to ask, he should do what should be done in every situation: ask himself, “What would the Prophet ﷺ do? What would he say about this action?”
The Prophet ﷺ said, “A slave (of Allah) may utter a word which pleases Allah without giving it much importance, and because of that Allah will raise him to degrees (of reward). A slave (of Allah) may utter a word (carelessly) which displeases Allah without thinking of its gravity and because of that he will be thrown into the Hell-Fire” (Bukhari).
Even if we mean no harm, the other person might be hurt by our questions. Are we willing to risk Allah’s displeasure just to satisfy our curiosity? We might not realize the impact of our words, but the person whom we wounded will ask for justice on the Day of Judgement. It is natural for humans to compare their blessings to those that have been given to others, and certainly children are the sweetest blessing in this world. However, our desire for competition should never overtake us to the point that we hurt our brother or sister through our words.
Is it not better for us to follow the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who said what was good or stayed silent? Wouldn’t that be better than the sunnah of Abu Lahab, who made fun of our Prophet when his infant son died, mocking the fact that he had no one to carry on his name?