Muslim Couples and Infertility: Plan Ahead!

My friend, Noha, sat across from me weeping. She had requested to meet for coffee early that day, it sounded urgent from her voice. I’m not one to pry in someone else’s affairs, if Noha wanted to talk, I knew she eventually would.

And she did.

“I can’t have children,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked like a child who just learned that they had lost their parent forever. I didn’t know what to say to comfort her. I’ve only heard of such personal affairs in the old Egyptian classic movies I watched as a child. In one movie, the lead actress, Amina Rizk, gives up her true love and decides to share her husband with another, Huda Sultan, in hopes that her husband’s name will be passed on.

Noha calmed down once the waiter brought our food. She explained that the doctor determined that her husband was the infertile one, not her as they initially presumed. I confess, I was shocked. In Arab culture, infertility is always blamed on the female.

Even if a woman is strong enough to challenge her society and demand that the man take a fertility test, he almost would always refuse. Noha’s husband had a different view, thus the unfortunate results of the test.

I didn’t know what to say: “should I advise her to leave him or encourage her to just accept her destiny/test from God?”

Fortunately, Noha was loyal. She wanted to stay with her husband, no matter what the future looked like. She loved her first love and wanted to be with him, childless or not. Which made me wonder, if tables were turned, would her husband do the same?

Or would he betray her the first opportunity he gets to marry a second or third? Forgive my pessimism, but what I’ve seen/heard from Arab/Muslim men has only solidified my mistrust.

Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, as well as Islamic tradition, encourages couples to raise large families. As a result, infertile men and women are viewed as worthless contributors to their community. The communities will go out of their way to let the infertile couple/individual know that they are different and unwanted.

If the woman is infertile, other women in the community will hurry the poor husband to marry a second wife. One of my dear friends, Ghada, recounted to me how she faced malicious commentary from a group of native women from Pakistan, about her inability to conceive children. They repeatedly, in public, requested her to see a doctor, although they very well knew she had been married for 16 happy years.

Sometimes it’s difficult for some people to understand that you can be a happy couple without children, and that having children doesn’t guarantee eternal happiness.

My friend Noha’s story is repeated millions of times all over the world. It could happen to anybody regardless of their race, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs and socioeconomic status. According to Wrong Diagnosis, 1 out of 136 women in the United States is infertile.

I believe a new couple should discuss the possibility of infertility in their relationship. They should set a plan for the “what if” situation in which they can’t have children.

Most Middle Eastern and Asian cultures don’t welcome the idea of adoption. However, in Islam it’s highly recommended to support an orphan child in the community.

A couple should reflect on the possibilities and outcomes. What if all else fails? Will they remain a couple, or give up on their relationship? I believe discussing the issue prior will reduce the pain and stress that later might appear. It’s important for new couples to know, infertility doesn’t have to doom a relationship, there are many solutions that cultural practices have often made us neglect.

I am happy to report that Noha’s and her husband’s prayers were answered and they are expecting their first child early this spring.

Be Sociable, Share!

23 Comments

  1. Posted March 17, 2008 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to your friend Noha. This is an excellent post and definitely food for thought for those on the brink of entering marriage. So often we ignore these important questions, thinking that ‘This won’t happen to us’ but the reality is that misfortune can strike anyone and we should definitely making a point of finding out how our future husband/ wife will deal with it.

  2. mola
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    well , somehow ppl think that the only reason they are born is to reproduce , i blame it on religion and society , but luckly this is changing , children shouldn’t always be the way to go , some ppl are just not meant to have children , ohh and btw , maybe you shouldn’t mention names cuz they might not want to share thier story with the world

  3. Laila
    Posted March 19, 2008 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m a little puzzled how Noha got pregnant if her husband was “infertile”… but that’s beside the point…

    I married a Muslim man who had no chance of having children. He was previously married to his cousin (same religion/same ethnicity obviously) and when she didn’t get pregnant in 3 years of marriage they were both checked and his “bullet count” was zero.

    No one could tell him why or how this had happened to him. This is obviously in Allah’s hand, simply naseeb.

    She did not ask for a divorce but rather used this knowledge to attack his “manhood” on every possible level. He finally divorced her when the level of disrespect and taunting reached it’s limit in his mind.

    I married him knowing full well that we would not have children. He specifically looked for a woman who was not wishing to have children and already DID have children so he would not “disappoint” her.

    The agony and torture he went through in his mind over his inability to father children was awful. His self esteem and self-respect was so low and so fragile.

    Within less than a year of marriage I found him searching for a new wife on the internet, one with young children at home that he could help raise/parent.

    He had refused my suggestion of adoption. (can’t say I was surprised…) He also had refused my suggestion that he bring his widowed sister and her small daughter to the states so we could participate in her upbringing.

    I was devastated by my discovery, and the betrayal I felt was enormous. I had accepted him for the wonderful loving man that he was, unconditionally, but he had never accepted HIMSELF.

    I tried many times to get him to have counseling, or to talk to an Imam about how to accept this naseeb. His shame about his “condition” kept him silent.

    So if you meet someone who is upfront and honest with you about this problem, check and see how they have dealt with it before you assume it won’t affect your marriage. I found out too late that my acceptance was not the main issue, it was HIS acceptance that mattered too.

    Salaam

  4. Posted March 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    What a miracle really, This is the way Allah helps someone if he wills.

    This, however is the scariet question in a marriage, and as you said, talking about it is usually ignored. May Allah bless everyone with a happy marriage with childen, Ameen

  5. Maja
    Posted March 20, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I can not really understand what the problem is to adopt!

    For me it’s something I deffenetally will do, fertil or not!

    That (or those) children are the chosen one’s not the homemade one 😉 most people can make children of there own, but to chose one and to love it as your own that is something that truly butyfull! Without any selfishnes involved!
    Though it might be dificult and a long road of paperwork before!

    There are so many children out there that needs parents why not choose them, give them a posibility in life that they would never have otherwise!

    Now I’m not muslim, but know eough about islam to know that it’s somthing that are recomended, to help orphans! Right!?

  6. Natalia Antonova
    Posted March 20, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m a little puzzled how Noha got pregnant if her husband was “infertile”… but that’s beside the point…

    I think sometimes they tell you you’re infertile when what they mean is that you have a really low sperm count… so getting your wife pregnant is possible, it’s just very improbable. At least, I’m not expert.

    There are also lots of fertility treatments nowadays.

    At most, they could have just used a sperm donor. Don’t know what the legality of that is under Islam (of course, it all depends on different interpretations of Islam as well), but I don’t think it’s unheard of among Muslim couples.

    Like Maja, I think adoption is of huge importance. Lots of kids out there need love.

  7. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Mola, you said, “i blame it on religion and society”

    I don’t think religion is the problem here. I think it’s how some people have chosen to interpret the religion. And remember, culture plays a huge role in this interpretation.

  8. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Laila: I am so sorry that you had to deal with a man with so much baggage. Unfortunately his reaction is the result of his upbringing and culture. It’s amazing how Arab men link infertility with their virility. It’s obvious that he sought other women to regain his lost self-esteem. It’s truly sad to know that his first wife chose to react to their problem by creating an even bigger problem. It’s even more unfortunate to learn that a loving and caring person like yourself who offers everything is unappreciated and mistreated.

    I pray that you find a better husband. You made a great point when you said: know your man before you marry him and his acceptance level of infertility either way!

  9. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Arima: She is due in 1 month. Please make duaa that rabina yi2wimaha bilsalamah inshAllah.

  10. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Mola: Names and story have been slightly modified to protect the privacy of my friend :-)

  11. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    Maryam: It’s a scary subject, but definitely a subject that MUST be discussed prior to an official contract. It makes life easier and it demonstrates maturity of the new couple.

  12. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Maja: You said, “For me it’s something I deffenetally will do, fertil or not!”

    I agree with you. This is definitely something I plan on doing later when I am well-established in my career–and hopefully married!

    In Islam, raising orphans, feeding the poor, and taking care of all community members (regardless of their gender, religion, nationality, etc) is highly recommended, if not mandated.

    A neat way to contribute to the children of the world is to sponsor an orphan through the Islamic Relief Orphans’ Project. You can choose a region/country to sponsor an orphan from for less than $33/monthly. You may visit here for more info.

  13. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Natalia: Right on!

  14. Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    P.S: According to Islamic law, using a sperm donor is frowned upon due to the importance of genealogy in Islam. However, as you state, modern technology has advanced so much that pretty much anything could be done for a couple, you will just need the big bucks.

  15. Posted March 22, 2008 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Err ….. Is this your blog Organic Muslimah ???

  16. Nisa
    Posted March 22, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Salaam

    Alhamdulillah such a happy ending – just wondering how your friend managed to get pregnant mashaAllah? I am struggling with the same problem and would really like to know how (apart from dua which is the best of all curers) it was made possible for them?

    JazakAllah

  17. Posted March 23, 2008 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    ArabComment is an online magazine. My blog is like is here

  18. galadriel
    Posted March 24, 2008 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Salam Sisters,

    Very close to my heart, this issue of infertility. I too cannot have children and I am not even 30 yet. The problem is with me purely…husband is healthy as a fiddle. And what made my world crumble was when I found out was that no medical intervention could help.

    Anyway, it took me a while to recover emotionally. Did consider adoption, but there are the hijab issues between us and the child when he/she reaches puberty. And yes, of course there is the option of supporting an orphan(s). But we want more than just supporting these kids financially too…

    Its also a matter of looking at the glass half empty of half full. With no kids at the moment, we have developed such a strong bond, my husband and I. We love each other to bits. I was also able to do my haj recently..and I am able to be involved in community work, take up arabic classes, organise events for muslimahs in my group etc…if I had kids, I don’t think I would have been able to do all those things.

    But having said that, I would drop everything should I somehow ever get pregnant. I ask Allah for a child/children everytime I do my sujud during prayers.

    But learning to see the good in all things helps. It gives me hope and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters :)

  19. Posted March 24, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure what she did exactly, but I know she had an expensive procedure done.

  20. Posted March 26, 2008 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    galadriel:

    Salamu alaikum dear!

    SubhanAllah. Allah is so merciful, He takes something away from us, but then replaces it with something better.

    I pray that you and your husband’s love grow even stronger everyday.

    Some scholars have said if a mother can breastfeed the adopted child, he/she automatically becomes real family. You can artificially induce lactation.

    Just a thought :)

  21. Posted June 7, 2008 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Dear all,
    I believe that the issue of infertility here is beside the point. This is not the point.
    There are several issues that have to be clarified here.
    First and foremost, God in the Quran says, and I am using my own translation and understanding as a professional translator; “Capital and offspring are the garnish of terrestrial life.”
    While talking about garnish, we are referring to accessories rather than necessities. No one, as a human being is required to have children. It is not our duty on earth to deliver and reproduce. You can construct earth through teaching, developing the community, and even on smaller levels such as treating people well, as it is known that “your religion is the way you treat people.”
    Second, most of us were raised to believe that reproducing is an obligation for every Muslim. However, I would definitely disagree with this argument, because and according to my understanding to the Quranic Sura “Al-Takathur” this is invalid. From a linguist point of view, I would say that this Sura addresses people of the pre-Islamic period, Al-Jahiliyah, by telling them that they got too involved in and distracted by hoarding your numbers, i.e. you bragged about being a large nation. Then, the Sura goes on by saying: “you have even visited symmetries, No you shall know, and no you shall know. You shall know with certitude that you shall see hell…” I have noticed that there is no accurate translation for the Quran in English. Again, as a translator, I would say that this Sura asks the people it addresses of not getting too involved and distracted by reproduction.
    Third, there is Islamic evidence, which most people misuse by interpreting it as encouraging for reproduction. The evidence I am referring to is the famous saying for the prophet: “Get large in number, I shall brag with you amongst other nations on the day of resurrection.” Unfortunately, this saying is widely misused amongst Muslims all over the world, as it had been taken out of its original context. This statement of the prophet, Peace be Upon Him, was made at a time Muslims were inviting other nations to Islam [During the time of Da’wa], not to oblige Muslims to reproduce, because God knows that some are unable to have babies. Therefore, it would reflect encouraging Muslims to invite others to Islam.
    Finally, I would like to add that many cultural customs and tradition are undoubtedly and allegedly coined to Islam. For that reason, we Muslims need better interpreters for Islam, which has been deformed by irrational cultural values it had been meant to erase. It is highly documented, though, that we tend to refer to textbooks and references that are neither reliable nor credible to understand the Quran.
    My argument here is intended to clarify that reproduction is not an obligation, it is a matter of choice and that Islam is by no means linked to culture. Islam requires its followers, namely, to remove all cultural and national boundaries between nations and be unified under the umbrella of an Islamic ‘Ummah’, which supersedes geographical and cultural heritage. This is, by the way, supported by the first Hijrah, when the prophet asked Muslims to overcome geographical boundaries through migrating from Mecca to Al-Madinah where Muslims of different tribes and geographical locations were attached by the linkage of Islam, unlike the events taking place now between Muslims such as Morocco and Algeria, as one unit.
    The sociology of religion is very interesting and contentious; however, it helps one in attaining a better understanding of religion.

    Hope this is useful!
    Best,
    Nour

  22. Maryam
    Posted November 22, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Assalamu Aleikum Sisters,
    I knew I could not have children since I was 11 years old.. A condition called AIS.. I also needed vaginoplasty to reconstruct my very shallow vagina, now in my late 20’s I doubt that I will ever find a man or have sex let alone have any children.

    I think most people find out once they are married and trying for a baby; in some sense there is a chance to look at other options. But If I could find a man who could love me as i am with the possibility of adopting I would.

    I pray that we all find a good husband and that Allah will bless us with a child in one way or another inshallah.

    Maryam

  23. Posted May 12, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Just the other day I ran into a woman who used to teach at my high school – Miss D. She told me she and her husband couldn’t have children (didn’t mention which one of them was infertile).

    They’re Muslim, and most Muslims can agree that adoption is haraam (forbidden). Actually, that statement may be a bit misleading, it’s not adoption of a child in itself that’s haraam, it’s treating an adopted child exactly as if they were your biological child (i.e. not telling the child (s)he is adopted, not telling them who their real parents are, etc.). There are alternative forms of adoption that are encouraged in Islam such as kafala (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoption_in_Islam).

    Miss D and her husband found a creative solution. They chose to do kafala of an orphan baby boy, and she had her sister (who was then breastfeeding her own child) suckle the baby, thereby making him a mahram and solving the hijab issue.

    I agree that these issues should be discussed pre-marriage.