The long-awaited 2011 census data on religious communities has now been released prior to the crucial Bihar elections. In spite of demands from several quarters caste data has not yet been released. There are concerns about the rise in Muslim population and marginal decline in the Hindu growth rate, which has gone down to 79.8% with 966.3 million Hindus in absolute numbers.
Muslims constitute 14.23% and make up 172.2 million. In spite of large-scale alleged conversions to Christianity, they continue to be a meagre 2.3% of our population. Statistically speaking there is no possibility of Muslims ever overtaking Hindus in terms of numbers. Therefore, false propaganda on this count must stop.
There is no doubt that just like previous census reports the Muslim growth rate is certainly higher than the Hindus. Thus while the Hindu population grew by 16.76%, Muslims increased their number by 24.6%. But the vital fact which should not be overlooked is that there is a remarkable decline in the population growth of both the majority community as well as the minority community.
In fact, it is heartening to notice that the decline is highest amongst the Muslims as they have recorded a huge decline from 29.52% to 24.6%. The other heartening feature is that the Muslim growth rate in educated Kerala is lower than all the communities of northern states, thereby proving the thesis that fertility rates have nothing to do with religion. Education, financial status, health care and regional factors are far more important than religion.
The use of birth control in Islam is part of the wide complex of its ideas and social institutions. The Islamic attitude towards family planning consists only of the opinion of jurists since the Quran says nothing about contraception.
Two contradictory views are presented by theologians. The conservative group is led by Ibn Hazm and Maulana Maududi, and the liberal view, which has the support of a large number of scholars, is led by Imam Ghazali. The former group quotes the Quranic verse: “Kill not your children, on a plea of want. We provide sustenance for you and for them.”
The other group also quotes the Quran: “And one (God’s) sign is, that he has created for you your mates from yourself, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and has ordained between you love and mercy.”
In view of absence of an authentic religious text, Imam Ghazali discussed contraception from premises rooted more in profane biology and economics than in strictly religious sources.
Prohibition in Islam was possible only by adducing an original text or by analogy with a given text. Ghazali argued that while abortion and infanticide were crimes against an existing being, contraception was different. While Ghazali accepted some of the motives for birth control, he rejected others as objectionable.
The use of contraception for fear of having daughters is not allowed in Islam. Its use by women for personal reasons — such as that they dislike pregnancy or they have a fetish for absolute cleanliness or simply because they did not want to be bothered about childbirth — are not permitted either.
It must, however, be noted that it was the intent that was objectionable, not the concept of family planning per se.
Ghazali supported the use of contraceptives with one’s wife to protect her from the dangers of childbirth, or simply to preserve her beauty. He also supported the economic reasons for family planning such as wish to limit the family to a manageable size.
Another valid reason for practising contraception in Islam is the well-being of children. The presence of a nursing infant was a major reason for birth control.
It is disgraceful that fanatics continue to malign Indian Muslims for possessing large families. Empirical researches on acceptance of family planning by Muslims do demonstrate that Muslim acceptance of family planning is on the rise.
It has been found that as against 57.8% of Hindus, 45.7% of Muslims practise family planning.
In more than a dozen states, more than 50% of Muslims practise family planning. Here again territorial differences are clearly visible. It is the higher rate of literacy in Kerala which has to be credited for the acceptance of family planning there.
According to the above survey, the rate of decadal increase in family planning acceptance amongst Muslims was 300% as against only 264% amongst Hindus.
This increasing acceptance of family planning is reflected in the sharp decline in the total fertility rates of Muslims in the latest data.
In fact, by 2050 Muslims are expected to reach the replacement levels of fertility. Another positive feature of the data just released is that the Muslim community has further improved the male-female ratio.
As against the Hindu sex ratio of 939 females for 1,000 males, the Muslim community has a healthy sex ratio of 951 females for 1,000 men.
(Faizan Mustafa is vice-chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal)