SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner and author, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India. (Courtesy HarperCollins)
SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner and author, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India. (Courtesy HarperCollins)

Interview: SY Quraishi, author, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi’s new book uses census and National Family Health Survey data to debunk widely-held misconceptions
By Sunetra Choudhury
PUBLISHED ON FEB 19, 2021 07:05 PM IST

Polygamy is associated with the Muslim population. Why do you say it is a myth?Polygamy is not confined to Muslims alone. The Status of Women in India report of 1975, the only study on this so far, shows that all communities in India are polygamous. Interestingly, the least polygamous were the Muslims. I studied the census from 1930 onwards and found that in every census, Muslims were the least polygamous, followed by the Hindus. In any case, in both communities, polygamy was going down. Secondly, that polygamy leads to population growth is also a myth. Polygamy has its own limit in India statistically. In India, for 1000 men, there are 943 women. Statistically, no man in India has a full wife but a 0.9 wife. So where is the second woman coming from for polygamy?

299pp, ₹499, HarperCollins
299pp, ₹499, HarperCollins

Which community is the most polygamous?Tribal communities have 16% polygamy, Hindus are 5.8% and Muslims are 5.7%.

The next myth you deal with is the one which says Muslims don’t believe in family planning.This was a belief that both Hindus and Muslims had. Before I accidentally started this study 25 years ago, even I believed Islam is against family planning. But when I studied the subject I found that nowhere does the Quran prohibit it. In fact, there are interpretations which, according to my conclusion, show that not only is Islam not against family planning, Islam is a pioneer of family planning. It is surprising and remarkable that 1,400 years ago, when there was no population pressure anywhere in the world, the Quran was talking about planned families. For instance, a verse in the Quran says: “Young men you should marry when you can afford it, when you can bring up a family.” One person seeks a clarification from the Prophet and asks: “I’m a poor man but I have sexual needs so what should I do?” The Prophet repeats the words of the Quran and tells him to try fasting as that represses sexual desire. These two verses of the Quran are, according to me, a recommendation to family planning. In another verse, a man with many children says he doesn’t want to have any more. At that time, the only family planning method was the withdrawal method called Al Azl and this man wanted to practise it. However, he says that the Jew had called the method a form of infanticide. The Prophet tells him the Jew lied. This means even this method is allowed. There are other verses as well, which means we have made a mistake in the interpretation. The only thing that every interpretation prohibits is sterilisation. Yet, more than 20% of Muslims have adopted sterlisation. They have gone out of the way, even violating Islamic principles for family planning.

What about the Muslim birth rate being the highest?The allegations from the right wing have been that the Muslims have been multiplying fast as an organised conspiracy. I admit that the Muslim birth rate is the highest and demography has changed in the last 70 years. 84% Hindus has come down to 79.8% and Muslims have gone up from 9.8% to 14%. But Muslims are catching up fast with family planning and they will not overtake Hindus in birth rate. After 60 years, there was 4.2% increase in the Muslim population; the projection is that in 2100, Muslims will become 18% of the population. There is no question of Muslims overtaking. Professor Dinesh Singh, former VC of Delhi University, who is an expert, studied the data and said that they can never overtake the Hindus.

So the slogan “Hindu Khatre mein Hai” (Hindus are endangered) is fake news?Absolutely fake news; it seems to be mischievous propaganda. Likewise with Hum Paanch, Hamaare Pachees (We are five, and 25 are ours) or Hum chaar, hamare chalees (We are four, and 40 are ours). I want to challenge them -- give me one Muslim with four wives and 25 children; one in a population of 1.3 billion!

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