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Infertility in the Qur'an

The Qur'an is true guidance for all mankind, complete and not lacking anything. It touches on every aspect of life, so it should come as no suprise that infertility is on the vast array of subjects. The Qur'an teaches in many ways, showing us a glimpse of the lives of others before us is one way. There are two stories of infertility in Qur'an which we should draw and learn from. The first story is that of Ibrahim s.a.w. and his wife Sara r.a. The two main accounts of this story, given as follows.

And his wife was standing (there) and she laughed: But we gave her glad tidings of Isaac and after him, of Jacob. She said "Alas for me! Shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here, is an old man? That indeed would be a wonderful thing!" They said: "Dost thou wonder at Allah's decree? The grace of Allah and His blessings on you, O ye people of the house! For He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of Glory!" 11:71-73

...And they (angels) gave him  (Ibrahim) glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge. But his wife came forward clamoring, she smote her forehead and said: "A barren old woman!" They said "Even so has thy Lord spoken and He is full of wisdom and knowledge."  51:28-30

Not much detail is given in the Qur'an concerning the lives of Sara or Hagar. But some of the details we recieve with ahadith. Islamic exegesis also rely on heavily upon biblical (OT) information about Sara as well as Hagar. What we do know from the Qur'an was that Sara was old and barren when Allah blessed her with a child. Exegesis place her age at about ninety and Ibrahim was over 100 yrs old. It was several years before this that Sara gave her hand maiden, Hagar, to Ibrahim in marriage so that he may have children.

Many women going through infertility can relate to the sense of guilt for "denying" their husbands children. This is a common feeling that is present, as we see with Sarah. As we see in this story polygyny is an option for couple who can not have children due to the illness with the wife.

Accroding to exigisis after Hagar conceived she became "haughty" in her ability to have children. From this rose a jealousy in Sara in which she threatened to do harm to Hagar. Nothing came of this threat and evidently the waters were calmed in Ibrahim's household. The family continued to remain together until Ibrahim's command to take Hagar and Ishmael to the valley of Mecca and leave them there.

We have reference in the Qur'an of Sara striking her face and laughing in the astonishment of being blessed with a pregnancy at 90 yrs of age. It appears Sarah, naturally, had long since given up hopes of conceiving. She had given Hagar to Ibrahim as a way not to deny him and accepting the Qadar (fate) that Allah had set for her.

Here we can take a lesson from Sara, at some point we must learn to just accept what has been written for us and go on. All too often couples become obsessed with having a child to where it is harmful for themselves. We as Muslims must learn to seek a healthy balance in striving for pregnancy. We must learn at what point to stop medical procedures and accept what Allah has planne for us. A woman's (or man's) life does not end because they have no children. Sarah, although barren, remained firm in her faith, true to her husband, and a full woman in every sense of the word.

Sarah was ultimately blessed with a child, Ishaq pbuh. Angels came to her as they were on their way to the people of Lot pbuh and informed her. Not only was she told of a son but she was also informed that she would live to see her grandchildren. Considering her age it could have been the total shock that lead her to smite her face. I'm sure after so many years of giving up on having children a slap on the face is what she needed to reassure herself she wasn't dreaming.

It is important at this point to take notice of the example set by Ibrahim in relation to his barren wife. He was never harsh to his wife in words or deeds even though she was unable to conceive. Nor did he abandon her he chose to stand by his wife as she stood by him. He did not seek out another wife or "right hand possession" to have children, it was Sara who suggested Hagar to him. This bond of marriage, faith, love, and tenderness kept this couple together even in infertile times. Working together in cooperation something we all should take notice of. And men, or cultures for that matter, who blame women for not conceiving and down them as if they were no longer a complete woman should take heed in this example set by Ibrahim.

Ibrahim was indeed a model... 16:120

Another Qur'anic example of infertility is that of Zakariya pbuh and his wife Ishba. The Qur'anic story focuses more on Zakariya than Ishba herself. In fact very little is said about her in the Qur'an, hadith, and exegesis.

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: "O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer! While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: "Allah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and (be besides) noble, chaste, and a prophet,- of the (goodly) company of the righteous." He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have son, seeing I am very old, and my wife is barren?" "Thus," was the answer, "Doth Allah accomplish what He willeth." 3:38-40

(This is) a recital of the Mercy of thy Lord to His servant Zakariya.Behold! he cried to his Lord in secret, Praying: "O my Lord! infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with grey: but never am I unblest, O my Lord, in my prayer to Thee!  19:2-4

And (remember) Zakariya, when he cried to his Lord: "O my Lord! leave me not without offspring, though thou art the best of inheritors." So We listened to him: and We granted him Yahya: We cured his wife's (Barrenness) for him. These (three)were ever quick in emulation in good works; they used to call on Us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before Us. 21:89-90

Mary r.a. was placed in the care of Zakariya pbh and her aunt Ishba. Ishba was barren, so the caring of a child was a blessing in her family. Zakariya pbuh at times marveled at how well Mary had grown and it instilled the urge in him to have a son. One who would not only inherit the family lineage, but one who would carry on the teachings of Allah, something which he did himself. Perhaps Mary r.a. fulfilled the natural urge in Zakariya pbuh to have children for a limited time, but when she had matured and no longer a child, the desire seems to have rekindled. Whatever the exact emotions that Zakariya pbuh had, it brought him to a point where he prayed in secret to have a son.

Zakariya pbuh beseeched Allah for this blessing, perhaps not expecting the answer, he appears surprised with it. It was not so much the answer of "yes" but rather the means in which the child would come to him. His old barren wife, cured by Allah, was to conceive. Zakariya responded in natural amazement that his wife would conceive. He was told by Allah that such a thing was easy for Allah.. and it is. His son would be given the name of Yahya pbuh a name not before given who would carry on Zakariya's pbuh work.

We also learn that Ishba and Mary were pregnant around the same time. Yahya's pbuh work with Isa pbuh being something planned by Allah surrounded by many miraculous events.

As with the story of Ibrahim pbuh we have the example of a husband who remains with his barren wife. She is not shunned, shammed, divorced, or looked down upon as an incomplete woman as many men and cultures do to women. This is a lesson that all of our ummah must learn, as Allah says "...He leaves barren whom He wills" (42:50) It is a decree from Allah. This does not make one less of a woman (or man) and one should not be treated as such. We are to remain firm in our faith in Allah, knowing that He brings about things that we may not like and things we are tested with. And the stigma placed on couples who do not have children we are failing our test.

I know many women are thinking, that these two stories have such happy endings (babies) and yet it does not happen with all of us. Why does not Allah bestow on all of us pregnancies.. why must "I" be barren.. why me? As I sit here and write this my mind searches for an example of a woman with no children, suddenly I remembered one so full of faith, and one mentioned in the Qur'an as an example for all those who believe.

And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: "O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong";  66:11

Her name was Asya, and she never conceived a child. It is said that her marriage was one of sacrifice she made for the safety of her people. But the marriage was never consumated, for Allah had stricken Pharaoh with impotence. Whatever the case may have been, here was a childless woman, who is set forth as an example for all believers. She nurtured a Prophet from infancy even though he was not her own, and she was a martyr.

It is said that Pharoah had killed several believers in the palace, among them a maid, her children and her husband. Asya picked up an iron stake to kill Pharaoh, she failed, and Pharaoh had her tortured by piercing iron stakes through her breast. The same childless woman sought Allah to build mansions in the Garden, and to save her from those that do wrong. Do we dare to say that such an example as stated by Allah is incomplete or less of a woman because she bore no children? Do we not take heed in the examples given to us? So anytime one attempts to make you feel low, or less of a woman (or man) think of these examples, draw guidance and strength from them. Rely on Allah, and seek Him to give you strength.

May Allah give us All that is good for us, make it easy for us to obtain it and keep us on the straight path when we do.


Qur'an translation by Yusuf Ali

"Women in the Qur'an, Traditions and Interpretation" by Barbara Freyer Stowasser ISBN 0-19-508480-2

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