Islamic Perspective on Population Control
One of the core tenets of the Islamic belief is that the Creator has prepared all necessary resources for all living beings on this earth. Islam assumes that human beings will progress not by controlling the population but by properly planning human resources. It prescribes the necessary laws. Here let us discuss the idea of population control, its proponents, their arguments, and its responses from an Islamic point of view.
Tracing the history, it was in 1798 that Thomas Robert Malthus wrote an essay titled "An Essay on the Principle of Population," which was the pioneering work to instil fear about the growth of the population, in which he warned of unemployment, famine and natural calamities followed by the uncontrolled population. After that, there were several studies for and against Malthus for two long centuries. This study was met with multiple responses as scholars like early nineteenth-century American economist Henry Charles Carr (1793–1879) harshly criticised Malthus, whereas John Stuart Mill, a prominent nineteenth-century utilitarian (1806-73) and author of ‘Utilitarianism’, was among Malthus's staunchest supporters. Naturally, the utilitarian believes that all actions that provide satisfaction are right. Actions that do not give satisfaction are wrong. They support Malthus, while the economist, who studies the economic well-being of the individual and society using objective evidence, opposes him.
Unfortunately, experience and evidence were and are all set against Malthus. Those who believed that they had lost all their happiness and comfort joined Malthus, as this has been the case since the time of Malthus and continues to this day. It is crystal clear that those who are behind the notion of controlling the population are utilitarian-minded. The befitting reply for Neo-Malthusians is what Marxist theorist Friedrich Engels said about Malthusian theory. Engels described the Malthusian theory in his ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’ as "the most primitive and savage theory that has ever existed, representing a system so desperate as to destroy the beautiful ideals of loving your neighbour as yourself and universal citizenship." The fact that Charles Darwin and the neo-Darwinist Alfred Russell Wallace collaborated to justify the theory of "survival of the fittest" and that Adolf Hitler used Malthus' theory to justify the idea of "Aryan supremacy of pure blood and hereditary glory" justifies Engels' description of the "savage theory."
Ironically, it only looks at the world order after him to see that Malthusian theories are incorrect. When Malthus wrote his book in 1798, the world population was around 90 million. In two centuries, it became about seven hundred crores. If Malthus' views were correct, the world would not exist today. Famine, unemployment, and disease would have devastated humanity. There are eight times more people on Earth today than two centuries ago when Malthus wrote his book. During these two centuries, has humanity experienced famine or prosperity? Exactly, it is prosperity. The fact that population growth leads to prosperity and not famine needs no other evidence. Why did this happen? Is it because Malthus' calculations are wrong? No. His calculations were correct, but they were based on the conditions and technology of the time he lived in. There have been tremendous scientific advances and technological revolutions since then. As a consequence of the said revolutions, the standard of living of the people improved. None of these advances happened by accident. As a result of the increase in population, scientific progress and technological advancements started developing gradually. As the human population increases, the Creator will provide them with the knowledge and skills to find a way to live. What the Qur'an said to the Arabs of the age of ignorance, who killed their babies due to fear of poverty, is what it has to say to the modernists, who are trying to cut down the chain of population:
- "And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin." (17:31).
- Indeed, it is Allah who is the [continual] Provider, the firm possessor of strength. (51-58).
In 1968, American biologists Paul R. Elrich and his wife Anne H. L. Rich wrote the book ‘Population Bomb’, following Malthus' perceptions of population. Time has proved that all the predictions made by them were illusory. By 1985, the predictions were that there would be a global food shortage, the oceans would disappear, much of the West would become desert, and the average life expectancy would drop to 42! Compared to 1968, when the book was written. In contrast, by 1985, there had only been improvements in the welfare of people. If the government takes their advice and proceeds with measures to reduce the population, it might be burning the storehouse of our most important wealth, human resource capacity. Such measures only lead to unemployment and result in a financial crisis.
Below are the central arguments of those who support population control and their responses:
Firstly, ‘the uncontrolled population causes food shortage'. Although the figures make this argument seem correct, the truth is otherwise. Look at the World Population Prospectus published by the U.N. in 1998. The document shows that the population in 1830 was 100 million, 200 million in 1930, 300 million in 1960, 400 million in 1975, 500 million in 1987, and 600 million in 1999. And check out the U.N.DP Human Development Report of the same year, as it shows that in 1950, when there was a population of 252 crores, the production of food grains on earth was 62.4 crores metric tons, and in 1990, when the population increased to 520 crores, the production became 180 crores metric tons. The fact is that when the population doubled, food production tripled. This shows that if there were a system to distribute enough food grains to everyone, then in 1990, when the population doubled, each person would have received one and a half times the amount of food grains received in 1950. Those who think that population growth will lead to food shortages are misguided because they do not consider the infinite possibilities of human resources, as the divine promise is that "We will provide for them and for you" (17:31).
Secondly, 'population growth causes high disease rate and low life expectancy'. To prove this wrong, one need only check the data on population growth and life expectancy in India published by the Institute of Applied Manpower Research and Human Resources. The said document states that in 1901 when the population was 23.8 crore, the average life expectancy of Indians was 24 years; in 1941, when the population was 31.9 crore, it was 31 years; in 1981, when it was 68.3 crore, it was 55 years; and in 2004, when it was 102 crore, it was 62 years. As the population increases, the average life expectancy increases because the standard of living of the people increases, thereby improving health, reducing diseases, and reducing the death rate of children and young people due to diseases. Thus, Population growth means a decrease in diseases and an increase in life expectancy.
Finally, ‘Population growth causes population density and decreases per capita income’. Population density indeed increases with population growth. Nevertheless, when population density rises, per capita income increases. To answer this, it is only necessary to check out the 2002 World Population Fact Sheet published by the Population Reference Bureau. Congo, Somalia, Mali, and Niger are the least populated countries. As per 2002 statistics, their density rates are 9, 12, 9, and 9 respectively, and their per capita incomes are 570, 600, 780, and 740 dollars, respectively. The most densely populated places—Macau, Monaco, Singapore, and Hong Kong—have the highest per capita incomes. For example, Singapore has a population density of 6,815 and a per capita income of $24,910. This illustrates the fact that productivity increases with population growth, and thus per capita income increases. According to 2002 data, Macao, with a population of 25,806, has an average of 1 cent of land per person but an average income of $46,941,939 per square kilometre. But in Mongolia, which is the second most densely populated country, an average person gets 123.5 acres of land, but the income per square kilometre is only $2,699. This means that productivity and, thus, per capita income will increase as population density increases. These figures make it clear that those trying to create a welfare state should try not to reduce the population but rather promote it.
However, governments should strive to look at human resources constructively and, through their planning, generate projects that benefit the people. It is only when there are such efforts that population planning becomes effective. To realise that the increase in the number of individuals can only bring good to society, one must be free from the view that pleasures are the only way of life. A view of life that sees humans as enemies because they share resources cannot provide society with a stable way of life. The same people who worry about population explosions are talking about genetic techniques to increase the fertility of cattle and broilers. Man is the one who can provide more things to our earth and ecosystems than goats, cows, and chickens can provide. He is the creator of wealth. The illusion that progress can be made by reducing the human population stems from considering human beings as mere consumers. Having more people alive can only benefit the earth. That is why the Holy Qur'an has advised people not to be afraid of fertility, and Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم has advised people to take women who give birth more as wives. We have to repeat what the Qur'an has said to those who talk about the logic of birth control with non-existent figures of poverty; "Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and knowing." (2:268)
Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, National Central Library of Florence,1861, ISBN:9781414293554, 1414293550
An Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Robert Malthus, English, J. Johnson, London,1798
World population prospects, the 1998 revision. Vol. 1, Comprehensive tables.
Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy , Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels ,The Modern Library, New York, 1906
Population bomb, Paul R. Ehrlich · 1983
Human Development Report, 1998
About the author: Unais Kashmir is a PG Research Scholar in Islamic Thoughts and Modern Trends in Islamic Studies at Darul Huda Islamic University, Chemmad. He currently works as a freelance content writer for 'The Muslim Vibe', an online academic journal based in California, USA. He is a passionate writer who is deeply committed to defending Islam against unfounded criticisms.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily mirror Islamonweb’s editorial stance.