Infertility in the Qur'an
The Qur'an is the true guidance for all mankind, complete
and lacking nothing. It touches on every aspects of life, on the vast array of
topics and the one that we choose to talk about here is about infertility. The
Qur'an teaches in many ways, showing us a glimpse of the lives of others before
us is one way. There are two main stories of infertility which we should draw and
learn from. The first story is that of Ibrahim s.a.w. and his wife Sara r.a.
There are 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.
Much of the detail comes to us through the narration of hadith. And Islamic
exegesis also rely on biblical (OT) information about Sara. What we do know from
the Qur'an was that Sara was old and barren when Allah blessed her with a child.
Exegesis placec her age at about ninety, while Ibrahim was over 100 yrs old. Long
before this 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.
The story goes that after Hagar conceived she became "haughty" in her ability
to have children, and Sarah's inability at that point. 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 personally accepting the Qadar (fate) that
Allah had set for her. In this 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 the balance of a healthy striving for pregnancy
and knowing when to stop striving. 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 all senses of the word.
It was written for Sarah that she would bare a son and live to see her
grandchild. It is said she conceived Ishaq on the night when lots of people were
destroyed (the angels where on their way there). And she delivered Ishaq on a
We should also take notice at the example set by Ibrahim responding to his
barren wife. He was not harsh to his wife even though she was unable to conceive.
Nor did he abandon her, he stood 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 in
the process, something we all should take notice of. And men, or cultures for
that matter, who blame women for not conceiving and dumb 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 and his wife
Ishba. The 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."
(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 and her aunt Ishba. Ishba was
barren, so the caring of a child was a blessing in her family. Zakariya at times
marvelling at how well Mary had grown appears to have 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 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 had, he prayed in secret to
have a son.
Zakariya beseeched Allah for this blessing, perhaps not expecting the answer,
he appears surprised with it. Perhaps 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 a name not before given. Ishba
and Mary were pregnant during the same time, six months being the difference.
The issue of Pregnancy in light of Qur'an will be given more attention at a
As with the story of Ibrahim we have the example of a husband who remains
with his barren wife. She is not shunned, shammed, divorced, or looked down upon
as a incomplete woman. As many men and cultures do to women in present times.
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, thinks we are tested with. And it appears with 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.. one which is mentioned in the Qur'an as an
example for 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
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 an 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.