ISLAMABAD - Around forty prominent religious scholars of the country, representing all major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, have endorsed the concept of birth spacing as a mean to save the lives of mothers and children.

Speaking at a high-level meeting organised by the Population Council in collaboration with UNFPA here on Tuesday, the religious scholars unanimously underscored the need for improving the health and well-being of families in order to lay down the foundation of a strong Islamic welfare society.

The religious scholars unanimously endorsed that birth spacing should be considered as a basic right of mothers and an important intervention for improving maternal and child health outcomes. For this purpose the use of all reversible contraceptive methods as prescribed by medical practitioners are allowed in Islam. This message needs to be clearly enunciated from the pulpit so that it permeates to the grassroots level, especially among rural communities. They also urged that policymakers must ensure that access to services and information is improved.

They also recommended introducing changes in the educational curriculum that should be focused to prepare the youth to enter into harmonious marital relations and enable them to raise their families in accordance with Islamic precepts.

Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, Imam Badshahi Masjid Lahore and Chairman Interfaith Harmony, responding to a presentation made by Dr Ali Mir of the Population Council on the state of mothers and children’s health in Pakistan said that it is most unfortunate that despite the high status accorded by Islam to women, especially mothers, they were  relegated to an inferior position in society. This is totally contrary to Islamic teachings. He said that it was a grave tragedy that mothers and infants were dying because of repeated and closely spaced pregnancies.

He said the Holy Quran enjoins mothers to breastfeed their children for two years so as to allow them to space pregnancies and to recoup their energy expanded during the birth of their last child. He said that according to Islamic teachings, one life saved is the same as saving the entire humanity. Malulana Azad concluded, “We cannot condone the loss of 13000 mothers who die every year due to pregnancy related complications at any cost.”

The religious scholars unanimously offered to support all initiatives that were in conformity with the teachings of Islam. The government must ensure seeking the support of the religious leaders and Islamic scholars to spread the true Islamic message on family well-being as a means to counter and overcome misinterpretation of Islamic teachings and harmful socio-cultural beliefs and practices that were responsible for the poor health status of our people.

Muhammad Ilyas Khan, Director General Council of Islamic Ideology, was the chief guest on the occasion. Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad, Imam Badshahi Masjid, Lahore was the guest of honour while Masale and Muqadar Shah represented UNFPA.

Former Senator Javed Jabbar spoke on the enduring importance of religion and religious scholars in rapidly changing conditions. He cited the examples of various Muslim countries which achieved remarkable success in improving their health indicators by involving religious leaders in health promotion activities. Other speakers on the occasion included Dr Farid Piracha, Ibtisaam Elahi Zaheer, Mufti Muhammad Ibrahim, Dr Dildar Alvi, Maulana Hamid ul Haq Haqani, Dr Nasira Tasneem and Dr Muhammad Naqvi.

Seemin Ashfaq, Deputy Director Programme Population Council, thanked all the participants for their presence and said that the consensus reached at the meeting would go a long way in improving the well being of families in Pakistan.