There are many negative environmental factors effecting the prenatal development of a child. Muslim children do not suffer from nearly as many of these factors than non-Muslim children. Hence, the possibility of a Muslim producing strong, healthy, and intelligent babies is much greater than that of non-Muslims.
This article will briefly delve into six environmental factors which negatively effect children before birth and then examine them within the Islamic context.
Note: spiritual factors, which are arguably more important than environmental factors are not discussed in this article. If one wants more information on that aspect of prenatal development one can refer to From Marriage to Parenthood; the Heavenly Path by Abbas and Shaheen Merali.
The first major environmental factor in prenatal development is nutrition. The developing foetus demands a variety of essential nutrients and vitamins essential for growth. If the mother is malnourished the child is in danger of neurological deficits. But, most mothers in the western world would not be malnourished. That being said, they still need to have a balanced diet to ensure that the foetus receives all of the nutrients it needs. One example is that a diet rich in folic acid reduces the risk of many birth defects.
Islam encourages a healthy diet, especially for pregnant mothers. Imam Sadiq (a) has said: “Whatever the mother eats, drinks and breathes during pregnancy, Allah also allots it to the child.” Some food items recommended for pregnant women found in traditions are: breasts of animals, chicory, dates, fig, olive oil, pomegranate, quince, watermelon. For more information refer to: Pregnancy. Therefore, Muslims who give importance to following the nutritious advice of Islam would be better off.
The second major environmental factor is stress and emotion. It has been established that anxiety and depression found in pregnant women lead to increased behavioural problems in their children. Islam encourages a healthy emotional balance founded upon patience, forbearance, belief in divine support, and the balance between hope of divine reward and fear of divine punishment. For more information about how to reduce stress levels refer to “The Islamic Model of Stress Relief; Chilling with the Brothers.” Therefore, Muslims who work on the akhlaqi side of religion will not suffer from this factor.
The third major environmental factor is drug use. The majority of drugs that a pregnant mother might consume are able to penetrate trough the membranes of the placenta. The far majority of recreational drugs are harmful, especially sedatives, narcotics, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Tobacco use is also harmful and increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Islam strongly condemns the use of intoxicating drugs. For instance, Ayatollah Khamenei states: “It is haram [religiously forbidden] to use narcotics in any way because it results in considerable adverse effects in terms of personal health and social cost. By the same token, it is haram to deal in narcotics in any way, i.e., carrying, transporting, storing, selling, buying, etc.” Therefore, a Muslim who gives importance to following the laws of Islam would not be affected by this factor.
The fourth major environmental factor is alcohol consumption. There are serious risks posed to a foetus if its mother consumes alcohol, such as fetal alcohol syndrome which is a collection of congenial (inborn) problems and is the most common cause of mental retardation. The typical defects of such a child would be microcephaly (small head), heart defects, irritability, hyperactivity, and delayed motor development.
Islam has a clear and strong prohibition of alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is so severely condemned in Islam that one is religiously prohibited from even sitting at a table where another person is drinking alcohol or entering a pub for any reason. The Quran clearly states: “O you who have faith! Indeed wine, gambling, idols and the divining arrows are abominations of Satan’s doing, so avoid them, so that you may be felicitous. Indeed Satan seeks to cast enmity and hatred among you through wine and gambling, and to hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you, then, relinquish?” (Quran, 5:90-91) Therefore, a Muslim who gives importance to following the laws of Islam would not be affected by this factor.
The fifth major environmental factor is maternal illness. The placenta is able to protect the foetus from many infectious agents, but not all. Many diseases, such as measles, rubella, syphilis, and chickenpox can be dangerous to the health of the child. There are large portions of mothers infected with AIDS who pass the disease to the child as well. This environment would affect Muslim mothers as well.
The sixth major environmental factor is environmental toxins. Toxins also affect the foetus, such as air pollution which has been linked to impairments in cognitive development. Islam wouldn’t necessarily make a difference with this factor, living in larger cities would.
Therefore, the majority of factors which negatively effect the foetus are mitigated in Islam. Islam provides a comprehensive nutrition plan for pregnant women which protects them from malnutrition and allows the foetus to benefit from a variety of essential nutrients. Islam prohibits the use of alcohol and drugs, thus eliminating these negative factors altogether. Islam also holistically combats stress which would lessen the effect of this factor as well. Islam does not guarantee a healthy child, by no means, but the Muslim foetus is more protected from negative factors.
This Article was written by Sheikh Hamid Waqar and first Published on 14publications.