For a long time, some conservative Christians and Muslims have regarded family planning and contraception as sacrilegious and immoral.
Other faith leaders have tried to avoid discussing the topic with their followers in spite of adverse impacts overpopulation has caused.
The silence provided a groundswell for professing Christians and Muslims to bear many children without taking into account availability of resources to support them.
Sheikh Shaffi Ummi Bamusi of Lilongwe Mosque said on Friday last week that scores of families belonging to their faith are facing challenges in providing for their children because of too many children.
Bamusi said this could have been avoided if faith leaders had, right from the beginning, taken a leading role in sensitising followers on the importance of child spacing as well as matching the number of children with resources.
“Our indifference towards family planning and contraceptives has not helped matters at all. Today, we are paying heavily for what we previously thought was guarding against religious values,” he explained.
Malawi is among countries which are bearing the brunt of overpopulation globally.
The 2013 National Population Policy of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development indicates that the country’s population stood at 15 million last year.
The ministry says the figure may triple by 2050 if measures are not put in place to check the mass childbirths.
A resident of Area 25 in Lilongwe, Elizabeth Ngongonda, argued that adopting family planning methods to control overpopulation is revolting against God.
“God said we should bear as many children as possible and conquer the world. As far as I’m concerned, we have not subdued the world because we have land still lying unoccupied,” she said.
But Lilongwe-based Seventh – Day Adventist (SDA) Wells Munthali said Malawi has already conquered the world.
Munthali said the inadequacy of basic resources and services, which support healthy living for human beings such as healthcare, food and finances are evidence that mankind has fulfilled God’s mandate.
“Depletion and degradation of the ecosystem is another clear manifestation that we have conquered the world. In the old days, one could not drive between Lilongwe and Blantyre without meeting wild animals along the road.
“We have hunted all the wild animals in our search for a breather from vegetables. What else do we need to prove that we have fulfilled God’s mandate?” he asked.
Health Policy Project (HPP) programme advisor responsible for population and family planning, Laston Mteka-Banda, said his organisation has engaged faith leaders to mobilise their followers in managing population growth.
He said HPP, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Planning Development, are sensitising people of different faiths in Kasungu and Lilongwe on the need to embrace various forms of family planning to curb rapid increase of population.
“To achieve this goal, special weekends have been set aside for faith leaders to talk about family planning issues while citing relevant verses from their holy books. The initiative is being implemented in the areas of Traditional Authorities [T/As] Kaomba, Mwase, Lukwa and Santhe in Kasungu and Chitukula in Lilongwe.
Bamusi said since the launch of the initiative, messages on family planning and contraceptives form part of his khutbah (sermons) during Friday’s jum’ah prayers and other religious gatherings.
He said although the Qur’an is not specific on family planning and the use of contraceptives, Islam emphasises that parents should have children they can ably take care of without putting a burden on neighbours or relatives.
The sheikh said this meant couples must have children in correspondence with their resources.
“In line with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, I always remind Muslims to bear children they can easily support without burdening others. I also tell them about available family planning methods and contraceptives to help followers make their own choices,” said Bamusi.