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Rightsizing

The tragedy of the commons is a term used in the social sciences to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.

The problem of population is one manifestation of the commons’ tragedy where self-interest and/or ignorance of some individuals cause great harm to the collective good.

One need not be a philosopher or a keen observer to understand the problems associated with over-population. Every one of us experiences, on a regular basis, the negative externalities of someone’s unmeditated choice to produce as many children as they can. Overcrowded hospitals, roads, schools, and streets make a fulfilling life unthinkable. Crime, over-exploitation of the natural resources, and even the problems of governance have to do, in large part, with unregulated population.

The problem of population growth, especially in Pakistan, squarely fits in our collective failure as Muslims to use reason to solve our social, political, and economic problems in light of the Holy Quran. Man was supposed to be the vicegerent of God endowed with an invaluable and unshared favour in the form of intellect – the ability to think through his problems and create solutions.

This ability manifests itself most in an environment of relative peace and competition. It flourishes where questioning and making mistakes are welcome. Its worst enemy is a culture in which conformity to symbols and rituals is rewarded more than the underlying spirit and where traditions are followed without the exigencies of contemporary realities.

Some Muslims believe that population planning is un-Islamic in character as it deprives nature from its ability to spontaneously regulate itself. In other words, using contraceptives is a kind of disobedience to God’s decree to implement His grand design on earth. This (mis)understanding has its roots in how we make sense of the holy Quran. Essentially, it is not a problem of Islam per se; it is to do with our understanding of it.

Historically, one reason for the spread of Islam so fast during the first two centuries of its renaissance was its appeal for promoting ‘maaroof’ (common good) and forbidding ‘munkir’ (evil). Ethical purification constituted the core of Islamic thought – leaving the social, political and economic structures to the jurists and scholars to develop keeping in view contemporary challenges and local conditions.

The issue of population size has to be seen from contextual and collective perspectives. In the old times, natural and man-made disasters would cause the destruction of entire families and communities. Moreover, the average span of life was short due to the unavailability of life-saving drugs and other medical techniques. All this required a natural urge for population growth in order for people to work in fields, fight wars and cope with natural calamities without fear of extinction.

Today, the world has radically changed. Work that required physical labour has been taken over by machines. Technology continues to throw people out of work. The traditional view of large family/tribe as the source of strength and wealth needs to be revisited.

Giving the coming generation proper education, healthcare and other facilities of life makes it incumbent upon our rulers, religious scholars, civil society, and parents to educate people about the dynamics of population growth and its implications for the common good of humanity. Let us start to take the issue seriously as many other problems that our country faces today are an outcome of population explosion.

M Zeb Khan, "Rightsizing," The news. 2019-03-28.
Keywords: Social sciences , Resource system , Media role , Social impact , Natural resources , Economic problems , Civil society , Contemporary realities , Islamic thoughts , Natural calamities , Population growth , Physical labor