Islam and abortion

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Muslim views on abortion are shaped by the Hadith as well as by the opinions of legal and religious scholars and commentators. In Islam, the fetus is believed to become a living soul after four months of gestation,[1] and abortion after that point is generally viewed as impermissible. Many Islamic thinkers recognize exceptions to this rule for certain circumstances; indeed, Azizah Y. al-Hibri notes that "the majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited."[2] According to Sherman Jackson, "while abortion, even during the first trimester, is forbidden according to a minority of jurists, it is not held to be an offense for which there are criminal or even civil sanctions," so Muslims should not support legal restrictions on abortion rights unsupported by Islamic law, as opposed to solely moral activism.[3]

Relevant excerpts from the Hadith[edit]

Allah's Apostle gave the judgment that a male or female slave should be given in Qisas for an abortion case of a woman from the tribe of Bani Lihyan (as blood money for the fetus) but the lady on whom the penalty had been imposed died, so the Prophets ordered that her property be inherited by her offspring and her husband and that the penalty be paid by her Asaba.

Hadith—Sahih al-Bukhari 8.732, Narrated Abu Hurairah

Umar bin Al-Khattab asked (the people) about the Imlas of a woman, i.e., a woman who has an abortion because of having been beaten on her abdomen, saying, "Who among you has heard anything about it from the Prophet?" I said, "I did." He said, "What is that?" I said, "I heard the Prophet saying, 'Its Diya (blood money) is either a male or a female slave.'" Umar said, "Do not leave till you present witness in support of your statement." So I went out, and found Muhammad bin Maslama. I brought him, and he bore witness with me that he had heard the Prophet saying, "Its Diya (blood money) is either a male slave or a female slave."

Hadith—Sahih Bukhari 9.420, Narrated Mughira ibn Shu'ba

Ibn Abbas said: "Umar asked about the decision of the Prophet (peace be upon him) about that (i.e. abortion) Haml ibn Malik ibn an-Nabighah got up and said: I was between two women. One of them struck another with a tent-pole killing both her and what was in her womb. So the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) gave judgment that the blood-wit for the unborn child should be a male or a female slave of the best quality and that she should be killed."

Hadith—Abu Dawood 4555, Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab

When abortion is permissible[edit]

Among Muslims, the permissibility of abortion depends on factors such as time and extenuating circumstances.

Before four months of gestation[edit]

Seyed al-Sabiq, author of Fiqh al-Sunnah, has summarized the views of the classical jurists in this regard in the following words:

Abortion is not allowed after four months have passed since conception because at that time it is akin to taking a life, an act that entails penalty in this world and in the Hereafter. As regards the matter of abortion before this period elapses, it is considered allowed if necessary. However, in the absence of a reasonable excuse it is detestable. The author of ‘Subul-ul-Maram’ writes: "A woman’s treatment for aborting a pregnancy before the spirit has been blown into it is a matter upon which scholars differed on account of difference of opinion on the matter of ‘Azal (i.e. measures to hinder conception). Those who allow ‘Azal consider abortion as allowable and vice versa." The same ruling should be applicable for women deciding on sterilization. Imam Ghazzali opines: "Induced abortion is a sin after conception". He further says: "The sin incurred thus can be of degrees. When the sperm enters the ovaries, mixes with the ovum and acquires potential of life, its removal would be a sin. Aborting it after it grows into a germ or a leech would be a graver sin and the graveness of the sin increases very much if one does so after the stage when the spirit is blown into the fetus and it acquires human form and faculties."[4]

Threat to the woman's life[edit]

On the issue of the life of the woman, Muslims universally agree that her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus. This is because the woman is considered the "original source of life", while the fetus is only "potential" life.[5] Muslim jurists agree that abortion is allowed based on the principle that "the greater evil [the woman's death] should be warded off by the lesser evil [abortion]." In these cases the physician is considered a better judge than the scholar.[6]

Rape[edit]

Most Muslim scholars hold that the child of rape is a legitimate child and thus it would be sinful to kill this child. Scholars permit its abortion only if the fetus is less than four months old, or if it endangers the life of its mother.[7]

Muslim scholars were urged to make exceptions in the 1990s following rapes of Kuwaiti women by Iraqi soldiers (in 1991) and the rape of Bosnian women by Serb soldiers. In 1991, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Irwan Shah took a different position than mainstream Muslim scholars. He ruled that Muslim women raped by their enemies during the Kosovo War could take abortifacient medicine, because otherwise the children born to those women might one day fight against Muslims.[7]

Fetal deformity[edit]

Some Muslim scholars also argue that abortion is permitted if the newborn might be sick in some way that would make its care exceptionally difficult for the parents (e.g. deformities, mental retardation, etc.).[2][7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things...then the soul is breathed into him"
    Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:430
  2. ^ a b Ehrich, Tom (August 13, 2006). "Where does God stand on abortion?". USA Today. 
  3. ^ Jackson, Sherman A. (2005). "Blackamerica, Immigrant Islam, and the Dominant Culture". Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 151. 
  4. ^ Hashmi, Tariq Mahmood (13 October 2009). "Abortion". Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Bowen, Donna Lee (2003). "Chapter 3: Contemporary Muslim Ethics of Abortion". In Brockopp, Jonathan E. Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War, and Euthanasia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. 64. 
  6. ^ "Abortion". BBC Religions. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Rispler-Chaim, Vardit (2003). "Chapter 4: The Right Not to Be Born: Abortion of the Disadvantaged Fetus in Contemporary Fatwas". In Brockopp, Jonathan E. Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War, and Euthanasia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 87–88.