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. The Quran does not directly address intentional abortion, leaving greater discretion to the laws of individual countries. In Islam, the fetus is believed to become a living soul after 120 days' gestation,[1] and abortion after that point is viewed as impermissible. Many Islamic[citation needed] thinkers recognize exceptions to this rule for certain circumstances. American academic, 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."[3] There are four Sunni Islam schools of thought—Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Hanbali and Maliki—and they have their own reservations on when abortions can happen in Islam.

In practice, access to abortion varies greatly between Muslim-majority countries. In countries like Turkey and Tunisia, abortions are unconditionally legal on request. On the other hand, in 18 out of 47 Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, Egypt and Indonesia, abortion is only legally permitted if the life of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy. No Muslim-majority country bans abortion in the case of the mother's life being at risk.[4] Other reasons that are permitted by certain[citation needed] Muslim-majority countries include preserving a woman's physical or mental health, foetal impairment, cases of incest or rape, and social or economic reasons. There is great variation within Muslim-majority countries as to which are legally accepted reasons for abortion.

Relevant excerpts from the Hadith[edit]

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) gave a verdict regarding an aborted fetus of a woman from Bani Lihyan that the killer (of the fetus) should give a male or female slave (as a Diya) but the woman who was required to give the slave, died, so Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) gave the verdict that her inheritance be given to her children and her husband and the Diya be paid by her 'Asaba.

Hadith—Sahih al-Bukhari Book 87, Hadith 47,[5] Narrated Abu Hurairah

Umar consulted the companions about the case of a woman's abortion (caused by somebody else). Al-Mughira said: The Prophet (ﷺ) gave the verdict that a male or female slave should be given (as a Diya). Then Muhammad bin Maslama testified that he had witnessed the Prophet (ﷺ) giving such a verdict.

Hadith—Sahih Bukhari Book 87, Hadith 44,[6] Narrated Al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba

Umar consulted the people about the compensation of abortion of woman. Al-Mughirah b. Shu'bah said: I was present with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) when he gave judgement that a male or female slave should testify you. So he brought Muhammad b. Maslamah to him. Harun added: He then testified him.

Imlas means a man striking the belly of his wife.

Abu Dawud said: I have been informed that Abu 'Ubaid said: It (abortion) is called imlas because the woman causes it to slip before the time of delivery. Similarly, anything which slips from the hand or from some other thing is called malasa (slipped).

Hadith— Sunan Abi Dawud Book 41, Hadith 77,[7] Narrated Al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba

Umar asked about the decision of the Prophet (ﷺ) about that (i.e. abortion). Haml b. Malik b. al-Nabhigah got up and said: I was between two women. One of them struck another with a rolling-pin killing both her and what was in her womb. So the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) gave judgement that the bloodwit for the unborn child should be a male or a female slave of the best quality and the she should be killed.

Abu Dawud said: Al-Nadr b. Shumail said: Mistah means a rolling-pin.

Abu Dawud said: Abu 'Ubaid said: Mistah means a pole from the tent-poles.

Hadith— Sunan Abi Dawud Book 41, Hadith 79,[7] Narrated Ibn-Abbas

When abortion is permissible[edit]

Among Muslims, the permissibility of abortion depends on factors such as time and extenuating circumstances. The four Sunni schools of thought have differing perspectives in which parts of gestation where abortion is permissible. It is important to note that Malikites do not permit abortion in any of the stages of gestation.

Before four months of gestation[edit]

Sayyid 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."[8]

Stage 1 Nutfa (Sperm)[9]

This is the stage from conception to 40 days since the semen has fertilized the ovum. In this stage, Hanafites permit abortions, the majority of Shafites permit abortions, some Hanbalites permit it, but Malikites do not.

Among contemporary Sunni scholars, Yasir Qadhi states that abortion may be performed within the first 40 days of pregnancy "for a very legitimate reason", but is prohibited after that period, at which point ensoulment occurs.[10]

Stage 2 Alaqa (Blood Clot)

This is the stage 40-80 days after conception when the fertilized egg has become blood clot-like. In this stage, Hanafites permit abortions, while only some Shafites and Hanbalites permit it.

Stage 3 Mudgha (Embryo)

This is the stage 80-120 days after conception where the blood clot has now formed into flesh. In this stage, Hanafites permit abortions, only some Shafites and Hanbalites permit it.

Stage 4 Khalqan Akhar (Spirit)

This is the stage 120 days after conception when based on Islam a soul/spirit has entered the body. In this stage none of the four schools of thought permit abortions.

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.[11] 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.[12]

According to the Twelvers, there is consensus among ayatollahs that abortion is allowed up to 120 days only when it is medically proven that the life of a mother is in danger. Other than that, before or after 120 days, abortion is always forbidden, no matter the circumstances (such as problems with the fetus or poverty, etc.).[13]


Muslim scholars have held 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.[14]

When the pregnancy is unplanned and therefore unwanted, as in the case of rape, the parents, [have to/should, as adoption is unlawful] abort the fetus and thus prevent the disgrace that awaits both mother and child [..] the child born of rape, like one born of adultery (walad zina) is a more lowly member of society with regard of the rights he or she is guaranteed and the social status he or she can attain.

— [14]

Muslim scholars were urged to make exceptions in the 1990s following the rape of Bosnian and Albanian women by Serb soldiers. In 1991, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Ekrima Sa'id Sabri 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.[14]

Fetal deformity[edit]

Some Sunni Muslim scholars 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 handicaps).[2][14][need quotation to verify] Widely quoted is a resolution of the Saudi-led jurisprudence council of Mekkah Al Mukaramah (the Muslim World League) passing a fatwa in its 12th session held in February 1990. This allowed abortion if the fetus was grossly malformed with untreatable severe condition proved by medical investigations and decided upon by a committee formed by competent trustworthy physicians, and provided that abortion is requested by the parents and the foetus is less than 120 days computed from moment of conception.[15]

See also[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. ISBN 9780195343571.
  4. ^ Gilla K Shapiro; Abortion law in Muslim-majority countries: an overview of the Islamic discourse with policy implications, Health Policy and Planning, Volume 29, Issue 4, 1 July 2014, Pages 483–494,
  5. ^ "Hadith - Book of Blood Money (Ad-Diyat) - Sahih al-Bukhari - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2020-11-08.
  6. ^ "Hadith - Book of Blood Money (Ad-Diyat) - Sahih al-Bukhari - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2020-11-08.
  7. ^ a b "Hadith - Book of Types of Blood-Wit (Kitab Al-Diyat) - Sunan Abi Dawud - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2020-11-08.
  8. ^ Hashmi, Tariq Mahmood (13 October 2009). "Abortion". Al-Mawrid. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  9. ^ Shapiro, G. K (2013). "Abortion law in Muslim-majority countries: An overview of the Islamic discourse with policy implications". Health Policy and Planning. 29 (4): 483–94. doi:10.1093/heapol/czt040. PMID 23749735.
  10. ^ "What Is Islam's Stance On Abortion?". Retrieved 2020-10-05.
  11. ^ Bowen, Donna Lee (2003). "Chapter 3: Contemporary Muslim Ethics of Abortion". In Brockopp, Jonathan E (ed.). Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War, and Euthanasia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. 64. ISBN 9781570034718.
  12. ^ "Abortion". BBC Religions. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  13. ^ Hedayat, K. M.; Shooshtarizadeh, P.; Raza, M. (2006). "Therapeutic abortion in Islam: Contemporary views of Muslim Shiite scholars and effect of recent Iranian legislation". Journal of Medical Ethics. 32 (11): 652–657. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.015289. PMC 2563289. PMID 17074823.
  14. ^ a b c d Rispler-Chaim, Vardit (2003). "Chapter 4: The Right Not to Be Born: Abortion of the Disadvantaged Fetus in Contemporary Fatwas". In Brockopp, Jonathan E (ed.). Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War, and Euthanasia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9781570034718.
  15. ^ "Sanctity of life". BBC News. 7 September 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2017.