Abortion is one of the hottest topics in modern American political discourse. Islam, like other religions, places a strong emphasis on the value of human life. However, Islam is a flexible religion that seeks to preserve life, but at times permits abortion. This article will first explain the importance of life and children in Islam. Then it will shed light on the use of contraception. Finally, it will briefly describe the different positions about abortion in Islam. It should be kept in mind that this is meant to be a brief introduction to the topic and not a detailed legal analysis or legal ruling (fatwa). 1
Before embarking on the topic, it is important to keep in mind that all Islamic rulings have a purpose such as the preservation of life, intellect, religion, family, honor, and wealth. God ultimately knows what is best and being a Muslim means submitting to God’s commandments.
The Importance of Children in Islam
One of the main goals of Islam is to preserve life. Therefore, murder or killing of an innocent soul is considered to be a major sin. “And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden to be killed except in the course of justice” (6:151). Similarly, having children is considered a blessing from God. Many Prophets in the Quran, such as Zakaria and Abraham, prayed to God to give them righteous children.
In Pre-Islamic Arabia, the Arabs had a strong bias toward male offspring and they used to bury their baby girls out of shame. The Quran condemned this brutal act “And when a daughter is announced to one of them, his face becomes black and he is full of wrath. He hides himself from the people when it is announced to him. Shall he keep it with disgrace or bury it (alive) in the earth? Now surely evil is what they judge” (16:58-59). The Quran and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, prohibited the killing of baby girls which was rampant at the time.
The Quran does not limit this prohibition to the burying of girls but extends it to all newborns. In particular, the Quran prohibited killing one’s children out of fear of poverty: “Do not kill your children for fear of poverty; we give them sustenance and yourself (too); surely to kill them is a great wrong” (17:31).
The above verses speak of children who are already born, but what about the unborn? We will now turn to Islam’s teachings on abortion, but it is important to briefly touch on the use of contraception.
While children are considered a blessing and couples are encouraged to have them, Islam recognizes that there are circumstances when it is best for couples to postpone having children. This can be for reasons such as completing one’s education, achieving financial stability, or for health reasons. Therefore, most modern jurists allow the use of safe contraception that is not permanent.
Muslim scholars have studied the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to understand what Islam teaches about abortion. In a famous narration, the Prophet, peace be upon him said: “Each one of you is constituted in the womb of the mother for 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 God sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his deeds, his livelihood, the date of his death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched. Then the soul is breathed into him…” (Bukhari).
Based on this statement and verses from the Quran, Muslim scholars have categorized the permissibility of abortion or lack thereof based on the time period and circumstances. They divided the pregnancy into three main periods. Each of these periods of time, as we shall see, has a different ruling about abortion.
First 40 days
Abortion during the first 40 days after conception is quite flexible. The majority of scholars allow it during that time period if there is a legitimate reason for it and agreement of the two parents. Additionally, abortion is allowed in cases of rape or if the parents are physically or mentally unable to raise a child. However, fear of poverty is not a legitimate reason to abort a child. One may choose to not have children for financial reasons, but if the child is conceived abortion for fear of poverty is not allowed.
After 40 days Muslim scholars have differed on the permissibility of abortion. However, if there is a threat to the mother’s health then an abortion would be permissible. In addition, if doctors discover a severe deformity to the unborn child that would prevent him or her from living a reasonable life, then it is allowed to have an abortion. Most modern scholars allow abortion in the first 40 days with some flexibility, but after that they maintain that there must be a pressing need. This pressing need is not arbitrary, but one should consult with a Muslim scholar as well as medical experts.
After 120 days
After the first 120 days, it is believed that the child is given a soul. It is therefore categorically forbidden to abort the child unless the mother’s life is in danger. Abortion is also allowed if the fetus passes away in the mother’s womb.
Islam seeks to preserve life and encourages couples to have children. At the same time, Islam understands that life can be complex at times and there are cases when abortions might be necessary (saving the mother’s life, pregnancy as a result of rape, etc.).
Islam is a practical religion that is “pro-life”, but not in a sense that completely disregards the individual circumstances of each mother and couple. This is because God is Compassionate and understanding. He establishes general rules but is merciful enough to make exemptions for those who need them. Humans tend to make laws that are extreme in their positions. However, Islam is a balanced religion that calls for moderation in all aspects of life because it is not man-made, but the true message of God. Interested in learning more? Call 877-WhyIslam, you deserve to know!