I am a Muslim woman and I chose to have an abortion. There are a few things you should know about me: I consider my religion to be the defining aspect of my life; I am an active member of my community, particularly in the area of women’s education and empowerment; and, I am a wife and mother who is nursing her baby while pursuing a post-graduate degree. I also do plan on having more children in the future, God Willing.
I also want to make clear to you, the reader, that I do not promote abortion as means of routine contraception, particularly in a world rife with sexual promiscuity, but I do believe that under certain circumstances, Islam does and should permit it. I have chosen to write anonymously about this experience in order to respect my family’s privacy, but I am prepared to deal with the potentially harsh criticism and judgment a writer inevitably opens herself up to when publishing a deeply personal story on a hotly debated issue. I am laying bare my story for one purpose: to offer up some benefit and insight to other women and couples who have been through an abortion or are considering one.
I accidently became pregnant at a time when another baby would be very difficult; both physically and emotionally I was not ready for another pregnancy. I vacillated for days over the decision to terminate the pregnancy. As a student, I had studied the fiqh (Islamic legal rulings) on women’s bodies, but at the time I had been a neutral spectator, never imagining that I would one day find myself agonizing over the ethical and spiritual dimensions of those rulings, written by men, centuries before.
Add to that the fact that I consider myself pro-choice when it comes to the female body– to an extent. That extent is determined by the Divine Hand which guides us as human beings, but allows us to make choices, a faculty which we alone as children of Adam have been given.
As a pro-choice and deeply religious Muslim, the decision to possibly terminate a pregnancy was doubly difficult for me. I researched every aspect of abortion to a fault, from medical and health perspectives to the views of different Islamic school of thought. In fact, I even poured over the diverse standpoints of other religions, peering at the issue from both feminist and traditional lenses. Wrestling with this monumental decision forced me to closely reflect on the convictions I profess to stand for. I realized that despite years of study and work in women’s rights, my early socialization in a conservative community, in which the female body and sexuality were controlled, negated and commoditized, was still embedded somewhere deep in my sub-consciousness.
In beginning to consider an abortion, I looked first to the law. Islamic law makes allowances for abortion up to 16 weeks into the pregnancy (and beyond when the mother’s life is at risk). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said,
“Verily, each of you is gathered together in his mother’s womb for forty days, in the form of a drop of fluid. Then it is a clinging object for a similar period. Thereafter, it is a lump looking like it has been chewed for a similar period. The angel is then sent to him [the fetus] and breathes into him the spirit. (Hadith 6390, Book 33, Muslim)”
Based on this hadith, the classical scholars theorized that ensoulment occurs between three to four months in-utero, and built their rulings of abortion on this time frame. The views of the different schools of thought differ considerably about when and why abortion is permissible, from the outright prohibited to the neutrally permissible. I was raised in the most liberal of the schools, the Hanafi, which allows abortion at any time before 120 days after conception, with some scholars even ruling that it can be performed without a specific reason or the permission of the pregnant woman’s husband, while other jurists require a reasonable justification. Marion Holmes Katz analyzed where the four Sunni legal schools stood on abortion in the book, “Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia,” noting that a basic feature of Islamic legal discussions on abortion is “their high level of tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, which avoids absolutist simplifications of the intricate moral issues raised by fetal life.”
My preliminary research reassured me that at only six weeks pregnant, I was clearly far from the stage of ensoulment by the standards of classical Muslim jurists. And being in a devoted monogamous marriage, having undergone miscarriage, pregnancy and childbirth before, I certainly was not someone capriciously choosing abortion as a means of contraception. Renowned Professor Tariq Ramadan’s book, “Radical Reform” confirmed my feeling that abortion is not just another method of contraception and that its excessive use in the modern world is harmful, but that it should be allowed under certain circumstances. In fact, Ramadan gave an example of a scenario which described my situation perfectly. “In cases of involuntary or accidental pregnancies, especially when the family situation or the social context could prevent the family’s and/or the child’s fulfillment in life, [abortion should be permissible] …the procedure is never commendable, but the intervention can be considered when protecting a person’s [the mother’s] health, development, autonomy, welfare, education or dignity.”
After scrutinizing what the Qur’an, hadith, Islamic schools of thought and modern-day scholars have to say about abortion, my husband and I jointly chose to surgically terminate the pregnancy. The process of ending a pregnancy is just that – a process. Post-abortion recovery is as important, particularly in coming to terms with the decision on the emotional and spiritual planes of being. I am comforted by knowing that I have a most-Compassionate, Loving God to turn to, a God whose love is described as more than a mother’s love for her children. As a mother myself, I am in awe of the intensity of such love and my inner-being is replenished, allowing me to be at peace with myself and my decisions. I remain perpetually in the shade of Allah’s mercy, accountable to Him alone for my actions.
Iman is a lecturer and post-graduate candidate in Religious Studies, a mother of two little girls, and a writer and community activist. This article originally appeared on Altmuslimah. Altmuslim, a site hosted by the Patheos Muslim Channel, and Altmuslimah, are two separate, unaffiliated sites. Part Two is to follow.