A Muslimah’s Story – I Chose to Have an Abortion (Part One)

By Iman Ahmed

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.


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  • Ambaa

    Thank you for being brave enough to share your story.

  • Quid

    This was an interesting article. I’ve never studied Muslim theology on life, but the quote from the Prophet doesn’t make any sense to me. The soul is an immutable, unevolvable concept. Either it’s present in man or it isn’t. I don’t understand how it can gradually evolve in a fetus. Is there a definitive moment when the unborn human acquires a soul? One moment where he’s just a blob of matter, and a second later he’s a fully developed human being with just as many rights as the rest of us? The concept of a slowly evolving, developing soul doesn’t make any sense to me. Since the soul is immaterial, it cannot change–Socrates uses this argument in book IX of the Republic to prove the immortality of man.

    • Monimonika


      So at what point does the soul start to exist in the unborn? And before you say, “Conception!” you need to think about how that works out when the egg splits into identical twins, or when two eggs merge to create a chimera, or when the egg becomes a molar pregnancy, etc.

      Oh, and saying that God foresaw the splitting of the egg so put two souls into it beforehand is a cop out, since I can then easily say that God didn’t put a soul into the egg that ended up as an ectopic pregnancy because He foresaw that it wasn’t going to survive anyway. Postulating a being that can literally do anything ends up explaining nothing.

      Personally, the concept of a soul itself makes no sense to me because most people tend to define it as something that can exist separately (memories, sensations, and all) from a working brain. I’m not sure what your definition of a soul is, other than that it is immaterial, but even then our definitions of what can be considered immaterial most likely differ (numbers? math? laws of physics? magnetism? love? thoughts? sensations? society? information? gods? karma? ghosts? vacuum of space?) as well as how we think that the immaterial can logically influence the material (soul interacting with neurons, or a god moving clouds to answer a prayer for rain, etc.).

      If the ability to form thoughts is considered an emergent property of a developing brain, then things start to make a lot more sense. Rights are bestowed upon by society according to what society assumes certain subsets of individuals can be trusted to handle. In our particular society, we do not trust people under certain ages to willingly have sex (even if they can physically procreate) because “they’re too young to know better.” How does this view square off with the concept of an immortal, unchanging soul?

      • Quid

        The problem with defining the soul, is it is unable to be analyzed, and it exists outside the realm of the brain, or thoughts/moods/emotions. Anything we can measure in man, whether physically in his brain or psychologically in his mind still does not qualify the soul. It exists completely outside the body.

        I think the Aristotelian definition of the soul makes the most sense here. He describes the soul as the form of the body, that which gives it life, and motivates and informs it. The soul is the life force of the body, and the body ceases to function when the soul leaves the body.

        Getting back to your question, I don’t understand how the soul can enter the body at any point other than conception, if conception is physically the beginning of life. Either you see reincarnationalist God inserting souls into already living bodies (thus there is a definitive moment before God has put a soul into your body, and another moment where he has) or the body cannot not exist separate from the soul at any point in its existence.

        I agree with you that the ability to form thoughts is dependent on a developing brain, but the properties of the soul transcend thought or any other faculties of the brain. The brain is still material and it cannot affect the soul.

        • Monimonika

          ((After writing a bunch of the below, I realized that I had ignored a fundamental part of your definition of a soul. So, if you can just make sure to answer the 4 questions at the very bottom, it would be appreciated.))

          Hmm, okay. I think I get the idea about the soul being the life force rather than something like a disembodied ghost with a sense of self. Can I then assume that it does not really matter if the fertilized egg splits or merges with another egg? It’s just a splitting/melding of the life force/soul and does not really depend upon there being a matching number of “self” when the brain(s) develop(s)? So technically, the functioning body of a brain-dead person in the hospital still retains the soul/life force, right?

          However, I have to point out that even before conception there is life. Sperm are living cells. Unfertilized eggs are living cells. It’s two living things merging into one living thing (then dividing into lots of cells while sticking mostly together). In this sense, life does not begin but rather continues in an altered form. Given that two fertilized eggs can merge into one human being, conception does not seem that special physically as a “beginning of life” point.

          Each of us are composed of a lot of living things, and the vast majority of the cells (about 90% by number, but not size) living and dying within our body are not even human cells. Do the bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms inhabiting our body (and some being necessary for our basic day-to-day survival) each have their own life forces/souls? Do all of the human cells in one person share one soul/life force?

          Wait. I forgot about another thing you mentioned (so almost all the above is moot). You said the soul/life force is immutable and unaffected by the material. You also said that the soul can leave the body (at which point the body dies/is dead). …where does the soul go from there? I’m not going to list a bunch of my guesses, but would very much appreciate if you can provide me answers to the following questions:

          1) Do new souls get created/come into being, or are there the same set of unchanging and immortal souls since the very beginning?

          2) What happens to souls after death of the physical body? (Please don’t say that only God knows. You seem to have a lot of knowledge/ideas about souls despite being unable to analyze them.)

          3) What happens to two unchanging souls in separate fertilized eggs which merge into a chimera?

          4) What happens to an unchanging soul that was in a single fertilized egg that then splits into identical twins?

          • Quid

            Interesting questions, and I know this will sound like a cop out, but since the body and soul are so interconnected, these will be difficult to answer. I’ll do my best.

            1) I still don’t like to image of the soul coming into the body, as if it is a separate force descending from a cosmic waiting room into a fertilized egg. It’s dualistic and reincarnationalist, but it serves as a simple analogy between the relationship between the soul and body. I would say the soul forms at conception when the egg is fertilized, inasmuch as a new individual is formed with the potential for consciousness, independent thought, etc… The difference between this person and the life of the sperm and egg is not biological. Take free will for example. Provided we have an inherent freedom of choice in our lives this already is a distinction between the fertilized egg (with a soul) and what its material components were.

            2) As you may have guessed, I have a lot of ideas about life after death, but of course none of them are scientific. Since the soul is immortal it enters into a state of being (for lack of a better word) which conventional theology calls the afterlife. I could get into my personal ideas on life after death, but I don’t think that’s relevant here.

            3) My understanding of a chimera is that the two eggs don’t merge into a new one, but rather that one physically envelopes the other. Just like when there’s a miscarriage, one of the babies dies. The soul leaves the body, and the physical leftover material of the body is enveloped into the other twin in the chimera.

            4) When a fertilized egg splits, another individual is formed and “acquires” a soul of his own (again, I don’t like that word because it makes the soul seem completely separate from the body, but it’s the most simple explanation). Since the new egg is independent and has its own potential to develop and form consciousness it has a soul also.

            You mention that “conception does not seem that special physically as a “beginning of life” point” which is true–there’s physically life before conception. This is the problem the atheists have. They try to explain how life could come about completely naturally, but there is no biological explanation for the beginning of life. It’s the universal law of matter–it can’t be created or destroyed, only altered. Physically, this is what’s happening at conception; matter is being altered into a new form. But the word “life” is ambiguous here. I see a clear difference between human life and the life of sperm cells, or bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic life. Free will comes readily to mind, also morality, consciousness and rationality, to name a few. These attributes cannot be explained physically. Also, notice that the difference between a living man and a dead body is not physical. They’re both made of the same material, but one has a life force and the other does not.

          • Monimonika

            Sorry for the wait (if you were waiting, that is), I was a bit busy yesterday. Thank you for attempting to answer my questions and doing so with what I can tell is honesty. It’s appreciated (no sarcasm).

            1) So new souls do get created, or rather, emerge into existence. OK.

            2) Given that new souls come into being (and shortly depart without even attaching to a uterus, much less being born, a huge lot of the time) and the older ones stick around indefinitely(?), it at first seems that there might be a bit of a problem with available space, but I concede that souls are not material so do not really face this problem. Apparently, since souls are immaterial, they are infinitely created and exist forever without any form of degradation, thus not following any law of conservation whatsoever.
            I don’t think I really want to go in-depth about your beliefs about the afterlife (I’d nitpick it to death), so I’m glad to see we agree on not elaborating.

            3) That’s a very good answer. I like it!

            4) I don’t like this answer. It pretty much up and contradicts your whole premise of the soul coming into being at conception, and makes it seem like one of the twins has the “original” soul while the other has to grow a pseudo-soul of sorts in order to survive without the original soul (“the body ceases to function when the soul leaves the body” remember?).

            Now, I have a bunch of objections concerning what can be considered free will, whether it’s a human-only trait (you didn’t specify if other animals with certain levels of intelligence have free will/consciousness), whether the (human-only?) soul by itself possesses free will or if it’s in conjunction with a functioning brain, etc., but I feel that you and I both have better stuff to do without going into that can of worms.

            I also have a problem with the atheists comment. Let’s just say that the very notion of there needing to be a conveniently unconstrained/constrained “creator (a.k.a. designer)” of life contains way too many heaps of unwarranted assumptions to work at all as an explanation that could be used to predict the yet-unknown parts of life.

            I am far, far, FAR from convinced about the concept of souls (except maybe as defined as the self-sustaining process known as life that has continued on in many forms of interconnected organisms, not just in humans and not as completely separate branches from beginning to present) but I do truly appreciate that you answered my various semi-random questions as best you could. Thank you.

  • Somebody

    “I accidentally” — your guiltiness starts here. How can you even be pro-choice and Muslim at the same time. There is no need to learn about your beliefs and explanations for choosing abortion, like if there was any compelling story or reasons to murder an unborn. It is your fault not to have had protected sex. You are miserable, we would certainly expect more from a believer than this, you are just no less than pro-abortionnist unbelievers. There is no and there will never be any reason to end the natural process of life creation. You do not deserve the right to procreate nor to have any other children in the future. I may be someday ashamed for my hatred and words towards you, but at the end of the day I never killed a human being like you did and therefore our souls will never be alike.

    • Maggie Aly

      I agree..shame on the ummah

  • Maggie Aly

    I am very sorry but your story truly saddens me to the core- Abortion is forbidden in Islam other than mothers health and rape is disputed; Also the Quran clearly says to never kill your children for fear of poverty or whatever because Allah provides!

    Islam values human life. This is clearly expressed in the Qur’an where we are told that in the sight of God killing a human is a very serious matter (see Qur’an 5:32). The Qur’an teaches that on the Day of Judgement parents who killed their children will be under trial for that crime, and their children will be witnesses against them (see Qur’an 81:8-9).

    The right to life is God-given. No human should take away that right. The general rule, therefore, is that abortion is not permitted in Islam. However, Islam is a very practical religion. It includes principles to deal with exceptional cases. One such principle is that when a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, an abortion may be performed. Although the lives of both mother and child are sacred, in this case it is better to save the principal life, the life of the mother. Even in this case, it would be better if the abortion is done before the foetus is 120 days old, for that is when the soul is breathed into the foetus. Islam does not permit abortion in other cases.

    I am sorry sister-you can deny or twist it in anyway shape or form you wish-but you did take the life of your own child-May Allah forgive you though but you need to ask Allah for forgivness and never commit such a sin again. I am a Muslim and would NEVER in my life have an abortion-and not because of Islam really but because abortion is unethical and immoral-you did not have the right to take your child’s life away. Please ask Allah forgivness-because yes Allah is Merciful but he also wants us to admit our sins and turn to him for forgivness and mercy.


  • Maggie Aly

    I can’t get this sickening article out of my head-This is truly heart-breaking-Part of being a Muslim is agreeing to the will or decree of ALLAH-Allah had decreed this baby for you-and you didn’t care about Allah’s will for you and went against not just his will but also against his commands where he tells us not to kill our children. You want another child someday? God gave you a second one-and you killed them-They could have been a great doctor-great shaykh-great in sports….etc. This article should be removed-it tries to make abortion seems like nothing when it is-its an atrocity!