Islam And Abortion
This article covers the relationship between Islam and abortion.
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. Although opinions among Islamic scholars differ over when a pregnancy can be terminated, there are no explicit prohibitions on a woman’s ability to abort under Islamic law.
There are four Sunni Islam schools of thought—Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Hanbali and Maliki—and they have their own reservations on if and when abortions can happen in Islam. The Maliki madhhab holds “that the fetus is ensouled at the moment of conception” and thus “most Malikis do not permit abortion at any point, seeing God’s hand as actively forming the fetus at every stage of development.” On the other hand, some Hanafi scholars believe that abortion before the hundred twenty day period is over is permitted, though some Hanafi scholars teach that an abortion within 120 days is makruh (disapproved). Abortion is recommended any time where the mother’s life is in danger. The mother’s life is paramount in this decision. Sahih al-Bukhari writes that the fetus is believed to become a living soul after 120 days’ gestation. American academic Azizah Y. al-Hibri claims that “the majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.” 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.”
In Shia Islam, abortion is “forbidden after implantation of the fertilised ovum.” As with other Shiite scholars, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that “Termination of pregnancy even at the earliest possible stage under normal circumstances without any reason is not allowed” and that “The shari’a does not permit the abortion of a fetus.”
In practice, access to abortion varies greatly between Muslim-majority countries. In Turkey and Tunisia abortions are unconditionally legal on request. However, 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 while 10 countries provide it on request. No Muslim-majority country bans abortion in the case of the mother’s life being at risk. Other reasons that are permitted by certain 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.
A majority of scholars during the medieval age viewed abortion as permissible if the pregnancy was terminated before 120 days. The fetus was viewed as not being ensouled at conception but rather at after 120 days. According to Islamic law scholar Abed Awad, this meant that abortion was not seen as a termination of life. These views towards abortion are still referenced and used by several modern Islamic theologians and scholars.
Religious studies scholar Zahra Ayubi stated that in historical Muslim thought in regards to abortion, ways to preserve human life was a topic scholars devoted more time into and considered more important while determining when life begins was given less attention. The preservation of life was viewed as the safeguarding of the mother’s life as it’s her life that exists. Several contemporary Muslim writers have also stated that premodern Islamic scholars were more tolerant on abortion.
The controversial Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah stated in his fatwa collection Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah, “Aborting a fetus has been declared unlawful (haram) with the consensus of all the Muslim scholars. It is similar to burying an infant alive as referred to by Allah Almighty in the verse of the Qur’an: ‘And when the female infant, buried alive, will be asked as to what crime she was killed for’ (Surah al-Takwir, verse 8)”.
Abortion in various schools of thought
In Shia Islam, abortion is “forbidden after implantation of the fertilised ovum.” As with other Shiite scholars, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that “Termination of pregnancy even at the earliest possible stage under normal circumstances without any reason is not allowed” and that “The shari’a does not permit the abortion of a fetus.” In Sunni Islam, the period when a fetus becomes ensouled can vary within the same madhab and sect even if consensus exists. The Hanafi, Shi’is, Zaydi and some Shafi schools view the fetus as being ensouled at 120 days. However, other Shafi schools set the ensoulment stage of a fetus at 80 days. In the Maliki and Hanbali school of thought, ensoulment is placed at 40 days. The Ibadi position states that a fetus becomes ensouled right at the time of conception. Most schools consider abortion permissible if the pregnancy poses a physical or psychological harm to the mother. Socio-economic factors or the presence of fetal anomalies is also viewed as justifiable reasons to abort in many schools. However, Islamic jurists in all schools state that abortion is permissible even after the ensoulment stage of a fetus if the mother’s life is in danger.
Relevant excerpts from the Hadith
Allah’s Messenger 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 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, Narrated Abu Hurairah
Umar consulted the companions about the case of a woman’s abortion (caused by somebody else). Al-Mughira said: The Prophet 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 giving such a verdict.
- Hadith—Sahih Bukhari Book 87, Hadith 44, 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 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, Narrated Al-Mughira ibn Shu’ba
Umar asked about the decision of the Prophet 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 gave judgement that the bloodwit for the unborn child should be a male or a female slave of the best quality and then 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, Narrated Ibn-Abbas
When abortion is permissible
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
Sayyid al-Sabiq, the 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.”
Stage 1 Nutfa (Sperm)
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.
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
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. 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.
According to the Twelvers, there is consensus among ayatollahs that abortion is allowed 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.).
Main article: Rape in Islamic law
Some Muslim scholars have held that the child of rape is a legitimate child and thus it would be sinful to kill this fetus. Scholars permit its abortion only if the fetus is less than four months old, or if it endangers the life of its mother.
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. Also, a mother should be able to decide by herself (in consideration with her parents) if she wants to keep the child even if it was born of rape or zina, as it ultimately hurts her the most [..] 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.—
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.
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). 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.
Abortion in Islamic countries
In all, there are 57 members in the Organization of Islamic Conference—an organisation of countries with Muslim majorities or pluralities. Most Muslim countries have restrictive abortion laws that permit abortions only when the life of the mother is threatened. Twelve members of the Organization of Islamic Conference allow unrestricted access to abortion. With the exception of Turkey and Tunisia, they are mainly former Soviet Bloc states. Bahrain, a politically and socially conservative Muslim state, is the 12th among these countries to permit unrestricted access to abortion. Among socially conservative Muslim countries, seven countries permit abortion in the first 4 months of gestation for fetal deformities, four countries in subSaharan Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Guinea) and three in the Middle East (Kuwait, Qatar and, now, Iran).
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia