Overturning Roe v. Wade Challenges American Muslim Women’s Religious Right to Choose 

27 Oct

Overturning Roe v. Wade would challenge American Muslim Women’s religious rights they had secured 1420 years ago, and since 610 A. D.. Abortion is permitted to save the life of the pregnant woman; to preserve the woman’s physical health; her mental health; to protect the health of the living baby if the mother is nursing a child, and in cases of fetal impairment, incest or rape. For Muslim American Women, the intrusive intervention of the state on the female body robs them of the rights they had already secured.

mai abdul rahman October 2020

The Mulim woman is the centeral figure in deciding whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Islam gives the woman full responsibility over her body- her decision and choice cannot be dictated by the state or imam. The decision to bear a child must not jeopardize the mother’s mental and physical health. “A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child…” The Holy Quran (Surat Al-Baqara, 2:233). For that reason Islam does not criminalize abortion and holds women responsible for their action on the day of judgment.

Abortion can be defined as the termination of a pregnancy at any stage before childbirth. It is an old settled issue for Muslims, but is living topic for debate and disputation among American Christians whose religious beliefs dominate the US political class, the courts, and the social discourse. In the US, the debate about when life begins is used to challenge the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, and their right to choose when to bear or not bear a child. However, for other pre Christian faiths and Muslims in particular, this issue was settled more than 1400 years ago.

The Influence of Christianity and Demography on American Woman’s Right to Choose

The majority of Christian scholars believe that the ‘ensoulment’ (which refers to the creation of a soul within, or the placing of a soul and the formulation of a human being) takes place at the moment of conception, hence, the Roman Catholic Church, regards abortion, at any stage (from conception to birth) as forbidden and immoral.  The Church of England does accept abortion under some circumstances, but shares the Roman Catholic view that abortion is ‘gravely contrary to the moral law’. And most Protestants, believe that the fetus is either a potential human life or an actual human life that must be protected. However, Protestants allow abortion in extreme situations to preserve the life or health of the mother. 

While not all Americans are White and not all White Americans are Christians, today, the most dominant opposition to abortion is associated with White Evangelical Christians. This is a recent development that evolved after the civil rights movement had succeeded in actualizing the constitutional rights of Black Americans. Before desegregation evangelicals saw abortion as largely a Catholic issue. In fact, before and after Roe v. Wade the Southern Baptist Convention passed three resolutions (1971, 1974 and 1976) affirming woman’s right and access to abortion. 

In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” This changed when Evangelical leaders framed abortion as a threat to Christian values, and terminating a pregnancy is murder. This shift reflected worries about desegregation and immigration, which they viewed as potential risks to America’s social and racial order and demographic composition.

During the 1980’s, one specific social trend played a major role in influencing the cultural position of White Evangelicals on abortion. With the substantial growth of non-European immigrants, White woman’s right and access to abortion was viewed as a serious threat to White’s numerical advantage, and maintaining demographic controls became necessary.

This change in attitude among White Evangelists was in line with White supremacists who also viewed abortion as a direct threat to White Americans. In their view, White women’s right to choose would alter the growth of America’s White population and unfavorably shift the demographic racial structure in the US.  

Abortion is a Settled Issue for Muslim American Women

Among other Abrahamic religions (Muslims and Jews) women’s right to choose is protected based on a set of conditions. Muslims whether Sunni or Shiite, White, Black and all shades in between agree that abortion is permitted during the 120 days of pregnancy. And abortion is not only permissible, but must be performed at any stage of pregnancy if the mother’s life is endangered.  

Islam allows abortion based on a central passage in the Qur’an that describes the stages of pregnancy from conception to a ‘full-fledged’ child. The Qur’an (Surat AI-Mu’minun, 23: 12–14): describes each stage as follows: “And certainly did We create humans from an extract of clay (Alaqah), Then We placed it as a sperm-drop in a firmly fixed lodging (first stage: 14 days). Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh] (second stage: 40 days), and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh (third stage: 80-120 days); then We developed it into another creation (fourth stage: 121 days- to birth). So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.” This passage has defined and shaped the perspectives of Muslim scholars and the Sharia’ (Islamic law) on the gestational stages of a typical pregnancy.

It is also relevant to note that historically, and throughout the 18th and 19th Century, and during the Ottoman Empire, Muslims did not believe abortion is a crime. So while abortion is permitted until the end of the fourth month of pregnancy, in some cases, it is allowed beyond 120 days to protect the emotional, mental, and physical well being of women. Based on this, Muslim scholars from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran issued Fatwas (legal rulings) in favor of abortion in cases of fetal impairment. In 1993, when rape was a huge concern among Bosnian women Muslim scholars issued Fatwas that sanctioned their right to choose.

Islam also includes a central philosophical tradition of acceptance of family and individual prerogative: ‘God alone (not an imam or legislator) knows what is right and wrong when terminating a pregnancy.’ The individual conscience is considered a better guide for action, since it is ultimately the individual woman who will have to answer to God. This philosophical perspective has protected women’s rights to their bodies and their right to choose. Additionally, Islam gives exclusive allowances to the couples to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Accordingly, any prohibitive political and governmental rulings on abortion is considered an outside intrusion on an intimate matter. This position restricted the encroaching role of the state, its officials and courts from violating the right of the woman to choose.

What About Other Faiths?

In Judaism abortion is permitted in the first forty days of pregnancy. Judaism considers the mother’s life more important than that of the fetus, and the embryo to be of relatively lesser value than the living mother during a pregnancy. Abortion is also permitted for what it considers serious reasons and after consultation with a rabbi competent to give advice on such matters.  And among Dharmic religions, Western and Japanese Buddhists believe in the permissibility of abortion. India a majority Hindu country allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion: A Private Matter is Publicly Disputed

Unfortunately, in the US women’s right to choose is a political and legal battle waged by Christians- irrespective of their position on abortion. State legislators debate it and federal courts codify it without regard to woman’s right to her body, or her mental, emotional, and physical well being. Thus transferring the concept of the woman’s right to her body and her perception of self from that which is an intimate private matter to the public sphere. 

What is American Muslim Women Perspective on Abortion?

American Muslim women views on abortion are more complex than those advanced by other Americans. Based on their faith they are both for the right to choose and are pro life. Islam is pro-life in its protection of women’s health and well being, the living child’s health and well-being, and also protects the life of the unborn: The Holy Quran (Surat Al An’am, 6:151) “Do not kill your children for fear of poverty, for it is we who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them.” Meaning, abortion for fear of economic hardship is not permissible. Muslim women are also pro choice. Based on clrearly defined reasons, their faith gives them the right to choose whether or not to bear a child. However, in the US, this middle ground perspective is absent.

Adding Insult to Injury

While the raging debate ignores the faith traditions of all other women, but those of the Christian faith, it also ignores woman’s right to self-determination. Disrespecting the important role women play in managing and making decisions that affect their personal well being and the well being of their families. They also challenge women’s rights to personhood. The woman’s body, her pregnancy, when and where, and whether she can choose to abort are legal arguments crafted by local and state legislators and the courts.

State’s interference on the female body challenges American Muslim women’s right to personhood, religious and constitutional rights, and citizenship rights. By robbing woman’s right to self determine, her most intimate decisions are influenced and modified by strict legal prohibitions that aim to decrease her safe access to abortion and intrude on her religious right to decide. The US abortion debate is a zero sum game that ignores the views and traditions established and practiced by others.

American Christians’ eager to deny women’s right to choose and those who want to protect it dominate the abortion debate. They overlook the beliefs and practices of other faiths. Excluding the position of other Abrahamic faiths and the views of all other faiths infringes on the established rights of countless of women whose right to choose is a religious protected right.

Muslim American women want to protect the right of women to choose and also honor their living seeds from birth to adulthood. Framing women’s right to her body as a public health and demographic issue is a perplexing problem that baffles American Muslim women wit and logic. It robs them of their right to personhood and citizenship, and the right to choose- a consequential right they had already secured.

Time will tell if the First Amendment protects American Muslim women right to choose. In the meantime, they reflect on how to effectively respond to those in the US who are eager to codify, regulate, and limit whether, when and under what circumstances they may obtain an abortion. A novel problem that was resolved 1420 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: