Islam and Abortion

In principle, the Qur'an condemns the killing of humans (except in the case of Just defense), but it does not explicitly mention abortion (Al-Ijhadh). This leads Islamic theologians to take up different viewpoints: while the majority of early Islamic theologians permitted abortion up to day 40 of pregnancy or even up to day 120, many countries today interpret these precepts protecting unborn children more conservatively. Although there is no actual approval of abortion in the world of Islam, there is no strict, unanimous ban on it, either.

The Qur'an is based not only on the assumption that the first humans – Prophet Adam (alayhis salam) and Hawwa – were created by Allah, but also on the assumption that every individual is one of God’s creatures, is His property and servant. It is therefore fundamentally not up to the created individual to determine single-handedly the length of his own life or of the lives of others, who are also God’s property, or to end others’ lives prematurely.

The Qur'an clearly disapproves of killing other humans:

"Take not life which Allah has made sacred"
[6.151; see also 4.29].

It threatens the murderer with retaliation in this life "O ye who believe! The law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder…", 2.178) and the punishment of Hell in the life to come for the one who premeditatedly murders a fellow Muslim: "If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (for ever)" [4.93].

As to whether abortion is a form of killing a human, the Qur'an does not make any explicit statements. Surah 17.31 warns believers in general: "Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.."

Hence, theologians have concluded that the killing of a fetus is not permissible as soon as one can speak of it as of a "child", a person whose parts are fully formed and into whom a soul has been breathed. There is no agreement among legal scholars – including those of the founders of the four schools of religious law of the early Islamic period – as to the exact point in time this happens, however.

The Hanafi school (predominant in Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia) allows abortions to take place principally until day 120; some jurists restrict this provision to "good cause", e.g. if the mother is still nursing an infant and fears that her milk may run out during the new pregnancy. In aborting up to day 120, the woman commits a mere moral transgression, not a crime. The Shafi school (Southeast Asia, southern Arabia, parts of East Africa) allows abortions to be performed up to day 120. For the Maliki school (prevalent in North and Black Africa) an abortion is permissible with the consent of both parents up to day 40; it is no longer allowed after that. For the Hanbali school (predominant in Saudi Arabia and United Arabic Emirates) abortions are principally prohibited from day 40 onward.

Exceptions are made in some countries if the life of the mother is endangered, based on Surah 2.233: "A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child." As a result, abortion is possible for health reasons up to day 90 according to a number of scholars.

The eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states in his well-known book, "The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam":

"While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow doing violence to it once it occurs.

Muslim jurists have agreed unanimously that after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, abortion is Haram. It is also a crime, the commission of which is prohibited to the Muslim because it constitutes an offense against a complete, living human being. Jurists insist that the payment of blood money (diya) becomes incumbent if the baby is aborted alive and then died, while a fine of lesser amount is to be paid if it is aborted dead.

However, there is one exceptional situation. If, say the jurists, after the baby is completely formed, it is reliably shown that the continuation of the pregnancy would necessarily result in the death of the mother, then, in accordance with the general principle of the Shari'ah, that of choosing the lesser of two evils, abortion must be performed.

The reason for this is that the mother is the origin of the fetus; moreover, her life is well-established, with duties and responsibilities, and she is also a pillar of the family. It would not be possible to sacrifice her life for the life of a fetus which has not yet acquired a personality and which has no responsibilities or obligations to fulfill.

Imam al-Ghazzali makes a clear distinction between contraception and abortion, saying that contraception is not like abortion. Abortion is a crime against an existing being. It follows from this that there are stages of existence. The first stages of existence are the settling of the semen in the womb and its mixing with the secretions of the woman. Then come the next gestational stage. Disturbing the pregnancy at this stage is a crime. When it develops further and becomes a lump, aborting it is a greater crime. When it acquires a soul and its creation is completed, the crime becomes more grievous. The crime reaches a maximum seriousness when it is committed after it (the fetus) is separated (from the mother) alive."


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