There are over 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. We make up nearly a quarter of the globe’s population. Because of our portrayal in films, television, and the news, people tend to have the wrong idea about us. They think we’re all conservative and dogmatic when that’s far from the truth. Just like in other countries and in other religions, we orthodox believers and more modern, relaxed ways of practicing our beliefs. We battle with the same controversial topics as everyone else.
For example, do Muslims believe in abortion? Muslim leaders caution their followers that abortion is a sin and a procedure that should not be performed except in extreme circumstances. Even then, many leaders say that abortion is never an option.
However, some Muslim women live in areas where abortions are more easily come by as compared to other parts of the world. Whether or not a Muslim woman is able to procure an abortion depends on many different variables.
Much like you, each of us holds strong beliefs as to when a child is considered a living being and when life has yet to begin. Some of us believe life starts at conception, while others think it begins a little later. Yet, even though our struggles with abortion sound similar to yours, we do have some unique twists to our arguments, pro and con.
Today, abortion laws in predominately Muslim countries run the gamut from lenient to strict. For example, in Tunisia, abortion is allowed during the first trimester no questions asked. After 12 weeks, if the mother or fetus face serious health issues, it is still allowed. Turkey allows abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and again later if the mother or fetus is in crisis. Turkey has parental and/or spousal consent requirements, but these can be waived if the mother is in immediate danger for her life.
On the flip side, Iran has a near-total ban on abortion. Law does not explicitly say so but is generally understood to allow them if the mother’s life is at risk. Egypt also bans all abortions save those cases where the mother’s life is at stake or the fetus becomes unviable. Most (but not all) Muslim countries banning abortion don’t have exceptions for rape or incest.
Another reason for our reticence to embrace abortion can be found in the Quran. Verse 17:31 states, “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” While this doesn’t explicitly say “no abortion,” many of us believe this is a logical conclusion. Especially those of us who believe that life begins at conception.
However, not all of us agree on that. The term ensoulment means the moment at which a fetus gains a soul and becomes a living human being. According to many Hadith (which are the words of the Prophet Mohammed recorded after his death), life begins 40 days after conception. In the Book of Divine Decree (6392), it says, “When the drop of (semen) remains in the womb for forty or fifty (days) or forty nights, the angel comes and says: My Lord, will he be good or evil? And both these things would be written. Then the angel says: My Lord, would he be male or female? And both these things are written. And his deeds and actions, his death, his livelihood; these are also recorded.”
Some of us, however, believe that life begins after 120 days. We use another Hadith from the same book (6390). It tells us, “The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother’s womb in the form of blood, after which it becomes a clot of blood in another period of forty days. Then it becomes a lump of flesh and forty days later Allaah sends His angel to it with instructions concerning four things, so the angel writes down his livelihood, his death, his deeds, his fortune and misfortune.”
For the most part, no Muslim woman would ever seek out an abortion, nor would she be able to receive one, after 120 days. No matter which Islamic country she lived in. Only in extreme circumstances like a risk to her life, rape, or incest, would an abortion even be considered. Even then, it must be agreed upon by a committee of physicians.
One of the reasons that we tend to be so strict with our abortion laws is that we strongly believe sex should be happening only within the confines of marriage. In fact, our holy book, the Quran, states (30:21), “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” We are encouraged to love and be affectionate with our spouses.
However, just because we love our spouses and enjoy being with our spouses, it does not mean we want 20 children! In fact, even though we have strict rules against abortion, family planning and birth control are very much allowed (within reason).
While we love our children very much, we also recognized that having multiple children is not always the right choice for each family. In fact, family planning (by way of coitus interruptus, or withdrawing before ejaculation) has been practiced by Muslims for centuries. It has always been considered a safe way to ensure the health of the mother and manageable family sizes.
These days, we have many more options. Because oral contraceptives work to prevent ovulation, eggs never become fertilized or implanted. So they are okay to use. Even the “morning after” pills are allowed, as long as we know pregnancy hasn’t occurred. Injections, implantations, and barrier devices are also fine.
We can also practice abstinence during her fertile period. There are three ways to do this: tracking ovulation, the rhythm method, and tracking our basal body temperature. Using ovulation tracking tests can be an easier way to track our fertility. Of course, the tried-and-true withdrawal method is also always an option.
One method of birth control we are not allowed is sterilization. Both vasectomies and tubal ligations are considered affronts to Allah’s gift of life to us. We are also cautioned to explore our reasons why we want to go on birth control. For example, if we wanted to take it because we happen to like western culture and we wanted to emulate that lifestyle, we would be going against Allah’s teaching and it would be prohibited. Similarly, if we are worried we cannot provide for our children, we should take heart, knowing that Allah will provide.
What is most important is that both the husband and the wife agree that taking birth control is the best thing for the family. While it isn’t a rule, it is a good marital practice that we both agree on a method that works for us and that we both agree this is the right course of action for our family.
Family life is very important to us. Our families tend to be on the more traditional side with the father as the head of the house and the mother the nurturing caregiver, although women in some Muslim countries are allowed to hold careers outside of the home. Children are expected to be respectful to their elders. We are still close to our extended family members, and even though we don’t all live under the same roof, we still call each other family.
Marriage is considered a sacred relationship between a man and a woman. However, we don’t really do the dating thing. Some of our marriages are arranged, but in others, we’ve met our spouses in community gatherings or through friends or family. Things are kept proper at all times, and we are chaperoned as necessary. Our eyes are always on marriage. Premarital sex is not allowed.
Choosing a spouse can be difficult, be we are always cautioned to err on the side of a faithful partner. We should make sure that they have good morals, and have been chaste. Where marriages are arranged, both the bride and grooms to be must consent to the union. And while it is understood that a bride’s father in his years and experience may make a better choice than his youthful daughter, the groom’s parents are cautioned to not be too interfering.
While the Quran technically allows polygamy (a husband can have up to four wives), its practice is not widespread and depends on the culture in which we live. A man can only take as many wives as he may support and deal with “justly” (Q4:3): “. . . marry those that please you of (other) women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then (marry only) one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline (to injustice).”
Parents with children are expected to provide for them, treat them kindly, and teach them about being a good Muslim. Children are expected to be respectful and obey their parents. We take good care of our elderly relatives. It is considered an honor and our duty to care for our aged. Part of that comes from the Quran, which teaches us to put our parents second after Allah.
Our mothers are the ones responsible for our spiritual upbringing and making sure that we know the difference between halal (permissible) and haram (forbidden). Our fathers are responsible for taking us to prayers at the mosque. Mothers are given special acknowledgment in the Quran for the suffering of bearing children. Indeed, it is said the Mohammed proclaimed the rights of the mothers three times greater when he said in this Hadith: “A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?’ The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father.”
As Muslims, we believe in the sanctity of family life. Our lives are guided by the words of Mohammed, through the Quran and other works called Hadith. We believe in honoring and obeying our parents and being devoted, loving spouses. We believe that children are gifts from Allah, and we are grateful to be blessed with them. Our lives are filled with the joy of family, and we are grateful.
If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.