University of St Martin - Fall, 2006 - PHIL232

Excursus 3: Abortion in Islam

Midterm Essay
Monday, Sept. 4 - What is philosophy?
Wednesday, Sept. 6 - Aristotle (1)
Monday, Sept. 11 - Aristotle (2)
Wednesday, Sept. 13 - Aristotle (3)
Monday, Sept. 18 - Nietzsche (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 20 - Nietzsche (2)
Monday, Sept. 26 - Abortion (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - Abortion (2)
Excursus 1: Historical overview
Excursus 2: Abortion in Judaism and Christianity
Excursus 3: Abortion in Islam
Excursus 4: Pro-choice argument
Monday, Oct. 2 - Suicide (1)
Wednesday, Oct 4 - Revision
Monday, Oct 16 - Suicide (2)
Wednesday, Oct 18 - Paradigm shifts
Monday, Oct 23 - Brave New World (1)
Wednesday, Oct 25 - Philosophical Anthropology (1)
Monday, Oct 30 - Sexual History of the USA
Wednesday, Nov 1 - Philosophical Anthropology (2)
Monday, Nov 6 - Race, death, tragedy, and bad faith
Wednesday, Nov 8 - Race, Biology, and Culture
Monday, Nov 13 - Racism and culture
Wednesday, Nov 15 - Existentialism
Monday, Nov 20 - Political Obligation, Moral Duty, and Punishment
Wednesday, Nov 22 - Kant and Moral Obligation
Monday, Nov 27 - War and Peace
Wednesday, Nov 29 - Non-Western Philosophies (1)
Monday, Dec 4 - Non-Western Philosophies (2)
Wednesday, Dec 6 - The End
Final Paper

The pro-life question according to the Islamic tradition

Source: - see also:


“God has made life sacred” (17:33) is declared in the Quran (The Muslim Holy Book). It should not surprise us to find out that the title God chose for the first revelation of the Quran was “The Hanging Embryo” (Sura 96), not something else such as, Creation, The Sun, Jesus, Adam, or Abraham. This hanging embryo stage starts about 6 days after fertilization when the embryo attaches to the inner lining of the uterus. This chapter swears by the creation of the human being from this tiny hanging embryo and the omnipotence of God. The choice of words for the title emphasizes the significance that God puts on this stage of human development.

Killing any person is strongly condemned in the Quran, especially the killing of children which is specifically condemned in several chapters. The Arabic word “awlad” is used in these references, which translates to “born and unborn children”. If God intended to only prohibit post-born children from being killed, then the word “mawlood” (born children) which is already in use in the Quran would have substituted the other. But it is clear that preborn children are also to be protected from murder.

Say,`Come let me tell you what your Lord has really prohibited for you: You shall not set up idols besides Him. You shall honor your parents. You shall not kill your children (awlad) from fear of poverty. We [“We” is used in the Quran when other entities like the angels have a role in the process, also "We" in Arabic singular is used for someone of royal or glorified status] provide for you and for them. You shall not commit gross sins, obvious or hidden. You shall not kill any person - God has made life sacred - except in the course of justice. These are His commandments to you, that you may understand.’” from 6:151. This is emphasized again in Sura 17 “You shall not kill any person - for God has made life sacred- except in the course of justice...”(17:33) and “ You shall not kill your children due to fear of poverty. We provide for them, as well as for you. Killing them is a gross offense” (17:31).

Infanticide, especially of females occurred in Arabia during the sixth century just as it does in modern day China. In 81:7-10 it says in regards to end times “When...the souls are restored to their bodies. The infant girl who was buried alive is asked: `For what crime was she killed?’ The records are made known.”. God speaks of those who kill their born or unborn children as “Losers are those who killed their children foolishly, due to their lack of knowledge, and prohibited what God has provided for them, and followed innovations attributed to God. They have gone astray, they are not guided.” (6:140). Now we have the knowledge and no one has the excuse to kill these innocent human beings.

Knowledge about embryology is detailed in the Quran to a level that had not previously been documented. To start with, the very first revelation from God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel was literally entitled “The Hanging Embryo” (96). Explaining in more detail “We create the human being from a certain kind of mud. Subsequently, We reproduced him from a tiny drop that is placed into a well protected repository. Then We developed the drop into a hanging (embryo), then developed the hanging (embryo) into a bite size (fetus), then created the bite-size (fetus) into bones, then covered the bones with flesh. We thus produced a new creature. Most blessed is God, the best Creator.” (23:12-14).

God’s reassurance is given to the people in “O people, if you have any doubt about resurrection, (remember that) we created you from dust, and subsequently from a tiny drop, which turns into a hanging (embryo), then it becomes a fetus that is given life or deemed lifeless. We thus clarify things for you We settle in the wombs whatever We will for a predetermined period. We then bring you out as infants, then you reach maturity. While some of you die young, others live to the worst age, only to find out that no more knowledge can be attained beyond a certain limit. Also, you look at a land that is dead, then as soon as We shower it with water, it vibrates with life and grows all kinds of beautiful plants.” (22:5).

Some Jews, Christians, and Muslims argue that the fetus in the first four months does not have a soul and therefore it is permissible to kill him/her. They do not realize that the soul has nothing to do with abortion. In abortion you are dealing with the physical body of the fetus, not its soul. We can not kill the soul even if we try, but we can separate the soul from the body as is the case in a physical death. Whether the soul enters the body of the zygote in the first minute of its life (when it genetically becomes a unique being) or after months of pregnancy is irrelevant to the abortion issue. Ancient people thought that the fetus became alive when the mother first felt its move and deemed that to be the time of ensoulment (sometimes an earlier day for boys then for girls was given). Heart beats easily heard at 10 weeks using Doppler ultrasound and electron microscopic pictures at very early development, should rest any doubt as to the need to use quickening as a marker for ensoulment.

Islam (Submission ) as a religion, greatly elevated the status of women from the very beginning, but they were strongly denied any right to choose death for their children in 60:12 “O you prophet, when the believing women (who abandoned the disbelievers) to seek asylum with you, pledge to you that they will not set up any idols besides God, not steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor fabricate any falsehood, nor disobey your righteous orders, you shall accept their pledge, and pray to God to forgive them. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.”.

God shows in the Quran that He cares so much about the first three months of pregnancy that the issue is addressed in 2:226, 65:4, and 33:49 for women contemplating divorce. Women who get divorced have an interim of three months before getting married again. This is done mainly to see if she is pregnant or not, since if the marriage had not been consummated or she is post-menopausal, then this rule does not apply. If the woman finds herself pregnant, God then orders her to forget her own wishes and plans of the divorce and to try her best to reconcile with her husband to keep the family and to respect the new life created in her womb. If the first three months of pregnancy were not important, God would have told these women not to wait, have an abortion, and keep their life plans as they wish. The matter is no more of just her concern, but it is God’s concern also. Abortifaciant remedies and techniques were available in those days as were some contraceptive practices, so we can assume that God’s word still applies today. God's words, laws and teachings do not change, people do. 


In the rare situation of when the life of the mother is threatened, today’s medically advanced community should try to save both the mother and the child with aggressive medical care. Sometimes it is possible to save only the baby and other times only the mother. These cases deserve our sympathy. A baby, no matter how young that dies under these circumstances should be treated with dignity and the family’s allowed to grieve. This approach is psychologically and spiritually healthier than making the pregnancy “disappear”. God is merciful.

Rape is often sited as a justifiable reason for abortion. Women who are victims of rape should seek medical treatment within the first few days. Sometimes it is not possible to obtain medical care or treatment is unsuccessful and a pregnancy results. Pregnancy is not the worse “disease” that can be contracted through rape, but deadly diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis can also result. These women deserve compassion and support, but killing the baby does not punish the rapist or “unrape” the woman. Because of the stigma attached to rape victims by most cultures, it takes extreme courage for a woman not to seek abortion. This is a shame on our societies and contributes to a perpetual ambivalence about abortion.

Out of wedlock or teenage pregnancies are another difficult issue and has become more problematic when Muslims integrate into western culture. In most Islamic cultures young people are raised with a strong sense of knowing that abstinence until marriage is the only acceptable behavior. Barrier methods of birth control have long been acceptable, but in no way give license to extra-marital sexual activity. God is omnipotent. In some parts of the world the sexes are segregated and there are safeguards to encourage abstinence. Children do not have to date/experiment as a way to desperately find a spouse, but have the security of waiting for a formal courtship that they may have had help from their parents in initiating.

Those who cannot afford to get married shall maintain morality until God provides for them from His grace. Those among your servants who wish to be freed in order to marry, you shall grant them their wish, once you realize that they are honest. And give them from God's money that He has bestowed upon you. You shall not force your girls to commit prostitution, seeking the materials of this world, if they wish to be chaste. If anyone forces them, then God, seeing that they are forced, is Forgiver, Merciful.” (Quran 24:33). In Sura 23:1-7 and 70:29 it reminds us that chastity will be considered on the Day of Judgment “And they maintain their chastity.

 Men are encouraged to be chaste “Tell the believing men that they shall subdue their eyes (and not stare at the women), and to maintain their chastity. This is purer for them. God is fully cognizant of everything they do.” (24:30-31). The account of the governor’s wife trying to seduce Joseph is inspirational “One of them said, ‘Do not kill Joseph; let us throw him into the abyss of the well. Perhaps some caravan can pick him up, if this is what you decide to do.’ ... A caravan passed by, and soon sent their waterer. He let down his bucket, then said, ‘How lucky! There is a boy here! They took him along as merchandise, and God was fully aware of what they did. ... The lady of the house where he lived tried to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, ‘I am all yours.’ He said, ‘May God protect me. He is my Lord, who gave me a good home. She almost succumbed to him, and he almost succumbed to her, if it were not that he saw a proof from his Lord. We thus diverted evil and sin away from him, for he was one of our devoted servants. ...The two of them raced towards the door, and, in the process, she tore his garment from the back. They found her husband at the door. She said, ‘What should be the punishment for one who wanted to molest your wife, except imprisonment or a painful punishment?’ .. When her husband saw that his garment was torn from the back, he said, ‘This is a woman's scheme. Indeed, your scheming is formidable.’ ... Some women in the city gossiped: ‘The governor's wife is trying to seduce her servant. She is deeply in love with him. We see that she has gone astray.’ When she heard of their gossip, she invited them, prepared for them a comfortable place... When they saw him, they so admired him...She said, ‘This is the one you blamed me for falling in love with. I did indeed try to seduce him, and he refused. Unless he does what I command him to do, he will surely go to prison, and will be debased.’. He said, "My Lord, the prison is better than giving in to them. Unless You divert their scheming from me, I may desire them and behave like the ignorant ones." His Lord answered his prayer and diverted their scheming from him. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient. “ (12:7-35).

Lot is another example of the consequences of immorality. “Lot said to his people, ‘How could you commit such an abomination, publicly, while you see? You practice sex with the men, lustfully, instead of the women. Indeed, you are ignorant people.’ The only response from his people was their saying, ‘Banish Lot's family from your town; they are people who wish to be pure.’ Consequently, we saved him and his family, except his wife; we counted her among the doomed. We showered them with a certain shower. It was a miserable shower upon people who had been warned. “ (27:54-58).

Adoption is permitted in Islam and even encouraged to take care of the orphans. God pays a lot of attributes to protect the orphans and watch over their money until they grow old enough to handle it. For adoption God insists that the adopted child keeps the name of his family and never changes to the name of the adopting family. This is to keep the family genetically recognized and protected. Now we know why. If you work in the medical field or read the latest advances in medicine, you will realize the significance of your family medical history in predicting, preventing, diagnosing, managing, and treating many disease including cancer, neurological disorders, psychological problems, growth abnormalities, blood diseases, stomach, bowel, and colon problems...etc. The expressions of sorrow you hear from those adopted people who have no knowledge of their families echoes for months after you treat one case that could have benefited from knowing about their biological family of origin.

In 33:5 the Quran says “You shall give your adopted children names that preserve their relationship to their genetic parents. This is more equitable in the sight of God. If you do not know their parents, then, as your brethren in religion, you shall treat them as members of your family. You do not commit a sin if you make a mistake in this respect; you are responsible for your purposeful intentions. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful”. This is further explained in 33:4 “God did not give any man two hearts in his chest. Nor did He turn your wives whom you estrange (according to your custom) into your mothers. Nor did He turn your adopted children into genetic offspring. All these are mere utterances that you have invented. God speaks the truth, and He guides in the (right) path.

Breast feeding is encouraged especially for adopted babies. When a mother breast feeds her adopted baby, the relationship of that child to her biological offspring is permanently bonded. They will not be allowed to marry (4:23) and the level of socially expected modesty is reduced.

Many Christians, Jews and even Muslims do not know that polygamy was allowed in Islam ONLY to take care of the orphans, and not to give a man a second wife for more pleasure. A man may marry the mother of the orphans if he finds it difficult for him to take care of both families (4:3), his and the orphans family separately. Numerous verses implore the responsibility to care for orphans (and how to preserve their money and their rights), widows, and the poor. In 107:1-3 it says “Do you know who really rejects the faith? That is the one who mistreats the orphans. And does not advocate the feeding of the poor.”

In conclusion, 5:69 & 2:62 of the Quran encourages us with “Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in God, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” God’s sovereignty over all of us and his faithfulness to those who work for righteousness is recorded in 21:91-94 “As for the one who maintained her virginity (Mary), we blew into her from our spirit, and thus, we made her and her son (Jesus) a portent for the whole world. Your congregation is but one congregation, and I alone am your Lord; you shall worship Me alone. However, they divided themselves into disputing religions. All of them will come back to us. As for those who work righteousness, while believing, their work will not go to waste; we are recording it.”

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of some issues of faith that you have in common with your Muslim (Submitter) neighbors and may venture into further dialogue. We all have our differences, but we worship and submit our lives to the same God.

To think about       

"Any society that values creativity also needs to enable criticism. If we cannot question the way we are doing things and thinking about things at present, it will not occur to us that they could be thought of or done differently. (...) So philosophy is important partly because cultural criticism is so important."

CHRISTENSON, Tom (2001). Wonder and Critical Reflection. An invitation to Philosophy, p. 37. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.


This page was updated on Nov 21, 2006
at 10.00 PM St Martin Time (-4 UT)