The Holy Qur’ān does not refer to abortion as the
term is commonly understood. However it upholds the sanctity of human life.
Murder and infanticide have been declared heinous crimes. The jurists restrict
abortion based on these general Qur’ānic interdictions of unlawfully taking
human life. The fact that the Qur’ān describes the development of the human
embryo led the Muslim jurists to differentiate between an unformed biological
entity and the human being. The Holy Qur’ān says that the creation of man starts
from sperm which is placed in a safe lodging. This drop is later formed into a
clot of blood, which assumes the shape of a small tissue. This tissue develops
into bones that are covered with flesh and then God makes it another creation
i.e. human being (Qur’ān, 23:12-14). The words ‘then we produced it as another
creature’ indicate that the infant is given a soul some time after conception.
Muslim scholars are divided over the beginning of this last stage in a foetus.
A narrative ascribed to the Holy Prophet (sws) sets the
duration of the first three stages of the foetus namely drop, clot and tissue,
as forty days each. After the completion of this cycle, God dispatches an angel
to breathe the Rūh (i.e. soul) into the foetus.
For this reason most Muslim jurists hold that pregnancy cannot be terminated
once the foetus has been in the womb for 120 days. However the legal schools and
individual scholars differ over the permissibility of abortion before this
What follows is a summary of major viewpoints on the issue:
Classical jurists are divided on the question whether
abortion is allowed in the Islamic Sharī‘ah or not. Most of them believe in its
permissibility before the spirit is blown into it. The exponents of this
viewpoint hold that the creation of a living being is materialized only after
this blowing of the spirit. Ibn-i-Wahbān is one of the advocates of this
viewpoint. He says that a pregnancy can be terminated within this period (120
days) on a reasonable excuse and it will not be considered killing of a living
being. The jurists also differ on whether abortion should be allowed within four
months of conceiving. Some of them forbid it [within 120 days no matter what].
Faqih Ali Ibn Mūsa holds that when a sperm enters the womb the foetus is
destined for animation and therefore cannot be terminated.
Sayyid Sābiq in his work Fiqhu’l-Sunnah writes:
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-Marām’ 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 Ghazzālī 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.
The most balanced viewpoint in this regard is that one should
not terminate pregnancy after the foetus grows into a human being. Obviously the
stage is marked by the time when foetus assumes the human form and receives all
human faculties. Medical science however has not yet been able to determine this
stage and unless and until it does so we can rely on the related Hadīth ascribed
to the Holy Prophet (sws) which sets the four month time period. Hence, rape and
incest provide a justifiable basis within the period stipulated above; however,
if threat is posed to a mother’s life, her life shall be saved at all cost.