Are abortion bans like Sharia? Not even close, say Muslims

·5 min read

When news broke that the Supreme Court was poised to strike down Roe v. Wade, critics on social media, at rallies and on talk shows called Republicans the "American Taliban" and griped that they wanted to bring Sharia, or Islamic law, to the U.S.

“It is a bit amazing. After all these years of the right screaming about the threat of Sharia law, it turns out they were just jealous,” "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah said in one such barb on May 4.

The comparisons are not only offensive but also inaccurate, say Muslims.

Under most interpretations of Islamic law, abortion is permitted within the first 120 days. Today, some American states have tougher abortion laws than Afghanistan, which allows the procedure if the mother's life is at risk or if the child will be born with severe disabilities.

An abortion rights rally is held at Memorial Park in Fair Lawn on Saturday May 7, 2022. Francesca Costa from Closter, NJ holds up a sign during the rally.
An abortion rights rally is held at Memorial Park in Fair Lawn on Saturday May 7, 2022. Francesca Costa from Closter, NJ holds up a sign during the rally.

Muslim activist Daisy Khan, who was in Afghanistan in March as part of a women’s delegation, worried about the effects of U.S. policy abroad. The delegation advocated for unfreezing Afghan funds in U.S. banks and for improving Afghan girls’ access to education under Taliban rule.

“We cannot preach women’s rights to other countries when we are stepping back the rights [American] women have to control their own reproduction,” said Khan, an Edgewater resident and founder of Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, a New York-based nonprofit.

Sharia comparisons have followed a spate of new anti-abortion laws and the Supreme Court leak. The jabs about Sharia are a form of Islamophobia by the political left, say Muslim activists and academics.

“Liberals are seeking to protect women’s right to privacy and autonomy over her body,” said Sahar Aziz, Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. “They are perversely doing so by maligning Islam as misogynistic by comparing the opposition to Sharia.”

'Misinformation'

New Jersey attorney Abed Awad is a national expert on Sharia (Islamic law). Awad poses for a portrait in his home library, a collection of Islamic law books, current and antiquities dating back hundreds of years.
New Jersey attorney Abed Awad is a national expert on Sharia (Islamic law). Awad poses for a portrait in his home library, a collection of Islamic law books, current and antiquities dating back hundreds of years.

Abed Awad, a Hasbrouck Heights attorney and a national expert in Islamic law, said he has grown frustrated with the spread of misinformation about Sharia over two decades, most recently with the abortion debate.

“Sharia, when it comes to the right to terminate a pregnancy, is far more egalitarian and progressive,” he said in an interview.

Sharia is a set of principles and laws that guide Muslims toward living an Islamic life based on the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Interpretations of Sharia vary across locations and cultures.

Some scholars have said women should not terminate a pregnancy after 40 or 70 days, but the majority adopted 120 days as the threshold after concluding that a fetus does not become ensouled before that point, Awad said.

Certain scholars considered abortion permissible for any reason during that period, while others said it should be out of necessity, such as in case of rape, mother’s health or economic reasons. After 120 days, scholars agreed, abortion was permissible if the mother's life is in danger. A Muslim woman was free to follow any of these opinions, Awad explained.

Today, laws differ widely among some 50 Muslim-majority countries. In Tunisia and Turkey, it is permitted for any reason for up to three months or up to 10 weeks, respectively, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which tracks abortion laws around the world.

In Indonesia and Iran, abortion is permitted to save an expectant mother’s life. Saudi Arabi and Pakistan allow abortion for health or therapeutic grounds. Iraq and Egypt have banned all abortions.

Anti-abortion laws that exist in Muslim-majority countries today reflect Western legal codes adopted in the post-colonial era, Awad said. Under Sharia, abortions that contradict guidance might be viewed as undesirable but not criminal, he said.

“In the end, it is a question between the Muslim woman and God,” Awad said.

 Abortion is generally considered a private matter in Muslim-majority countries and is not a topic of public debate, he added.

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 The mother

Muslim scholars saw women’s physical and mental health as the primary consideration on the issue of abortion, said Khan.

"She may be the mother of other children or may be a wife and may have other responsibilities. She is the person we have to first and foremost save," Khan said.

She wrote "30 Rights of Muslim Women," a book scheduled for a fall release, about the prophetic and historic support of women’s rights in Islam. A chapter is dedicated to reproductive rights.

“Imagine the trauma of a woman being raped who has to have the child, then give up the child,” Khan said. “They don’t take that into consideration, whereas Islamic jurisprudence took this into consideration.”

The strict anti-abortion laws passed in states like Alabama and Texas are an example of Christian belief systems being imposed on religious minorities in the U.S., Khan said.

In the U.S., support for abortion varies among faith groups. Eighty percent of Evangelicals and 54% of Protestants believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a recent survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Meanwhile, 56% of Muslims support abortion in all or most cases, rates similar to Catholics, the survey showed. Support for abortion was highest among Jewish Americans, three-quarters of whom said it should be legal in all or most cases.

"What we need to do is work closely with women of other faiths," Khan said. "There’s a diversity of opinion, which the country has not taken into consideration. Our Constitution guaranteed separation of church and state."

Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, bias and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: adely@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @adelyreporter 

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Abortion bans aren't Sharia, say NJ Muslims