The issue of abortion is highly controversial in Islam. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in his essay “When Does a Human Fetus Become Human?”1, says that Imam al-Ghazali considered abortion prohibited but said that the severity of the crime increased with the fetus’s development. Hamza Yusuf considers the Mālikī school’s view to be the soundest, which is that an embryo is becomes a proper human at conception, rather than at any later date. Is someone assaults a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry, then the Mālikī view is that this should be treated as manslaughter (unintentional killing of a human) by the law.
The Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, representing the more common mainstream view (which Hamza Yusuf says is mistaken), says that there is something of a consensus among scholars that abortion is forbidden once the fetus is considered to have a soul, but that the disagreement is on when this happens.2 Once the fetus has a soul, killing it is forbidden unless the mother’s life is in danger and an abortion is needed to save her life.
His view is that in the case of rape, it is permissible to abort the fetus within the first forty days or the first four months, the first forty days being preferable.
He says that if a fetus is aborted without due cause after the first 120 days, then the kafāra for it (what needs to be done to attain God’s forgiveness) is similar to that for manslaughter, which is to free a slave or fast for 60 days uninterrupted. The diya (blood money) must also be paid to the fetus’s legal inheritors, but this excludes those responsible for the abortion (so if it was the mother’s decision, she must pay the diya to the fetus’s inheritors but she herself cannot receive anything from it despite being an inheritor). However, if the abortion was done without due cause within the first 120 days, then only one tenth of the diya is to be paid.
It appears to me that piety requires Muslims to avoid abortion at any period of the pregnancy (as Hamza Yusuf) says. Therefore that should be a pious Muslim’s policy; to consider a fetus a human regardless of its age, because we do not have sufficient evidence to decide one way or another whether it really is a human or not, therefore we should err on the side of caution out of the fear that we might unknowingly kill what God considers to be a proper human.
However, due to the inconclusive nature of the evidence, we cannot condemn Muslims who get abortions within the first 120 days of pregnancy. There is sufficient scholarly support for their action, therefore if they truly believe that their action is sanctioned by Islam, then God will treat them according to that. But if they feel in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, but out of their extreme desire for it they still go on with it, then that is problematic and they risk God’s displeasure.
- Link to the essay | Archived PDF link.
- Archived link to an interview with him mentioning these views.