Saturday, October 31, 2009

Abortion in Islam

I just finished reading an interesting article that gives an overview of the different Islamic viewpoints on abortion.  The Qur'an details seven stages a baby goes through while in the womb: clay; a drop of sperm; sperm turns into a clot of congealed blood; then a fetus; then bones and flesh; and finally another creature (23:12-14).

In the debates about abortion, the idea of ensoulment is key: once the fetus has a soul, it can no longer be aborted (unless for therapeutic reasons, which I will talk about later). Before ensoulment, there are varying opinions as to whether the baby can be aborted: some say it is fine, some say it is allowed but reprehensible, and some say it is not allowed.  The Qur'an does not give a time frame for when the soul enters the fetus, so scholars look to the hadith. However, there are conflicting hadiths: some say it happens after 40 days, some 45, some 120.

Therapeutic abortion means abortion in the case of danger to the mother. If the pregnancy will kill the mother, an abortion is allowed. However, some add other reasons as well, such as a danger to the physical/mental health of the mother; if the mother is suckling another infant and the new pregnancy may cause her milk to dry up (this was later disproved by science); and if the woman was raped.

The Malikite school has historically been the most open to abortion, claiming abortion is allowed before ensoulment, with or without a valid reason. Some scholars within the school, however, say that is is reprehensible but becomes lawful if there is a valid reason.

The Shafi'is allow abortion before 40 or 42 days, but see it as makruh, or reprehensible. Al-Ghazzali believed that even an abortion before ensoulment was taking the life of a being. However, as the fetus passes through the 7 stages mentioned in the Qur'an, the crime becomes more serious. Thus aborting the fetus after ensoulment, for example, is worse than aborting it at the time of conception.

The Hanbalis allow abortion before 40 or 120 days, and the Hanbalis, who are the strictest school when it comes to abortion, do not even allow it in the first 40 days.

Interestingly, if a woman has an abortion to save her honour (e.g. if she has been raped), then her punishment will be decreased in most countries.

Most scholars allow abortion in the case of rape or incest, but only before ensoulment.

I personally agree with the Hanafi school - abortion before ensoulment is fine, especially with a valid reason, whereas afterward it should only be allowed for therapeutic reasons. However, I would include rape/incest as a reason for therapeutic abortion, as some scholars have done. I think if a woman is pregnant because of rape or incest, she should have the right to abort. I hate the fact that many women have no choice but to marry their rapists to avoid stigma. Seriously, a woman gets raped AND also suffers after that. Sigh.

What does everyone think about these opinions? What is your opinion? Which school/scholars do you agree with?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Finally, a positive Muslim-Jewish story

This story made me smile:

Virginia synagogue doubles as mosque for Ramadan

"The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in suburban Virginia, but for the past few weeks – during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was looking to rent a place for overflow crowds."

I read it on this site.

Finally a positive story of cooperation between Muslims and Jews. After living in Cairo for 5 years, I've heard the weirdest conspiracy theories against Jews. They literally get blamed for every single problem (even though most Egyptians have never met a Jew). I think it's about time people start seeing the difference between Jews and Zionists. Anyway, this story really made me happy!

Also, a Starbucks is opening near me! YAY!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Intimate Connection to God

 One of my classes this semester is Religion & Spirituality in Europe. Are Europeans becoming less religious? Does the fact that fewer and fewer people go to church mean anything? How many people still believe in God? So far, we've found that actually the majority of Dutch people do believe in God, but are simply detaching themselves from religious institutions like the Church. A new type of religiosity is forming, that includes aspects of new-age spirituality for example. Religion now seems to be much more personal & private.

A comment during one class struck me. Someone mentioned that for many Dutch people (and probably other Europeans too), God is not something they think about a lot. Maybe once a while one may spend some time thinking about life, God, death, etc, but it is not a conscious every-day experience. This made me realize how it is the opposite for me, as a Muslim. A large part of my day is spent either thinking about God, or worshiping him - consciously and unconsciously.

There is, of course, prayer. But aside from that, I find that God is always on my mind, or at least somewhere in the back of my mind.  Every decision I take involves thinking about what God would think, whether it was right, whether it is sunnah, etc. So in effect, God-related thoughts are often in my head.

This is truly one of my favourite things about Islam. There is a constant connection between you & God. And this connection is very beneficial for society in general. If I'm in a rush and all I want to do is push the slow-walking people in front of me but I refrain from doing so because I know it's wrong and God wouldn't be very happy about it, I'm doing something good. Of course we should all we doing these things anyway - if something is wrong I shouldn't do it, without having to use God's displeasure as another reason. But realistically, there are many small things I'm tempted to do every day (even though I know they're wrong) and I usually refrain because I know God wouldn't be happy.

This personal relationship is amazing. It strikes me as being so much better (for us humans) than a relationship with a distant deity that I only stop and think about once in a while, or during the "big moments". These small moments make up life, and by thinking of God during them, I'm ensuring that God is a constant part of my life. It also means that I'm constantly realizing things that I'm not sure of the Islamic position on, and this encourages me to find them out and thus acquire more knowledge.

"But we are nearer to him than his jugular vein." 50:16

Friday, October 23, 2009


I just read this amazing hadith over at Marzuki's blog:

“O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from incapacity, from sloth, from cowardice, from miserliness, decrepitude and from torment of the grave. O Allah, grant to my soul the sense of righteousness and purify it, for Thou art the Best Purifier thereof. Thou art the Protecting friend thereof, and Guardian thereof. O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from the knowledge which does not benefit, from the heart that does not entertain the fear (of Allah), from the soul that does not feel contented and the supplication that is not responded.”
Source: Sahih Muslim

 Tears came to my eyes. Masha'Allah.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Watershed Post

So this is one of those “watershed” posts that took me a while to write, and that really comes from deep down. I hope that everyone can spare some time to read it, and I would love comments, advice, criticism, and discussion. Insha’Allah. And I hope you like the new layout! It was designed by one of the most amazing people I know. Thanks AC.

I just began reading “On Being a Muslim” by Farid Esack, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Islam, particularly post-modern Islam. It is such an inspiring book! Not only did it make me get emotional several times, but it changed the way I saw this blog. I realized that more often than not, I blog about the negatives in Islam, because those are the things that occupy me the most. To me, Islam is such a perfect religion and the Qur’an is such a perfect text, that it really bothers me when people twist what is in it. But what’s the point? What am I changing or accomplishing by only writing about the negative aspects of Muslims and Islam? Wouldn’t it be better for others, and for me, to blog about the multitude of beautiful and inspirational things to be found in Islam?

Yes! So i’A from now on, there will be more positive thoughts. Of course I’ll still vent and rant every now and then (let’s face it, we Muslims are facing a lot of problems) but I also want to write about things in Islam that make me happy and inspire me.

Since this is my last post before I start “blogging-positively”, I have one final rant.

Farid Esack is definitely a feminist, and I love this the most about him. In 1997 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to be head of the Gender Commission in South Africa. His chapter “on being with the gendered other” is phenomenal, despite the fact that it was very hard for me to swallow. This part in particular: “How do women seeking gender justice really derive support and inspiration from a tradition whose icons are either all men or isolated women who inevitably draw their “legitimacy” from their relationship to males: wife, daughter, narrator of traditions, mother of a prophet. Is there really any place for gender justice within a theology rooted in a seemingly ahistorical and stable text such as the Qur’an, which is inescapably patriarchal?” Esack also points out that the Qur’an for the most part, appears to address men.

There are times when I wonder whether there is a “women problem” in Islam at all, or whether I am blowing it out of proportion. Most of the time, though, I know there is a huge problem, and that we need to deal with it.

“There are many sensitive women who simply cannot, with any self-respect, live alongside the idea of a God who reduces them to half of men. For them, and for the men who identify with them, it thus is very much a question of faith, and a very personal and deeply held one too.”

He managed to sum up, in one paragraph, what I have been trying to say on this blog since I started it. He also points out that we cannot go on pretending that the only injustice done to women is by Muslim men. Rather, there are also problems with the Shari’ah. “While in a few areas of life Islamic legal thinking has kept up with human progress and produced new insights, in many others, including gender justice, it hasn’t. The religious landlords among us - all male - have aborted the process set in motion by the Prophet: we have betrayed the prophetic injunction of justice and equality for all of Allah’s people.”

On women preaching in mosques (a la Amina Wadud), he quoted this Christian minister:

“I refuse to preach in a church which does not allow women to preach there. In effect, they are telling me that I am OK because of something between my legs which women do not have and, frankly, I do not think that that is enough reason for me to qualify to preach!”

The day I hear a sheikh (especially an Arab one) say this, is the day I know that we are going somewhere. Esack writes,

“We need to ask what exactly it is that we are afraid of; is it really women speaking in mosques? Is it the loss of our own faith at the hands of “modernists”, the uncertainty as to where all of these “new ideas” will lead? Is it the loss of power that we as males exercise over women? Is it the loss of authority that we as religious leaders exercise over people? Is it our own sense of masculinity that is being threatened? If it is, then is it not more rewarding to look deep into ourselves and personal histories and study this hunger for power, this desire for authority and our own deep-seated sexual insecurity?”

Another subject he wrote about was the idea that Muslims should not befriend Jews or Christians, or non-Muslims in general. He gave this touching example:

“In South Africa there are a number of Muslims who have spent various periods in prison with Nelson Mandela, who comes from a Methodist background. Can these Muslims simply ignore the Qur’anic text that says “Do not take the Jews and the Christians as your friends; they are friends unto each other” (5:51)? If they want to remain Muslims and at the same time remain true to the experience of a shared comradeship in the jails of apartheid then they have seriously to rethink many things connected to this text. What is the context of this verse within the rest of the text? What is the context of its revelation? Who were the specific Jews and Christians referred to in this verse? Under what historical circumstances was this revealed? What are the different meanings of awliya (allies)? What is the sense of this verse in the light of other such verses and how do they qualify or amplify each other? What does this verse mean in the light of the basic spirit of the Qur’an which is one of justice and compassion?"

To me, believing that we cannot interact with non-Muslims means that we are reducing our complex identities to just being “Muslim” and nothing else. What about my identity as a woman, as a student, as Egyptian, as Dutch, as Zambian, as a sister, as a daughter? Should I cut all of that out if it involves interacting with non-Muslims? My mother is not Muslim, some of my best friends are not Muslim, many of my professors are not Muslim, and about 95% of Holland is not Muslim. What does that mean for me? I’m sorry, but I cannot and will not reduce myself to such a narrow interpretation of the Qur’an, because it does not seem logical to me that God would want me to reduce my identity to being only one thing. Like Tariq Ramadan said in his debate with Hirsi, “don’t reduce me to being only a Muslim.”

The questions above that are in bold are key for me. I think if we use them to understand the Qur’an in general, then we can probably reach a better and more enlightened understanding of the text than if we just believe whatever the ulama say. The ulama have a role, but so do we. And I think those questions will especially help me tackle the gender aspects of the Qur’an, especially those regarding polygamy, “beating”, inheritance, and bearing witness.

“You should really visit our area the next time you come. You’d be delighted to know how alive Islam is there; you won’t find a single woman on our streets!” Esack’s guide in Uzbekistan.

“We are terrified of our own weakness. Most of us feel so terribly inadequate as persons that we require another species to feel superior to. It is, of course, unfashionable, at least in public, to feel superior to the Blacks, the Berbers, the Bushies, the Pathans, the Miabhais or the Kashmiris. Thank heavens, women will always be around! (If not, we’ll always have the Jews to fall back on of course.) Unable to assume responsibility for our vulnerabilities, we blame women and they end up carrying the burden of both their own fall - after being pushed by us - and our fall.

And then we say that women are the weaker sex?” Farid Esack (my new hero!)

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Few Thoughts...

  • I'm still missing Cairo and wondering if this will ever end. Was it really arrogant of me to assume that even after I built my life there I could leave and build a new one somewhere else? Obviously it's not that easy. Family can't be replaced, who knows if I'll ever find amazing friends like I had in Cairo again, and there is no Starbucks near me. It gets really depressing at times, and at other times it's more bearable. I hope I made the right decision by coming here, and that it's just taking some time to settle in. Does anyone have any experience with this? And any advice?

  • I found the most amazing book today, "The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures". I think I might spend the next few weeks locked up in my apartment reading the 6 volumes. Wow! Everything I could ever want to know in one title. The volume I borrowed today is called "Practices, Interpretations, and Representations", and each section is written by a different author. The encyclopedia is edited by Suad Joseph (whom I love) and every single prominent Islamic scholar who writes on women is in there. Yay!

  • A lot of people have been talking about Sheikh al-Azhar claiming that niqab is un-Islamic. Whether this is the case or not, this is yet another example of women being told what they can and can't wear. This argument has been put forward by many pro-niqab Muslims, and I agree with it. I wonder, however, whether these Muslims would also defend a woman's right to wear a mini-skirt? If a law banning mini-skirts was proposed, would these people also get upset about it, since it would also be infringing on a woman's right to choose what to wear? When one uses that argument, it should apply to all cases, not only to cases that one agrees with.

  • Why exactly did Obama win a Nobel? What has he done?

  • I was very impressed and inspired by this post. Thank God there are other Muslims who see Islam the way I do. I think I agree with every single thing he writes!

  • My friend Aynur blogged about this book. "Questioning the Veil" by Marnia Lazreg. I read the introduction and ordered the book right away. The veil is definitely one of the aspects of Islam & Women that I'm most interested in, and unfortunately no one has really written much about it lately. I'A this book will be amazing.

  • Isn't this an adorable picture? I love it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fazlur Rahman and his Ideas about Islam

I recently finished a paper comparing Fazlur Rahman's book "Islam" to Malise Ruthven's book "Islam in the World", and I became fascinated by Rahman's writings. When I first began reading about Islam, I was really turned off by traditionalist and literalist scholars. It has taken me more than two years, but I've finally found an Islamic scholar whose work is really inspiring, and seems to embody the kind of Islam I find in the Qur'an.
"Rahman set himself free from traditional Qur'anic interpretation in his effort to render the Message accessible to his contemporaries. Rahman "lamented the loss of this resource to most Muslims for whom it is lost beneath benign neglect, taboolike reverence, or traditional commentary which focuses on the intricacies of grammatical and rhetorical points and views each verse atomistically."

"Rahman considered the Qur'an a major source of Islamic law but NOT the lawbook of Islam. There is a big difference - regarding the Qur'an as a lawbook limits its scope and application and overlooks its flexibility and its dynamism."

"Rahman's critique focuses on how the Qur'an and Hadith were misconstrued by Muslim scholars in medieval times, made into rigid and inflexible guides - for all time, as it were - and not recognized as the products of their own times and circumstances."

This is it people! This is my main belief when it comes to Islam - the context mattered! Why so few scholars/ulama/Muslims are willing to believe this baffles me.

"Rahman shows how the Qur'an and Hadith became embedded in a rigid, static system of interpretation and jurisprudence. This led to the challenge for Muslims in modern times either to turn away from those sources if they would prosper or to acquiesce to an essentially medieval worldview with an archaic, unworkable religious-legal system that thwarts progress and full participation in the modern world."

Could this be the central problem for Muslim societies today? Why are almost all Islamic countries lagging behind in science, technology, education, the arts? Why are so many Muslims being forced to choose between being modern and being a "Muslim"? Why on earth do we have some ulama actually saying TV, science, and critical thought are "haram"? Honestly, how will Islamic societies EVER regain any kind of dignity in the world of science, the arts, and literature unless we Muslims begin to be more critical? How did Muslims go from being the leaders in science and intellectualism to being the main proponents of anti-modernism? Why does modernity conflict with Islam anyway?

"Muslims have a choice between secularism or an outmoded system, unless and until they return to the Qur'an and interpret it by understanding much of its content as general moral-ethical guidance and prescription and not rigid law. The Qur'an can and must be liberated from its prison of commentary and law and applied in fresh ways and with flexible principles to new realities."

It does annoy me when non-Muslims make negative and Islamophobic judgments about Islam and Muslims. However, sometimes I ask myself whether we can really blame them completely. Not all Muslim men marry girls younger than 10, but some do. Not all Muslim women believe men are better than them, but many do. Not all Islamic scholars are against science, debate, or ijtihad - but TOO many are. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists and literalists, but the Taliban, the Wahhabis, and many others, are. For every Muslim that is genitally mutilated, for every Muslim who marries an 8-year old girl, and for every Muslim that claims all non-Muslims must be killed, we can find a sheikh, scholar or member of the ulama who endorses that view. This is a problem. And I really don't feel enough Muslims are standing up to it.

I'm tired of feeling like I have to choose between being a Muslim or being modern, or between being a Muslim and being happy. And I am definitely tired of feeling like I have to defend Islam to non-Muslims AND defend my Islam to Muslims.

"Without the believers' intellectual exertion (ijtihad) to comprehend and apply it within the often confusing and contradictory circumstances of historical process, it will languish as a prisoner of dead tradition instead of being permitted to shed its full illumination and regenerating power in the Umma and the world."

Okay rant over :D