Abortion in Islam

by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA
Website: http://WWW.IRFI.ORG
In principle, the Qur'an condemns the killing of humans (except in the case of defense or as capital punishment), but it does not explicitly mention abortion. This leads Islamic theologians to take up different viewpoints: while the majority of early Islamic theologians permitted abortion up to day 40 of pregnancy or even up to day 120, many countries today interpret these precepts protecting unborn children more conservatively. Although there is no actual approval of abortion in the world of Islam, there is no strict, unanimous ban on it, either. Islam has not given any precise directions with regard to the issue of abortion. Hence it is not a matter, which has been clearly stated in the Shari'ah (Islamic Law) but rather an issue pertaining to the application of our knowledge of the Shari'ah.  Such application may vary in conclusion with a difference in the basic premises of one's arguments.

The Qur'an clearly disapproves of killing other humans: “Take not life which Allah has made sacred” (6:151; see also 4:29  “If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (for ever)” (4:93). Allah (SWT) went even further, making unlawful killing of a single individual human being equal to mass murder of the whole of mankind: "Because of that, We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief on earth, it would be as if he killed all mankind. And who saved a life, it would be as if he saved all mankind." (Al-Maidah, 5:32)

As to whether abortion is a form of killing a human, the Qur'an does not make any explicit statements. Only Surah 17:31 warns believers in general: “Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin.”


There are those in Islam who oppose all abortions. A favored text to support this is: "Do not kill your children for fear of poverty for it is We who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them." (Surah, Al-An' am, 6:151).  This Qur'anic reference is to killing already born children--usually girls. The text was condemning this custom.  The Arabic word for killing used in this text "means not only slaying with a weapon, blow or poison, but also humiliating or degrading or depriving children of proper upbringing and education."  The text doesn't explicitly address the abortion and therefore doesn't close the argument on it.

The Qur'an says:


           We created man from an essence of clay: then placed him, a living germ,

            In a secure enclosure.  The germ We made a leech; and the leech a lump of

            Flesh; and this We fashioned into bones, then clothed the bones with flesh;

            Then We develop it into another creation. (Surah Al-Mu'minoon, 23: 12-14)


This verse reveals how the fetus is formed and transforms into a complete human being.

The elaborate process of the development of the first human being is given in the Qur'an as follows:


                       He who has made everything which He has created most good.  He

                       began the creation of man with(nothing more than) clay, and made

                       his progeny  from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised.

                       Then He fashioned him in due proportion and breathed into him some-

thing of  His Ruh(Life-Energy). And (with this) He gave you (the faculties

of ) hearing and sight and understanding. (Surah Al-Sajadah, 32:7-9).


During the development of fetus, the body received the Divine Ruh (Life-energy) and subsequently the human faculties of hearing, sight and understanding were developed.

There is no agreement among legal scholars – including those of the founders of the four schools of religious law of the early Islamic period – as to the exact point in time this happens, however.



Islam's approach to the issue of birth control and abortion is very balanced. It allows women to prevent pregnancy but forbids them to terminate it.  In case of rape the woman should use the morning after pill or RU486 immediately after the sexual assault in order to prevent the possible implantation of a fertilized ovum.  Modern technology (like ultra sound scan) has made it possible to know whether or not a child has a defect long before he is born. Some people justify the abortion of a defective fetus.

The Shari'ah allows abortion only when doctors declare with reasonable certainty that the continuation of pregnancy will endanger the woman's life. This permission is based on the principle of the lesser of the two evils known in Islamic legal terminology as the principle of al-ahamm wa 'l-muhimm (the more important and the less important). The Prophet said, "When two forbidden things come [upon a person] together, then the lesser will be sacrificed for the greater." In the present case, one is faced with two forbidden things: either abort the unborn child or let a living woman die. Obviously, the latter is greater than the former; therefore, abortion is allowed to save the live person. 1


Permissibility of Abortion 2

"And do not kill your children for fear of poverty: We give them sustenance and yourselves (too): surely to kill them is a great wrong." (17:31)

The abortion of a fetus from the mother's womb is a different issue, since the sperm and egg have already met and fertilized what could become a human being. The scholars all agree that abortion is forbidden after the first four months of pregnancy, since by that time the soul has entered the embryo but it would allow the use of RU486 (the "morning-after pill"), as long as it could be reasonably assumed that the fertilized egg has not become implanted on the wall of the uterus. Most scholars say that abortion is legal under Islamic Shari'ah (law), when done for valid reasons and when completed before the soul enters the embryo. To abort a baby for such vain reasons as wanting to keep a woman’s youthful figure, are not valid.

"...And do not slay your children for (fear of) poverty -- We provide for you and for them --- and do not draw nigh to indecencies, those of them which are apparent and those which are concealed, and do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice: this He has enjoined you with that you may understand." (6:151)


Qur’anic verses misinterpreted 3

There are, however, some Qur'anic verses which prohibit infanticide:


"And do not kill your children for fear of poverty: We give them sustenance and yourselves (too): surely to kill them is a great wrong." (17:31)


These verses in fact were revealed to forbid the pre-Islamic Arab practice of killing or burying alive a newborn child (particularly a girl) on account of the parents' poverty or to refrain from having a female child. Perhaps in those days, people did not know safe methods of contraception and early abortion.


Embryonic development was central to the Muslim arguments on abortion. According to Muslim scholars, it is lawful to have an abortion during the first 120 days, but after the stage of ensoulment (after the soul enters into the fetus), abortion is prohibited completely except where it is imperative to save the mother's life. After ensoulment, however, abortion is prohibited absolutely and is akin to murder.


The Hanafi scholars, who comprised the majority of orthodox Muslims in later centuries, permitted abortion until the end of the four months. According to them, a pregnant woman could have an abortion without her husband's permission, but she should have reasonable grounds for this act. One reason, which was mentioned frequently, was the presence of a nursing infant. A new pregnancy put an upper limit on lactation, and the jurists believed that if the mother could not be replaced by a wet-nurse, the infant would die.


Views of Four Madhhabs (Schools of Thought) 4

There is broad acceptance in the major Islamic schools of law on the permissibility of abortion in the first four months of pregnancy. Most of the schools that permit abortion insist that there must be a serious reason for it such as a threat to the mother's life or the probability of giving birth to a deformed or defective child. However, as the Egyptian booklet."(The Arab Republic of Egypt published a booklet called "Islam's Attitude Towards Family Planning.") says: "Jurists of the Shiite Zaidiva believe in the total permissibility of abortion before life is breathed into the fetus, no matter whether there is a justifiable excuse or not." That would be a pure form of what some call "abortion on demand." 

The majority of orthodox Muslims (following the Hanafi school) in later centuries, allowed abortion until the end of the four months. According to them, a pregnant woman could have an abortion without her husband's permission, but she should have reasonable grounds for this act. Most of the Maliki jurists (legal scholars) described abortion as completely forbidden. In their view, when the semen settles in the womb, it is expected to develop into a living baby and it should not be disturbed by anyone. According to Ibn Jawziyyah, when the womb has retained the semen, it is not permitted for the husband and wife, or one of them or the master of the slave-wife, to induce an abortion. After ensoulment, however, abortion is prohibited absolutely and is akin to murder.

The Hanafi school (prevalent in Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia) allows abortions to take place principally until day 120; some jurists restrict this provision to “good cause”, e.g. if the mother is still nursing an infant and fears that her milk may run out during the new pregnancy. In aborting up to day 120, the woman commits a mere moral transgression, not a crime. The Shafi school (dominant in Southeast Asia, southern Arabia, parts of East Africa) allows abortions to be performed up to day 120. For the Maliki school (prevalent in North and Black Africa) an abortion is permissible with the consent of both parents up to day 40; it is no longer allowed after that. For the Hanbali school (predominant in Saudi Arabia and United Arabic Emirates) abortions are principally prohibited from day 40 onward.


Some Shiite groups, such as the Ismailis, do not permit abortions to take place at all. In case of infringements of this law, abortions before day 40 are penalized with a monetary fee. Other Shiite groups such as the Zaydites allow abortions to be performed up to day 120, equating an abortion up to this point with contraception. Whoever injures a pregnant woman to the extent that she loses her child must pay compensation according to Islamic law. Strictly speaking, this money belongs to the dead child, who is to inherit it. The family of the woman who undergoes an abortion must also pay compensation if the child’s father had not consented to the abortion performed on her.

Several differences become clear, however, between modern legal practices and the statements made by early Islamic jurists. In principle, the protection of unborn lives is today in the forefront, i.e. modern-day legal scholars judge more conservatively than the authors of the early Islamic legal texts. Exceptions are made in some countries if the life of the mother is endangered, based on Surah Baqarah, 2:233: "A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child.” As a result, abortion is possible for health reasons up to day 90 in many countries. In Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey abortion is fully prohibited (an exception is made if the mother’s life is endangered); this does not imply, however, that abortions are not at all performed. Tunisia’s liberal abortion practice allows for abortions to be performed up to the end of the third month. There, abortions are principally permissible for single as well as married women in the first three months, provided that a registered doctor performs them. The approval of the husband or of a male guardian is not required in Tunisia.

Some contemporary voices speak out fully against abortion, arguing that Islam is granted strength through multitudes of children. Traditionally, a large family with several sons has always been the ideal situation in the Islamic world. Abortion in this context is compared with murder, with references to the endangered health of the woman. Other voices view abortion as a type of birth control and refer to the fact that the wives of prophets also practiced birth control with the approval of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslim women’s rights advocates demand the right to free abortion in connection with the demand for self-determination. The hesitation of many doctors, for fear of legal prosecution, to perform abortions in clinics leads to illegal operations and numerous cases of death. A number of legal assessments (fatwas) have been published on the subject of abortion; this support one viewpoint or the other but do not legally have the character of law and are therefore not binding.

Abortion in Islam 5

Some Muslims argue that abortion is permissible if the fetus is younger than four months (120 days). They quote a statement from the Prophet (s) that refers to a human being starting as a fertilized ovum in the uterus of the mother for forty days, then it grows into a clot for the same period, then into a morsel of flesh for the same period, then an angel is sent to that fetus to blow the Ruh into it and to write down its age, deeds, sustenance, and whether it is destined to be happy or sad.

Assuming the Hadith to be authentic, scholars explain that the error comes from understanding that before the Ruh is blown into the fetus at 120 days, the fetus is not a living entity, and therefore aborting it does not amount to killing it. It therefore becomes clear that aborting a fetus before 120 days is still killing a living entity, let alone abortion after that presumed period.

Some Muslims argue that the only case when aborting a fetus, before or after 120 days, is allowed in Islam, is when a medical situation threatens the life of the mother, leaving only two options, to let either the other or the fetus survive, but not both. Scholars argue that such a case can only be determined by a specialist, trusted and committed Muslim doctor. They argue that the mother can have other children, whereas the child cannot make up for losing the mother.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi 6

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states in his well-known book, “The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam”:

“While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow doing violence to it once it occurs.

Muslim jurists have agreed unanimously that after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, abortion is Haram. It is also a crime, the commission of which is prohibited to the Muslim because it constitutes an offense against a complete, living human being. Jurists insist that the payment of blood money (diya) becomes incumbent if the baby is aborted alive and then died, while a fine of lesser amount is to be paid if it is aborted dead.

However, there is one exceptional situation. If, say the jurists, after the baby is completely formed, it is reliably shown that the continuation of the pregnancy would necessarily result in the death of the mother, then, in accordance with the general principle of the Shari'ah, that of choosing the lesser of two evils, abortion must be performed. The reason for this is that the mother is the origin of the fetus; moreover, her life is well established with duties and responsibilities, and she is also a pillar of the family. It would not be possible to sacrifice her life for the life of a fetus which has not yet acquired a personality and which has no responsibilities or obligations to fulfill.

 Allah Almighty knows best.


1. Marriage and Morals in Islam. Chapter 4: contraceptives and Abortion. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Pub. By Islamic Education and Information Center, Scarborough, Ont. Canada.

2.  www.understanding-Islam.com         1st March 1999

3.Family Planning and Islam: A Review by Khalid Farooq Akbar Hamdard Islamicus Vol. 17, No. 3, 1974.

4. Abortion in Islam.  Christine Schirrmacher (Institute for Islamic Studies) Online at www.islaminstitut.de/english/publications/abortion.htm

5. Abortion in Islam. Elsayed Kandil, SALAM Magazine, Sydney, New South Wales     http://www.famsy.com/salam/.

6. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. "Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam" Islamic Book Service, 1982


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