When we talk about "family values" in the American context, we often refer to the conflict in values concerning personal morality between right-wing conservatives and left-wing liberals.
Abortion is one hot button issue which is a large part of the family values debate.
Traditionally, Muslims have agreed with right-wing conservatives' position in this area, who support the right to life in the abortion debate (the "pro-life" faction) versus the liberals who support a woman making the choice for herself of whether or not to abort (thus the term "pro-choice").
But there is a need for a unique Muslim position on abortion without compromising Islam's stand on the issue.
Muslims need to articulate Muslim family values. They also must learn how to work with non-Muslims on issues of common concern without giving the impression that they agree with all of the beliefs of these groups.
Abortion in America provides an excellent example of how all of these issues can be tackled.
The Islamic position on abortion and the pro-life movement
Islam is antiabortion, yes.
But should Muslims in America join the so-called Pro-Life movement? No.
It is rightly assumed that Muslims are against abortion because of Islam's pro-life stand. Then Muslims are called on to be active supporters of the antiabortion movement. While it is necessary for Muslims to take a stand on national issues, I wonder if it is wise to join the pro-life bandwagon?
Is it the best Hikmah (wisdom) in the interest of the Ummah (the global Muslim community)? Can we apply Islamic morality partially to a society which does not accept the basic premises of Islam? Shouldn't we invite to Islam directly by pointing out the problems associated with rebellion against the Creator?
Abortion in the US: some history
Abortion is one of the hottest issues debated in the US.
Since a July 1989 decision of the Supreme Court, abortion has been open to legislative, electoral and judicial debate and politics.
Considering that about 54 percent of Americans are in the middle of the positions taken by the pro- and antiabortion forces, the media gives quite a bit of exposure to the ongoing debate. The issue is likely to remain alive in America for at least a decade.
Muslims and the abortion debate
I have written this article because I see many pseudo-politicians among Muslims jumping on the bandwagon of anti-abortionist forces.
While I appreciate their enthusiasm for participating in the political and social processes of American life, I wonder whether they have spent enough time developing the Muslim response to this debate.
This article does not question the Islamic position that abortion is Haram (forbidden) unless a mother's life is in danger.
It however argues that Muslims should formulate their position on abortion which should be separate and different from the stand of antiabortion organizations because of the reasons outlined below.
5 reasons Muslims should not support the antiabortion movement
- The abortion issue is only a byproduct of several major problems in American society, on which the antiabortion movement has more or less the same stand as the abortion supporters. For example, sex outside of marriage, the direct cause of most unwanted fetuses, is hardly considered an evil. The same is the case with alcohol consumption which leads to irresponsible behavior. The causes of the problem need to be addressed first.
- It will be better for us as Muslims to work on pointing out the crises in the American family. We should ask for a reassessment of moral and cultural norms which are responsible for the crises in the family unit and stress strategies which can bring about a healthy change in it. The antiabortion movement only addresses the symptoms not the disease. They show a concern for the unborn while neglecting real issues which make an unborn unwanted. They ignore teachings of the Bible about proper sexual behavior.
- By putting our support in the basket of anti-abortionist forces we will only strengthen those who are religiously motivated against Islam at the cost of those who, in general, have an open mind about new ideas, are more tolerant towards other religions and tend to cherish minority causes.
- With an antiabortion stand we are at the risk of offending American women as a group, who, in general, see the abortion issue as one in which a woman should decide herself either way.
- Shouldn't we give an invitation to the basics of Islam instead of taking sides on a hot issue like this which is only a result of the adoption of manmade norms of right and wrong and relentless material competition at the risk of family life?
Why a number of American women support abortion
With free sex, a norm in America, a male is always in the advantageous position.
Most of the time, he walks away while a woman has to live with any "mistake" both have made. In the absence of a family system, each adult male and female is on his/her own, to compete in this individualistic and materialistic life.
If a woman is pregnant in these circumstances, she considers it to be a financial and physical handicap for her. She cannot compete with others who are not pregnant, in school or on the job.
She has a genuine fear of becoming a social pariah, a burden on her family (if she is a teenager)
She is also likely to conclude that she may not be able to support the baby. The result is that a majority of women in their teens and twenties resolve this "personal dilemma" by choosing abortion over uncertainty and possible poverty.
If they are unable to make this choice and have a baby with or without a decision, they are likely to become one of the helpless poor of America for whom anti-abortionist conservatives have hardly any help to offer.
The result is that women and children are the fastest growing people below the poverty line in America. Because of this prevailing irresponsible sex and the myth of the sameness of the sexes (versus true equality which takes into account biological differences of men and women), a majority of women want the freedom to have an abortion.
In this scenario, these women have a rational argument in their hands which fits into the paradigm in which this society is operating.
Women in America are the victims of this unjust socioeconomic system in which irresponsible sex puts them at a disadvantage. This unjust social environment should be questioned in its entirety, not in a piecemeal fashion.
The American woman as a victim
The American woman is a victim in several ways.
This permissive society depicts women as sex objects. It especially victimizes women through its television, advertisements, literature, newspapers, and radio.
Society also glorifies alcohol in social life which leads to irresponsible behavior resulting in free sex, and sex-related violence.
Sexual assault and the American woman
A survey issued in February 1990 by the University of Illinois points out that 16 percent of female students at the university were victims of criminal sexual assault.
Only two of these sexual assaults were from strangers. The rest were acquaintances.
The survey also established that 70 percent of women and 80 percent of men had been drinking when these sexual assaults occurred.
Since premarital sex is accepted by society as normal, 92 percent of 15- to 19-year-old adults do not marry while remaining sexually active.
The result is that 81 percent of all of the 1.3 million legal and reported abortions every year are of unmarried women. If these women at this stage in their life do not choose to abort, they fear that they will be losers in America's material competition.
They dread the consequences for themselves and their child, as neither parents nor the state are going to support them. The social norms of American society, therefore, help determine the choices for women: she has to either choose the baby and accept defeat in the material competition or abort the baby and remain in competition.
Women in America, therefore, are willing partners as well as unwilling victims of the dominant socioeconomic norms. Abortion is only a necessary result of these dynamics.
The conservatives of America, on the other hand, campaign to stop the state from adopting policies which help the poor and destitute, women and children, in the name of capitalist myths of the survival of the fittest.
The state cannot be an alternative to the family unit and social norms, but right-wing, conservative economics destroyed a substantial part of whatever support government was providing to these people in the 1980s.
Foundation of an Islamic stand on the issue
An Islamic stand on this issue should not be just a judgment based on our value system.
It should be relevant and concerned. It should be sympathetic to both, abortionists and anti-abortionists. Both are Zalim (oppressors) and Mazloom (the oppressed) here.
The pro-choicers are Zalim as they are killing innocent beings because of the fear of poverty while they are not providing any cure for the disease by ignoring the real causes.
Both are Mazloom as they are ignoring the true message of Allah which provides a better model for governing sexual behavior and family life. We must help the Zalim and the Mazloom both as the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) has asked us to.
Both factions are only addressing the symptoms. Instead of being part of this fallacy, Muslims should take a distinct position: America must think about the causes of decay in family life. It must see that symptoms cannot be treated unless the causes are removed.
The material selfishness of men and women which has destroyed sex norms of decency, and the family system must be realized. Unless America sees the causes, it will continue to move on the path which is suicidal and rebellious to God - the Creator and the Provider.
If we take the stand as outlined above, it will not only be just and rational, but it will give a new dimension to the ongoing polarized debate. We will not be taking sides with one group at the risk of losing the other.
It will give a distinct identity to the Muslim community and will Insha Allah (if God wills), increase the chances for Dawa (invitation to Islam).
Both sides of this debate might listen to Muslims
Abortionists and anti-abortionists do not listen to each other anymore. Both might listen to us if we devote enough resources to establish this distinct stance instead of just taking a side with one of the existing factions.
The potential for change
If AIDS, which has caused about 40,000 deaths in America can make the Surgeon General suggest abstinence and a single sex partner as the best defense against this disease, the abortion of hundreds and thousands of babies a year should make America think about sexual responsibility and permissiveness versus norms outlined by our Lord - the Creator of us all.
If drugs and AIDS education programs can penetrate all educational and information channels, the reorganization of sociocultural norms cannot be declared impossible.
If smoking can be made to look bad in society so can alcohol. Declining smoking habits and a slight increase in marriages have shown that America has the potential for change. Almost nothing is impossible if determination is there.
Steps to take before taking a stand
If the Muslim Ummah in North America is not yet ready for the differentiated stand on abortion, then I would suggest that being silent on this complex and emotional issue will serve the interest of Islam better than merely jumping on the anti-abortion bandwagon.
But before we even adopt this stand, we have to do our homework. We have to have many Muslims, especially sisters, writing about family, social life, alcohol and responsible sex, in a way which is relevant and appealing to an American audience.
They may or may not listen, however, due to biases about the provision of polygamy and the etiquette of Hijab in Islam.
But we are not out there to gain converts by pleasing them at any cost. Our responsibility is only to educate and inform about what pleases the Creator, our Lord and theirs - the Cherisher of the universe.