OPINION: Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, comments about “American sharia” have come fast and furious. Most have no idea how Islam actually views abortion
Political cartoons depicting Supreme Court justices and politicians in beards and turbans popped up. Tweets mentioned the Christian Taliban and American sharia. “Y’all Qaeda” jokes floated around the internet. The supposed “Talibanization” of America was referenced. Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan were used as punching bags by people with no real understanding of how abortion is viewed in Islamic law.
These takes are not new. When Texas banned abortion in 2021, prominent figures then compared the Texas state government to the Taliban. An editorial cartoon featured two burqa-wearing women asking for prayers for Texan women. An Arizona Republic opinion column argued the Texas abortion ban was somehow rooted in sharia law.
Somewhat ironically, the actual Taliban called out the hypocrisy of the Supreme Court ruling by juxtaposing the widely criticized U.S. sanctions and freezing of the Afghan central-bank funds due to the treatment of Afghan women and girlswith the U.S. abortion ban and its treatment of women. This is not a defence of the Taliban by any means. But the rollback of health-care rights for American women and the additional affront to the religious rights of American Muslim women cannot be ignored.
The mental gymnastics American pundits, politicians, and even average tweeters are engaging in to deflect any sort of responsibility about this ruling — to deny the extent to which the anti-abortion movement is, in fact, rooted in American Christianity and far-right evangelical fundamentalism — are surreal.
Most of these individuals have no idea how Islam actually views abortion. According to dominant legal opinions within sharia law, ensoulment occurs at the 120-day mark of pregnancy. As such, many legal schools of thought permit abortion before the approximately four-month mark, or before the fetus is viewed officially as human life.
Following this, exceptions apply for any scenario in which the mother’s life is at risk. Scholars, following the legal maxim that “certainty should not be overridden by doubt,” have determined that the mother’s life is the priority as it has been previously established, whereas the life of the fetus is still doubtful until it is born. So if the mother’s life is at risk (as in the case of ectopic pregnancies, for example) or the fetus is unviable, abortion is permitted. Additionally, many scholars allow for abortion in scenarios such as rape.
There is, of course, disagreement within various Islamic legal schools of thoughts and across sects on the exact timing of ensoulment. For example, while some scholars believe ensoulment occurs at the 40-day mark, the majority agree on 120 days. None of these views compare with the far-right Christian stance on abortion, which holds that life begins at conception.
The majority of Islamic scholars permit abortion before the 40-day mark on grounds of mental health and the physical inability to raise children. Some of this same reasoning similarly applies to contraception (another potential item on the Supreme Court chopping block).
There are similarities between the perspectives on abortion in Islam and Judaism. American Jewish and Muslim leaders released a joint statement expressing their concern about the ruling. A synagogue in south Florida is suing the state over its 15-week abortion ban. Perhaps what is key is that many religious groups in the U.S. have perspectives on abortion not reflected in the dominant Christian influence on its Supreme Court.
Despite Islam’s nuanced and complex perspective on abortion, decades of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and massive amounts of disinformation on Islam set the tone for these frankly Islamophobic takes. Many are trotted out anytime a Western country makes a move — rooted in the context of its own history or culture — to roll back the rights of its citizens.
Yet at the same time, many in North America and Europe fail to acknowledge how many countries have their own discriminatory policies in place. Take Jessica Biel captioning a vacation photo from Paris with “You have croissants AND Women’s Rights? Damn, take me back” — as if France has not banned visibly Muslim women from public spaces, universities, and beaches over the years, making it difficult for French Muslim women to exist in public.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Quebec’s own Bill 21, right here in Canada, which bans religious symbols in public spaces, effectively preventing any visibly Muslim woman from pursuing a public-sector career.
Muslim women know how acutely frustrating it is to see the “American sharia” takes. The post-9/11 years have been filled with the rhetoric of “saving Muslim women and girls” — such notions fed into attempts to justify two separate wars. Random strangers or acquaintances sometimes express concerns about the well-being of Muslim women, assuming we might be forced into marriages or forced to have babies against our will if they did not swoop in and intervene as white saviours.
Although the far-right — including media pundits — spent years terrifying the public about Muslims (so-called no-go zones, sharia law in the West, the alleged lack of Muslim women’s rights), it’s the far right that has managed to establish its own version of religious fundamentalism through the highest court in the U.S. And that’s as American as apple pie.