Ireland today is a place we can all be rightfully proud of. Around the world and at home, the Irish people and nation are known for being open and accepting, for promoting equality and opportunity.
Yet, as we have been reminded several times over the past years and decades, sometimes it takes a tragedy to gather our collective focus in a manner that enables us to take the next necessary step as a nation.
The unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar for example was one such tragedy. After a miscarriage had been diagnosed, Savita was denied an abortion because the foetus's heart was still beating. A responsible, proportionate outcome in the upcoming referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment is the least we as a nation owe to Savita and all women in crisis pregnancies.
Prior to the ensoulment, Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise the foetus as an unborn child
Looking towards the referendum, I wish to clarify my position, share my solidarity and prayers with the nation, and specifically offer guidance to Irish Muslims who may be unsure how they should vote.
Islam is neither exclusively “pro-life” nor “pro-choice” and regards human life as sacred. We are taught that the soul is enjoined with the developing foetus in the second trimester, about 120 days after conception. Prior to the ensoulment, Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise the foetus as an unborn child.
This does not, however, equate to unconditional franchise for abortion before this date.
Post ensoulment, Islamic jurists are also of the opinion that the unborn child and the mother do not share utterly equal rights. They argue that if the unborn child and the mother have supposedly equal rights, this could lead to uncertainty among medical practitioners as to when they can intervene when a mother is at risk.
The Islamic Council of Jurists of Makkah (Islamic World League) issued a fatwa in 1990 with majority votes which states that if the life or health of the mother is in danger, abortion can be performed at any time of the pregnancy because the life of the mother supersedes the life of the unborn.
The fatwa states that the decision with clear medical direction for abortion should be agreed upon by three specialist physicians.
Muslim scholars agree that it is important to protect the rights of the unborn child, cherish new life as a wondrous gift of God, and affirm the termination of developing new life in ordinary circumstances to be a grave sin and affront to human dignity.
We are called to sincerely consider our consciences and the lofty moral responsibility that weighs upon us
Naturally, these rights of the unborn child have to be balanced with those of the mother. The vast majority of Muslim clerics therefore permit, or even require, abortion in extraordinary circumstances, such as when the continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother.
A similar moral imperative now falls collectively to us, the Irish people. We are called to sincerely consider our consciences and the lofty moral responsibility that weighs upon us as we and those around us decide how to vote in the upcoming referendum.
Every vote in this referendum is a decision on the future destinies of women like Savita and of the unborn children of the nation.
I clarify my stance as follows and recommend the Irish Muslim community to ensure they vote, in pursuit of the following outcome:
* The Eighth Amendment should be repealed so as to relieve the unnecessary burden on women and medical professionals at what already constitutes a highly traumatic time.
* The State should facilitate both legislation and funding for ease of access to abortion in extraordinary circumstances (such as risk to the mother’s life, rape, incest, and so on.)
* Calls for abortion to be freely available until the end of the first trimester should be rejected, as the rights of the mother must be balanced with those of the unborn child.
At this time, I pray for an atmosphere of understanding and calm reflection, and that God opens our hearts to that which is balanced, fair and objective.
Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri is the head imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre of Ireland and the Chair of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council