Imam Nawawi and Hadith 4: When Does Life Begin? Abortion in Islam.
Imam Nawawi was a classical Islamic scholar; he lived and died in the 13th century and is remembered for his compiliation of 42 traditions of Muhammad (ahadith). I have been studying this compilation by listening and learning from the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Goma’a.
Here is a hadith that governs how Muslims think about abortion.
The fourth hadith compiled by al-Nawawi, first in Arabic and then in English,
عن أبي عبد الرحمن عبد الله بن مسعـود رضي الله عنه ، قال : حدثنا رسول الله صلي الله عليه وسلم – وهو الصادق المصدوق – : ( إن أحـدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما نطفه ، ثم يكون علقة مثل ذلك ، ثم يكون مـضغـة مثل ذلك ، ثم يرسل إليه الملك ، فينفخ فيه الروح ، ويـؤمر بأربع كلمات : بكتب رزقه ، واجله ، وعمله ، وشقي أم سعيد ؛ فوالله الـذي لا إلــه غـيره إن أحــدكم ليعـمل بعمل أهل الجنه حتى ما يكون بينه وبينها إلا ذراع فيسبق عليه الكتاب فيعـمل بعـمل أهــل النار فـيـدخـلها . وإن أحدكم ليعمل بعمل أهل النار حتي ما يكون بينه وبينها إلا ذراع فــيسـبـق عليه الكتاب فيعمل بعمل أهل الجنة فيدخلها ) رواه البخاري [ رقم : 3208 ] ومسلم [ رقم : 2643 ]
On the authority of Aboo `Abd ir-Rahmaan `Abdullaah ibn Mas`ood (radiAllaahu anhu), who said: The Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) and he is the Truthful, the Believed, narrated to us:
Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a nutfah (a drop), then he becomes an ‘alaqah (clot of blood) for a like period, then a mudghah (morsel of flesh) for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows his soul into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his Rizq (sustenance), his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (i.e. whether or not he will enter Paradise).
By the One, other than Whom there is no deity, verily one of you performs the actions of the people of Paradise until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him, and so he acts with the actions of the people of the Hellfire and thus enters it; and verily one of you performs the actions of the people of the Hellfire, until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he acts with the actions of the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.
[Narrated by al-Bukhaari (البخاري) and Muslim (صحيح مسلم).]
Ali Gomaa’s Explanation of the Fourth Hadeeth
Listen to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Goma’a teach about this hadith:
When the embryo is 120 days an angel is sent and breathes into it the spirit. “Up until these 120 days, it has no spirit. We can observe with our own eyes, and with old and modern technology, that there is growth, accompanied by movement; even the physician can observe such growth and movement, so how is it that the spirit has not been yet been given? Such matters have been discovered only these days; such matters have been know thousands of years ago, since Allah first created Adam and Eve; Eve felt the movement, and has undoubtedly observed the growth. In addition, when the woman aborts a fetus, this could happen during the first forty days, or when it is still a clot, or a chewed up morsel, or when it has developed and became relatively created, or when its bones has grown.”
Based on this hadith and what it says about the angel breathing into the fetus at 120 days Ali Gomaa explains,
“some jurists agreed on the need of abortion, not in general, but when it is needed there is no harm, because the spirit has not yet been breathed in. There is a fatwa among the Hanafis and Shafi’is permitting abortion upon need. The word “need is different from “necessity.” There is consensus when it comes to “necessity,” but when it comes to the “need,” we have to observe the first 120 days, which are needed before getting rid of the fetus; either for the sake of the mother or the fetus, or for other issues concerned, and these are so many we haven’t enough time to mention them. Scholars deduced this meaning from such hadith; “one is ordained four words”. After the breathing of the soul, and after four months or 120 days, there are four main words. “One’s sustenance and endowments are written. This is an issue, unknown to machines or humans; whether one is going to be rich or poor; or one is going to be born poor and then get rich; or one is going to be rich and then become poor; …”1
When Does Life Begin? Abortion in Christianity.
Here we have a clear difference between the Bible and Muhammad. The Bible (and medical science) teaches that human life begins at conception. Muhammad taught that human life doesn’t begin until the angel breathes into the fetus at 120 days. This is a moral issue because Muslims permit doctors and/or parents to terminate pregnancies before 120 days. Christians say that terminating a pregnancy (except in cases where the life of the mother is at stake) is a form of murder; a violaton of the 6th commandment (Exodus 20:13).2
Islam teaches that angels breathe life into the fetus. Christians believe that God gives life (Deuteronomy 32:39).
Feel free to share your comments and recommendations to help further my study and understanding.
Sample chapters from Is the Qur’an the Word of God:
- The Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an says, “all Muslim jurists forbade abortion after the fetus had been in the womb for 120 days, although the legal schools and individual scholars differed over the permissibility of abortion before this point” (Abdulaziz Sachedina, “Abortion”) [↩]
- For more on the Islamic view of abortion see Abdal Hakim Murad (Timothy Winter) “Abortion“). [↩]