The Islamic principle of rahma: A call for reproductive justice.


Bismillah Hir Ra?m?n Nir Ra??m

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

We root this statement in the whole of Bismillah, which contains the two words Ra?m?n and Ra??m, or divine mercy and compassion. Ra?m?n and Ra??m find their roots in the word, Rehm, or womb. This statement calls for mercy and compassion when it comes to all matters related to the womb, which is a sacred bodily space. We believe these qualities must be honored as inextricably linked to discussions surrounding this realm of the body. We also hope to aspire to and animate these qualities more broadly in our day-to-day lives.

The Islamic Principle of Rahma[1]: A Call for Reproductive Justice

In a country where:

where this is the unconscionable reality we live in, we––the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA)––an organization of concerned lawyers––and HEART––a national reproductive justice organization serving American Muslims, alongside the undersigned coalition, amplify the calls to advance reproductive justice.[8] That is, the human right of every person to:

  • Have personal autonomy over their body and make decisions about their reproductive health;
  • To have or not have children;
  • To parent the children they have in safe and sustainable communities; and
  • To have access to quality healthcare.[9] 

Simply protecting individual rights, choice, and privacy is a hollow endeavor. We must instead strive for collective liberation and animate the ethos that our own liberation is tied to and bound up in everyone else’s.[10] Reproductive justice recognizes the layered impact of racism and capitalism on reproductive oppression and adopts an intersectional holistic grassroots approach to combating attacks on reproductive freedom and dignity.[11] 

Since AMBA was founded on principles of love, justice, mercy, and compassion,[12] and HEART centers the most impacted Muslims at the intersection of gendered violence and reproductive justice,[13] we amplify the calls of poor and working class, BIPOC, immigrant, and LGBTQ communities, and disabled people who historically and presently face barriers to reproductive justice. In order to guarantee the right to reproductive freedom and dignity, we must ensure that everyone, regardless of background, can actualize these rights.

The Human Right To Not Have Children 

State laws like Mississippi’s 15-week ban, Texas’ 6-week ban, and Oklahoma’s near-total ban are based on a viewpoint devoid of scientific consensus. Instead, colonialism[14] and white Christian nationalism[15] are at the root of laws that restrict, police, and control pregnant persons’ bodies. As Muslim Americans, and a religious minority, we are uniquely positioned to condemn abortion bans and their attack on every person’s constitutional right to religious liberty free from the imposition of one religious viewpoint to the exclusion of others, i.e. a narrow segment of white Christian centric and patriarchal framework that is at odds with our own.

Muslims are not a monolith and we don’t have a systemized and global authority that mirrors the papal system in Catholicism.[16] We also don’t hold a uniform view on when life begins.[17] Instead, our viewpoints can be informed by our own interpretation of sacred text, our faith leaders’ interpretation of sacred text, faith more broadly, conversations with our mid-wife, doula, providers, science more broadly, sex and reproductive health education in schools and/or masjids, philosophy and biomedical ethics, our lived experiences, and the lived experiences of our loved ones. Since Muslim pregnant persons, like others, are the only expert on their own lived reality, this complex, layered, and nuanced decision should be left to them and their individual conscience. And if they so choose, it’s a decision that can be made with others including their faith leader. By promoting a particular religious viewpoint and depriving pregnant people of the right to direct their lives according to their unique lived experiences, faith traditions, and beliefs, we believe states enacting bans are a threat to religious liberty in violation of the U.S. Constitution and relevant state constitutions that enshrine the same principle.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States and Black Muslims make up one-third of the Muslim American population. A large segment of our Muslim communities are disproportionately targeted and harmed by reproductive oppression. In addition to calling for religious liberty, we must also center the experiences of Black Muslims and Black communities more broadly, who due to sitting at the intersection of multiple targeted identities, face unique barriers to actualizing rights to reproductive justice.  Georgia, Mississippi, and Michigan are just some of the states impacted by abortion restrictions that have sizeable Black Muslim populations.

People[18] get abortions for all kinds of reasons. They may be guided by familial, financial, or medical concerns,[19] and most people who access?abortion?care?are living in poverty. People should be able to access and exercise the right to birth control including contraception and abortion so they can direct the course of their lives. Instead, we live in a reality where BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by prosecutions of self-managed abortions and outcomes of pregnancy.[20] In addition, people who seek and face barriers to accessing abortion and carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are more likely to experience poverty and intimate partner violence. State measures to control bodies are compounded for trans and non-binary folks who face legislation violating their rights to bodily integrity on multiple fronts.[21]

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