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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

An Earth-Shaking Tale

This happened almost 6 weeks ago ...

A doctor friend approached me for advice on an ethical problem he was facing: A middle-aged widow, a long-time patient of his, wanted an abortion to be performed on her young, un-married daughter. In Pakistan, as in many countries, this is illegal — although the laws, despite being vague, are not as harsh as many even within Pakistan imagine due to the lack of awareness.
Note: The difficulty of spreading awareness about any matter connected with sex, without being accused of promoting promiscuity and immorality, is another widespread problem and has been a deterrent in running effective campaigns about birth control or AIDS.
Abortion is an even more difficult decision for a practising Muslim, since it is also considered sinful, as in many parts of the Christian world.

Add to this the ghastly fact in Pakistan that, if discovered, the girl would be deemed guilty of an act punishable by 100 lashes of the whip under Pakistan's controversial Hudood Ordinances.

The decision had to be taken quickly. While within the safe zone at the time, the girl was fast nearing the cut-off date, after which an abortion would be almost certain to result in complications beyond control.

The doctor, moved by the story the woman had told him, was willing to help on humanitarian grounds, despite the 'illegality'. What was bothering him, and holding him back, was the aspect of Sin. He needed to understand what Islam really said about this. Given that he is well aware of my views on such matters, I found it odd that he should have come to me for this aspect of support, but promised him that, after hearing the full case, I would give him my personal views on what I think Islam expects in such cases. But I did clarify a few things at the outset:

One: I strongly support all moves to make Abortion legal, if the reasons are sensible and valid (in the minds of the parties directly involved and/or the doctors).

: A woman's body is not a field to be used to fight political battles! I believe that the only person with an undeniable right to make the decision, unless incapacitated, is the woman who wants to have the abortion.

: Qür'anic verse[s] that are generally mis-used to oppose Abortion (and Birth-Control) do not support such a conclusion and refer to an entirely different context. I am of the opinion that Islam permits abortion under all reasonable circumstances. This view corresponds with that of many scholars of Islam. I am, of course, cognizant of the fact that certain scholars are extremely rigid about the opposite view and consider it haraam (forbidden).

: After years of reading, I have concluded that Muslims, are required - by their own Faith - to use ONLY the Qür'an in such matters. The Book describes itself, and no other source, as Al-Fürqaan (a word that means 'The Criterion' ... to be used to differentiate good from evil).

Five: My views on many subjects (such as Euthanasia) very often fall well outside those of the mainstream, as a result of not being burdened by any religious or sectarian thought.

(The last makes it possible for many to pre-judge all my views as being immoral or, at least , a-moral - although I consider myself to be a strongly moral person and try as hard as I can to live by my principles. Admittedly, I frequently fail.)

This is the story I was told.

The widow also has a daughter who lives happily with her husband and children outside Pakistan. On a recent visit her son-in-law stayed at her house for a few days and, finding an opportunity, raped the younger daughter (his sister-in-law). Having done so, he feigned an urgent call from his overseas employers the next day and left immediately. The girl, understandably, hid this from her mother for a couple of weeks and then, unable to bear it any more, broke down and narrated everything.

The poor Mother was torn by anguish and confusion. If she accused the son-in-law, what would it do? While it is easy to say, as advisors often do, that reports must always be filed (making it possible for the criminal to be traced and punished) if we are to rid our societies of such crime, other considerations must have intervened: The almost-definite resultant divorce of the other daughter and her ensuing misery; her two grandchildren being brought up motherless (should the court decision grant the husband the rights for whatever reason); the stories the young ones would be told as they grew up ...

The widow decided to advise her daughter to remain quiet and live with this burden ... after all, the world was a rotten place and such tragedies happened everywhere. Soon, all this would be a sad but distant memory. Time, of course, was the healer of all wounds.

But, some wounds fester with time! Life rarely conforms to a Script. And Happy Endings are not even expected of Hollywood anymore.

A few weeks later, the girl informed her mother that she was probably pregnant. Medical tests confirmed this. If things were now brought to the fore, a new set of problems would present themselves: The possible counter-accusation by the culprit, that the young girl had had an affair and was covering up the real cause of her pregnancy by blaming the brother-in-law and hoping the family would be forced to resolve this internally; the rapist's very likely claim that the young girl had always tried to seduce him and was now getting back ... The variations and possibilities were endless. And the threat of the Hudood Ordinances even more real.

The only solution I could think of: Abortion! So, I suggested that my friend consult, for greater peace of mind, the views of a few religious scholars of his own sect or preferred school of jurisprudence, but also that he never lose sight of Bertrand Russell's advice: Remember your Humanity and forget the rest.

I also advised my friend to get a gynae, one he knew well, to perform the deed. After all, as far as I was concerned, alternatives simply did not exist. All I could see in the girl's future was death, either by judicial edict or suicide. No God, I said, trying to convince him within his frame of reference, could be unhappy with him for lessening the misery of another one of His creations.

He spoke to a gynae. A staunch Muslim herself,she thought that the deed, under the circumstances, would be considered a kaaré savaab (an act worthy of the Lord's Grace). She agreed to perform the act as long as he (a surgeon) also remained in the room, thus ensuring that they were 'partners in crime'.

With the date set, my friend still decided to talk to various religious people, ranging from the garden variety of mulla to an aalim. The responses he received, shocked him. Despite the differences between what they profess on most issues, and the fact that many even consider the others to be outside the world of Islam, they all agreed that Abortion was not acceptable and was, in fact a grave sin. Even in a case involving rape!

I was less shocked than he, having known that many hold this position. The most prominent among these being Maudoodi, the founder of the Jama'até Islami.

What hit my friend hardest was that the youngest of the mullas held the most disgusting of views that even infants got raped "as part of God's greater plan. And who are we to interfere with that?" ...

(I wonder if, under this line of reasoning, all forms of medical treatment become questionable. Aren't other crimes and problems, then, also part of the same plan and should be left unchecked or unsolved? It was just this kind of ridiculousness, propagated by the Church, that led Galileo to say that he found it difficult to accept a Creator who would give humans a brain and forbid them to use it!)

The following week the ground shook beneath our feet as the Earth vomited at the thought of such people trampling upon her bosom.

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Blogger BeanZ said...

Extremely potent and, as always, brilliantly articulated.

The notion of humanity is obviously anathema to the self-appointed custodians of our morality. It's staggering how something as basic as core values can get so mixed up in people's minds. Clearly, the best-selling, most successful and powerful brand of all time is religion - the ultimate "opiate of the masses".

16 November, 2005 10:28

Anonymous Ghazala said...

This is unfortunately a very common story, wheras I agree with your view that it is the woman alone who should have a choice in the matter and all our half baked ignorant bearded brigade only for selfish reasons- they themselves are guilty of many such abhorrent crimes and more. Thank God for the Gynae who had the sanity to call this Kaare khair. Whatever the outcome the mental trauma suffered by this girl and her mother will live with them forever.
Violation of ones most sacred act -one that should be enjoyed fully and with blissful abandon with a person of one's own choice is amazing, but unfortunately this girl will be scarred for life. I wish we could send our mullahs and so called Aalims on a one way ticket to the edge of nowhere

16 November, 2005 14:22

Blogger the olive ream said...

Without doubt, this is the best post I have read in a very long time in the blog-o-sphere. Extremely relevant, deeply moving and impeccably well written.

My views regarding abortion, mirror yours. I've been called a 'male feminist'for them but hey, that's how things are these days, be it Pakistan or the US. Logic defying moralists exist everywhere. I will refrain from commenting any further on this issue as I tend to get rather angry at the thought of these self-righteous moralists.

16 November, 2005 16:05

Anonymous Frederick N. said...

Keep up the good work with your blog. Sad story about the girl who ended up pregnant as a result of rape by her brother-in-law (what a sicko he must be!). Yes, I imagine abortion is still a very sensitive issue with both Muslims and Christians. My own views on this issue are somewhat ambivalent, I have to confess, but I do feel that in the case of rape it is justified because of the horrific consequences for the innocent victim, not to mention what would be the fate of a child born in such circumstances...

16 November, 2005 16:25

Blogger insiya said...

"as part of God's greater plan" - i wish many things on the concerned mullahs. and for max. impact i'd even manage an "amen".

17 November, 2005 13:38

Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Awesome Zak!! It is my view that it is the most lawless of societies that need the LAW. An example of this is the Indian Constitution which is probably the fattest rule book ever (made still more obese with amendments and counter amendments). Our Constitution was written with the noble intent of recognising differences--cultural, religious, social etc--but what has come out of that sensitivity is a society that's even more corrupt and lawless than what it was before the LAW. Making our people master twisters the LAW. Shariah, I guess, also has a similar basis but given the nature of the human (Arab or South Asian?) mind we have come to a stage where the very same laws are used to justify every kind of meanness, pettiness and inhumanity possible. In my mind the pinnacle of human evolution would be a state where No LAWS are needed. Where people have internalised all that is just and beautiful and noble and should I say HUMAN, to such an extent that all LAW, its makers and keepers become redundant.

17 November, 2005 18:46

Blogger Zakintosh said...

"In my mind the pinnacle of human evolution would be a state where No LAWS are needed. " ... What a delight for an Anarchist like me to read this conclusion.

17 November, 2005 23:22

Blogger Lemony Royal said...

Interestingly, none
of the mullas (i'd like to call them pseudo aalims) suggested punishing the culprit. Howzzat - with compassion being one of the biggest virtues of Islam,
sad how its lost in the maze of haraaam-halaal!!! no?

Dhiraj, yes, that's a perfect state of mind to be in.....but how do u get there??!!

17 November, 2005 23:47

Blogger vintage said...

i know of a similar story in which the girl was raped by her uncle, got pregnant, gave birth to the baby in a nursing home and gave it up for adoption.

soon after she got married and on-the-surface leads a happy and content life.

i dont want to imagine how haunted she feels by the trauma she had to go through.

we need to make people understand how to deal with the post-traumatic-stress-disorder such victims eventually end up going through.

concerning the mullahs, in the words of my paternal grandmother "sab ko urray do!"
i know i'm promoting 'terrorism' but i somehow feel like they (the mullahs) are the biggest and most influential terrorists of all.

12 June, 2006 12:31

Anonymous Madiha Syed said...

This is a very sad situation where we have such sick people around us, but the most horrific story that i ever read on the issue was published in The Review (Dawn) some time back where a daughter conceived her father's kid. She was sent to jail under Hudood Laws and she wasn't allowed to abort. Which eventually made her the mother of her own father's kid.

What is important is not only a woman's right to choose to abort or not, but instead an issue involving a women's ability to control her body. Women have always faced gender-based violence, a legal framework that is deeply biased against them, and a law enforcement system that re-traumatizes female victims of violence instead of operating as an avenue of redress and justice for them. And it's about time we let them live the way they want too.

As for the mullas, if your friend bumps into the same mulla now and tells him "the Nishtar park incident is also a part of God's greater plan ", he would be stoned to death there and than. Though I wish their God was this smart.

Abraham Lincoln:
When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.

Bertrand Russell
"Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race."

12 June, 2006 15:10

Anonymous Isa Daudpota said...

One thing is clear: having an abortion is considerably more complicated than flicking away a cigarette. Something in the belly has 'life' - has the potential of becoming a human being - and the doctor is asked by the woman, her guardian or society to put an end to it.

Currently, though, there is no generally agreed definition of when life begins.

Then there are complication about the right time for getting the embryo out. If done before the neural system develops it ensures that the embryo does not undergo pain.

The complications are endless, bioethicists have therefore enough here to ponder about!

Religion's guidelines cannot be in line with the modern criteria for regulating abortions, as these were unknown at the time the Words were revealed. This statement can, however, be trumped by saying that the word of God is eternally true as he knows what knowledge is to follow. To that one has no counter-argument.

On the other hand, anyone who wishes to have an abortion can always find or arrive at an interpretation of the holy books which allows it! As long as there is no one authorised to indicate the RIGHT interpretation, you are ok. Once religion becomes tool of the state, interpretations become fossilized, and the clergy become the sole arbiter of what's right and wrong.

In Pk, the upper-middle-class has little difficulty in finding doctors who will do a 'DNC', aka abortion.

I know a gynaecologist who agrees to doing abortions (the euphemism often used is DNC) but also encourages women to go the whole term in case they are squeemish about ending the pregnancy. She then helps to find a good secure home for the child. This later option may seems acceptable to many who are in the unfortunate situation of needing to terminate a pregnancy.

Isa Daudpota (glad i wasn't aborted!)

12 June, 2006 15:42

Anonymous ahmed hussain abro said...

you might be glad isa sahab but are others who know you feeling the same about this decision? how is this girl's widow mother going to keep her for 9 months? where? then child being taken away will also bad for her psyche. so this is not good solution.

12 June, 2006 16:53

Anonymous Mazhar Butt said...

was it a rape by consent or by force??If by consent the girl should be ashamed of herself and punished as the Quran says and, if she was raped by force and without consent , the rapist should be ashamed of himself and be punished according to the Quranic commands. As for the foetus, I can only say ''the grit goes with the grind!"

16 March, 2008 09:00

Blogger Vic said...

I am curious. What is, exactly, a rape with consent? Even statutory rape of a minor, defined in the criminal procedure codes in many countries, presumes that the consent - if any - of the minor is not based on the ability to make mature decisions, hence is not, in fact, consent.

As to the girl's trauma, of course she will have to live with the fact that she has lost a child, with all the attendant grief of 'what might have been'. In this particular case, the grief of 'what will be' must surely have been far worse. The difference is, the trauma of losing a child deliberately is internally created (to the extent that the girl is old enough to be traumatised mentally by the loss). But the trauma of living in a society which frowns upon unmarried mothers is one that is external, totally unfair, since the conception was not the result of the mother's own choice in the act. Worse than unfair, when some inhuman laws are applied. For views on abortion, here is an interesting discussion on Digg following a news item in The Times, UK.

Life gives us enough grief, why must we seek complications from the deliberations (or fulminations) of theists who consciously allow their dogma to overcome their humanity? They chose to forget that the averred purpose of religion is to reaffirm humanity, not to destroy it.

16 March, 2008 16:03


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