Islamic Shariah & Todd Akin/ Paul Ryan on Abortion & Legitimate Rape

The troubles of Rep. Todd Akin, Republican candidate for the senate in Missouri, derive from his absolute opposition to abortion, even in cases where a mother’s life is in danger or in cases of incest and rape.

The ‘personhood’ bill he co-sponsored with Paul Ryan would have had the effect of making all abortions for any reason illegal. That bill spoke of ‘forced rape,’ which Akin says is what he meant when he spoke of ‘legitimate rape.’

On the impermissibility of abortion in case of rape, ironically enough Akin’s position is the same as the leading authorities of Sunni Islam in Egypt. Yes, Akin is upholding . . . shariah (or at least one strain of thought within shariah). But even fundamentalist Muslims would disagree with him about forbidding abortion where the mother’s health was at issue, and most Muslims are more open-minded about abortion and when life begins than he is.

The right wing of the Republican Party (increasingly all that exists of the Republican Party) has a general problem of starting with its platform and reasoning back from it to a premise from which it would follow, no matter how absurd and fantastical the premise.

So, the GOP knows it supports Big Oil. Since burning petroleum puts carbon dioxide in the air, which causes global climate change and potentially great harm, Republicans should rethink their partisanship for oil, coal and natural gas. Instead, they deny that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect and climate change.

Likewise, Akin started from a premise that a fertilized egg is a legal person, and that abortion is always forbidden. Presented with the conundrum of whether a woman should be made to bear the child of her rapist, he tried to deny that women can get pregnant from rape. Actually, on the order of 32,000 American women get pregnant that way every year. Akin’s position, and his reasoning, are common among Republican representatives and senators today.

Akin is the son of a clergyman, and is an engineer, and he has a divinity degree from an evangelical seminary in St. Louis. He wants to socially engineer us all, to and impose on us his invented tradition of Christianity (real, historical Christianity was diverse in its attitude toward abortion over the centuries; St. Augustine, e.g., allowed it because he believed that the embryo did not receive a soul until weeks into its development. Belief that there is no baby until the ‘quickening’ has been widespread.)

Many politicized evangelicals in the United States have led a bizarre charge against Muslim law (sharia) being recognized by the courts here.

They are shameless, however, in wanting to impose on all Americans the Christian version of sharia. If they don’t believe in abortion, why don’t they just not have one? Why are they busybodies, wanting to make laws for the rest of us?

Ironically, sharia has historically often been a flexible tradition. The shariah that the some evangelicals are so stridently warning us about looks more like St. Augustine than like Todd Akin.

Muslim authorities hold that the embryo does not receive a soul until 120 days into the pregnancy. Although Muslim clergymen have tended to consider all abortions a sin, they have often been willing to see it as an understandable sin for which there should be no punishment, as long as it takes place in the first 119 days. Almost all Muslim authorities allow abortion where the mother’s life is in danger. Some permit it in case of rape or incest.

The contemporary Shi’ite Muslim clerics often permit abortion under certain specific circumstances. Supreme Leader Ali Khameneih allows abortion where the fetus has an incurable and debilitating disease. Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei in Iran has even given a ruling that dire poverty might excuse an abortion.

On the other hand, it may be that the Catholic and evangelical positions on abortion being absolutely forbidden have had an effect on contemporary Muslim jurists. Egypt, for instance, prohibits abortion, and the prestigious al-Azhar seminary in Egypt (a thought leader for Sunni Muslims) in 2008 issued a ruling condemning abortion even in case of rape. (The ruling is advisory, not binding on the secular Egyptian judiciary). Strident Salafi interpretations of the law are also increasingly common, and a departure from broad-minded Sunni rationalism.

Todd Akin and Paul Ryan, in other words, hold the same position on rape and abortion as the leading shariah authority in Egypt.

The popular preacher Yusuf Qaradawi also opposes abortion under all circumstances, but he admits that other authorities disagree with him, and he entertains the possibility that rape may justify an exception to the prohibition.

Thus, on the issue of abortion, the same range of views exists as in Christianity. But the absolutism of Akin’s evangelical position, on the personhood of the fertilized egg and on the absolute prohibition of abortion under any circumstances, on pain of legal punishment, seems not to have a parallel in Muslim thought about shariah.

In other words, the bogey man with which some evangelicals are trying to scare Americans, of shariah, turns out to be a far more rich, elastic and forgiving tradition than their own sometimes is.

In the British legal tradition, precedent and custom are considered to have legal weight in deciding cases. It doesn’t really matter where the precedent occurred, if it is thought relevant. Thus, the US Supreme Court justices have often cited the decisions of courts abroad, including the Indian Supreme Court. India’s courts have repaid the compliment, being in the same British tradition.

So, actually American courts considering a divorce case between two Muslim spouses might well refer to Muslim law in making their judgment. The same is true for Christian and Jewish customs relevant to a dispute. The law is not religious in itself, but religion can come into it by virtue of having been incorporated into customary practice. The anti-Shariah movement could end up undermining the minority rights of Catholics and Jews, as well.

There is substantially less likelihood (of course!) that American courts and legislatures will impose Muslim shariah on us all, however, than that Akin and his soul-mate, Paul Ryan, will find a way to put us in their straightjacket of Christian fundamentalist shariah.

And it turns out that given its humane traditions, the wide range of positions its jurists have taken, and the lack of centralized religious authority in the Sunni branch, at least, Islamic law is often more tolerant and supple than the fundamentalist Christian equivalent. And, at least it spares us the illogic and inhumanity of the personhood of the cytoblast. But the most hard line Muslim legal positions sometimes approximate those of Paul Ryan and Todd Akin. They are our Salafis.

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24 Responses

  1. Todd Akin and Rocket Science

    Akin is a mathematician of sorts as he sits in the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in Congress. He is also christian and goes to church in Westwood and is a member of Mission Gate Prison Ministry. This is what Christian Life Resources teaches: Rape Pregnancies Are Rare. Of course this was a vision from the year 1999, god moves in strange ways and may have amended his scientific opinion. Not Todd Akin though! Akin may be on his way out of the Senate race: Crossroads GPS Pulling Missouri Ads.

  2. The common theme and genesis and genetics amongst these aborto-fascists seems to me simply the old reactionary, revanchist, patriarchal bit about putting women (and children) back in their place: chattel, to be dealt with summarily at the whim of the patriarch. One wonders if pantheistic religious-cultural traditions with the savor of G_d the Mother about them, and less of that Bishop-tells-Nun, broke-d1ck flavor, have this same kind of uncharitable meanness about them.

    Most of us call our version of the Taliban “Christians,” I guess on the notion that that is what they call themselves. It’s no new revelation that our “Christians” find their sacred texts not in the Gospels (except for a few well-abused snippets) but in the meaner, violent, “patriotic” parts of the Pentateuch and the Prophets and of course the fortuitously included writings of St. John the Divine. And in the artful multi-level marketing structure set up by old Saul of Tarsus, writ out in his letters to various congregations and missionaries. If anything, far as I can make out, most self-identified “Christians” are at best “post-Paulists,” who are running blindly and ineluctably along after the false prophets, the Haggards and Swaggerts and Hagees and so many aspirant more, that their own scripture warns them against.

    Maybe another reason our paleoconservative reactionaries and their mind-managers dislike and fear Sharia is that most of the crap that our current crop of vampire squids is pulling on the rest of us would be, ah, illegal, an illegality backed by the notion that financialization and securitization and derivatization are in fact evil and vigorously disapproved of by the traditional Revealed Truth of the actual Prophet. link to

    Even Jesus, that historical creature obscured by the current smoke and fog of “Christianism/Paulism,” seemed to have little use for the 0.01 percenters (camel, eye of a needle and all) and money changers, and sat down to dine with tax collectors and other notorious abusers of the ordinary people as a way to bring them to more moral and ethical behaviors. Can you see Jamie Dimon breaking bread with Our Lord? Not unless it’s in a five-star restaurant, and on His AMEX card…

    But good luck changing any of the momentum of what’s going on — money and debt own us.

    Heaven forbid that we should actually forgive those who are indebted to us, as we pray to G-d to forgive our “debts” to the Almighty. That phrase has called for a heap of commentary, to hedge its plain meaning. link to

    And on the notion of debt, in the present context, where it’s being used as the touchstone for an imposed “austerity” that will hammer down the lid on the aspirations and the “rights” of ordinary people and complete their reduction to rented serfdom, there’s some illumination to be gained from this little lecture: link to

    Anyone for a little cherry Jubilee? link to, and link to

  3. Akin’s comments are woefully ignorant but there’s a bigger problem the views of a particular evangelical. How is it that folks cut from the same cloth manage to win positions of political power – in increasingly large numbers – in the last three decades? Fact is that there is a huge number of deeply conservative/borderline reactionary Americans infused with a fundamentalist understanding of Christianity. I don’t know that the Democrats have any idea how to deal with this cohort.

    Change comes slowly and it will take quite a while before these folks stop sending hard right-wingers to Congress.

    • John, I don’t believe there really has been any noteable shift in the republican base over the last three decades. The intense flame of desire for elimination of ALL abortion has been seething under the surface in “Christian America” since January 28, 1973, when Roe v Wade was signed into law.

      I believe the nonstop outward flood of hostility and political action coincides with the hatred spewing out of the media’s bodily orifice known as Fox News. Four years ago they came close to winning the white house. Two years ago they got hold of the House. Teabaggers united and now own the republican party. I really think they believe it is the year for domination of all politics. That has lit a fire under them that has been a smoldering ash since 1973.

      But, just my take on things as an enlightened former conservative…

      • Protestant evangelicals are johnny-come-latelies to the abortion issue. (Or carpetbaggers, if one wants to get ugly about it.) I’ve heard Falwell didn’t preach his first sermon against abortion until ’76.

        To me it seems obvious why Southern Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals horned in on this Catholic issue. In the ’60s Southerners got creamed in public opinion by backing Bull Connor vs. Martin Luther King, and the Pentagon vs. the people of Vietnam. They were on the side of the KKK and “baby-killers”. They crashed into a new wave of victimization politics.

        So they swore to never be out-victimed by the Left again. Embrace the Jews, embrace the embryos, claim reverse discrimination everywhere, claim government oppression everywhere, claim that America is the biggest victim of all.

  4. Thanks for making these points. Scary that absolutist (“fundamentalist”) USA clerics have been able to influence Islamic clerics and drag them into more-intolerant positions.

    I would never suggest, broadly, that being pregnant is at all like having cancer, but each involves having a somewhat alien life-form growing within one’s body, and a rule absolutely forbidding removal of a cancer would seem as evil to most people (even to fundamentalist men) as a rule forbidding removal of a diseased fetus (or a fetus whose birth threatens the woman’s life) seems to many people, including non-fundamentalist men.

  5. Loved your comment “Islam needs more heretics.” It’s really true.. and not to disrupt or hurt Islam, but to revive it and refresh it (you could think of the heretics as having the effect of a forest fire on the “old guard” of muftis and malvis, by saying things they might “burn” for they effectively give new life to the community by letting the smaller plants (unique ideas within the community) get some light.

    Anyway, you do find, in fact, that fundamentalist Christianity and Islam are virtually identical on many social and ethnical issues. After all of the hollering and fighting from both sides, these two groups may find they have more in common with each other than they have in common with the rest of the world.

    • That is because they all revere a past in which their religions’ leaders conquered much of the world by a combination of bloody swords and full wombs.

      Every time early Christians differed on important values, the Catholic hierarchy took the side that ensured faster rates of reproduction. Anti-suicide, anti-gay, anti-abortion. They conquered their rivals, then Rome, by numbers. I doubt that the early Moslem leaders were unaware of this.

  6. I’m entirely with you on this issue, but you’ve got a pretty egregious error above. You say:

    “The ‘personhood’ bill he co-sponsored with Paul Ryan would have had the effect of making all abortions for any reason illegal. That bill spoke of ‘forced rape,’ which Akin says is what he meant when he spoke of ‘legitimate rape.’”

    “That bill” does not speak of or refer to rape at all, at least as far as I could discern. Although it clearly has implications regarding what can and cannot be done to a fertilized egg and developmental stages thereafter, it’s sloppy to attribute language to the bill it doesn’t actually include, and weakens your credibility.

    • Hans, I believe he meant rape was implied and included. By giving “personhood” status to a fertilized egg implies that anything done to harm that egg, whether it be through contraception or violence (rape or phyical assault), would be subject to criminal prosecution. See how neatly rape falls in under that innocuous little word called “personhood?”

  7. It’s not surprising in the least that this issue comes out during a Presidential campaign is it?

    This makes it easier to avoid discussions about bank fraud, climate change, unemployment, foreign wars, domestic spying programs etc.

  8. The danger, of course, is that the Muslim world will increasingly become less flexible and more like the fundamentalist world you describe with al Qaradawi serving as one very influential example.

  9. The Islamic legal code is extremely diverse. It maintains that diversity until this day. I know first hand that Dar-al-Ifta, the official legal responsa office in Egypt, regularly fields questions on abortions. I think many people would be surprised to find how many times they’ve answered that it is allowable, sometimes well passed the 120 day line. Interpreting Divine law is a heavy heavy duty. One should never go about it in a fascist and close minded manner. Thank you Dr. Cole for your constant effort to expose the lunatics for who they are.

  10. The “forced rape” language was taken out of the final version of the bill but both Ryan and Akin voted also for the earlier version. (sorry no link)

    • Yep, thanks, realized that only after I posted. I just wanted to get the facts straight, and not provide ammo for those who support the bill.

  11. At the same time that the party heavyweights noisily try to force Akin out of the race, the Republican Party platform, to much less fanfare, is being drafted to call for a Constitutional Amendment to completely ban abortion in the United States.

  12. Seems like this “Republican fundamentalism” movement is akin to the 1930’s Gleichschaltung movement in Germany…

    • Bingo. You’ve broken the code. Totalitarian states that rely on muscle instead of brains always need more workers, thus more pregnant women. Stalin used to give medals to women who had many babies, and you recall what happened in Romania.

      Question is, does this American movement really want ALL women to have more babies, or only those who will tilt the balance of future voters in their favor?

  13. Romney and Ryan are confused, corrupted fools. How can any sound thinking American consider voting for them?

    Abortions must be made legal for all conditions.

    The decision to have an abortion in most situations should be made by the mother, not by the father, partner, family, government nor religion or spiritual practice.

    A fetus requires loving care and support to be born a healthy human physically, mentally, emotinally and psychologically with heart and compassion.

    All of the below are my “unexperienced opinions” subject to revision/correction by rape and abortion experienced women, mothers, fathers and families.

    Problems: A young 14 year old girl that has been raped may not be of sound mind for months, years or never(?). If she wants the baby she may not realize all the difficulties, humiliation, prejudice, anger, etc she would experience in school, with friends, in the public and even in her family.

    I believe that the laws on rape and abortion should be written by women and familes that have experienced rape(s), an abortion(s) “and both” including laws covering minors, unwedded mothers, mentally unsound, physically unsound, dangerous births, etc. Religions and spiritual practices and beliefs are to have no binding legal authority.

    The rape victim’s decision to have an abortion should be accepted, no matter if underaged. How many rape victims will want the child? No rape victim regardless of age should be forced to have the child. I would assume that most rape victims are not going to be mentally sound for months or years.

  14. Actually, I find that Salafis do not necessarily opt for the stricter interpretation, but rather on the methodology through which an interpretation is reached.

    Hence one finds that they vary in the tolerence or strictness of their interpretations, and are not necessarily always less tolerant than other Muslim traditions.

  15. Its not just Akin’s, it’s the entire Republican party. That is the point that is being underplayed.

  16. Thanks for this, Dr. Cole! A great moment, indeed, to bring up the true character of shariah – as opposed to the ever stagnant, rigid and myopic one offered to us in our political and media discourses.

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