ensoulment - Ensoulment and the Prohibition of Abortion in...

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Unformatted text preview: Ensoulment and the Prohibition of Abortion in Islam ARIF ABDUL HUSSAIN Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham, UK A BSTRACT This article identifies ways in which philosophical ideas of personhood influence rulings concerning abortion. The terms life, soul and spirit are clarified through a comparative study of authoritative Shi c a texts. There is a consensus that ensoulment occurs at four months, when the spirit causes the emergence of potentiality for rational thought. This stage marks a significant change in the status of the foetus, and abortion after this stage is prohibited except in extreme circumstances when the mothers life is threatened. Recent rulings by Shi c a scholars on abortion at earlier stages are interpreted in terms of potentiality for ensoulment. The distinction between active and passive potentiality for ensoulment clarifies the reasons why jurists hold different views on whether the prohibition of abortion applies before the stage of implantation. The relevance of this discussion to some methods of contraception is indicated. Introduction The notion of personhood in ethical inquiry in Islam about issues of life and death is associated in the minds of many with the possession of an entity known as the human soul. By virtue of this, a persons life is deemed sacred and is to be preserved as far as possible. Within Islamic thought there exists no ambiguity about the possession of souls by living human beings as well as by foetuses in the later stages of their development. What is less clear is the case of a fertilized ovum, or the foetus in the earlier part of its development. Can it be said to have a soul? And if so can it be said that the law prohibiting killing applies to it? Is there a particular stage in the development of the foetus when it acquires a human soul, which may be known as ensoulment, such that abortion before that stage is not prohibited? Or is ensoulment itself extraneous to the question of the right to life and the prohibition of killing, and is it the potentiality for ensoulment that determines the law? We are then faced with the further questions of whether the distinction between active and passive potentials is significant, and how this may relate to the appli- cation of the prohibition in particular cases. The primary task is to clarify the meaning of the term ensoulment. To prepare for this, the article will first concentrate on the clarification of the terms life, soul and spirit Islam and ChristianMuslim Relations, Vol. 16, No. 3, 239250, July 2005 Correspondence Address: Shaykh Arif Abdul Hussain, Al-Mahdi Institute, 532 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham B12 9AE, UK. Email: arif.abdulhussain@almahdi.edu 0959-6410 Print = 1469-9311 Online = 05 = 03023912 # 2005 CSIC and CMCU DOI: 10.1080 = 09596410500142999 from various perspectives and attempt to determine how these terms relate to each other....
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This note was uploaded on 11/10/2011 for the course POLI SCI 790:395 taught by Professor Daniels during the Spring '11 term at Rutgers.

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ensoulment - Ensoulment and the Prohibition of Abortion in...

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