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Parishma Patani

Why I founded an abortion support network for Muslims

content warning!

In mainstream reproductive moments, I didn’t see Muslim communities represented. That’s why I founded the Ad’iyah Muslim Abortion Collective.

03 Aug 2022

Content warning: this article contains mention of abortion.

In the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned, conversations on abortion rights have re-entered mainstream discourse. There’s been a lot of anger and outrage as well as claims that ‘we won’t go back’. But how do you talk about abortion with communities where the idea of going back feels so much closer than the prospect of going forward? How do you talk about bodily autonomy to people whose bodies are policed and under surveillance as common practice? What does it mean to have a right stripped away when the law itself gives you fewer rights than other people?

I started Ad’iyah Muslim Abortion Collective in May 2022 because I couldn’t find the answers to these questions within mainstream abortion movements. As I stood in the middle of the UK’s first solidarity protest for reproductive justice in the US earlier this year, I listened to cis, white women talk about women ‘being sent to the back of the bus’ and treated as second-class citizens. I felt nothing but shock at how out of touch they all seemed. Later, I watched in awe as white women took to the stage and shouted their abortion stories. While it was incredible to see them share their experiences, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness when I thought about how far removed this was from abortion experiences within my own community.

Abortion stories are barely even whispers for some Muslim people, let alone an experience many of us are allowed to shout about and take ownership of. Oftentimes, people credit this lack of representation to the stigma that exists around abortion within Muslim communities. I have always found this to be a reductive and Islamophobic assumption. Stigma surrounding abortion is not unique to any one group, but experiences of marginalisation can coincide with this stigma and intensify the experience of it.

“Islam compels me to fight for justice, but I cannot fight for anything unless I have full ownership and autonomy of my body”

Muslim identity is not monolithic. Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and, in turn, we navigate through various systems of privilege and oppression. For many of us, our Muslim identity coincides with other forms of marginalisation, like racism, class oppression and misogyny.

The way this shows up in abortion work varies. In some ways it is explicit; racism in healthcare means that racially marginalised Muslims experience poorer health outcomes than white people.  There are also misconceptions about who exactly has abortions. When people think of reproductive healthcare, they rarely think of Muslims. The shock on an abortion practitioner’s face when they see a visible Muslim walk into a clinic is indicative of how this space is not made with us in mind. We are erased from these spaces and the way Muslims might access abortion is often not considered.

I founded Ad’iyah Muslim Abortion Collective because I believe that Islam and abortion care cannot only co-exist, but actually work in harmony with each other. Islam compels me to fight for justice, but I cannot fight for anything unless I have full ownership and autonomy of my body.

Abortion is not explicitly mentioned in the the Quran, but the views and opinions surrounding its permissibility do vary depending on which school of thought people choose to follow. This diversity in opinion is to be expected: 1.8 billion people won’t have the same thoughts about such a loaded topic. What remains undeniable, however, is that Islam has always advocated for bodily autonomy. The ability to have full control over your body is a Quranic right because Islam grants us the freedom to make our own choices, instead of giving others the power to decide them for us. 

“The contrast between what Islam allows us to do and what people who interpret the faith for their personal ideologies say we can do is stark”

Despite this, abortion remains a taboo topic to bring up in Muslim spaces. If mentioned, the only thing that will be discussed is its permissibility, furthering the narrative that abortion is only permissible in situations of great danger and trauma. Religious practice – like everything in our current world – has not escaped the grasp of colonialism. The Quran makes it clear that Islam is a faith of anti-oppression and thus anti-colonialism, yet things like misogyny, anti-Blackness and ableism can easily be found in many spaces dedicated to Islamic practice. The contrast between what Islam allows us to do and what people who interpret the faith for their personal ideologies say we can do is stark, leaving people feeling restricted and unsupported in times of need. This is seen strongly in the way abortion care is discussed, or rather not discussed, in Islamic spaces.

When I think of my faith, one of the first words that comes to mind is community. Not just my local Muslim community, but the idea that being Muslim connects me with billions of others around the world. We are taught to stand in solidarity with one another, and if standing in solidarity isn’t feasible, the least we can do is make dua for one another.

The name Ad’iyah comes from the Arabic word for duas (dua in its plural form). Dua might be a difficult concept to grasp for people who aren’t familiar with Islam, but the way I have always seen dua is as an ongoing conversation between myself and Allah. It is something Muslims make individually, but also together.

Dua has all sorts of emotions attached to it. Muslims make dua in times of celebration, in times of immense sadness and in moments of neutrality. Dua is a way to ask for what you need, but also to express gratitude for what you have. There’s no right way to feel when it comes to dua, which is reflective of how I think abortion experience should be treated too.

“Ad’iyah is a place Muslims can always come back to because we will be here for as long as they need us”

Abortion narratives are rigid in society. Even amongst supposedly liberal abortion rights spaces, the way abortion is spoken about almost tells people how they should feel. These narratives exist in extraordinary contrast to each other. They tell us that abortion is either an empowered choice, or the worst decision someone will ever have to make. They tell us that there are acceptable reasons for getting an abortion andreasons that you should never say in public. This dichotomy paints abortion as a binary of experiences, when, in actual reality, most abortion experiences exist somewhere in between. Ad’iyah is very much a space for the in between. We welcome all abortion experiences and stories, taking into account that our community is global and many of our members have had abortions in conditions where it is illegal, criminalised, inaccessible and potentially even unsafe.

Dua is also continuous, which is the dream I have for abortion care, too. The increasingly capitalist priorities of privatising medical care in the UK make healthcare so far removed from the human experience. Holistic, continuous care is just not possible, even when it’s clear that ongoing support is what is needed. Ad’iyah seeks to challenge this and to highlight how abortion care – like all support – should have no ‘end’. Emotions about your abortion may change over time, but your ability to access support is something we believe should be permanent. Ad’iyah is a place Muslims can always come back to because we will be here for as long as they need us.

In time, I would like to see Ad’iyah platform and elevate the abortion stories of Muslims across the world. There is so much power in storytelling that I would love more Muslim people to have. For now, however, our work remains dedicated to community building and care. Currently, we host online community spaces to talk about abortion and make dua for ourselves and for others as we process and heal. I have been overwhelmed by the support Ad’iyah has already received. So many people have told me how much this space is needed, which I know because a long time ago, it was a space I needed too.

Find out more about Ad’iyah Muslim Abortion Collective by visiting their website and following them on Instagram.

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