“Progressive” imams and activists in the United States have found themselves in a delicate position in the last few weeks. As the intra-Muslim debate on abortion renews, they have been harshly criticized by their traditionalist rivals in America (and England) who accuse them of approving of abortion, that, according to the traditionalists, conflicts with Islamic practice.
Because of the opprobrium of detractors such as hardline Islamist Daniel Haqiqatjou and his hundreds of thousands of followers over their stance on abortion, they are increasingly struggling to maintain their credibility as religious figures while still reaping the political rewards of liberal activism.
The most recent iteration of the intra-Muslim feud over abortion began on May 2, 2022, when a draft of a Supreme Court opinion indicating that Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that declared abortion a constitutional right, would be overturned, was published by Politico.
According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), “the majority of American Muslims believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” While ISPU describes itself as “the go-to source for anyone seeking information about Muslims in America and issues that impact them,” its analysis does not at all reflect the deepening divisions within Muslim communities.
In response to the leak, Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist who enjoys a substantial following on the American left, expressed opposition to banning abortion, declaring “we cannot set a precedent where the government gets to intervene on intimate parts of our lives.” On Twitter, she called on “all women & allies” to attend a “vigil in response to” the Supreme Court’s decision. But even as she condemned the prospect of local states banning abortion, declaring that the decision would set back “women’s rights back over fifty years,” she evaded the question of whether her faith tolerated abortion.
“I am a Muslim and I know what my faith has prescribed for me,” she wrote. “People can follow their religious beliefs without denying women across the country the right to make their own choices, albeit very difficult ones.”
Other high-profile Muslims took a more combative stance on the issue. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) announced she would “continue to fight to make sure abortion care is legal.” Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) declared that “I won’t stop fighting in Congress to make sure Roe v. Wade stays the law of the land. And Sahar Aziz, law professor at Rutgers University and board member of the Islamist think tank DAWN, wrote on Twitter that “After #Roe, We Must Take #Abortion Rights Into Our Own Hands.”
Namira Islam Anani, a Muslim anti-racism activist, criticized the Supreme Court’s expected decision as evidence of “Christian hegemony” in America. Mahal Hilal, author of the recently published book, Innocent Until Proven Muslim, used the same phrase in a now-deleted post.
Hardline Islamists and progressive Muslims venomously disagree, but they both seem to regard American turmoil caused by debate over abortion as the inevitable product of Western Christianity.
Meanwhile, the hardline publication Muslim Skeptic denounced abortion as a ritual of the “Satanic feminist religion.” For Muslim Skeptic writer Bheria, feminism originates from the “Shirk of Christianity.” He declared that “insofar as feminism seeks to nullify and destroy motherhood, what more apt symbol or action can there be than the killing of babies in the womb?” Bheria also suggested the feminist “weaponization of abortion” is rooted in the Bible’s considering “childbearing as a sort of punishment.”
As for Daniel Haqiqatjou, founder and editor of Muslim Skeptic, he immediately attacked rival Muslim leaders for supporting abortion which he declares is forbidden in Islam. In a message on his Telegram channel, he wrote that “the Supreme Court is getting ready to strike down Roe v Wade, allowing states to put restrictions on the ability of women to murder their unborn children” and added that “Ilhan [Omar], Rashida [Tlaib], and Linda [Sarsour] are OUTRAGED.”
And in a piece on the subject for Muslim Skeptic, he asked whether “liberal Muslim heroes,” such as Tlaib and Sarsour, “meltdown for anything other than the interests of homosexuals, transgenders, and fornicaters.” Responding to Sarsour’s tweet that the Supreme Court’s leaked decision would “set women’s rights back over fifty years,” Haqiqatjou said that “we don’t want to set it back 50 years, Linda. We want to set it back 1400 years.”
British Islamists quickly joined the attack alongside Haqiqatjou. British Islamist Moinul Abu Hamza, who has received Haqiqatjou’s support in the past, warned that “every scholar that [shared] a platform with Linda Sarsour has a responsibility to defend/demarcate the Islamic position on abortion lest that person impact the intellectual and cultural fabric of the Muslims.”
Hamza then tagged Sarsour’s name on a post promoting his Quran Institute’s latest class on “race & gender” taught by Islamist cleric Abdullah Al Andalusi. Al Andalusi, who appears to share Hamza’s views on abortion, announced that his own tweets “refuting Recreational Abortion (which is against Islam, and different from Necessary Abortion for medical reasons or rape), appear to be triggering a lot of CLAMs [Colonized Left-wing American Muslims].” Meanwhile, Roshan Salih, from the British Salafi-aligned publication 5 Pillars, asked whether American Muslims would “support lifestyle choice baby killing,” and concluded that “the signs aren’t good.”
Well-known modernist Salafi clerics such as Yasir Qadhi, one of a group of popular preachers frequently denounced by Daniel Haqiqatjou as “Compassionate Imams” for their perceived willingness to compromise on Islamic practices, stated that Islam’s position “does not neatly fit in with either of the two major sides present in this country.” He told Muslims not to be like “sheep that just jump onto popular fads and trends.” Qadhi sounded somewhat different in 2019 when he wrote that “it was heartbreaking to see that some of our Muslim activists who are involved in social justice issues (most of which are good) have also jumped on the pro-abortion bandwagon.”
The Islamist-run online publication Muslim Matters’ “social media roundup” of Muslim opinions on abortion highlighted the reluctance of some Islamists to take a position on an increasingly controversial subject. In 2015, Muslim Matters founder and executive director Siraaj Muhammad, asked “why are we silent on the liberal progressive advocacy of child genocide as a choice?” But in the introduction to its “social media round up,” published seven years later, Muslim Matters took an even-handed approach to the issue by asking “can Muslims be ‘pro-choice’ when it comes to the law of the land?”
Omar Suleiman – a famous American Muslim leader who has also been described as a “compassionate imam” by his detractors – has been curiously silent on the issue, in contrast to his usual habit of speaking out on progressive topics.
Perhaps Suleiman is wary of the growing criticism from traditionalist circles. In 2017, Suleiman’s Yaqeen Institute published a popular essay on “Islam and the Abortion Debate.” It was later attacked by Muslim Skeptic for including “a glowing endorsement of Planned Parenthood, the largest promoter of abortion and LGBT fahisha [lewdness] in the US.”
But other Yaqeen officials have been less discreet. Yaqeen’s research manager, Ismail Kamdar, declared that “the real problem that nobody wants to address is Zina [adultery or extra-marital sex] culture. All these other issues are offshoots from that root problem.” And former Yaqeen researcher, Justin Parrott, wrote that “The slogan ‘my body, my choice’ is false because elective abortions involve two bodies, the mother and the child.”
While Haqiqatjou is unlikely to influence progressive Muslims or even many other politically active Islamists, he has proven capable of exerting pressure on clerics such as Yasir Qadhi and Omar Suleiman, whose popularity is in great part based on their perceived religious credibility.
In 2020, for instance, Haqiqatjou denounced Suleiman for participating in a “border demonstration” in which he and cleric Zaid Shakir “kneeled” and “marched alongside LGBT priestesses.” The post was widely shared and Suleiman was eventually forced to repent publicly for taking part in an “unIslamic ritual.”
Haqiqatjou recently said that should abortion be made illegal, “this shows how much effect speaking out against evil can have.” He accused “compassionate imams” of supporting gay marriage and thinking that the question of LGBT rights “was a done deal and there is no going back, so Muslims should just accept it and move on.”
In response to this style of thinking, Haqiqatjou declared that “laws are overturned all the time, and this abortion issue is only the most recent example,” and that “there is nothing to say that Qawm Lutism [homosexuality] can’t be similarly overturned in the near future as long as we do our part by actually following the sunnah of Prophet Lut.”
This new breed of traditionalist Islamists typified by Haqiqatjou are popular in part because of the willingness to denounce other Islamists publicly for their perceived compromises to liberal causes in their pursuit of fame and credibility. The abortion debate, Haqiqatjou and his allies seem to believe, is a step towards the repeal of other, un-Islamic ideas that have also been endorsed by these “compassionate imams.” Given that Haqiqatjou and his supporters have sometimes been successful in their attempts to damage these imams’ credibility, they can be expected to continue to do so with renewed vigor following this leaked Supreme Court decision.