When one hundred and twenty days pass after the conception of a foetus, aborting it is prohibited. After this period, the killing of the foetus is actually the killing of a human being which, according to the Qur’ān, amounts to killing the whole of mankind. The Qur’ānic punishment for this is eternal Hell. However, before this time-period, abortion is allowed; but this allowance too is not absolute; there must be a legitimate excuse and a palpable reason for it. In Islamic jurisprudence, this period of one hundred and twenty days has been fixed for abortion because at the end of this period a child is bestowed with human personality. Before this time, however, he is a mere physical being devoid of complete human characteristics and lives in this state. At the end of this one hundred and twenty day period when his physical being culminates, the Almighty bestows human personality to this being. It is this act of God which the Qur’ān has called the transformation of the foetus into a new creation:
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ (٢٣: ١٢-١٤)
We first created man from an essence of clay: then converted it into a drop of fluid at a secure place. Then made the drop into a clot of blood, and the clot to a lump of flesh. Then We fashioned bones in it, then clothed the bones with flesh; then transformed it into another creation. Blessed be God, the best of creators. (23:12-14)
In the beginning, when God created man from the womb of the earth, He adopted this very method. The Qur’ān says that first the physical being of man was created; after that he was given the ability to produce offspring; he was then given perfection. Two of the creatures which were produced as a result were selected and spirit was blown into them. This created Adam and Eve as human beings equipped with the abilities of cognizant speech and intellectual awareness:
بَدَأَ خَلْقَ الْإِنسَانِ مِن طِينٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسْلَهُ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن مَّاء مَّهِينٍ ثُمَّ سَوَّاهُ وَنَفَخَ فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِهِ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَشْكُرُونَ (٣٢: ٧-٩)
He began creating man with clay, then made his generation grow through a despicable drop of fluid. He then perfected him and breathed His spirit into him and [in a similar manner] gave you ears and eyes and hearts: yet you are seldom thankful. (32:7-9)
The Prophet (sws) has explained that all the phases of creation of the physical being of a human being take one hundred and twenty days. After this, spirit is blown into him and the creature called the “Human Being” comes into existence. He is reported to have said:
إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ يُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ في بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ في ذلك عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذلك ثُمَّ يَكُونُ في ذلك مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذلك ثُمَّ يُرْسَلُ الْمَلَكُ فَيَنْفُخُ فيه الرُّوحَ
Each of you is formed in the womb of your mother for forty days; then in this same time period he becomes a clot of blood; then becoming a lump of flesh also takes the same number of days; then the angel is sent forth and he breathes the spirit into him.1
It is because of these stipulations of the Qur’ān and Hadīth that the period for abortion has been fixed for one hundred and twenty days.
(Translated from Maqāmāt by Shehzad Saleem)
1. Abū al-Husayn ibn Hajjāj al-Nīsabūrī, Al-Jāmi‘ al-sahīh. vol. 2 (Beirut: Dār ihyā’ al-turāth al-‘arabī, n.d.), 2036, (no. 2643).