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DILEMMAS REGARDING THE PREGNANT VICTIMS OF THE BOKO HARAM ATROCITIES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE

05 Jun

Abridged paper developed by the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria (DIN) of the Islamic Education Trust

(IET) Minna, and the Development Initiative of West Africa (DIWA) in May, 2015.

PREAMBLE

Following the good news of the rescue of some of the women who were abducted by Boko Haram members, it soon became known that many of them had been raped and are currently in different stages of pregnancy. Varying opinions have been expressed regarding what the women should do about their situation i.e. whether or not to terminate the pregnancies; whether or not to raise the children themselves if they carry the pregnancies to term. While these women have been victims of Boko Haram, they are really ‘survivors’ and that is how they will be referred to in this paper.

The paper was written with two objectives in mind.

. To discuss the alternatives available to the women who have gotten pregnant as a result of being raped by Boko Haram members

. Using the principles and objectives of Islamic jurisprudence as guidelines, make some suggestions on how the government, Muslim community and the society in general should respond to the situation

This focus is in no way intended to belittle the suffering of those others who have been killed, injured, violated or displaced by the Boko Haram. We pray for Allah’s guidance, mercy and forgiveness where we might be wrong.

 

HANDLING THE SITUATION FACED BY SURVIVORS OF BOKO HARAM ACTIVITIES

Many people within and outside Nigeria have been direct or indirect victims of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram. The focus of this paper is the women who became pregnant after having been raped by Boko Haram members during their period of captivity. The conditions of these women should call for our compassion and empathy. Their situation should not be turned into an opportunity for politicizing ethnic, political or religious alliances. It should not be converted into an arena for fault-finding and laying a blame game. Rather, the effort of all interested parties should be concentrated on articulating creative ways of bringing relief to them and facilitating more effective ways of providing genuine support.

OUR GUIDING VALUES AND PRINCIPLES

In addressing the dilemma presented by the plight of the women raped by Boko Haram members, we should bear in mind the saying of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “None of you is (true) believer unless he loves for his brother (or sister) what he loves for himself”. Consequently, we should dislike for others any proposition, or policy that we would dislike for ourselves if we were in their situation. It is in such times of trial where honour and emotional wellbeing are at stake that divine values of godliness, selflessness, love and sacrifice are needed the most. All forms of intervention should try and achieve the twin objectives (maqasid) of bringing relief and removing suffering, of promoting the common good (jalb al-masalih) and removing harm and vice (dar’ al-mafasid). The tragedy faced by our pregnant sisters should be handled with the utmost level of compassion, fairness, wisdom and sensitivity irrespective of their faith or ethnicity. Our primary concern should be their emotional and mental wellbeing.

MOVING FORWARD: THREE POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES

There are at least three options that may be considered by the woman who is pregnant as a result of having been raped.

  1. The Option Of Abortion Before The Lapse Of 4 Months (Or 120 Days)

In the 1990’s in Algeria, about 200 women who were raped by members of a violent extremist sect became pregnant. The prominent Saudi scholar Sheikh Muhammad bin Salih bin al-Uthaimeen was asked about the options available for the women under Islamic jurisprudence. In his fatwah (religious verdict), he responded that abortion was permissible if done before the end of the first 120 days. (See Saleem bin Eid Al-Hilai, Qurat al-Uyun, Maktabat al-Furqan, Ajman, 1422AH, p.234-235).

This fatwah is based on an interpretation of an authentic hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) reported in Bukhari and Muslim which indicates that while the foetus is a living being, the soul or spirit (ruh) is breathed into it only after the end of this period. Scholars of the Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence (madhhab) along with a few others have therefore regarded abortion before the 120 days period as not prohibited by any clear explicit text of the Qur’an or Sunnah. This also so because the foetus at that very early stage of pregnancy has not yet reached the age of being referred to in the terminology of the Qur’an and Sunnah, as a “child” (walad) whose life is sacred. (See Alah al-Deen al-Kasani, Badai’ al-Sannai’ fi Tartib al-Sharai’, Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, Beirut, 1982, Vol.7, p.325)

There is a general consensus among Muslim scholars on the prohibition of abortion after this 120 day period – except for reasons such as a threat to the life of the mother. Scholars however have differed in their opinions about the permissibility of abortion before the end of 120 days. (See al-Mawsu’ah al-

Fiqhiyyah, Dar Salasil, Kuwait, 1414AH, Vol.2, p.57) Sanity or the “preservation of the mind” (hifz al-‘aql) is one of the fundamental objectives (maqasid) of Islamic law. The difference of opinion on the matter of

abortion is presented here also because the mental and emotional health of the pregnant mother is of vital importance to Shari’ah and all concerned. A woman who has been a survivor of rape could go insane or into deep depression if forced to keep a pregnancy from a rapist.

  1. The Option Of Foster Care

If the pregnancy is more than 120 days old, or the woman chooses not to abort the pregnancy before the 120 days have elapsed, she can decide to send the child into foster care or to be raised by someone ready to take on the responsibilities of a child who is effectively an orphan.

This is especially so if the woman cannot or does not want to bear the psychological or social challenges associated with raising the child. The decision regarding an alternative home for such a child must be based on what is in the best interest of the child, as the child did not choose to be in that situation.

The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “I and whoever takes charge of an orphan, whether his own or of others shall be in paradise like this (pointing with his four fingers and the middle finger)” (Sahih al-Bukhari). The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also said: “The best house of the Muslims is the house in which there is an orphan who is treated in the best manner; and the worst house of the Muslims is the house in which an orphan is badly treated” (Ibn Majah).

  1. The Option Of Motherhood And Child-Upbringing

The mother may choose to keep the pregnancy and raise the child to the best of her ability. In the absence of the father, the hadith in Bukhari regarding caring for orphans also applies to this situation – “I and whoever takes charge of an orphan, whether his own or of others shall be in paradise…”

SOCIAL, EMOTIONAL AND ECONOMIC SUPPORT, EMPOWERMENT AND COUNSELING

The decision of what to do about the pregnancy is primarily that of the woman in question. Each of the three options mentioned in this paper has challenges that are peculiar to it. None of the three choices is an easy one to make. The effect of each choice will be felt primarily by one person – the woman concerned. More than anyone else, she will bear the difficulty of undergoing an abortion, or carrying to term a baby conceived in circumstances that are traumatic to her, giving birth to that child and, if she chooses, raising the child. Should she choose to give it up for fostering or adoption, she would still feel the effect of such a choice. Therefore, it would be insensitive to force any choice upon her, or deny her an option which may be the lesser evil as far as she is concerned. Human beings are all different and respond to trauma in diverse ways. It would be wrong to dictate how all the rape victims should handle the resulting pregnancy.

Whatever option the women may choose, the role of their families, care-givers, the community, leaders and the government is to provide necessary counseling, social, emotional and economic support and empowerment opportunities. She should be shown empathy and compassion. If social stigmatization is unavoidable in a particular community, the option of relocation of the family to a friendlier environment should be considered and facilitated, while efforts at preventing and eliminating stigmatization continue.

When the children are born, they should receive the same treatment as any other child and should not suffer any form of discrimination or ill-treatment – they will be born blameless as all human beings are.

PROTECTION OF HUMAN DIGNITY AND HONOR (‘IRD)

One of the major objectives of Islamic law is the protection of human dignity and honor (‘ird). With this in mind, all those offering support and care should show respect for the survivors’ privacy, dignity and safety. They should also show sensitivity to the religious and cultural preferences and norms of the victims. This is particularly important for politicians and people working with the media.

THE CHALLENGE TO OUR HUMANITY, COMPASSION AND FAITH

The litmus test and criteria for true piety and faith in Allah is the extent to which we show sincere compassion towards others. The challenges facing all the survivors of the Boko Haram atrocities are a challenge to us all. It is our prayer that though the government and national leadership were unable to stop the tragedy from befalling our sisters, civil organisations, the government and Muslim leadership will be able and willing to bring an end to their ordeal. We pray that Allah continues to support all those striving to end the Boko Haram tragedy; that He gives strength and faith to all the survivors; that He blesses and protects all their care-givers; and that He continues to guide and forgive us all where we go wrong.

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