Suzy Ismail

How I lost two unborn children: a Muslim looks at respect for life

Suzy Ismail
By Suzy Ismail
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May 10, 2012 (PublicDiscourse.com) - In a world preoccupied with material wealth and convenience, the gift of life is often minimized and sometimes forgotten altogether. Modernity encourages us to view “unwanted” life as a burden that will hold us back. For Muslims, however, just as for many in other faith traditions, life must be acknowledged, always and everywhere, as a true blessing.

In the pre-Islamic period, the practice of female infanticide was widespread in much of Arabia, but it was immediately forbidden through Islamic injunctions. Several verses of the Quran were revealed that prohibited this practice to protect the rights of the unborn and of the newborn child: “When the female infant, buried alive, is questioned for what crime was she killed; when the scrolls are laid open; when the World on High is unveiled; when the Blazing Fire is kindled to fierce heat; and when the Garden is brought near; Then shall each soul know what it has put forward. So verily I call” (81: 8-15). Indeed, there are many verses in the Quran that remind us of the sanctity of life. We are told that “Wealth and children are an adornment of this life” (18:46), and we are commanded to “Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin” (17:31).

While the religious injunctions reverberate through faith on a spiritual level, the blessings of life touch us daily on a worldly level, as well. As the mother of three beautiful children, I can truly attest to and appreciate the gift of life. But I also understand how heartbreaking it is to lose it.

I want to share with you the story of how I came to realize life’s fragility and the importance of making the most of our spiritual journeys here on earth. Over thirteen years ago, my husband and I were eager to start our family. We were ecstatic when, a few months shy of our first anniversary, we found out that we were expecting. Very early on, we began playing the “new parent” planning game, picking out names and nursery colors even before our first doctor’s appointment.

A few months into the pregnancy, the doctor scheduled a routine ultrasound. Giddy with excitement, we entered the darkened room and waited in great anticipation to see our child. There on the screen—fuzzy, yet discernible—we could see our baby’s outline. We imagined the features and jokingly guessed who the baby might look like. But the ultrasound technician did not laugh with us. As she solemnly stared at the screen, we followed her gaze. As inexperienced as we were, we could tell that something was not right: our baby had no heartbeat.

After losing my first child, I truly began to understand the meaning of life. When the heartbeat we’d heard so clearly on the Doppler suddenly ceased, our baby’s life ended in the womb, before he or she even had a chance to begin in the outside world.

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But strong faith and an unshakeable belief in a just God is a great formula for filling any emotional void. As the Quran states in Verse 156 of Surat Al-Baqara, there are great blessings for those “who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say: ‘Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return.’” Losing our first baby led to a deeper appreciation of God’s magnificence and the miracle of His creation.

Several months later, we found out we were expecting again. This time, the excitement was tempered with worry. Our first ultrasound came much earlier in the pregnancy, and we eagerly scanned the screen for the telltale beating before glancing at fingers and toes or eyes and nose. And there it was, strong and steady! We breathed a sigh of relief. Our baby was alive.

As the months of this second pregnancy progressed and the baby bump grew larger, we began to hope. Each ultrasound revealed a little more of our child and each kick confirmed that this time we were really going to begin our family. As the due date quickly approached, we felt more confident in choosing baby items and room colors. We even chose the name for our baby girl. Her name would be Jennah, which means Heaven in Arabic.

With just a few weeks left before my scheduled delivery date, I went into labor. As we sped to the hospital and I was wheeled into the darkened ultrasound room, out of habit, my eyes went directly to the heart area on the screen that I knew all too well by now. That tiny heart, which I had sought out so many times in the previous ultrasounds, had stopped beating.

That day, so many years ago, I delivered Jennah, my stillborn daughter; and that day we buried Jennah. We hadn’t known how fitting her name would really be. As the infection that had ended the pregnancy sped through my blood in the days that followed, I recognized just how delicate life really is. Nothing can bring life into perspective as much as loss. And nothing can affirm faith as much as life.

Today, as I look at my three beautiful children, I know that God is good. No, God is great, or in Arabic, Allahu Akbar. And what gives me the greatest solace in times of trial is the verse in the Quran that states: “It may be that you detest something which is good for you; while perhaps you love something even though it is bad for you. God knows, while you do not know” (2:216).

As Muslims, we believe in the power of life to change others, and we believe even more in the power of God. In any disaster, in any calamity, and in the face of any death, we are urged to repeat “inna lilah wa inna ilayhee raji’un”—“To God we belong and to Him we return.” In the end, only He knows what is best for us.

I could share with you so many stories from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran that illustrate the power of God in our lives: the creation of Adam, the patience of Job, the perseverance of Noah, the purity of Joseph, the judiciousness of Solomon, the trials of Jonah, the obedience of Abraham, the wisdom of Moses, the devotion of Jesus, and the inspiration of Mohamed. I could share these stories with you, but they are available to all in the Holy Scriptures.

Instead, I want to share with you the story of an amazing woman whom I met recently at a conference. This woman truly exemplifies the spirit of respecting life. Melinda Weekes had recently returned from a trip to the Sudan, where she was helping to enact a policy of slave redemption. For years and years, a rampant genocide was perpetrated in southern Sudan by the wealthy slave traders of the north. They would pillage and torch the mud huts of the villagers, and then capture the women and children to sell them into slavery.

Heartbroken by what was happening in Sudan, this woman traveled across the world to help free these slaves by buying them back from the traders and returning them to their villages. Upon their return, she helped them rebuild their lives by establishing schools and educating their girls so that they could break free from oppression. Describing the strength of these women in the face of modern-day slavery, Melinda shared story after story of the things she had seen on her trips to Sudan. She spoke of one of the most powerful experiences she had had, when she sat with a woman who had lost her home, her husband, and her children, and had suffered incredible harm at the hands of her slave master. She asked the woman, “How do you survive? How do you manage to continue living?” The woman responded, “When the world pushed me down to my knees, I knew that it was time to pray. I am blessed to still have these old knees that allow me to kneel, blessed to be able to prostrate, blessed to be able to pray. And I am blessed because I have God.”

I ask you today to reflect on women like these, to reflect on their inner strength, and to reflect on your own life as you know it. I ask you to accept life as a gift and to understand that your life belongs to a greater power, to a higher authority that breathed life into your soul at your beginning and decreed that you should live it with good morals, good ethics, and a good heart that can truly make a difference in the lives of those around you.

In the memorable words of Mother Theresa:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

I’d like to end with a prayer, a Muslim ayah (verse 286 from Suratul Baqara) from the Quran:

On no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; help us against those who stand against faith.

I ask you today once again to respect life, for there is no greater gift. Respect life, yours and the lives around you. For when we lose respect for life, we lose respect for humanity, and when we lose respect for humanity, we lose respect for God’s creation, and when we lose that, we have lost everything.

Suzy Ismail is a Visiting Professor at DeVry University in North Brunswick, New Jersey and is the author of When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries. This article has been adapted from remarks made in the Princeton University Chapel for Respect Life Sunday. It was originally published in Public Discourse and is reprinted with permission.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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