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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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

African researchers warn early sexual activity increases risk of cancers

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

A report on rising cancer rates in Africa delivered at a conference in Namibia last week warned that oral contraceptives and engaging in sexual activity from a young age lead to an increased risk of breast and reproductive system cancers.

Researchers presented the "2014 Integrated Africa Cancer Fact Sheet & Summary Score Card" during the 8th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa (SCCA) conference, held in Windhoek, Namibia from July 20 to 22, noted that cancer is a growing health problem in many developing countries and that breast and cervical cancer are the most common forms affecting African women.

The report said that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) play a major role in reproductive system cancers and that young girls who engage in sexual activity risk getting, among other STDs, the human papilloma virus (HPV), some strains of which are linked to cervical cancer.

The report said although HPV infections are common in healthy women, they are usually fought off by the body’s immune system, with no discernible symptoms or health consequences.

The Cancer Association of South Africa points out that of the scores of HPV types, 14 of the more than 40 sexually transmitted varieties are considered "high risk" for causing serious illness, while two, HPV-16 and HPV-18, are linked to cervical cancer.

“Long-term use of oral contraceptives is also associated with increased risk [of cancer], and women living with HIV-AIDS are at increased risk of cervical cancer,” the report said.

Dr. Thandeka Mazibuko, a South African oncologist, told the conference attendees that when an 18-year-old is diagnosed with cervical cancer, “this means sex is an important activity in her life and she indulged from a young age.”

Mazibuko said the standard treatment for cancer of the cervix is seven weeks of radiation therapy.

“After the treatment they cannot have sex with their husbands or partners. They cannot bear children because everything has been closed up. Some may still have the womb but radiation makes them infertile,” Mazibuko said, according to a report in The Namibian.

Statistics from the Cancer Association of Namibia show that cases of cervical cancer have risen from 129 in 2005 to 266 in 2012.

The SCCA Conference theme was, "Moving forward to end Cervical Cancer by 2030: Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention."

In his keynote address, host and Namibian President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba urged African countries to help each other to expand and modernize health care delivery in the continent.

"Within the context of the post-2015 Development Agenda and sustainable development goals, the provision of adequate health care to African women and children must be re-emphasized," said the president, according to AllAfrica.

The Namibian leader urged mothers to breastfeed their children for at least six months as a measure to prevent breast cancer.


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Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Allow ‘lethal injection’ for poor to save on palliative care: Lithuanian health minister

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By Hilary White

Euthanasia is a solution for terminally ill poor people who cannot afford palliative care and who do not want to “see their families agonize” over their suffering, Lithuania’s health minister said last week.

In an interview on national television, Minister Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė added that the Belgian law on child euthanasia ought to be “taken into account” as well. 

Šalaševičiūtė told TV3 News that Lithuania, a country whose population is 77 percent Catholic, is not a welfare state and cannot guarantee quality palliative care for all those in need of it. The solution, therefore, would be “lethal injection.”

“It is time to think through euthanasia in these patients and allow them to make a decision: to live or die,” she said.

Direct euthanasia remains illegal in the Balkan state, but activists tried to bring it to the table in 2012. A motion to drop the planned bill was passed in the Parliament in March that year in a vote of 75 to 14. Since then the country has undergone a change in government in which the far-left Social Democrats have formed the largest voting bloc.

Šalaševičiūtė is a member of Parliament for the Social Democrats, the party originally established in the late 19th century – re-formed in the late 1980s – from Marxist principles and now affiliated with the international Party of European Socialists and Socialist International.

Fr. Andrius Narbekovas, a prominent priest, lecturer, physician, bioethicist, and member of the government’s bioethics committee, called the suggestion “satanic,” according to Delfi.lt. He issued a statement saying it is the purpose of the Ministry of Health to “protect the health and life, instead of looking for ways to take away life.”

“We understand that people who are sick are in need of funds. But a society that declares itself democratic, should very clearly understand that we have to take care of the sick, not kill them,” he said.


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Islamists in Mosul mark Christian homes with an Arabic "N" for Nazarene.
Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.

We must open wide our doors to Iraq’s Christians

Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.
By Gualberto Garcia Jones J.D.

On July 18, the largest Christian community in Iraq, the Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, were given a grotesque ultimatum: leave your ancestral home, convert to Islam, or die.

All but forgotten by the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world, these last Christians who still speak Jesus’ native tongue of Aramaic and live in the land of Abraham and Jonah are being wiped out before our very eyes.

As a way of issuing a thinly-veiled threat, reminiscent of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Arabic letter “N” (for Nazarean) has been painted on the outside of the homes of all known Christians in Mosul.

These threats, issued by the fanatical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) known for its bloodthirsty rampage of executions, have been taken very seriously by the several hundred thousand Christians in Mosul who have left with little more than the clothes they were wearing. 

At least most of these Christians were able to flee and find temporary protection among the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region.  However the Kurds do not have the resources to defend or shelter the Chaldean Christians for much longer.

On Monday, during an interview on Fox News, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, who recently joined with 54 other members of the House of Representatives in a letter to President Obama asking him to act to protect these communities, stated that while Iraqi President Maliki had sent military flights to Mosul to evacuate Shiite Muslims, the US has done nothing to protect the Chaldean Christians.  Rep. Wolf also stated emphatically that President Obama has done “almost nothing” about the genocide taking place.

The silence from the White House is deafening.  But the lack of leadership from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America has been shocking as well.

Nevertheless, the plight of these Iraqi Christians is beginning to be taken seriously.   This is due in large part to the heroic efforts of local Iraqi religious leaders like Chaldean Patriarch Sako, who has gone on a whirlwind tour of the world to alert us all of the plight of these Iraqi Christians.  In a statement demonstrating his character, he told the Christians of Iraq last week, “We are your shepherds, and with our full responsibility towards you we will stay with you to the end, will not leave you, whatever the sacrifices.”

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched there were approximately 1.5 to 2 million Christians living in Iraq.  Today, there are believed to be less than 200,000.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Now that the world is beginning to be aware of the genocide in Northern Iraq, many of us ask ourselves: what can we do?  As citizens and as Christians blessed to live in nations with relative peace and security, what can we do?

The answer is quite simple and unexpected.  Demand that our government and church pull its head out of the sand and follow France. Yes, France.  

Yesterday, in a heroic gesture of Christian solidarity that would make Joan of Arc proud, the government of France opened wide its doors to the persecuted Iraqi Christians.  

”France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness," Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, France's interior minister, said in a joint statement on Monday.

"The ultimatum given to these communities in Mosul by ISIS is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations that are historically an integral part of this region," they added. "We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil.  We are in constant contact with local and national authorities to ensure everything is done to protect them.”

The French statement drives home three crucial elements that every government, especially the United States, should communicate immediately:

  1. Recognize the genocide and name the perpetrators and victims.

  2. Officially condemn what is happening in the strongest terms.

  3. Offer a solution that includes cooperation with local authorities but which leads by making solid commitments such as offering asylum or other forms of protection.

With regard to the Church, we should look to the Chaldean Patriarch and the Iraqi bishops who shared their expectations explicitly in an open letter to “all people of conscience in Iraq and around the world” to take “practical actions to assure our people, not merely expressions of condemnation.”  Noticeably, the last section of the letter from the Iraqi bishops, before a final prayer to God, is an expression of thanks to the Kurdish government, which has welcomed them not just with “expressions” of goodwill but, like France, with a sacrificial hospitality.

On Friday, July 25, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops did issue a statement, but unfortunately it lacked much in terms of leadership or solutions.  We should encourage our bishops to do better than that, be bolder and stronger for our persecuted brothers and sisters, name names and offer concrete sacrificial aid. In a word, be more like the French.

In 1553, Rome welcomed the Chaldean church into the fold of the Catholic Church.  Nearly 500 years later, Catholic Americans must find ways to welcome these persecuted people into our country, into our churches, and into our own homes if need be.

I say, I am with you St. Joan of Arc.   I am with you, France.  I am with you, Chaldeans!

Gualberto Garcia Jones is the Executive Director of the International Human Rights Group, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, that seeks to advance the fundamental rights to life, the natural family, and religious liberty through international law and international relations. 


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