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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The Romanian Orthodox Church's Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest Wikimedia Commons
Bogdan Stanciu

Romanian news outlet sanctioned for discrimination in attacking pro-life initiative

Bogdan Stanciu
By Bogdan Stanciu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- A decision of CNCD, Romania's Council Against Discrimination, has recently become definitive, recognizing the right to dignity of all Orthodox Christians in the country.

Last year, PRO VITA Association - Bucharest branch, one of the main nonprofits in Romania defending life, family and religious liberty, filed an official complaint with the Council, showing that a blog post dated May 17, 2013 and hosted on the Adevarul.ro platform prejudiced the image of Christian Orthodox believers.

The article, signed "Alex Dumitriu," challenged the support given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the “One of Us” European initiative, which required a ban on public funding for the destruction of embryos during research and medical procedures.

The blog post described the Romanian Orthodox Church as an “anti-human, criminal and anti-life organization, whose purpose is spreading suffering and abjectness, mysticism and ignorance for their own profit.”

The applicant argued that these allegations created a degrading and hostile atmosphere for Orthodox Christians in Romania, thus harming a whole community.

The Council agreed that the affirmations in the article referred to both the clerics and the simple believers and discriminated against the Christian Orthodox community. It concluded it was discrimination, infringing upon the right to dignity granted to persons of Christian Orthodox confession.

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The council cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Europe, carrying with it duties and responsibilities. Also, the Adevarul.ro platform was fined a symbolic sum of 2,000 RON (approximately 445 EUR).

It is for the first time in Romania that a media institution is sanctioned for discriminating against Christians.

As a brand, the Adevarul newspaper has continued the tradition of a title established in the 19th century, but after 1989 it took over the infrastructure and human resources of the recently-deceased communist newspaper Scanteia, the official propaganda channel of the Romanian Communist Party. Today it has also developed Adevarul.ro, an online platform that is one of the most popular media channels in Romania.

Adevarul.ro has recently made it a habit of harassing the Romanian Orthodox Church with almost daily frequency, presenting negative aspects in the church and tendentious articles of opinion about this institution and about Creationism and Christianity in general, in what looks more and more like an ideological guerrilla warfare.


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Paul Russell

Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Following The Australian's news story today about another young life lost that was related to Philip Nitschke and the Exit organisation, senior journalist, Angela Shanahan says that Nitschke and Exit must be stopped.

Shanahan opens: 

PHILIP Nitschke, contrary to his claims as an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, is the chief mover of something resembling a suicide cult.

The case histories of Lucas Taylor, 26, and Joe Waterman, 25, who committed suicide after being in contact with Nitschke’s group, Exit, leave little doubt of that.

Lucas Taylor was the subject of the other article in today's paper while Joe Waterman's story was covered earlier in the ABCs 7:30 Report that created the original furore leading to the medical board suspending Nitschke's practicing licence today.

Covering the information Judi Taylor found on her son's computer after his death the story adds: 

His heartbroken mother realised that her son was not the only young person on this site. Nor was anyone on the site interested in the motivation for his thoughts of suicide, nor in helping Lucas to overcome his feelings.

“They were only interested in the ‘endgame’,” she said, including detailed advice about where and when and how to go about it.

Again, this destroys any pretence that Nitschke and Exit are only involved in advising sick and dying people about how to commit suicide. This is a macabre and clandestine death industry. Hope joins with Angela Shanahan in calling for this organisation to be stopped and is joined now in our call for a National Inquiry into Exit and other euthanasia organisations by the mothers of both of the young men mentioned in this article.

Shanahan closes by saying: Nitschke’s claim of political persecution is risible. He and his organisation must be stopped.

Reprinted with permission from NoEuthanasia.org.au.


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Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

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Leaving the Matrix: what is the cost of conversion?

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By Hilary White

What do you do when you decide to leave a sexually disordered lifestyle? What do you do, when all the people you have contact with, all your friends, even your family, have accepted and embraced a way of living and thinking about life that you have realized is harmful, psychologically and morally destructive, and which you know you must leave? What is the cost of conversion?

We can easily get caught up in the tumult of the ever-escalating legal, political, and cultural war against the traditional worldview and anthropology, so much that we forget that the “issue” is about real, individual human beings and how they should, concretely, order their lives. We culture warriors must remember that what we are asking people to do is difficult, that it can incur huge sacrifice and loss and will often require enormous upheaval and change. We are asking people to leave not only a “lifestyle” of sexual activity, but an entire world, populated with family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and an entire global culture that embraces and aggressively promotes it.

I include not only the experience of leaving the “gay lifestyle,” but of leaving a worldview, a cultural paradigm that accepts and promotes sexual license of any kind in general. It is more than the questions surrounding the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and more than the issue of living chastely in an increasingly sexually obsessed world.

How ought a person who experiences same-sex attraction react when it begins to dawn on him that, for whatever reason, he cannot continue to live according to the world’s paradigm? We know how the homosexualist movement says he ought to react, and we know that the secular world (nearly all the world, therefore) is in more or less complete agreement. He should reject such self-negating thoughts. He should embrace his “orientation” and start to seek out same-sex sexual relationships, and carry on in the way that they tell us life is now normally lived.

He should engage in sexual encounters with various people, sometimes setting up “relationships” for varying lengths of time, breaking up, moving on, finding someone else, perhaps cohabitating, and maybe, some day, “settling down” with one person, either in “marriage,” or not, as the mood strikes. This is what the world now presents to us as normal. Nearly every television show and movie set in our times says this is just how people live nowadays. 

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

But those few of us left who think this is not a very good way to live, that it is morally and psychologically destructive, have in large part to forge our own way in life, figure out a set of rules and standards to live by alone, all the while fighting the pressure to conform. Even for those of us not plagued by sexual feelings towards people of the same sex it isn’t easy.

It is particularly not easy for those of us who have decided later in life to try to embrace a different path, but who had previously followed the world’s advice, and who had never known any other way of living. What does it take to totally change a worldview, a method of organizing one’s life and all social relationships? How hard is it to reinvent a way of life that the world has not only abandoned, but aggressively rejected and condemned?

The cost will usually be, at least, the loss of nearly all one’s friends, sometimes even very close friends. Very often it will include alienating, sometimes permanently, one’s own family. Since the Sexual Revolution’s paradigm has now been embraced by three or four or more generations, it will often mean alienation from parents and siblings.

It will sometimes mean the loss of good relations with co-workers and colleagues, and sometimes even the loss of jobs and careers. I know a man, a previously highly respected author, who was totally rejected by the entire literary establishment of his home country, a heavily secular nation, when he embraced Catholicism, including its sexual moral teachings. He told me that he expected he would never be published again outside the Catholic niche press. None of his previous friends would speak to him and for the first two years his mother had refused to take his calls.

He had been asked again and again why, if he felt he had to become a Christian, he could not have become an Anglican. And why this “sudden obsession” with “outdated” and “retrograde” sexual morality? He said that, in essence, he was treated as he would have been in the 19th century had he “come out” as a homosexual. Chastity, in other words, is the new perversion.

It is a momentous decision to leave that world, and people who make that transition compare it to leaving the Matrix: a painful, shocking and revelatory experience of a totally new and previously unguessed-at world that can leave the person disoriented, feeling as though he is now living in a kind of “parallel universe” in which he is alone and alienated from friends and family and fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of us “converts” to a more morally sane life, who often find that once we have made the transition we are alone again. And even when we find others, a new community and friends – usually in a church – we learn that we must keep the door to the past closed. It’s not that we fear rejection, far from it, and it is not even a matter of shame.

But we understand that in a civilized society, no one wants to hear about barbarity, and we learn that to keep our past life closely in mind is to allow it to continue to rule the present. Close friends will know about our past, but, outside the most intimate circles it is passed over silently. We have reinvented ourselves and moved on, but the price is sometimes to become people with no past. To be wholly remade, it is necessary to leave behind the person we were.

It works. I can say that it is possible to be radically morally rebuilt, that one can reconstruct an entire personality, consciously dismantle past habits of thought and approach to life and replace them with better ones. The damage from the previous life, whether physical or psychological, can be permanent, but it is possible to construct a way of living that is morally and psychologically and physically healthy, and reorder a life in such a way that the damage does not rule your present. 

But it’s expensive. For me, it started when I was still living in British Columbia. I felt something new beginning in my mind and felt a yearning spring up that could not be satisfied by anything I’d experienced… the usual convert’s tale.

I’d been aware all my life that the kind of world we lived in, and the kind of life we lived in it, was somehow just not right. I loved old films and television shows that depicted a totally different way of living. I was close to my grandparents and wondered why we no longer lived that way. When I moved to the mainland in my early 20s, I somehow started going to Mass again, and that was when the real struggle began. I knew full well that the way I lived and thought about life was deeply at odds with the Church.

But I was alone. None of my friends were Catholic and none of them could begin to understand what it was I had begun to talk about. And I had made no friends at the large inner city parish I attended. I had tried to join a few things, and had volunteered a bit, but I could see that I had nothing in common with them. It seemed as though these people lived in another universe, one I could not even want to enter. A priest suggested I get involved in the pro-life movement, and I rejected this idea out of hand as totally absurd.

I thought I could only ask God for help. I prayed for “Catholic friends.” This brought no change, so I scaled down and said, “All right then, just one. Just one Catholic friend.” In the end, I simply got up and left one day. I’ve written elsewhere that I just got in a car and went “on holiday” out east, and never returned. When I landed in the far-eastern Canadian town where I was to undertake my own radical conversion, I only stopped there because I had run out of continent.

And it was there I discovered a whole new world, a moral universe of whose existence I had been previously totally ignorant. I met my “Catholic friends,” and was able to start the painful task of first deconstructing and then rebuilding my entire worldview, my character, my beliefs, my total understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

“Painful”? I barely survived. It took a year but I emerged a new kind of person in a new kind of world that I had never suspected existed. I met a group of other people who had undergone the same experience and we traded war stories. We agreed that it was like living in a parallel universe, and we bonded over the loss of previous friendships and family relationships. We helped each other, this little group of Catholic refugees on the rain-washed East Coast, to figure out a way to live in a world to which we no longer belonged. 

We talk about the programs set up by various individuals and groups that propose to help people, (mainly men) leave the homosexual lifestyle. We defend the right of psychotherapists to offer healing and help for people who have been damaged by their own choices and by the violence and sins of others. We lobby our Parliaments, we write articles, we even argue in comment boxes on the internet. We sometimes get brave and give talks and engage in public debates where we confront our ideological opponents in public venues. In all this, we rightly speak against the New Paradigm that the world has embraced and we urge people to reject it. It’s a form of evangelization.

But I think we need to keep in mind, while we are doing this good work, that what we are asking people to do, concretely, is momentous. Indeed, from the point of view of heaven, it is of cosmic significance. In less exalted terms, however, we are asking something almost unimaginably difficult of people ensnared in a way of living and thinking that they may not even completely understand themselves.

So much of our anti-culture, our death-culture, has been simply absorbed unconsciously, so much of it has been fed to us with our Fruit Loops and Saturday Morning Cartoons from earliest childhood, that we often have no way of knowing anything else exists. We have become people trapped in Plato’s Cave, knowing only the vaguest shadows of reality.

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

Ultimately, the Matrix is not only unreal, it is designed to make men miserable, but in such a way that they are hardly aware of being miserable. It not only enslaves, but tortures its victims. There is a reason that suicide, divorce, drug use, violent crime, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, … misery, in short, have grown to such colossal proportions in our societies.

If I may make a suggestion, maybe we could start writing and talking about how much better it is to live in The Real. How much happier it is possible to be when living a morally integrated life of self-control, not being pushed around either by lust or by the merciless demands of a lust-worshipping culture...a life of real freedom, in other words. It might help make the jump less frightening.


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