It was no surprise to me that the extreme abortion ban that went into effect in Texas last week led to Islamophobic hashtags and media conversations. After all, contrasting the United States to Islam is part of an age-old imperialist way of thinking that stems from Orientalism, which seeks to differentiate between what is “right” in the West and “wrong” in the “Other.”
#TexasTaliban and #ShariaLawInTexas were widely used by many, and author Stephen King tweeted that “the Taliban would love the Texas abortion law.” The Atlanta-Journal Constitution even published a cartoon of two women in burqas saying “Pray for Texas women,” and an Arizona Republic column drew parallels to Sharia law.
It’s Islamophobic to assume that Muslim countries love banning abortion. It’s also ignorant to present misogyny as a “foreign” problem that should be expected in the supposedly “less progressive” nations of the East, but is a shock in the United States.
In Islam, abortion is permitted in cases such as rape, incest, socioeconomic difficulties, impact on the pregnant person’s mental or physical health, and fetal impairment. Texas SB 8 does not permit abortion in any of these situations, except for a life-threatening physical condition. Out of 47 Muslim-majority countries, only 18 have abortion laws as restrictive as Texas SB 8, according to a 2014 study in the journal Health Policy and Planning. (And in one of those countries, Lebanon, the extremely restrictive abortion laws can be partly traced to the influence of the Maronite Church rather than Islam, according to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole.)
According to a widely accepted Islamic school of thought, abortion is permitted within the first four months of pregnancy, as the fetus is not yet “ensouled.” The Texas ban, which is inaccurately called a “heartbeat” ban, gives a much tighter time frame, prohibiting abortion six weeks into a pregnancy—just two weeks after a person’s first missed period and before many know they’re pregnant. At that point, the embryo produces electric activity but does not even have heart valves—which means no “heartbeat” is present.
Misinformation, which spreads quickly, only disempowers Muslim women and feeds into misogynistic, colonialist ideas about the treatment of women in Islam. Conservative, right-wing Christian groups created this damaging law for pregnant Texans—not Islam.
Religion aside, the Texas ban feeds into a more sinister narrative of how men control women’s bodies. Women are stigmatized, punished, and demonized for engaging in sex—both for pleasure and for work. The patriarchy runs deep in our relationship between sex, shame, and desire, so I can see where this illusion of “Texas Taliban” stems from. Two decades ago, the U.S. military appealed to Western feminists by promoting the war in Afghanistan as a “fight for the rights and dignity of women,” even though it is evident the U.S. war in Afghanistan did not benefit women but rather pandered to the Western fantasy of saving the deeply oppressed Muslim woman.
While I understand the history of the Taliban in the 1990s as being wrong—preventing women from working and controlling how they dress—this also has no links to Islam, as the religion entitles women to economic and academic independence, along with the freedom to ultimately choose how to dress. The double standard and selective activism when it comes to what women do with their bodies, be it Muslim women covering or Western women uncovering, is discouraging.
It’s impossible to ignore the race and class implications of the Texas abortion ban. The women in the poorest socioeconomic groups will be impacted most by this, as they cannot simply leave Texas to have an abortion somewhere else. What about the pregnant person, especially with rising maternal mortality rates that disproportionately affect Black and brown women? There is nothing “pro-life” about bringing a child into the world at the expense of a living woman. This ban is dehumanizing and a violation of women’s rights, yet much of the public response to it refuses to acknowledge the impact on women of color and young working-class pregnant people, but instead is focused on spreading false fear-mongering statements about Islam.
Having these poorly researched conversations spread like wildfire on social media can feel alienating to Muslim women. Instead of only including us in debates on whether or not we have autonomy over our bodies, or only using images of us to either draw in sympathy for white Western women or incite hate, why not empower us?
If we reframe this as an abuse of male dominance and power over women—rather than a Christian/Muslim or East/West issue—we can help all women truly break free from the shackles of the patriarchy that hold us down. To burn these shackles to the ground that tell us we are too loud, too sexual, or too emotional means to move on from regressive policies and tackle real issues in gender inequality around the globe.