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The Muslim Medical Expert and Fatāwa on Bioethics

بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ


In contemporary Western society, both Muslims and non-Muslims often seek guidance from Islāmic perspectives on crucial matters such as health, sickness, life, and death. However, there exists a common misconception that all answers can be provided by the imām of a mosque. In Sunni Islām, the term "imām" typically refers to a prayer leader rather than a specialist in Islamic law.

The responsibility of issuing Islāmic rulings on various matters traditionally falls upon individuals known as muftis or fuqaha (singular: faqih), who have studied Islāmic law. However, obtaining Sharīʿa rulings with academic rigour and authenticity for modern medical issues poses a significant challenge. Many muftis lack the necessary expertise to address these complex questions and often rely on quoting classical scholars without considering advancements in scientific knowledge. Examples of such medical issues include the determination of the maximum gestation period, rulings on medical interventions during fasting, reproductive techniques, and the definition of brain death. Similar challenges are encountered in fields beyond medicine, such as finance and astronomy, notably in the context of moon-sighting.

Addressing modern medical queries often requires independent reasoning (ijtihād) from muftis to derive legal religious rulings (ḥukm sharʿī) and issue fatwas. This process involves two key elements: first, gaining a comprehensive understanding (fahm al-wāqiʿ) of the situation by gathering relevant information from experts in the respective field, and second, accurately perceiving (taṣawwur ṣaḥīḥ) the issue using established juristic methodologies. The culmination of these efforts results in the issuance of a fatwa.

Traditionally, individual muftis have been responsible for issuing religious rulings, often citing the opinions of specific scholars. However, even prominent Muslim jurists (fuqaha) can arrive at incorrect conclusions due to a lack of complete understanding of certain issues. This was exemplified in the case of Muhammad al-Ashqar, who initially deemed the transplantation of testes permissible from an Islāmic standpoint but later revised his opinion after discussions with biomedical scientists. Similarly, the determination of the maximum gestation period is now primarily based on scientific evidence rather than classical juristic rulings.

In recent decades, there has been a shift towards collaborative efforts involving both religious and non-religious experts to address bioethical issues. This collective approach, known as collective ijtihād (al-ijtihad al-jamai), ensures more comprehensive and informed rulings. Several prominent organizations in Islāmic countries, such as the Islāmic Organization for Medical Sciences (IOMS) and the Islāmic Fiqh Academy, are actively engaged in issuing fatwas on bioethical matters.

For medical professionals, awareness of rulings issued by international Islāmic organizations on bioethical issues is crucial. These rulings, which undergo extensive discussions involving experts of international repute, offer valuable guidance for Muslim doctors and the broader public. Hence, compiling a list of fatawa related to bioethics in medicine serves as a valuable resource in navigating these complex ethical dilemmas.



Dr. A. Hussain