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Islamic Bioethics: A Systemtic Approach

Tuesday, 08 February 2011 13:50
Published in Views


Once the Muslim world was the pioneer of human knowledge and technology and if someone looks a fair bit more just at the history of science, he will   endorse the role of Muslim scholars on human knowledge

We know that after the invention of printing and Avicenna’s Law (QANOON Bouali) was the second book published, after printing the Bible, and this book still inspires researchers in different fields of biology and medicine.

Islam has a rich biological and medical history, and has encouraged the pursuit of these sciences.

Islam is deeply concerned with life according to God’s will, and in consequence developed a comprehensive sacred legal system by which to discern the best course of action in any circumstance.

For it must be understood that Islam is both a faith and a legal system. Indeed, the two are inseparable – the legal system acting as the practical guide to living according to faith.

Ethics is another part of Islam in traditional categorizing.

Based on this categorization there are three items in Islam: Theology, Shari’ah, and Ethics.


Concept of Ethics: a comparative study

We sometimes use terms without regard to different cultures and without regard to the meaning of these terms in these cultures.

Concept of Ethics: a comparative study

The concept of ethics in Islam is different from that of Christianity which consists of two parts: Theology and Ethics.

Ethics in Christianity is related to all practical issues in religion while in Islam there are law and ethics that are related to these issues.

Thus the similar items for some of ethical issues in Christianity can be found in Islamic Law not in Islamic Ethics. And there are rigid limits between Law and Ethics in Islam.

Ethics is a set of recommendations that requires no legal means or consequences while Islamic law (Shari’ah) is a set of legal commands which may have some legal consequences.

The legal system functions as an apparatus for deciding and guiding the appropriateness of actions based upon Islamic traditions and revelations.


Systematic Thought Theory in Islam

In the traditional categorization of Islam the logical relationships between these items are not clarified and the role of each item is not well understood.

There are some or many sayings about Islamic Bioethics in different references but there is no systematic approach to this issue

while there is a complete Islamic bioethical system based on “Systematic Thought Theory in Islam” which was introduced by the author more than twenty years ago.

This theory says: Islam introduces a philosophy, a doctrine, a system, and a legal system in each field of human’s life.

All of these issues are global and we can derive conditional elements, i.e. mechanism and conditional legal system, from them.



Bases ------> System------> Goals


Hence there are:

    1. Philosophy of Islamic Bioethics
    2. Doctrine of Islamic Bioethics
    3. System of Islamic Bioethics
    4. Global legal system of Islamic Bioethics

And for our circumstances:

    1. Mechanism of Islamic Bioethics
    2. Conditional Legal System of Islamic Bioethics


Philosophy is a set of theological elements related to a specific field such as bioethics.

Life is a divine quality: Among God’s attributes and names in the Islamic scriptures, “the Living” (al-Hayy) is one of the most obvious and outstanding one.

In Islam, human life is regarded as an invaluable gift from God.

This is evident in many Qur’anic verses or ayat, one of the most important being:

"if anyone slays a human being, unless it be [in punishment] for murder or spreading corruption on earth, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind."(Qur’an 5:32)

Who is the giver of life and death?

This is one of the basic questions in bioethics which can entirely influence one’s approach towards life and its treatment.

If one believes that life is created by chance or by man himself, then it will lose its sanctity.

Therefore, it can also be destroyed by chance or by man.

But if life is a gift of God for which we are held accountable, then it is not up to us to take it away.


Dignity of man

Human beings have great status in Islam.

They are honored by God:” Certainly We have honored the Children of Adam, ….” (Qur'an 17:70)

وَ لَقَدْ كَرَّمْنا بَني‏ آدَمَ ...(الإسراء،70)

They can act as God's viceroy on earth” When your Lord said to the angels," Indeed I am going to set a viceroy on the earth,“ “ (Qur'an: 2:30).

وَ إِذْ قالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلائِكَةِ إِنِّي جاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَليفَةً (البقرة، 30)

They are endowed with reason and freewill and therefore are responsible for what they do.

Therefore, humans bear the divine trust and can fulfill the goal of creation.

We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it; and man carried it. Surely he is very unjust, very ignorant. (Qu´ran: 33:72)


Doctrine consists of two parts:

  1. Bases (accepted issues in one field),
  2. Goals (objectives which should be achieved).

Islamic Bioethical Bases like:

1-Principle of Equality:

All the people have equal rights for Health and Treatment.

2-principle of scientific freedom

All kinds of scientific researches in the field of biology and medicine are free unless there is a concrete restriction.

3-Principle of Ownership

All of human beings own their own body.

This principle reflect in some issues such as organ donation.

Who can decide about the donation of one’s organ.

4- Principle of sovereignty over disables.

The one who is disable to take care of his own rights, such as immature child or mad or dead person, is under the sovereignty.

The sovereign can be the parents, the inheritors, or the governor.

This principle reflect in some issues such as:

1- Organ donation:

Who can decide about the donation of dead one’s organ?

2-Child Circumcision

Views differ on whether limits should be placed on caregivers having a child circumcised.

Some medical associations take the position that the parents should determine what is in the best interest of the infant or child,

Main Islamic Bioethical Goal is Biojustice.

Biojustice consists of two main elements:

  1. The minimum standards of health and treatment for all people.
  2. The permanent progress of standards of public health and treatment


System is a set of related institutions based on the basis of doctrine to achieve goals of doctrine.

Islamic Bioethical system consists of some institutions like:

Health institution

Treatment institution

Research institution

Global Legal System is the legal consequences of the System and Doctrine.


Some says cloning is prohibited because this is altering of Allah’s creation and it is a satanic promotion:

…and I (Satan) will prompt them to alter Allah's creation... (Qur'an: 4:119)

...وَ لَآمُرَنَّهُمْ فَلَيُغَيِّرُنَّ خَلْقَ اللَّهِ...(النساء، 4)

While this Qur'anic verse does not refer to the physical changes but to the differing of origination of Allah:

So set your heart on the religion as a people of pure faith, the origination of Allah according to which He originated mankind) There is no altering Allah's creation; that is the upright religion, but most people do not know. (Qur'an: 30:30)

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنيفاً فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتي‏ فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْها لا تَبْديلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَ لكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لا يَعْلَمُون‏(الروم، 30)

Brain Death

A Real Death

Based on common sense

Based on specialized view

A Non-reversible Life

To accept donation based on the concept TAZAHOM


Islam prohibits abortion unless there is an exceptional situation in which Shari‘ah permits it as a lesser evil .

Mechanism is the manifestation of the system in a specific circumstance.

Conditional Legal System is the manifestation of the Global Legal System in a specific circumstance.

The Iranian law can be an example for Conditional Legal System for our own situation.


By: Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Proffessor of Islamic Law And Philosophy at Qom Islamic Seminary.   February 8, 2011, (1389/11/19).