On January 13, 2024, Darul Qasim hosted its annual Islamic Bioethics Conference in Dallas, Texas. The hall was buzzing with an exceptional crowd consisting of pediatricians, trauma surgeons, transplant pharmacists, hospitalists, psychiatrists, medical students, and pre-medical students, some of whom drove over four hours to attend the conference!
Following a recitation of the Qur’an, Shaykh Amin Kholwadia, founder of Darul Qasim, welcomed the eager guests and introduced the college to newcomers. The conference proceeded in full-swing with beginner and senior students of the college presenting what they had learned throughout their years studying bioethics at Darul Qasim.
Islamic Bioethics, as defined by Darul Qasim, is “a methodological (uṣūlī) system which aims to ascertain and clarify what is virtuous or sinful in biological and healthcare disciplines.” Presenters began by explaining the foundational concept of Islamic epistemology. Epistemology defines how we know what we know: It is an explanation of the accepted sources of knowledge. Islam provides a comprehensive epistemic framework which is far superior to all other frameworks which underpin contemporary Western medicine, including capitalist and materialist frameworks. This is because the sources of knowledge in Islam extend beyond the senses and the intellect to also include revelation. As such, the Muslim must recognize the immense advantage he holds over the non-Muslim. Revelation gives the Muslim access to knowledge that is eternal, absolute, and vast. It is through this more comprehensive epistemology that the Muslim learns about the world and Allah’s will for him in it.
The presenters—consisting of medical students, residents, and attendings alike—were able to share practical yet profound reflections on how bioethical principles could be incorporated into their daily practices as physicians. When applied to professional practice, Islamic Bioethics is “an approach to seeking, developing, and providing cures for patients in a way that is pleasing to Allah in both the dunyā (mundane life) and ākhira (hereafter).” A fundamental tenet of Western bioethics is “Do no harm.” Islamic Bioethics expands this tenet to “Do no harm,” and “Do no sin.” The Muslim physician must strive to avoid sin by facilitating cure through the ḥalāl.
Within contemporary Western medicine, many cures and treatments that are considered the standard of care have questionable legality from an Islamic perspective. For example, heparin, a widely used therapeutic and prophylactic anticoagulant, is a porcine-derived medication. Also, many vaccinations have porcine ingredients. Blood which is removed from the body is considered najas, or impure, and yet is frequently transfused to treat anemia. Many Muslims and legal jurists evoke the principle of ḍarūrah, or dire necessity, to justify the use of these treatments. Although it is permissible to use in life threatening cases, Darul Qasim cautions the Muslim against settling for less than excellence. It challenges the Muslim to be in constant pursuit of the ḥalāl. The wingspan of ḥalāl is immense, and Muslims must be industrious and creative in its pursuit.
To achieve this, the Muslim physician must be willing to rethink and even unlearn many of the incorrect practices and ideologies that he is indoctrinated into throughout his medical training. For instance, Islam places great emphasis on having ḥusn al-khitām, or a good, dignified ending. This is in stark contrast to the West’s emphasis on prolonging life at all costs, many times resulting in painful deaths filled with suffering due to invasive procedures that are often futile. Furthermore, Muslims honor the human body even following death and take great care to wash, shroud, and bury the body with dignity. What is to be said of the gross mutilation to the human body that takes place in medical school anatomy labs?
Even the very understanding of disease is different in contemporary medicine when compared to an Islamic understanding. For instance, in contemporary medicine, infertility is a disease that is aggressively treated with various hormonal therapies or surgical procedures. For Muslims, children are part of a person’s rizq, or sustenance, from Allah, who ultimately chooses who is fertile and who is barren, neither state making an individual deficient or “sick.”
As the conference came to its conclusion and the final critiques of contemporary medicine and the bolstering of the Islamic framework were made, fearful medical students began to express their concerns. They nervously asked Shaykh Amin if it was in their moral interest to abort their medical studies and abandon this field riddled with moral and spiritual decrepitude. Shaykh Amin abetted their fears, reminding them that the Muslim must always complete what he started, and he must never shy away from the challenges of this world. The Muslim must truly internalize that his access to revelation grants him knowledge that is superior to anything else. He must utilize this advantage to be creative and industrious in his pursuit of lawful cures, bringing the light and beauty of Islam to the field of medicine. In doing so, he may identify ills in contemporary Western medicine and be a means for rectifying them.
Shaykh Amin concluded the conference with a most fitting reminder. He reflected on who the true role models for the physician should be: the prophets. Isa, peace be upon him, could heal the blind, cure the leper, raise the dead. If the Muslim physician aligned his actions, character, and spirit with him, he may become the inheritor of his special blessings and knowledge as a healer. However, it doesn’t stop there. Islam also provides a role model for the patient. Ayyub, peace be upon him, teaches us the appropriate response to illness: We do not complain and become despondent or ungrateful. Rather, we have patience and increase our worship of Allah. Muslims must take guidance from the Qur’an and the prophets with enough seriousness to say Islam is the solution to the problems we presently face in medicine and—more summarily—the problems of the world.
Written by Nida Ahmed, Psychiatry Resident at John Peter Smith Hospital