Organ donation is a gesture of generosity

Why Muslims should be donors

Organ Donation LOGOThe purpose of this article is to dispel fears and concerns of the Muslim community with regards to organ donation. I believe it is a responsibility of Muslim scholars to show that organ transplant is compatible with the teachings of Islam and encourage Muslims to register as organ donors.

In this article I want to show that organ donation is not just compatible with Islamic teachings but their fulfilment. Let’s start by understanding the nature of Islamic Shariah, the body of legal and ethical teachings, this will provide important background in understanding my argument for organ donation (What is organ did donation see the footnote below).

The Shariah is not a rigid set of rules for restricting, constraining and limiting human freedom, in fact it is flexible and ever changing body of law and ethics. It is this flexibility of Shariah that makes it capable of being fit for all times and places. Muslim jurists believe that all divine laws, have purpose and clear objectives.

“The Quranic verses and the Prophetic statements, which stipulate laws of Islam are all clearly oriented and purposeful. This is to say that the ultimate goals of the entire regulatory teachings (Al-Ahkam al-Shariyya) intellectual wisdom (Al-Hikmah al-Aqliyya) and moral values (Al-Akhlaq) of Islam are to maximise human interest (Al-Jalb al-Maslaha) and second to prevent hardship on human life (Zar al-Mafsada). Muslim scholars of jurisprudence who wrote on the objectives of the Islamic Shariah like Imam al-Shatibi and Ibn Ashura stated that on one side Shariah tries to foster human prosperity while on the other side, it aims to provide protection to humanity from all kinds of threats. Hence the Islamic Shariah ultimately aims to protect human life either through alleviation of hardship (Raf al-Haraj) or realisation of human interest (Tahqiq al-Maslahah)”[1].

Traditionally known as Maqasid as Shariah the higher objectives of Shariah, these are many, however, the five most common are:

  1. The protection of human life
  2. Dignity
  3. Freedom of religion
  4. Wealth
  5. Family

Islam believes that the achievement of these brings about happiness and prosperity.

The principles of Shariah

The two outstanding principles of Islamic Shariah are moderation and setting limits. The principle of moderation means that we avoid extremes and this is the best policy to protect human life and human interest, the whole philosophy of Halal and Haram, the lawful and unlawful in Islam is based on this principle of moderation, to protect human life and dignity from extremes, so it prohibits killing innocent lives, intoxicant, gambling, adultery, etc.

The second principle is of setting limits. This again is about preventing excesses and over indulgence by setting clear limits to human freedom, the purpose seems to be to motivate learning and understanding reasons behind the divine boundaries. In the Quran they are called Hudud (limits) that we must not transgress. The purpose of these divine laws is to restrict and bring order into the human life. It is interesting to note that the Quran after mentioning what kind of meat is permissible. The Quran teaches that if one is in dire need, life is threatened one can eat even forbidden meat. This is clear evidence of the flexibility of certain laws of Shariah.

Scientific development and discoveries over the last few decades in the field of medicine have been truly astonishing from treatment of certain cancers to infertility and prospects of stem cell repairing kits. Although science claims to be value neutral it still poses challenges to people of all faiths. This may be due to the belief that science aims for expediency, pragmatism and physical and material gains. Faith on the other hand also cares for these but emphasises spiritual, moral and social dimension of life with the aim of creating a balance between them. The moral and spiritual dimensions cannot be sacrificed at the altar of material gains.

Ahadith that are claimed to prohibit organ donation

Muslims love their Prophet (peace be upon him), we regard him as both a legislator and perfect role model. Therefore, his commands and examples are taken seriously by Muslims. The opponents of organ transplants cite this Hadith; the Prophet (peace be upon him) said; “breaking the bone of a dead person is like breaking it when he was alive” (Imam Ahmed). In another Hadith he (peace be upon him) said “do not harm the one in the grave” (Imam Ahmed).

My understanding of these Ahadith is: The Prophet (peace be upon him) is teaching the sanctity of the dead body and that this must not be violated, and he is condemning the mutilation of dead bodies, which was a pagan practice of the Arabs particularly in the battlefield. As mentioned in another Hadith, “the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) prohibited looting and disfiguring dead bodies” (Bukhari). So these teachings are about respecting the dead body, and expressing human dignity. They do not constitute evidence against organ transplant. Take the example of corneal transplant where a cornea from the dead is used for the person who otherwise would be blind, is this not giving dignity to another person? Restoring eyesight of a blind person is no less than giving them self dignity and ability to enjoy Allah’s creation.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Allah has created the illness and the cure, therefore seek the cures”, narrated by Anas in Musnad Ahmed. This Hadith tells us that it is our duty to search for new treatments and forms of cure.

The second objection to organ donation

The objectors to organ donation also argue that “people are not the owners of their body“. Therefore, they have no right to donate it. This can be answered in various ways. For example, Allah said, “Allah has indeed bought the lives and the wealth of believers in exchange for paradise” (Tawba: 111). This verse tells us that man does have the ownership of his body and is accountable for it, so he can make donation for betterment of others.

Finally, I would like to clarify that the reliability and accuracy of a fatwa, an Islamic juristic opinion, depends on four things:

  1. The time
  2. The place
  3. The people
  4. The circumstances

Simply translated, this means that a fatwa on a specialist subject like organ donation requires the Mufti, the jurists to understand modern healthcare, epidemiology, and the need of the people. In the light of the above opinions of Muslim scholars, we can discern that British Muslims living in the limelight of media and Islamophobic environment must behave impeccably and morally in the best way and take part in promoting the common good.

The most oft repeated name of God in the Quran is Rahman and Rahim, the most Kind, the most Caring as though demanding from Muslims that they too should be kind, caring and loving towards humanity and particularly towards the sick and the needy in order to alleviate their suffering. Take the example of a patient on dialysis who needs a kidney transplant, kidney transplant would transform the quality of his or her life, in fact it would give him or her a new life. Isn’t this what the Quran teaches “whoever saves a single live it is as though he has saved entire humanity” (Al maeda: 32) [2].

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When you visit a sick person, nurture his hope in life. This could be a source of relief for him“. The purpose of medicine is to safeguard and to restore health of patients, the purpose of organ transplants is to save life.

Councils of Muslim scholars that accept permissibility of organ transplants

Most Muslim countries have a National Council of Scholars that present Islamic viewpoints on many contemporary issues, many of the national councils have accepted the permissibility of organ transplants. Al Azhar Academy of Egypt, the Jordanian Council of scholars, some scholars from Pakistan like Maulana Muhammad Hussain Naeemi and the Iranian Council of Shia scholars, Islamic Fiqh Council of Jeddah, the European Council for Fatwa and Research, the UK Shariah Council, the National fatwa Council of Malaysia, the Islamic medical Association of North America, the Islamic and religious Council of Singapore and the Fatwa committee of  Kuwait.

The Al Azhar Academy said in a fatwa, “in light of these clarifications we declare it is permissible to take organs from the dead body as the jurists have given permission to remove the foetus from its dead mothers. Furthermore, according to the principle, “Necessity makes unlawful lawful”, the fact that organ donation saves lives and give the recipient of good quality of life for many years demonstrates that it is a necessity for the ill read organ. The other principal states “lesser of the two harms.” Obviously death is worse and a more serious problem than organ donation and therefore this is sufficient reason to make it permissible. The third principle is “a smaller benefit can be sacrificed for gaining a bigger benefit”.

Professor Tariq Ramadan has succinctly summarised this state of affairs as follows; “the answers have been developed and have grown more detailed over the past 20 years, leading to more precise vision of Islamic ethics, it clearly comes out that:

  1. The criteria for determining brain death are fixed by physicians on the basis of current knowledge about the subject.
  2. Donating all organs (except for the genitals) has been considered lawful regardless social status or religion of the donor recipient.
  3. Any trading is rejected as a rule, buying or selling organs being declared unlawful.

These are the general principles that have been decreed about blood donation and organ transplantation, there is no major disagreement among Fuqaha (the Jurists) positions” [3].

Conclusion

From an Islamic perspective the case for donating organs is stronger than the case for not doing so. In essence Islamic teachings are in harmony with science. Knowledge is one, whether revealed or discovered, scientific advances are therefore welcome but as with all knowledge it can be used for good or evil, the spiritual maturity with which individuals and society use the new technologies is therefore critical, religion gives knowledge that helps in making right decisions. This purpose is ultimately not limited by this earthly period it prepares the believer for eternal life, which holds the key to understanding the purpose and meaning of life. Muslims believe in the spiritual creation of life, which invests it with inviolable dignity and sanctity. On the other hand, we also believe in the right of a sick person to be given opportunity to improve his or her quality of life by organ donation. Now that organ transplant is a relatively successful medical procedure and adds enormously to the quality of life of sick people we should accept it just as you would be willing to receive an organ if you were ill.


Footnotes

What is organ donation?

Organ donation happens when organs are taken from dead or living people and given to others whose lives are severely affected by a failed organ. Organs that would otherwise go to waste when a person has died can be given to seriously ill people to dramatically improved and save their lives. It is a generous act. The most commonly donated organs are the kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and small bowel.

How are organs removed from the donor’s body?

There are two types of donation depending on how death is confirmed. If death is confirmed by brainstem death tests and organs are donated this is called “donation following brain death.” There are very clear and strict standards and procedures doing brainstem death test and they are always performed by two experienced doctors, one of whom will be a consultant. Brainstem death is usually caused by a brain haemorrhage, severe head injury or/in this case patients are usually being cared for in intensive care and are on a ventilator, which provides oxygen he belongs looking to keep help ensure enough oxygen reaches the organs after death. Death is confirmed by doctors who are entirely independent of the transplant team and is done in exactly the same way for people to donate organs as for those not.

The other type of organ donation is donation following the circulatory death. This type of organ donation is considered patients who are expected to die despite medical treatment but it is only after the heart has stopped beating (taken from organ and tissue donation published by NHS).

[1]  (Syed Zahir Idid; Foundations of Islamic anti-drug abuse education in American Journal of Islamic social sciences, Volume 29, Number 2).

[2] Saving the life of any human being, no distinction between a Muslim and non-Muslim, so giving organs for use by any in need of it irrespective of faith. Just like receiving organs from non-Muslims is permissible so is giving.

[3] Tariq Ramadan 2009, Radical Reform, Islamic ethics and liberation. Oxford University press