Dr Mohammad Arif Shahar
Last updated: 12 February 2019
“Aslama (in Arabic) = he submitted;
Yuslimu = he submits;
Islaaman = submission;
Muslim = a person who submits;
Al-Islam = the religion which essentially means submission to God
Islamisation (in English) = making things Islamic”
Islamisation is a responsibility
Islamisation is not something new. A person is said to become a Muslim when he or she accepted the fact that there is no god worthy of worship except God Himself and Muhammad is the final Messenger of God. The acceptance of Islam is not merely a declaration of intent; but must be proven by action in the form of submission to the moral values, laws and act of worship prescribed by God.
Submission of oneself to God, does not only means engagement in formal worship but also encompasses activities of daily living. This is because the teachings of Islam address both the relationship between man and God (i.e. worship), as well as the relationship between fellow human (i.e. transactions, social responsibility etc.). In short, in Islam, that there are beliefs, moral values and laws prescribed for human to follow. Among the purpose of having such moral values and laws are to ensure harmony in the smallest unit of the society (i.e. the family) as well as social justice on a larger scale.
There are remarkable differences between moral values and laws. Moral values are command of God without legal consequences; usually related to the best of conduct. Among the many examples of moral values commanded in the Quran are “being good to parents and neighbours” (Quran, 2:83); “speaking to people nicely” (Quran 2;83); “forbidding turning away your face in disgust from people” (Quran, 31:18); “do not be arrogant” (Quran, 31:18); “keep your promises” (Quran, 2: 177); and “lower your gaze towards the opposite gender to preserve chastity” (Quran, 24:30-31). The laws, on the other hand, are commands where legal punishments are provisioned when Muslims transgress them. Examples are “adultery” (Quran, 30:2), “stealing” (Quran, 5:38) and “murder” (Quran, 4:92). While the moral values ensure societal harmony, the laws serves as a protection for the society from injustice and at the same time fortified the moral values. Comparing the two, moral values are inculcated very much earlier during the Prophet’s mission and laws were given much later (approximately after a decade, i.e. after Hijra) since the start of Prophethood.
The medical and healthcare profession is dignified in the sight of God. “And whoever saves one (life) – it is as if he had saved mankind” (Quran, 5:32). Preserving health and treating ailments are known good deeds across all cultures and civilisation. The practices of medicine is kept dignified by implementing certain ethical codes and moral values. Medical laws are passed to ensure patients safety and protect both society and its practitioners from misconduct. As mentioned earlier, Islam gives a set of moral values and law, exclusively by God Himself. When medical professions adopt and adapt to the moral values and laws given by God, they have underwent Islamisation.
Islamisation in medicine is a responsibility for Muslims. The relationship and parallels of the responsibility of the individual, society and medicine in Islam are depicted Figure 1. Referring to the figure, for an individual who came into Islam, his/ her first responsibility is to firmly hold the Islamic faith. He/ She also has to abide by the Islamic law. For an example abstaining from alcohol, in which consuming it is considered sinful. Subsequently, the person should work towards improving him/ herself in terms of character, personality and conduct (moral values).
On the other hand, at the society level, it would be a challenge to impose the law (e.g. forbidding the brewing, buying, selling, and implementing sanctions against alcohol) unless inculcating moral values are part of continuous education (e.g. accepting alcohol is evil) in the community. Moral values in the society ensures liveability and harmony, while law safeguards that lifestyle. By extension, societal responsibility is mandated upon all profession in the society. Medicine and healthcare which is an integral part of societal living should have moral values that influences its practices (e.g. practising with honesty and empathy, being truthful) and law that governs and ensures its safety (e.g. professionalism, privacy, autonomy, doctor-patient relationship, evidence-based medicine etc.). Note that the moral values and law governing society and medical practitioners may be applicable for both Muslims and non-Muslims due to their universal nature. As far as a Muslim individual is concern, practicing Islamic moral values and abiding to Islamic law in his/ her profession is a mandated responsibility.
Islamisation in Medicine: principles and processes
Islamisation is accepting a subject when it is in conformity; rejecting when it is contradictory to the teachings of Islam; and modifying it where applicable to follow the Islamic principles. In the medical context, Islamisation of medicine is accepting medical knowledge, practice and concepts when they are in conformity; rejecting them when they are contradictory to the teachings of Islam and modifying them where possible and appropriate to follow the Islamic principle.
Islamisation in medicine is not a move to label everything in medicine ‘Islamic’. It is also not championing what is popularly known as ‘Islamic Medicine’ or ‘Prophetic Medicine’.
Islamisation in medicine occurred during the time of the Prophet. The Prophet accepted some ways of healing which have already been a practice prior to Islam while rejecting others due to contradiction to the Islamic principles. He once said, “There is no harm in your ruqa’ (incantations) as long as they involve no polytheism” (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 29: Hadith 32). In another occasion, he rejected healing through the use of talisman because it is a manifestation of shirk (polytheism). In these circumstances, the Prophet did not introduce new methods of healing, rather, he ‘Islamise’ what already being practice by the Arabs of that time.
Essentially, Islamisation involves accepting, rejecting and modifying where appropriate the medical knowledge, practice and concepts to suit Islamic beliefs, moral values and laws (figure 2).
The field of medicine and its specialties are numerous and diverse. Areas of medicine which may require Islamisation are (1) ‘the body of knowledge’ – medical sciences which forms the basis of medical practices and concepts; (2) ‘medical practices’ – therapeutics technologies and (3) ‘medical concepts’ – ideas and policies in medicine.
Depending on appropriateness, we contextualize medical knowledge in Islamic principles; connect previous Muslims contribution to the current medical knowledge; inculcate Islamic values and integrate Islamic principles in medical knowledge; harmonize Islamic and medical knowledge; produce Islamic alternatives and research for scientific evidences and authentic sources in medical practices.
Example of Islamisation in Medicine: Obesity as a case study
The following paragraphs elaborates the issue of obesity as a case study using the Islamisation in Medicine framework.
We have come to realize that obesity has become an endemic, especially in affluent countries. Contextualizing or reflecting on the issue through the Islamic worldview, we would find that Islam has a solution for this problem.
Inculcating the Prophet dietary habits among patients, such as prohibition of gluttony (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 29: Hadith 3351), eating in moderations (Syamail Muhammadiyyah, Book 24: Hadith 140) and not eating to your fullest (Jami’ at-Thirmidhi, Book 47: Hadith 2380) are principles that prevent over-nutrition and obesity. Feeding other people rather than oneself is also inculcated in Islam (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 29: Hadith 3251), which is a strategy that may curb the obesity endemic.
In addition to that, the Quran advocate eating what is lawful and good (Quran 5:88). What is good can be understood as nutritious. By integrating the teachings from the Quran and Sunnah, we would be telling patients that it is better to eat healthy, not only for the purpose of your health, but rather a commendable act as far as religion is concern. In the above example, we are inculcating Islamic values in eating habits that would prevent and treat obesity.
Apart from that, regular fasting which is a form of calorie restriction, is also a well-known Islamic tradition. In Islam, other than the obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadan (Quran, 2:183-185), the Prophet encourages regular fasting twice a week (Jami’ at-Thirmidhi, Book 8: hadith 745) and three days in a month (Sunan an-Nasa’i, Book 22: Hadith 2411). However, the Prophet forbade fasting to the extreme (i.e. perpetual fasting); as an alternative fasting every other day, as practiced by the Prophet David is permissible (Sahih Muslim, Book 13: Hadith 1162 b).
Being active is also part of preventing and treating obesity. Interestingly, the Prophet was a physically active and fit person. He used to race against his wife, Aishah, as a form of recreation (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 15: Hadith 2678). It was also reported that the Prophet walked with a fast pace (Syamail Muhammadiyyah, Book 18: Hadith 116). Physical fitness is an important aspect of Muslims’ lives. He said, “A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer” (Sahih Muslim, Book 46: Hadith 2664). One could imagine how fit he was. He made Hijra at the age of 53; he was involved in the battle of Badr at the age of 55 and fought against the Romans in Tabuk when he was 62 years old. Advocating physical activity is part of integrating the Prophet lifestyle into the prevention of obesity.
In general, therapeutic lifestyle changes and medical therapy for the management of obesity is not against Islamic beliefs or law. It may come to a point of necessity (i.e. a matter of dharurat) to do a bariatric surgery in obese patients who have obstructive sleep apnoea in order to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death. Considering the Islamisation principles, we accept these therapeutic options. Surgery purely for aesthetic reasons among obese individuals in principle are rejected because of the prohibition of changing the creation of God in the Quran (4:117). Similarly, anti-obesity drugs which are now prohibited because of side-effects such as depression and suicide is also rejected in Islam.
Alternative remedies for weight loss would require researches and proofs that they are efficacious and safe. Even if they promote what is popularly known as ‘Prophetic food’. These are all part of the principles of Islamisation in medicine that uphold truth, honesty and denounce deceptions in therapy. It is in fact the implementation of Islamic moral values in medicine.
This how Islamisation in medicine works with regards to prevention and management of obesity. Of course the in above paragraphs, we only scratched the surface of the subject. There are much to be explored. Collaboration between Islamic scholars, medical practitioners and those with both backgrounds (i.e. Islamic studies and medicine) are needed.
Islamisation in medicine is a move to ensure Muslims medical and healthcare practitioners abide by Islamic beliefs, moral values and laws in their daily work. The benefits of Islamisation in medicine spills over to the patients and society at large. Practising medicine in accordance to Islamic principles (i.e. moral values and laws) help to ensure safe and efficacious medical treatment is delivered through the best of ethics; at the same times safeguards human life and dignity individually and collectively as a society.
Dr Mohammad Arif Shahar is the co-author of the book Islamisation in Clinical Medicine and Medical Sciences: A Teachers’ Manual (Shahar & Tahir, 2018)