Islam and Biomedicine Seminar Series: Abstracts

Dr. Mehrunisha Suleman - Muslim Values and End of Life Healthcare Decision-Making: Values, Norms, and Ontologies in Conflict?

Abstract: Every community has its own religio-cultural understanding of death, its rites, rituals and beliefs. For Muslims, nearing the end of life is considered a transition period before entering another, everlasting, life. Illness and disease, within an Islamic framework, are often believed to be manifestations of suffering incurred by believers as a means of spiritual cleansing or of elevating the devotee. Muslim beliefs, processes and practices in relation to death, dying and remembrance reveal a deep commitment to a metaphysical reality independent of empirical knowledge.
         By contrast, empirical methods such as randomized controlled trials, metanalyses and the establishment of evidenced based medicine predominate as the sciences and tools of knowing and practicing within biomedicine. The latter tools also offer understandings of illness, disease, life and death, and these are employed within modern healthcare systems, like the NHS, for education, training and research, where patients and practitioners alike are expected to employ or rely on an epistemological framework that is largely empirical.
          Through an empirical study of the experiences, practices and moral deliberations of healthcare users and providers, end of life care offers an acute lens through which the juxtaposition of Islam and biomedicine can be researched.  This paper will offer a summary of a qualitative study carried out involving 40+ interviews with Muslim patients and families as well as doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, chaplains and community faith leaders. Themes include deliberations around biomedical technologies including artificial ventilation and nutrition and values such as hope and acceptance.
          The study shows that Islam, its texts and lived practice, finds growing importance within the UK end of life care discourse as there is an increasing Muslim population and burgeoning interest in the role of faith and spirituality in healthcare decision making. It also indicates that patients and practitioners alike rely on multiple moral sources to make decisions and face moral anxiety and frustration when these different moral sources are in conflict. An ethical analysis of such tensions will be presented with an evaluation of the normative implications for both biomedicine and Islam.

Dr. Aasim I. Padela - Maqasid and Biomedicine

Abstract: This paper describes the utility of maqasid-based approaches for biomedicine. Specifically, it will explore basic questions concerning human health through the lens of the maqasid formulae of al-Shatibi and Jamal al-Din al-‘Atiyah and relate them to contemporary notions of the social determinants of health. It will also outline how a maqasid-based approach may assist in developing health policy by outlining how a health-action agenda that intervenes upon the leading causes of human mortality can emerge from a moral objective of the Islamic tradition, namely the preservation of life.

Dr. Asim Yusuf - ‘The Mad, the Sad, the Bad and the Glad’: Towards an Islamic Conception of Mental Illness and Wellbeing, Vice and Virtue

Abstract: At the nexus of philosophy, medicine, religion and law/ethics lies the question: what is the human? Perhaps nowhere is this issue more pointed than in the understanding of mental distress and dysfunction.  In this seminar, Shaykh Asim Yusuf discusses this central question in terms of the relationship between mental wellness, distress and ethics, as well as exploring into how the religious position on the nature of the human soul can provide insights into management of mental illness in terms of a holistic bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model.  He also examines how notions of function and dysfunction are explicable in relation to ultimate purpose and meaning.

Mufti Kamaluddin Ahmed - Biomedicine at the Intersection of Islamic Theology, Law, and Spirituality: The Hard Cases of Inception and End of Life

Abstract: Muslim scholars while identifying the Quran and Prophetic reports (ḥadīth) as the ultimate truth have also pragmatically assessed the implications of scriptural knowledge in relation to local, temporal, cultural, and societal contexts.  Two significant paradigms that continue to inform the interpretive epistemology of Muslim scholars are ʿaql and ʿurf. ʿAql may be understood as human reason, specifically a rational understanding of empirical reality.  ʿUrf refers to the prevailing customs and practices between and amongst individuals and groups that collectively constitute social reality.
This essay will examine to what extent the theories and foundational principles (uṣūl) of the interrelated fields of theology (kalām), law (fiqh), and ethically virtuous spirituality (tazkiyah) when combined with these external factors of ʿaql and ʿurf can provide a robust epistemology for Muslim scholars’ understanding rapid developments in science and technology. As a case study, I examine the understanding of life and humanity in Islamic theology, law and spirituality and its interaction with the understanding of life and humanity that emerges from modern science.

Professor Peter Pormann - Medical Epistemology in Arabic Discourse: Views from the Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms

Abstract: The Hippocratic Aphorisms enjoyed enormous popularity in the Arabo-Islamic medical tradition: physicians and the general public learnt them by heart; whole disciplines were defined by them; they stand at the beginning of many nosological concepts (as the case of melancholy illustrates); and they offer many sophisticated discussions of questions of medical epistemology. Because these Aphorisms were pithy sayings that are sometimes quite obscure or succinct, they elicited a large amount of exegesis. A case in point is the very first aphorisms, which states that ‘experience is treacherous and decision difficult’. It spawned a significant amount of debate about the nature of ‘experience’ and how to use it in order to establish medical knowledge, as Franz Rosenthal has already argued some fifty years ago in a seminal article.
          Recently, the whole commentary tradition has been made available in preliminary electronic editions (see Pormann, Karimullah 2017). The present talk will focus on a number of examples for various problems of medical epistemology as they are discussed in this exegetical corpus. Examples will include more theoretical discussions about the nature of medical knowledge and practical ones about the efficaciousness of certain drugs or therapeutical processes. This will show that far from being a stagnant body of knowledge, the Arabic  commentaries on the Aphorisms are a locus of intense intellectual debate and medical innovation.

Professor Ayman Shabana - Legal Construction of Science in Light of Islamic Bioethical Discourses on Genetic and Reproductive Technologies

Abstract: Various applications of new genetics and reproductive technologies have inspired solutions to hitherto impossible medical problems. Despite their impressive achievements, however, these new technologies raise serious concerns over their potential impact on family life. Muslim responses to these concerns reveal a sober realization that such technological breakthroughs pose significant challenges to various aspects of the inherited Islamic normative tradition. Chief among these challenges is evaluating the role of science in the process of theological assessment. While the role of science in these biomedical discourses is presumed and even taken for granted, most Muslims would still defer to their religious authority on these new issues. This in turn raises a number of important questions. To what extent does science, as an alternative body of positive knowledge that does not recognize religious or metaphysical assumptions, play a role in Islamic biomedical discourses? How can this role be characterized? To what extent does science aid or challenge the normative authority of the shari‘a itself? This presentation investigates such questions by examining Islamic theological responses to some illustrative applications of genetic and reproductive technologies in case studies of individual as well as collective fatwas. It argues that the general tendency in theological and metaphysical debates in Islam appear to lean more towards accommodating rather than challenging or even denying the authority of modern science.

Professor Ahmed Ragab - Prophetic Medicine: Medical Piety in the Medieval and Modern Islamicate Societies

Abstract: Since the ninth century and until today, prophetic medicine played a significant role in how pious Muslim patients and medical practitioners dealt with medical knowledge and constructed views about their bodies in health and disease. Moreover, prophetic medicine, which is formed of a body of traditions and anecdotes attributed to the prophet and his companions, continued to influence how pious Muslim patients and physicians dealt with one another and how they understood and dealt with a variety of ethical questions. This talk looks at prophetic medicine as a living tradition and explores how this tradition impacts medical knowledge and practice among Muslims.