Response to Stephen Schwartz’ article Scientific Training and Radical Islam

Abdul Cader Asmal MD PhD FRCP

Posted Mar 5, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Response to Stephen Schwartz’ article Scientific Training and Radical Islam

by Abdul Cader Asmal MD PhD FRCP ( London)

The quasi-academic article entitled,’ Scientific Training and Radical Islam’, by Stephen Schwartz, represents yet another pathetic attempt to link Muslim extremism this time with the Muslim medical profession. Amid all the hogwash he has been able to muster the only item of relevance is that a group of doctors with a Muslim background plotted to terrorize the airport in Glasgow. Thanks to God’s mercy their abominable plans, a disgrace not only to the Muslim community, the entire medical profession but the world at large were thwarted. The fact that physicians who happened to be Muslims had planned to conduct such a heinous crime contrary to their religious principles and educational ethics is a sad chapter in human history - a history replete with examples of man’s inhumanity to man, especially by those in whom the society places its ultimate trust. It did not begin with the Christian Nazi doctors conducting the most inhumane experimentation on hapless Jews; nor did it end with Jewish Dr Baruch Goldstein slaughtering Muslims at prayer, but was callously observed by the peoples of the world as orthodox Christian Dr Radovan Karadzic orchestrated the rape, massacre,  mutilation and ethnic cleansing of hundred of thousands of Muslim Bosnians in the heart of ‘civilized’ Europe. When it comes to crimes against humanity no single nation or religion has a monopoly - and doctors from no religion or nation are immune from such barbaric aberrations.

For the record the ethics for Muslim physicians are clearly stated in a statement made in 1981 ( Islamic Code of Medical Ethics : Kuwait : International Organisation of Islamic Medicine,1981) and set the highest standard of medical care

Islamic Code of Medical Ethics

    1. Definiton of the Medical Profession

“THERAPEUSIS” is a noble Profession God honoured it by making it the miracle of Jesus son of Mary. Abraham enumerating his Lord’s gifts upon him included “and if I fall ill He cures me”.

Like all aspects of knowledge, medical knowledge is part of the knowledge of God’ ‘who taught man what man never knew”. The study of Medicine entails the revealing of God’s signs in His creation”. And in yourselves do you not see’? The practice of Medicine brings God’s mercy unto His subjects. Medical practice is therefore an act of worship and charity on top of being a career to make a living. But God’s mercy is as accessible to all people including good and evil, virtuous and vicious and friend and foe as are the rays of His sun, the comfort of His breeze, the coolness of His water and the bounty of His provision. And upon this basis must the medical profession operate, along the single track of God’s mercy, never adversive and never punitive, never taking justice as its goal but mercy, under whatever situations and circumstances. In this respect the medical profession is unique. It shall never yield to social pressures motivated by enmity or feud be it personal, political or military. Enlightened statesmanship will do good by preserving the integrity of the medical profession and protecting its position beyond enmity or hostility.

The provision of medical practice is a religious dictate upon the community, ‘Fardh Kifaya’, that can be satisfied on behalf of the community by some citizens taking up medicine. It is the duty of the state to ensure the needs of the nation to doctors in the various needed specialties. In Islam, this is a duty that the ruler owes the nation. Need may arise to import from afar such medical expertise that is not locally available. It is the duty of the State to satisfy this need. It also behoves the State to recruit suitable candidates from the nation’s youth to be trained as doctors. An ensuing duty therefore is to establish relevant schools, faculties, clinics, hospitals and institutions that are adequately equipped and manned to fulfill that purpose. ‘Medicine’, is a religious necessity for society. In religious terms, whatever is necessary to satisfy that “necessity” automatically acquires the status of a , ‘necessity’, Exceptions shall therefore be made from certain general rules of jurisprudence for the sake of making medical education possible. One such example is the intimate inspection of the human body whether alive or dead, without in any way compromising the respect befitting the human body in life and death, and always in a climate of piety and awareness of the presence of God. The preservation of man’s life should embrace also the utmost regard to his dignity, feelings, tenderness and the privacy of his sentiments and body parts. A patient is entitled to full attention, care and feeling of security while with his doctor. The doctor’s privilege of being exempted from some general rules is only coupled with more responsibility and duty that he should carry out in conscientiousness and excellence in observing God. Excellence that entails that you worship God as if you see Him. For even though you don’t see Him, He sees you: Al-Ghazali considered the profession of medicine as (fardh - Kifaya), a duty on society that some of its members can carry in lieu of the whole. This is natural since the need of health is a primary need and not a anything in life remains enjoyable. That it is permissible for the purpose of treatment to look at hidden and private parts of the body, derives from the rule of jurisprudence ‘necessities override prohibitions’ and complies with the Quranic excuse when “compelled to do something but without ill- intention”. Since the early days of Islam the Lady- Healer’s corps joined the Prophet’s army to battle caring for the casualties and dressing their wounds on whatever part of the body. This provoked no dispute or divergence of opinion. To import medical expertise and to treat Muslims by non-Muslim physicians should be decided only by the condition of the patient and the capability of the doctor.

Since an early time the Muslim State employed Christian doctors from Jundishapur and treated them Very generously. In this context it is also worthy remembering that the Prophet’s guide on the journey of Hijra was Abdullah Ibn Uraikit, a non-Muslim, chosen by the Prophet on account.

  2.Characters of the Physician

The physician should be amongst those who believe in God, fulfil His rights, are aware of His greatness, obedient to His orders, refraining from His prohibitions, and observing Him in secret and in public.

The physician should be endowed with wisdom and graceful admonition. He should be cheering not dispiriting, smiling and not frowning, loving and not hateful, tolerant and not edgy. He should never succumb to a grudge or fall short of clemency. He should be an instrument of God’s justice, forgiveness and not punishment, coverage and not exposure. He should be so tranquil as never to be rash even when he is right…. chaste of words even when joking. .tame of voice and not noisy or loud, neat and trim and not shabby or unkempt. .conducive of trust and inspiring of respect. .well mannered in his dealings with the poor or rich, modest or great. .in perfect control of his composure. .and never compromising his dignity, however modest and forebearing. The physician should firmly know that ‘life’ is God’s awarded only by Him and that ‘Death’ is the conclusion of one life and the beginning of another. Death is a solid truth. .and it is the end of all but God. In his profession the Physician is a soldier for “Life” only defending and preserving it as best as it can be, to the best of his ability.The Physician should offer the good example by caring for his own health. It is not befitting for him that his “do’s” and don’ts, are not observed primarily by himself. He should not turn his back on the lessons of medical progress, because he will never convince his patients unless they see the evidence of his own conviction. .God adresses us in the Qoran by saying’, and make not your own hands throw you into destruction. Prophet says “your body has a right on you and the known dictum is no harm or harming in Islam”.

The Physician is truthful whenever he speaks, writes or gives testimony. He should be invincible to the dictates of creed, greed, friendship or authority pressurizing him to make a statement or testimony that he knows is false. Testimony is a grave responsibility in Islam. The Prophet once asked his companions “shall I tell you about the gravest sins?” When they said yes he said “claiming partners with God, being undutiful to one’s parents” and after a short pausel he repeatedly said’ , and indeed the giving of false talk or false testimony”.

The Physician should be in possession of a threshold knowledge of jurisprudence, worship and essentials of Fiqh enabling him to give counsel to patient seeking his guidance about health and bodily conditions with a bearing on th rites of worship. Men and women are subject to symptoms, ailments or physiological situations like pregnancy, and would wish to know the religious ruljng pertaining to prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, family planning etc.

Although ‘necessity overrides prohibition’, the Muslim Physician nevertheless should spare no effort in avoiding the recourse to medicines or ways of therapy be they surgical, medical or behavioural that are prohibited by Islam. The role of Physician is that of a catalyst through whom God, the Creator, works to preserve life and health. He is merely an instrument of God in alleviating people’s illness. For being so designated the Physician should be grateful and forever seeking God’s help. He should be modest, free from arrogance and pride and never fall into boasting or hint at self glorification through speech, writing or direct or subtle advertisement. ”
The Physician should strive to keep abreast of scientific progress and innovation. His zeal or complacency and knowledge or ignorance, directly bear on the health and well -being of his patients. Responsibility for others should limit his freedom to expend his time. As the poor and needy have a recognized right in the money of the capable, so the patients own a share of the Doctor’s time spent in study and in following the progress of medicine. The Physician should also know that the pursuit of knowledge has a double indication in Islam. Apart from the applied therapeutic aspect, pursuit of knowledge is in itself worship, according to the Quranic guidance And say.. My Lord.. advance me in knowledge “and : “Among His worshippers the learned fear Him most” and : God will raise up the ranks of those of you who believed and those who have been given knowledge. “

  3.Doctors duty in War Time

Since the earliest battles of Islam it was decreed that the wounded is protected by his wound and the captive by his captivity. The faithful are praised in the Quran as: “they offer food dear as it is to the needy, orphan or captive, (saying) we feed you for the sake of God without seeking any reward or gratitude from you’. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to his companions: “I entrust the captives to your charity” and they did even giving them priority over themselves in the best of the food they shared. It is of interest to note that this ‘as thirteen centuries prior to the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross. Whatever the feelings of the Doctor and wherever they lie, he shall stick to the one and only duty of protecting life and treating ailment or casualty. Whatever the behaviour of the enemy, the Muslim Doctor shall not change the course for each side reflects his own code of behaviour. God made it clear in the Quran: “Let not the wrong doing of others sway you into injustice”. As part of the international medical family, Muslim Doctors should lend all support on a global scale to protect and support this one-track noble course of the medical profession for it is a blessing to all humanity if this humanitarian role is abided with on both sides of the battle front.

The Medical Profession shall not permit its technical, scientific or other resources to be utilized in any sort of irm or destruction or infliction upon an of physical, psychological, moral or her damage regardless of all political military considerations. The doings of the Doctor shall be unidirectional aiming at the offering of
treatment and cure to ally and enemy, be is at the personal or general level.

  4. The Sanctity of Human Life

* “On that account we decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a human soul for other than manslaughter or corruption in the land, it shall be as if he killed all mankind, and who-so-ever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of all mankind”. 5-32.

* Human Life is sacred and should not be wilfully taken except upon the indications specified in Islamic Jurisprudence, all of which are outside the domain of the Medical Profession. * A Doctor shall not take away life even when motivated by mercy. This is prohibited because this is not one of the legitimate indications for killing. Direct guidance in this respect is given by the Prophet’s tradition: “In old times there was a man with an ailment that taxed his endurance. He cut his wrist with a knife and bled to death. God was displeased and said “My subject hastened his end I deny him paradise”.

“Mercy killing like suicide finds no support except in the atheistic way of thinking that believes that our life on this earth is followed by void. If this is sound thinking, it would have been reasonable for almost all of the human race to commit suicide and get rid’ of the difficulties of life for indeed hardly a life is devoid of difficulty or pain. The claim of killing for painful hopeless illness is also refuted, for there is no human pain that cannot be conquered by medication or by suitable neurosurgery. Another category is killing to obviate the miseries presumably ensuing upon deformity. If this earns acceptance, then it will not be long until claims are made to kill the aged and unproductive members of society as a measure of combating the sequelae of population growth beyond available resources”.

* The sanctity of human Life covers all its stages including intrauterine life of the embryo and fetus. This shall not be compromised by the Doctor save for the absolute medical necessity recognised by Islamic Jurisprudence.  “This is completely in harmony with modem medical science which lately has embraced a new speciality called Fetal Medicine striving to diagnose and treat affliction of the fetus in utero, and devise an artificial placenta to sustain fetuses aborted before viability.  Modern permissive abortion policies are not sanctioned by Islam, which accords several rights to the fetus. There is a money ransom on abortion in Islam. A fetus has rights of inheritance and if aborted alive and dies it is inherited by its legal heirs. If a pregnant woman is sentenced to death for a crime, execution is postponed until she delivers and nurses the baby even if that pregnancy was illegitimate. The basic right to life of the fetus is therefore self evident”.

* In his defence of Life, however, the Doctor is well advised to realize his limit and not transgress it. If it is scientifically certain that life cannot be restored, then it is futile to diligently keep on the vegetative state of the patient by heroic means of animation or preserve him by deep-freezing or other artificial methods. It is the process of life that the Doctor aims to maintain and not the process of dying. In any case, the Doctor shall not take a positive measure to terminate the patient’s life.

* To declare a person dead is a grave responsibility that ultimately rests with the Doctor. He shall appreciate the seriousness of his verdict and pass it in all honesty and only when sure of it. He may dispel any trace of doubt by seeking counsel and resorting to modern scientific gear.

  5. The Oath of the doctor

I swear by God ...The Great
To regard God in carrying out my profession
To protect human life in all stages and under all circumstances,doing my utmost to rescue it from death, malady, pain and anxiety. .
To keep peoples’ dignity, cover their privacies and lock up their secrets ...
To be, all the way, an instrument of God’s mercy, extending my medical care to near and far, virtuous and sinner and friend and enemy.
To strive in the pursuit of knowledge and. harnessing it for the benefit but not the harm of Mankind.
To rever my teacher, teach my junior, and be brother to members of the Medical Profession .joined in piety and charity.
To live my Faith in private and in public, avoiding whatever blemishes me in the eyes of God, His apostle and my fellow Faithful.
And may God be witness to this Oath.”

This then is the Islamic code of medical ethics based on an all-pervasive God-consciouness and His infinite Mercy. It bears no relevance to the verbiage concocted by Mr Schwartz. In this context I was always under the impression that the term ‘Islamist was one of disparagement. However, when Mr Schwartz uses it to describe two outstanding American physician brothers, Hassan and Maher Hathout, who as Muslim activists have displayed an unrelenting role in exposing xenophobes, it is an invitation for more of the ‘so-called ‘moderate Muslims’ to aspire to become genuine ‘Islamists’.


Wikipedia article on Islamic Medicine and the contributions of Muslim doctors