Muslim beliefs about illness and health practices
To identify some of the areas in Health programs which may cause confusion or discomfort for Muslim students, the following information has been collated. This is not an exhaustive list. It is hoped that through presenting this information about Muslim beliefs in relation to health issues that staff will gain further understanding and be able to better anticipate and understand the reactions of Muslim students if these topics are discussed.
How do Muslims view illness?
Muslims receive illness and death with patience and prayers. They consider an illness as atonement for their sins. They consider death as a part of a journey to meet God. However, they are strongly encouraged to seek medical treatment when required.
What are some Islamic health practices?
Cleanliness is considered 'half of the faith'. The Qur'an prohibits eating pork or pork products, meat of animals who have not been slaughtered in the halal manner, blood and all intoxicants. Fasting from dawn to dusk daily for one month per year brings rest to the body and has many medical values. Meditation and prayers bring psychological tranquillity.
What are some additional Islamic health practices?
- Regard for sanctity of life is an injunction
- Circumcision of male infants is recommended. Circumcision occurs early in life, but at no particular age. The practice varies culture to culture. Female circumcision is not an Islamic practice.
- Blood transfusions are allowed after proper screening
- Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not permitted
- Autopsy is not permitted unless required by law
- Maintaining a terminal patient on artificial life support for a prolonged period of time in a vegetative state is not encouraged
- Abortion is not permitted except to save the mother's life. Miscarriages due to biomedical factors are not considered abortions as these occur without human interference. If it is reliably established that the continuation of a pregnancy will result in the death of the mother then an abortion is allowable. The mother's life takes precedence over the unborn baby because the mother is already established in life with duties and responsibilities.
- Transplantation is allowed in general with some restrictions.
- Artificial reproductive technology is permitted between husband and wife only during the span of intact marriage.
- While Islam opposes homosexuality, it does not prohibit Muslim physicians from caring for homosexual patients.
- Genetic engineering to cure disease is acceptable but not cloning. Applications such as diagnosis, amelioration, cure or prevention of genetic disease are acceptable and commendable. The main concerns about genetic engineering are concerns about where this could lead in the future.
- According to the Qur'an mothers feed their babies for a period of two years.
Health care and Muslim patients
What can health care providers do for their Muslim patients?
- Respect their modesty and privacy. Some examinations can be done over a gown.
- Provide halal foods.
- Allow them to pray and to read the Qur'an.
- Take time to explain tests, procedures and treatment.
- Do not insist on autopsy or organ donation.
- Always examine a female patient in the presence of another female.
- Allow the family and Imam to follow Islamic guidelines for preparing a dead body for an Islamic funeral.
- Provide a same sex health care worker where possible.
- Try to ensure there is no male in the delivery room except the husband. A male doctor may attend to a female Muslim patient if there is no female doctor available or in the case of emergency.
- In the case of a male patient it is best for him to be treated by a male doctor, but where no male doctor is available or there is an emergency situation, it is acceptable for a female doctor to provide treatment.
Death, the afterlife, creationism and evolution
What are the practices around death?
In Islam there are no complicated or elaborate rites performed when a person is dying. When a Muslim is close to death, he or she is encouraged to utter the declaration of faith, 'there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.' It is also common for someone present to recite verses of the Qur'an and pray for the peaceful departure of the soul.
Burial of a body should take place as soon as possible; it is best if this can happen within 24 hours after death. The person is expected to be buried in the town / city where they died. Cremation is generally prohibited.
Muslims have great concerns about post mortems unless there is a valid reason. This is because even in death, a person's body must be handled with respect and care. Post mortems are regarded as violent and intrusive.
What do Muslims believe about the afterlife?
Like Christianity, Islam teaches the continued existence of the soul and a transformed physical existence after death. Muslims believe there will be a day of judgement when all human beings will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.
What do Muslims believe about creationism and evolution?
Muslims believe that the universe and everything in it was created by a power other than itself, namely God. When Muslims say that God created the universe they do not say how this creation occurred or how long it took. For Muslims there is no contradiction between the idea of God creating the universe and the possibility of it evolving over billions of years. Muslims also believe God created human beings at some point in time. They do not say when this happened.
What responsibilities do children have for their parents?
Children have a responsibility to look after their parents. Neglecting them is considered a serious sin in Islam.
How do Muslims regard family planning?
Generally most Muslims will have no objections to family planning. Various family planning methods are widely used.
How do Muslims regard domestic violence?
Islam condemns domestic violence in the strongest terms. Islam teaches that the relationship between husband and wife should be based on mutuality, cooperation and love.
Information for Health Care Providers When Dealing with a Muslim Patient
Shahid Athar, M.D.
Chair Medical Ethics Medical Committee
Islamic Medical Association of North America.
Muslim Australians: their Beliefs, Practices and Institutions
Professor Abdullah Saeed
DIMIA and Australian Multicultural Foundation in association with University of Melbourne 2004
The Afterlife in Islam
Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice
University of Queensland.