Questions of Life and Death

Khutbah (sermon) given at Islamic Society of Orange County, California - Safar 15, 1426/ March 25, 2005

Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law). (Quran Al-Isra' 17:33)

Say: "Come, I will rehearse what Allah has (really) prohibited you from": join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want - We provide sustenance for you and for them - come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that you may learn wisdom. (Quran Al-An'am 6:151)

Islam considers human life sacred. Life is to be protected and promoted as much as possible. Since the Florida woman Terri Shiavo's case came in the news, there is a lot of discussion on the issue of life and death. It is important for us as Muslims to understand our position and also to prepare ourselves in case we or our dear ones confront such a situation. There are a number of important questions:

1. What is the Islamic position on euthanasia?

2. Is it permissible to prolong life artificially and at what point it is allowed for doctors to "pull the plug"?

3. In case of dispute who makes the final decision, doctors, parents, spouse, children or government? 

4. When does the death occur?

5. How important is it for us Muslims to prepare a will explaining our position in this matter?

1. Euthanasia or "Mercy Killing": There is no provision in Islam for killing oneself or another person to reduce his/her physical or emotional pain or suffering from sickness or injury. It is the duty of the doctors, patients' relatives, and the state to take care of the sick and to do their best to reduce the pain and suffering of the sick, but they are not allowed under any circumstances to kill the sick person. The sick person also should patiently endure the pain and should pray to Allah. Faith and patience bring both comfort and blessings in this life and in the eternal life. 

If, however, a number of medical experts determine that a patient is in a terminal condition, there is no hope for his/her recovery and all medications have become useless, then it is permissible for them, through a collective decision, to stop the medication. Under no condition it is permissible to induce death. As long as a person is alive, it is his/her right to be fed. Medical experts and relatives should not withhold nutrition from a living person. They should do their best to provide him/her with necessary nutrition by whatever method it is possible. 

2. Prolonging life artificially: The Shari'ah favors life and emphasizes that life should be protected as much as it is possible. According to the Quran "saving one life is like saving the whole humanity" (Quran Al-Ma'idah 5:32). Thus the Shari'ah scholars are in favor of using all methods, including artificial resuscitation to protect life. 

If a patient is placed on life support and the doctors see no improvement in the patient's health conditions, and the doctors indicate that the artificial resuscitation has become useless, then with due consideration and care and by collective decision of medical experts, family members and religious scholars, it would be permissible, to decide to switch off the life support machine and to allow the nature to take its course. 

3. In case of dispute who makes the final decision? Shari'ah would prefer a consensus and collective decision in this matter. The decision should be made with compassion and by bringing all the family members together by explaining the whole situation and consequences. It is better that courts should not interfere in this matter unless there is a suspicion that, for example, the doctor belongs to an organ transplant group or the family member is interested in the inheritance or bequeath or any one in the team is accused of professional misconduct. It is better to make error and save life rather than err and lose life.

4. When is a person dead? Muslim medical experts have defined death in the following way: An individual is considered dead in one of the following two situations:

A) Complete irreversible cessation of respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

B) Complete irreversible cessation of the functions of the brain including the brain stem.

This should be confirmed by the accepted medical standards. In case of brain death it is required to have the presence of a reliable medical specialist well experienced in the clinical diagnosis of brain and brain stem death and the various implications of such diagnosis. 

5. Preparing the will: The Prophet urged all Muslims to prepare their will. It is always good to have an Islamic will. The way the situation is changing and the increasing involvement of the governments and courts in this matter, makes it even more urgent and necessary that we carefully think how to preparer our Islamic will, not only for the distribution of inheritance, but also for our medical treatment in case of coma or other complications and also our proper Islamic burial. 

May Allah keep us on the right path and save us from difficulties in this life and in the life to come.


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Dr.Muzammil Siddiqi is a world renowned Islamic Scholar and a pioneer of several Muslim organizations in North America. He was educated at Aligarh Muslim University and Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, India and graduated from Islamic University of Medinah in Saudi Arabia in 1965 with a higher degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He received a M.A. in Theology from Birmingham University in England and Ph.D. in Comparative Religion from Harvard University in USA.

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Older Comments:
i think that alla is the only one who can take people'life , and we are just human being and have no right and we are not on charg and responsibiles for others lifes

I believe in faith, if Mercy Killing is written in someones faith, no one can avoid it. Hence I am for it.

When I said American High-handedness, its for lack of words at that time to use. Now that I've got it let me put it right..MATERIALISM is the word. Yes and its only this philosophy which unfortunately Americans including most Muslims have taken for an idol; to "worship" that we fall on to justify ending an "unproductive" life!? But by Allah's standard; which by the way the best standard..ALL living souls are sacred and MUST remain so untill He takes IT. Period.

He made us to produce the "sustaining of life" mechanism and it should be use accordingly. This is part of His tests. ARE WE READY TO STRIVE TO PASS THESE TESTS OR DOOM? The choice is ours!

I see this issue the same way as Sr Debbie and agree on the article that a person should be taken off life support when his/her situation is not improving over time but rather deteriorate. We have a duah,"O Allah/God grant me life as long as life is profitable for me, and grant me death as soon as death is profitable for me." King Husain, Yaser Arafat, eyc. were taken off life support after three days. One Muslim child in the neighbourhood, 10 years old, friend of my sons god pneumonia and his imune system collapsed causing him irreversible organs failure. His parents advised by the local Muslim cleric ordered the doctors in the hospital to take their son off the life-support after three days. The organs failure caused irreversible brain-damage in the 10 years old boy rendering him to be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Naturally he would have died in a day, not three, and that is the course of Allah. I agree, do everything possible to save maintain and possibly heal a human! But when you don't have a human, only a 'vegetable' needing artificial life support, what would be the meaning of such an 'endeavour'? Greed for life? As one brother put it, etrnal life for a Muslim or human for that matter starts with death. Let's remember the encouraging verses of Abdullah bin Rawahah, "O Soul, I swore that you will fight deliberately in battle, lest I shall force you to fight. When people assemble and shout the war cry, why do you not advance with them? Or, do you hate to enter Paradise?" Everyone of us has his/her own jihad to fight. Sometimes the battle is short and easy. Other times is long and difficult. At such times we might ask Allah to shorten it for us, if that was profitable for our soul. Insha'allah.

I agree with Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi

Allah (SWT) had made the point clear in the Quran as reported by Dr. Siddiqui. However the Dr. himself it seems, is caught up in the American democracy's high-handedness. Allah did not give any condition of when a sick person has to die (or be killed for that matter!). As long as there is medication to keep the sick alive no power on earth has any right to stop this medication for whatever reason. Allah or His prophet(SAW) are the only beings to decide on this issue. And what they said is that there is cure for all ailments, and no soul has the right to take its life. Had there been any midway Allah and his Messenger would have surmise.

From the last images we see of Terri is that she is alive, any process to put her to death will amount to a dreadful homicide punishable by death.

Allah is the most knowlegeble, the Wise.

Schiavo should've been kept alive. No one knows for sure, except Allah and herself, if she's fully conscious but lost the ability to communicate with the outside world.

The current medical science admits its shortcomings in most areas related to the brain and how it functions, especially when it comes to consciousness. Yet they readily passed judgment on her behalf and determined, without her ability to consent nor refuse, that she wouldn't be able to feel this horrific death by starvation and dehydration meted out by a convoluted (in)justic system.

She's like a baby that needs someone to take care of her. Killing her is tantamount to killing a baby because she can't feed herself.

There are many documented cases, especially one that came up recently, about people who spent decades in a comma, only to regain consciousness and start communicating with the outside world. This poor women isn't even in a comma. She's awake but no one knows what's going on inside her head.

The fact of the matter is, our knowledge about mechanism of feelings and conciousnes is very limited, and we can't just gamble on the misery of this women based on guesswork.

No-one even knows for sure how here heart suddenly stopped allegedly without a severe cause.

That whole thing is stinky fishy!



you don't need a genius to understand that killing a sick people no matter how hard their sickness is forbidden period.

you got a whole story in the Quran about a prophet of Allah called Ayyoub and how his sickness had no cure in his time. was the prophet Ayyoub allowed to kill himself? no! thanks to Allah who gave us in the Quran everything clear if we seek for it.

Islam is clear about taking the life of somebody sick, it's not allowed but in US there is no Islamic rules. there is something called democracy. the democracy doesn't believe to the rules of God but create the rules from the majority of the population. then killing sick depend on this democracy and if more than 50% of the americans agree to kill sick, their democracy impose that an American mosslim, I will always prefer the rules of God over the rules of democracy and I will be clear opposing the killing of the sick no matter whpw many are those who agree or disagree with me.

This is why Islam is my religion, it simply makes sense. Allah (SWT) decided this woman's time had come 15 years ago. By the "grace of man" if one can say it like that, she is still among us. That in my opinion is unnatural. May Allah enlighten their souls.

Life and death is in the hands of Allah.Whatever supportive systems to sustain life but fail when Allah has decreed one to die.Time of death is fixed by Allah.However the life granted to man is for preparation of hereafter and is to be respected and best lived for this purpose.It is in death that a muslim is borne to eternal life.

Jazak Allahu khair. Offhand I would say that I always feel rather relieved (and sometimes even a bit strange) when I discover that the Lord of the Worlds has willed for me to see things His way on highly controversial subjects.

Also, while this might seem a little off-topic, perhaps emphasizing the importance of offering an Islamic dowry might encourage the Muslim to consider it important to prepare an Islamic will particularly when subject to the laws of a secular state. On that note perhaps such examples might help to show (maybe even a feminist) how Islam is a complete system.