Medical Advice on Fasting: Does My Doctor Have to Be Muslim?

12 May, 2019
Q As-salamu `alaykum. Who is the doctor whose judgment (or decision) is to be followed concerning an ill person’s breaking fast in Ramadan?

Answer

Wa `alaykum as-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.


In this fatwa:

1- A sick person should follow the judgment of a doctor who is Muslim, well-versed, and trustworthy with regard to breaking fast or performing prayer while sitting.

2- Jurists have different views with regard to accepting the judgment of a well-versed, trustworthy doctor who is not Muslim. The preponderant view in this regard is that such a doctor’s judgment is acceptable and it is not stipulated that the doctor should be Muslim.


In his response to this question, Dr. Husam Al-Din Ibn Musa `Afana, Professor of Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Quds University, Palestine, states:

In principle, a doctor whose judgment is to be legally accepted if he or she says that a certain patient is to break the fast in Ramadan is a doctor who is Muslim, trustworthy, and well-versed in medicine.

Likewise, if such a doctor says that the patient is not to use water because of the illness, it is permissible for him or her to perform tayammum (dry ablution).

The same ruling applies if the doctor states that the patient is to perform (even) obligatory prayers while sitting. This is to be applied in (any) similar cases as well.

A group of jurists maintain that, in addition to being well-versed, this doctor must be Muslim, as a condition. Therefore, the judgment of a non-Muslim doctor is not acceptable.

Imam An-Nawawi observes:

“Our companions (i.e., fellow jurists of the same school of jurisprudence) say: It is permissible that an ill person performs tayammum if he is well aware of the requirements with which he can do this legally; otherwise he should depend on the judgment of a Muslim, well-versed, mature, and legally reliable doctor. If the doctor does not meet these requirements, it is not permissible to follow his judgment” (Al-Majmu` 2/286)

Sheikh Al-Bahwati Al-Hanbali says, “(What is to be acceptable in this connection is) the judgment of a person who is known as a Muslim, well-versed, reliable, and trustworthy doctor. Therefore, the judgment of a disbeliever or a dissolute person is not to be accepted. These stipulations are required here just as they are required in other religious matters. Thus, if such a well-versed doctor says to an ill person ‘If you perform prayer while lying, you will be medicated (properly),’ this ill person can follow his judgment and perform prayer while lying, even if he is able to stand.” (Kashshaf Al-Qina` `ala Matn Al-Iqna`)

Still, some jurists view that it is permissible to accept the judgment of a non-Muslim doctor if he or she is well-versed in medicine. This is the preponderant juristic view concerning this matter. Actually, it makes things easy for people, especially in our countries where many people are medicated by non-Muslim doctors. Accordingly, if the doctor in question is non-Muslim yet he or she is well-versed and experienced in that specialization, it is permissible to apply his or her judgment as regards the cases of breaking fast in Ramadan as well as in other cases.

Sheikh Ibn Muflih Al-Hanbali states: “Sheikh Taqi Ad-Din — i.e., Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah says, “If a Jew or a Christian is experienced in medication and trustworthy, it is permissible to be medicated by him just as it is permissible to entrust him with property and to deal with him (in other affairs).” Almighty Allah says, “Among the People of the Scripture there is he who, if thou trust him with a weight of treasure, will return it to thee. And among them there is he who, if thou trust him with a piece of gold, will not return it to thee unless thou keep standing over him.” (Aal-`Imran 3:75)

It has been authentically reported that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) emigrated, he hired a polytheist man as a guide because he was experienced in guiding. The Prophet trusted him as regards his life and his property. Moreover, (the tribe of) Khuza`ah was an ally of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he used to trust them, both the Muslims and the non-Muslims among them.

It has also been reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered (a man) to go and receive medication from Al-Harith ibn Kildah, who was a disbeliever. Yet if Muslims can be medicated by a Muslim, they should not leave the Muslim (for a non-Muslim), just as they are to do so when they can trust a Muslim (with their life or property, for example). If however they need to entrust a kitabi (any of the People of the Scripture; Jews and Christians) with something or to be medicated by him or her, they can do so, as long as this is not included in the forbidden walayah (taking them as supporters, helpers, etc.)

Important still, it will be good if the Muslims speak with such kitabi in a way that is better, for Almighty Allah says, “And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong.” (Al-`Ankabut 29:46) (Al-Adaab Ash-Shar`iyyah 2/441-442)

The hadith which speaks about the Prophet’s Hijrah (to Madinah) and to which Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah referred, was reported by Imam Al-Bukhari on the authority of `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) the wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). She said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and Abu Bakr hired a man from the tribe of Banu Ad-Dayl as an expert guide, and he adopted the religion of the disbelievers of the Quraysh. They gave him their two she-camels and took his promise to bring their two she-camels to the cave of the mountain of Thawr in the morning three nights later.

Commenting on hiring a polytheist in the Hijrah, the prominent scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim says, “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) hired `Abdullah ibn Urayqit Ad-Dayli, who was a disbeliever, as a guide at the time of Hijrah. This proves that it is permissible to consult a disbeliever concerning medication, kohl, drugs, mathematics, defects, and the like unless he is (included in the forbidden) walayah. His being a disbeliever does not  necessarily require that he should not be trusted in anything in principle, for there is nothing more serious than taking a guide on such a journey of Hijrah” (Bada’i` Al-Fawa’id 3/208)

The second hadith to which Sheikh Al-Islam referred was reported by Abu Dawud on the authority of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: “I was afflicted by illness and the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) came to visit me. He placed his hand between my breasts and I felt its coolness on my heart. He then said, ‘You have heartache. Go to Al-Harith ibn KildahAth-Thaqifi, for he practices medication. Let him take seven pressed dates of Madinah and grind them along with their kernels, then let him (mix them with water and) pour this into your (mouth).'”

Al-Harith ibn Kildah Ath-Thaqafi was one of the most famous Arab doctors in the pre-Islamic period. He was still alive when Islam appeared, but it is not certain whether he embraced Islam or not. However, he was not a Muslim when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Sa`d to go to him for medication.

Sheikh Ibn Muflih Al-Hanbali also says: “In his narration concerning the Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty, Abu Al-Khattab mentioned that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sent a man from Khuza`ah as an eye (to investigate the disbelievers’ affairs) for him and he would believe what he would tell him. This proves that it is permissible to accept the diagnosis and medication of a non-Muslim doctor if he is not distrusted as regards what he diagnoses and if there is no suspicion concerning his (being trustworthy)” (Al-Adaab Ash-Shar`iyyah 2/242)

Ar-Ruhaybani Al-Hanbali says: “It is permissible to breakfast and dislikable to observe it if a person falls ill and fears that harm will afflict him if the illness grows severer or lasts for long, even if this is decided by a non-Muslim yet trustworthy doctor” (Matalib Uli An-Nuha fi Sharh Ghayat Al-Muntaha)

Sheikh An-Nafrawai Al-Maliki says, “Fear because of which it becomes permissible for a person to break the fast is that which he feels upon hearing a related diagnosis of a well-versed trustworthy doctor, or it is fear which comes as a result of a previous experience which he himself went through” (Al-Fawakih Ad-Dawani)

To recapitulate, the judgment of a Muslim, specialized, and trustworthy doctor is acceptable as regards the legally allowable excuses to break the fast in Ramadan. Moreover, the judgment of a specialized non-Muslim doctor is acceptable as well. Therefore, an ill person can follow the judgment of either of them and accordingly break the fast in Ramadan.

However, he or she must be cautious of doctors who pay no attention to religion from among those who do not perform prayers or observe fasting. This is because such people are not trustworthy and their judgments are not acceptable as far as religious matters are concerned.

Allah Almighty knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.