Higher Objectives of Shariah

Preservation of Life in Islam: Theory and Practice

Preserving life in contemporary fiqh

Muslim scholars continue to use the higher objective principle of preserving life today. When they encounter a difficult issue like euthanasia [assisted suicide], they will refer to the underlying spirit of Islamic law. 

Suicide is not permissible in Islam, as it has in most other religions. Allah says, 

“Do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you.” (An-Nisaa 4:29)

The Prophet (PBUH) even refused to perform the funeral prayer over a man who killed himself with an arrow, though he let others perform the prayer.

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Jabir ibn Samura reported: (The dead body) of a person who had killed himself with a broad-headed arrow was brought before the Messenger of Allah, but he did not offer prayers for him. (Muslim)

He did this as a deterrent; i.e. to discourage others from killing themselves. He boycotted this funeral prayer to help protect the lives of others.

While dealing with issues such as assisted suicide or cessation of medical treatment that would result in death, scholars must always consider the principle of preserving life when deciding.

COVID-19 and preserving life

Another contemporary example occurs with the resurgence of COVID-19 in many countries. Several people insist on ignoring safety measures recommended by mainstream medical institutions. 

Muslim jurists encountered a dilemma of whether people should continue to isolate themselves at home or not. They might risk the loss of wealth or even potential loss of life due to depression, anxiety, and other dangers associated with a lack of socialization. The flip side is to put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 and potentially put their lives at greater risk.

The priorities of weighing between the ‘essential’ and the ‘necessary’ must be factored in. Also, the level of probability that one’s life will be in danger must be considered. 

The ‘preservation of life’ principle applies in many other aspects of Islamic law with new issues and challenges faced by society. 

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