Are post-mortems allowed in Islam for a valid reason?
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
A very important and fundamental principle should be remembered with
regards to the human body in that the human body, whether dead or alive,
is considered sacred according to Islam. Thus cutting it, mutilating it
and tampering with it in any way is considered blameworthy and unlawful.
Allah Most High says:
“And verily we have honored the children of Adam.” (Surah al-Isra,
A human body is sacred even after death. The Messenger of Allah
(Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Breaking the bone of a dead
person is similar (in sin) to breaking the bone of a living person”. (Sunan
Abu Dawud, Sunan Ibn Majah & Musnad Ahmad)
Imam, Abu Ja’far al-Tahawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in the
explanation of this Hadith:
“The Hadith shows that the bone of a dead person has the same
sanctity and honour as the bone of living person”. (Sharh Mushkil al-Athar)
Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“A human being is honoured according to Shariah even if one is a
non-believer (kafir), and the meaning is that one’s body and organs are
sacred. Hence, it will not be permissible to even break the bone of a
dead non-believer’s body.” (Radd al-Muhtar)
Thus the human body, dead or alive, has great significance. It is
honoured and sacred, and because of the sanctity that is attached to it,
it will be unlawful to tamper with it, cut parts of it or dishonour it
in any way.
Based on this very important principle, many scholars have declared that
carrying out post-mortems is unlawful, because it violates the sanctity
of the human body. Cutting and dissecting the human body cannot be
considered permissible regardless of what beneficial results may stem
out from carrying out a post-mortem.
Moreover, in carrying out a post-mortem, the body of the deceased person
will be stripped naked. This, in itself, is also not permitted without a
genuine and valid reason, they say.
Also, the body will be denied the many injunctions and rituals
prescribed by Shariah, such as promptly burying it, not transferring it
from one place to another, ritual bath (ghusl), shrouding (kafn), etc.
Due to the above reasons, these contemporary scholars have declared that
post-mortems are unlawful unless when there is a genuine need, such as
for criminal identifications and when one is forced by law.
They state that Muslims, living in places where post-mortems become
necessary by law, should struggle in order to avoid post-mortems,
because the benefits can be obtained from other sources also. However,
if one is compelled by law, it would be permitted due to need and
On the other hand, some contemporary scholars are somewhat relaxed with
the issue of post-mortems. They put forth examples of Islamic
jurisprudence (fiqh) where permission is given to cut open the dead body
due to need. For example:
If a pregnant woman dies with her baby alive in her stomach, it will be
necessary to cut open her body and remove the baby. However, if the baby
was also dead, it will not be permitted to cut open her body. (See: al-Fatawa
al-Hindiyya and Fath al-Qadir)
Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“If a pregnant woman died with her child trapped in her stomach, then
if it is thought the child will be alive, her stomach will be cut open,
because we have been faced with two evils and we are choosing the lesser
of the two. Cutting open the dead mother’s stomach is lesser of an evil
than killing the living baby.” (Bada’i al-Sana’i, 5/129)
Another example is that of a person who unjustifiably and unlawfully
swallowed a precious item, like a gemstone, of another person and then
died. In such a case, if the one whose precious item he swallowed was to
demand compensation, then if the deceased person left some money behind,
it will be paid from his leftover wealth. However, if he left nothing
behind, his body will be cut open and the precious stone or item will be
removed from him and returned to its owner. (See: Fath al-Qadir and al-Fatawa
Thus, in light of the above two examples, this group of scholars give
permission for carrying out post-mortems. They state that, based on the
rule of “choosing the lesser of two evils” post-mortems would be
justified even for medical research and scientific purposes.
The reason being-they say- is that in carrying out medical research on
few dead bodies, we are saving the lives of many others. By compromising
one aspect (of dishonouring the human body) there is larger benefit at
stake. By carrying out post-mortems, medical students will benefit,
justice will prevail and also contagious diseases will be controlled.
(See: Khalid Sayf Allah Rahmani, Jadid Fiqhi Masa’il, 1/ 203 & others)
In my personal view, I think post-mortems should only be restricted to
cases of need, such as when one is compelled by law for the purpose of
criminal identification. However, carrying out post-mortems for medical
research should be avoided, especially when the objective can be
obtained by operating on animals and plastic bodies.
As far as the work of the doctor is concerned, if post-mortem is a legal
requirement, then it would be permitted for him/her to perform the
post-mortem. However, if that is not the case, one should avoid it.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK.
Article taken (with Thanks) from Daruliftaa
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