Saturday, September 20, 2008

Omani Islamic Scholar makes idiotic pronouncement on Organ transplant

The normally quite sane 'Omani religious scholar' Sh. Khalfan Al Esry came out in the press a few days ago with this stone age view on organ donation: ie that donation of organs is not allowed under Islam. See Gulf News story.

What a totally backward, superficial and counterproductive viewpoint. This is the sort of 'anti-commonsense bullshit pretending to be religion' stuff I expect to come from Saudi idiots or some guy living in a cave in Pakistan, not from Oman and especially not from someone as generally respected as Sh Khalfan.

Organ donation, especially of corneas and kidneys, is standard practice throughout the world. Yes, there remain valid ethical debates surrounding the practice, for example about whether it should be legal to trade organs, the definition of death, cloning, and how to prioritise the waiting list for those in need of organs. But the strictures Sh Khalfan uses in his superficial argument (at least as reported) would probably be just as applicable if used as an argument banning all surgery.

In a country plagued by cataracts and diabetes, and the common result of diabetes being renal failure, this opinion is in effect trying to condemn thousands of Omanis to a lifelong hell of expensive dialysis treatment and a significantly reduced life expectancy. (A recent study concluded that getting a kidney transplant doubles the life expectancy of a patient with end-stage renal disease undergoing dialysis treatment, from 10 years to 20 years.)

I can, unfortunately and rather mean spirited of me, only hope Sh. Khalfan gets to experience the horror of renal failure personally and can therefore take comfort that the only viable treatment of transplantation is not allowed for him by his god.

Omani scholar says organ donations not permissible in Islam
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
Published: September 16, 2008, 23:52
Muscat: Organ donation, including eyes, is not permitted in Islam, said an Omani Islamic scholar, who sees no harm in donating blood even in Ramadan.

"There are three schools of thought on organ donations by Muslims but the majority of Islamic scholars believe that organ donation is not permissible in Islam," Shaikh Khalfan Al Esry, a member of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque's Steering Committee for Islamic Information Centre, told Gulf News in an interview.

Blood donation, he stressed, was different, as it is replenished. He said that a minority group of scholars believe organ donation was permissible while some would like to leave it to the individual to decide.

"Our body is sacred and a dead body is respected in Islam and there's no need to scavenge it for organ donations," Al Esry said.

"We handle the body with care and give privacy to it by covering it while taking it for burial. Then how can we think of removing its parts ?" he said. Removing organs for donation, he reckons, amounts to disrespecting the dead.

Al Esry also argued that an individual doesn't own his or her body. "It is a gift of the God and in Islam an individual can neither harm his or her own self physically, mentally nor spiritually."

Personally, I don’t find even this approach at all useful – eg trying to read between the lines of a 1400 year old document to interpret meaning in a contemporary scientific setting. This is how one ends up with such stupidity as calling an injection non-surgical, or that giving blood is comparable with breast feeding and thus IS allowed. It is common sense that someone who has died has no need of their kidneys or other organs, and the care taken to recover organs means the procedure is done with the utmost 'respect'. Oman is blessed in this regard with a large supply of relatively fit young men who chose to kill themselves on the roads, and thus provide a potentially significant source of kidneys and other body parts that could be used to ease the suffering of the living.

Readers who are concerned about the issue should instead read the deliberations of people perhaps much more qualified to have an opinion on such matters, and who have given the matter a lot more thought. eg

Organ Transplant Ruling:
List of the Ulama' and Scholars who participated during the consultation and then approved the statement on
Organ Transplant:

1.Dr M A Zaki Badawi Principal, The Muslim College, London Chairman, The Muslim Law (Shari'ah) Council UK.
2.Dr Jamal Sulayman, Professor of Shari'ah, The Muslim College, London.
3.Dr A A Hamid, Professor of Hadith, The Muslim College, London.
4.Dr Fazel Milani, Professor at The International College of Islamic Sciences London.
5.Dr S M A Shahristani, Principal, The International College of Islamic Sciences London.
6.Moulana Abdul Hadi Umri, General Secretary, Jamia-te-Ahl-e-Hadith (UK).
7.Moulana Qamaruzzaman Azami, Chief Imam, North Manchester Central Mosque & General Secretary, The World Islamic Mission.
8.Mufti Mohammed Yunus President, The World Islamic Mission & Imam, Woking Mosque.
9.Mufti Mohammed Muniruzzaman, Imam, Munir-ul-Islam Mosque, Rochdale.
10.Dr Abdul Halim, Senior Imam, The Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque, Regent's Park London.
11.Mufti Alauddin, Head Imam, Brick Lane Central Mosque, London.
12.Moulana Hafiz M Khalid, Head Imam, Sparkbrook Islamic Centre, Birmingham.
13.Moulana Mumtaz Ahmed, Imam of Bradford.
14.A A Bashiri Esq. Barrister-at-Law.
15.R Abdullah Esq. Barrister-at-Law.
16.Dr Safia Safwat, Barrister-at-Law.
17.Moulana M Shahid Raza, Director, Islamic Centre Leicester & Secretary, The Muslim Law (Shari'ah) Council UK.
18.Mr S G Syedain, General Secretary, Imams & Mosques Council UK.
19.Dr. Manazir Ahsan, Director of the Islamic Foundation

The last five decades have witnessed a big leap in medical science bringing great benefits and skills which were unthinkable before. It is now possible to transplant organs from one body into another, which would help the recipient to continue to live. The significance of the heart has also changed as it is no longer considered the most important organ with regard to life and death. Medical opinion now considers the brain to be the central and crucial part which controls the entire body and its functions. When it is damaged partially or totally the body will suffer either partial or total deterioration. As a consequence of the present development in medical knowledge and skills a number of questions have arisen. These are:

Is it allowed to remove an organ like the kidney from the body of a living person and transplant it into the body of a sick person whose life depends on it?
Is it permissible to remove an organ from the body of a dead person to be used to save the life of a living person?
Is a person allowed to donate his body or part of it to be used after his death in saving the life of other people?
Does Islam recognise the new definition of death that is brain stem death?
If it does is it permissible to remove from brain stem dead persons organs for transplant while there are signs of body functions like heart beat temperature and breathing?
Before answering these questions it is important to note the following principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Usul-Fiqh):
A person has the legal authority over his own body, attested by the fact that he can hire himself for work which might be difficult or exhausting. He may also volunteer for war which may expose him to death. A person is forbidden from harming himself or others (It is not legitimate in Islam to inflict harm on others or to suffer harm from them - Hadith). In case of Necessity certain prohibitions are waived as when the life of a person is threatened the prohibition on eating carrion or drinking wine is suspended.

"He has only forbidden you what has died by itself, blood and pork, and anything that has been consecrated to something besides God. Yet anyone who may be forced to do so, without craving or going too far, will have no offence held against him; for Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (2:173)

Confronted with two evils a person is permitted to choose the lesser of the two, as in the case of a starving person whose life could be saved by either eating carrion or stealing from another person's food. He would be permitted to opt for the latter. Islam made it an obligation upon the sick to seek treatment.
In the light of the above principles the Council is of the opinion that:

1. It is permissible for a living person to donate part of the body such as the kidneys to save the life of another, provided that the organ donated would not endanger the donor's life and that it might help the recipient.

The Prophet (s.A.w.) says, "Whoever helps a brother in difficulty, God will help him through his difficulties on the Day of Judgement."

2. It is permissible to remove the organ of a dead person to be used to save the life of a sick person.

3. It is permissible for a person to donate his body or parts of it to be used after death to treat those who need transplants. So it is permissible for Muslims to carry a donor card.

4. In the absence of a donor card carried by the dead person it is sufficient to obtain the consent of the next of kin.

5. The proper authorities will act in lieu of relations if they are not known.

There's a lot more if you follow the link. Perhaps Sh. Khalfan should do a little more listening to the medical experts and a little less firing from the hip.


  1. "It is a gift of the God and in Islam an individual can neither harm his or her own self physically, mentally nor spiritually"
    When can we expect to see a total ban on cigarettes ?

  2. Sigh.

    What to say? What is it about some of these "scholars" which just makes them seem so inhuman and uncaring at times? All the major religions have their speakers trying to interpret modern situations according to a medieval rule book. It just cannot be done. Yet still they try. The bottom line is, do you have more love and respect for your fellow human than your religious theory? If not, do you have any humanity at all?

  3. anon1,

    While I share Mr. Dragon's opinions on the subject at hand, I just wanted to point out that technically cigarettes are forbidden under Ibadhi Islam. In the interest of fairness and all.

    -Omani in US

  4. I know little of Islam (or other faiths, for that matter). But would Islamic scholars forbid removal of a sick organ or extremity -- e.g. amputation of gangrenous leg or masectomy for breast cancer??? Seems to me that removal of those organs might be considered to be disrespecting the body that God gave us????

  5. 42n8,
    Most Islam sects do not forbid amputation

  6. I personally do not agree with Al Esry. However, what I do not understand is what pissed Dragon so much?? You could have expressed your difference of opinion in a civilized manner. Not by calling Al Esry an idiot and trashing Saudis and Pakistanis. The guy does not represent Islam in the world nor in Oman. Sure he could have made a mistake in this issue based on many people’s opinion. However, does it make you more intelligent to be intolerant and use uncivilized language? You might think that you were practicing freedom of speech but I think freedom of speech is a privilege to be given to the intelligent not to the foolish who put their brains behind their words or action. Stating your argument in a civilized manner is intelligence. However, being intolerant is being like those who blow themselves up thinking it is the Islamic way.

    Al Esry one of the most liked person in Oman especially by people with different religions. Have you ever met the guy in person? He is the type of guy who will help you even after he knows all what you wrote about him in your blog. He is the type of person who will welcome you to discuss about anything related to Islam with utmost tolerance. I have never met any non Muslim who have met Al Esry and disliked him.

    You of all people should know that people around the world will always have different opinion; it is your type of intolerance behavior is what causes them to end up in conflict with each other which we already have enough of in this world. For your information the Muslims who disagree with Al Esry also took their reference from the 1400 years old you called document. It was just a matter of them interpreting it differently and it is the case with all major religions. That’s how people are and that’s how people will always be, different.

    I hope what i wrote doesn't pisses you off too.

  7. "Oman is blessed in this regard with a large supply of relatively fit young men who chose to kill themselves on the roads"
    HAHAHA This is so hilarious!

  8. Anon1, OIUS
    Indeed, tho' banned is a little strong, they are certainly haram. (Tho' They were banned under the old Sultan I understand, along with sunglasses).

    Anon2, 42n8
    I think the whole principal of trying to interpret modern rules from such old documents, especially in matters of science & technology, is a fool's errand. You could try to do something similar with Shakespear, but would that make it useful? It is also a cop out, an excuse to place the burden of conclusion on someone else, ie some supernatural being, rather than face up to the real problems and actually have an informed debate.

    I disagree, naturally. Re-reading my post I don't think I was insulting to Sh Khalfan as a person, only to his stated opinion. I even noted taht he is generally respected, and, yes, I have met him. Just because I disagree vehemently with him doesn't mean I don't like him.

    I'm not too sure my comments were as extreme as you describe, but, ah well. I was super mad at him, both for making Oman look like hyper-religious zealots in the international media, and for perhaps influencing Omani to have even slightly less transplants and thus imposing a totally pointless suffering on people.

    But I am not a believer in pussy-footing around, all being so politically correct and afraid of offending people (as I've commented on before) and thus not actually making one's point known. Like I've said, lots of people's publically voiced opinions offend the hell out of me, including those of a whole host of muslims, and it doesn't seem to stop them. So, screw it. And should I meet Sh. Khalfan again, I would have no hesitation telling him that in this regard I think he is an idiot. Worse, a dangerous idiot.

    Yes, people are different. And many of them I also disagree with. I'm not a supporter of religious/cultural tolerance as a basis for it all being OK to think and do whatever you happen to believe.

    Glad you liked it. Did you know that it's one of reasons many Western surgeons come to have a spell working at Khoula Hospital in Muscat? They just can't get as much trauma experience as fast as they can here if they stay back in their home country...

  9. Dragon. I think you should give Al Esry a break. Faith-caused belief systems are very, very hard to change.

    Perhaps you should (as a westerner?) concentrate on certain belief systems in The West. For Example: It would seem that many voters in USA believe that Planet Earth is not more than 6000 years old and was created in 6 days as literally described in The Bible. This despite mountains of evidence to the contrary and in favor of evolution. Yet these fervent believers are able to influence elections (a down side of democracy) and generally obstruct the scientific teaching of evolution in some US schools. Even 60-80 years of good science teaching in US schools has not been able to counteract the faith-beliefs of these Bible believers.

    I would agree with Commenter Stealth in some respects and suggest that you could win more converts / persuade more readers with a bit more honey and a bit less vinegar.

  10. I came here to comment...but what i wanted to convey Mr Stealth has conveyed it better.

  11. Just to clarify, an Islamic ruling by a sheikh is purely an educated opinion and in no way is it not divine law. Contrary to popular believe Shairah isnt divine law either but a human attempt at understanding divine law so naturally there may be inaccuracies and differences of opinion.

    However, Sheikhs (sunni ones at least) are expected to know religious sciences such as rhetoric and classical grammar and such like, and need to have a deep knowledge of the subject matter at hand (doesnt seem like this sheikh has the knowledge of subject matter) as demonstrated by the slightly horrible parable given below that is supposed to demonstrated the seriousness of not getting it right (roughly translated):

    a man asks a 'scholar' if he is allowed to eat of the harvest that he has ploughed.

    The 'scholar' without enquiring further into the nuances of the question simply responds in the affirmative.

    the man subsequently goes home and commits incest with his daughter, which is obviously harraam in Islam.

  12. I just wanted to share this link from the daily mail.

  13. Noah,
    Yes, I would also have things to say on other (western) religous based rules... but this blog is mainly about Oman.

    Jupiter, et al

    I think you should carefully re-read the post - You should then note that I did not personally insult Sh. Khalfan, just his silly pronouncement and the logic and implication.

    Where I come from, excellent people can come up with some really stupid ideas. And calling their ideas or statements idiotic is not the same as calling them personally an idiot.

    And shit, I have to use enough honey in my day job. Will post on this issue of cultural/religious correctness tomorrow.

  14. one more link - same view as mr Stealth link

  15. Noah and those that agree with him,
    The idea that, because there is stupiditiy in the West, a Westerner cannot identify and criticize stupidity elsewhere is just the sort of politically correct bullshit that UD said above that he does not follow. If that is your (ridiculous) worldview, then why are you reading blogs about Oman and not blogs about the West?

    When it comes to live and let live, I could care less what people do for religion when it has no harmful effects. Yet, when religious stupidity, especially religious stupidity that is not based on the explicit and centrally held tenets of the creed, leads directly to harm, it should be criticized where ever it is. The troglodytes who impede scientific progress based on ridiculous interpretations of the 2000 year old document in the West are the same as the troglodyte who is impeding medical procedures based on a 1400 year old document here. Both stand for criticism and there is no reason why Westerners who think both are stupid cannot criticize the Omani one, if that is their topic of the day.

    By the way, you have fallen for the number one excuse for lack of change in the region: "We're screwed up? Well, either it's your fault or you are equally screwed up so we do not need to do a thing to improve ourselves."

    There are a large number of Muslims who are trying desperately to reconcile the 1400 year old document with modern issues (witness the document of scholars UD referenced). There are a number of problems with the system of Islamic scholarship and interpretation, however, that impede reconciliation of old and new. In some sects and schools, the problems are doctrinal, with hardliners believing that the gates of "ijtihad" or interpretation are closed and have been for centuries. In other views, interpretation based on sound reasoning is permissible, but the system of religious education does not give some scholars the broad understanding of modern scientific concepts needed to make educated pronouncements. In some cases, scholars are incredibly astute and informed and are making extremely relevant commentary and decisions. The bottom line, though, is that relatively poorly educated populations are easily swayed by the simplest and strongest rhetoric, not the most intelligent and nuanced reconciliation of old and new. Witness the rise of populist politics the world round.

  16. I like Khalfan Al Esry as a person. I've been to a couple of talks he's given and I respect him. One thing I disagree with a lot vocally is when people go to him for fatwas. He is not a religious scholar. He has not gone through the process to become knowledgeable enough to give fatwa. This is a guy who is very religious and got more and more religious and into preaching islam until he reached a point that he changed his life to become more dedicated to islam. But has he read enough to actual give public opinions and fatwa? I don't know, and I don't think so.

    One thing I do know though is that his view on organ donation is not just his. This is a common belief among ibadhi scholars.

    This is 180 degrees opposite of the shi'a view on organ donation. In fact, Iran not only allows organ donation, it even allows the sale of organs and regulates it as a market. In the past couple of years I've read quite a few economic opinions by top economists who put Iran as a top example of a regulated market for organs which the US should seriously consider emulating.

  17. To me, Islamic law is formulated in much the same way as U.S. Constitutional law. While a lot of people talk about what Islam says or doesn't say, and what the Constitution says or doesn't say, the accepted methods of true legal scholarship are very meticulous. If you are offended by me comparing the Quran to the Constitution, I'm not trying to make any sort of value judgment, just a comparison of method. Both have a single, non-comprehensive primary document, requiring scholars to look at a great deal of surrounding evidence to make determinations on any given issue. Islamic scholars use sira and hadith. Constitutional scholars use the writings and biographies of the framers of the Constitution, as well as literature of the time that would have influenced them. In either case, the body of knowledged required to truly be an expert on either subject pushes it well beyond the realm of amateurs, no matter how dedicated they may be.

    American scholars and lawyers have commented in various places at how surprised they were at the methods and logic used by Islamic legal scholars. They are very similar to our own legal scholars'.

  18. Muscati...I dont think anyone should "seriously consider emulating" Iran..or the US.

  19. anonymous,

    I don't think such blanket statements help. There are positives and negatives everywhere, and we would do well to cherry-pick the positives, wherever they come from (deciding on what constitutes a positive/negative is perhaps a discussion for another place).

    -Omani in US

  20. Can anyone explain how you get the title 'Sheikh' ? Obviously if you're UAE royalty, then it's hereditary, but how/what/why here in Oman?

  21. Khalfan Al-Esry is an ex-colleague of mine, he is a very gifted engineer, and a very devout Muslim, as Muscati said, he is not authorized nor trained to give fatwas, what he said about organ donations is just his opinion, the problem is, so many people look up to him. I am Ibadhi Muslim, not as religious as I would like to be, but I am doing my best, I find the notion of banning organ donation in case of death repugnant. I am shocked and dismayed knowing that this came from someone I highly respect like Sheikh Khalfan.

    I carry my organ donation card where ever I go, if god decided to take me now, I will rest more peacefully in my grave knowing that my death was useful to someone, that my untimely death has helped reducing the suffering and pain for someone. I hold this belief dearly, I am no Islam scholar, but I know that god is most merciful

  22. Whatever your views on UDs degree of venom, it is great that he addresses issues that people care about enough to also have an opinion on. Keep them coming.

  23. Leo, Muscati, OIUS

    And I agree that Sh. Khalfan is generally an excellent person to talk with and reasonable and open. But I'm glad he's not my doctor if I had advanced renal failure...


    thanks for coming by. I was, as they say, a great loss to the diplomatic service I guess.

    Plus, people get enough happy clappy stuff from the regular media.

  24. Dear all,
    This is me Khalfan Al-Esry. someone was kind enough to send me the link of this forum and has urged me to respond.
    First of all, I do say time and time again that I am not a scholar. I am an engineer and a student of knowledge.
    Second, When it comes to religion, I don't give opinion. I just quote what scholars say and leave it to people to decide.
    Third, the media is well known to write what it likes and at times in a manner that brings drama into the subject so as to attract attention and create debate. this was one case.
    Four, I am an ordinary person who is trying to live life to its fullest, Spiritual and material life, family and social, mind and physical. My ultimate goal is to reach the self actualisation that will bring peace of mind to my life and future.
    Finally, some people like me and others despise me and it is a way of life. Being called an idiot will not harm me but I choose refrain from bad language and prefer the civilised approach. I respect people's opinion and yes, they are entitled to it. Views mentioned about organs transplant are not mine, Please read the article again. It is views of what scholars have said. Throughout I was quoting Scholars. Until today, and to my knowledge, the difference of opinion on the subject continue.
    Khalfan Al-Esry

    1. Well said ,I would like to discuss a very important issue regarding the Sharia law , I have no one else to turn to and I am hoping you will be able to give me the correct information . I have been trying to contact you through every means , I am hoping you will get this message and I await your response .

      Kind regards

  25. Thank you very much for the update and clarification Khalfan, and taking the time to post it here.

    Firstly, please be clear that I never called you an idiot. I know you are an educated man and that you are by no means ignorant. It is the opinion that organ transplants are un-Islamic that I find idiotic.

    If you think the article mis-quoted or mis-represented you, I would urge you to ask the newpaper to print a clarification.

    Equally, if you think the topic should be considered in more detail by the Omani Scholars, perhaps this would be of significant worth to many people in Omani society, especially seeing that there is such scope for vastly differing interpretations, as evidenced by many scholars all claiming to be in line with the intent of the same teachings.

    A policy that denies those who are alive, suffering and in need of treatment on the basis of supposedly 'respecting' a dead body, is something I find cruel, misguided, and inconsistent with the principal of a caring god.

    Someone in your respected position could act as a link between the day to day needs of ordinary people, the details and implications of modern scientific practice, and those scholars whose ivory tower pronouncements would inflict so much suffering and who are perhaps somewhat removed from the realities of the modern world.

  26. I was initially insulted upon reading the first line of such an aggressive rant; mostly because of I have never seen or heard the term 'idiotic' in the same sentence as Sheikh Khalfan. However upon reading your entry, it's clear that your point is valid; banning such a practise is clearly regressive and such a view point has clearly come from someone in good health with an apparent disregard for those who are suffering from renal failure and what have you.

    (here comes the big but) BUT, there was absolutely no need to convey your point in such a condescending and -dare I say- insulting manner. I understand that this is a blog and you need to make your entries interesting in order to attract more attention , but doing so at the cost someone else's dignity is a little excessive.


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...