A Muslim perspective on the ethical dimension of life in relation to its beginnings and end: With special References to the writings of Fethullah Gülen
This article discusses certain topics relating to the sacred nature of life as viewed from a Muslim perspective. Among these, abortion and euthanasia, which have been made subjects of lively and intense debate by both religious and secular groups, will be given priority. Our discussion draws attention to some of the differences found within Muslim approaches: while in the West these topics are considered in the framework of bioethics, in Islamic traditions their context is that of, modern medicine, jurisprudence and morality together. Although some theological differences separate the two traditions, it is hoped that this article will help Muslim scholars actively engage with other religious communities in the area of biomedical ethics, and work collectively and coherently for a common goal, helping create awareness within the wider community of their care and sensitivity with respect to issues of life and death. Limitations of space prevent a thorough examination of the voluminous literature produced by scholars of both religions on the many aspects of this complex area. Therefore this article concentrates on the relevant works of Fethullah Gülen, a contemporary Turkish Muslim scholar.
The concepts of life and death in Islam
I would like to begin with a quotation from Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s epistle Risale-i Nur. Nursi says ‘The greatest Divine gift, bounty, kindness or favour is not makingHis servant perceive or feel His benevolence.’ In my view, of all the countless gifts of God, life is the most unique and the most precious, which we do not value greatly during our daily activities. Its preciousness and importance seem obvious; but theologically speaking, its significance is that ‘life’ is, first and foremost, one of the most prominent personal attributes of God, al-Hayy (Ever-Living) and al-Muhyi (Giver of life). The attribute of life has a priority and superiority over other Attributes of God because those other attributes such as His Power, Knowledge and Will cannot be imagined without the existence of life. The Qur’an frequently draws our attention to this fact with these words allahu la ilaha illa huwa al-hayy al-qayyum ‘Allah, there is no deity but He,—the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal.’ (2:255) or wa-tawakkal ala al-hayy alladhi la-yamut ‘And put thy trust in Him Who lives and dies not’. Thus a Muslim considers life as the most important aim of the universe, its greatest result, its most brilliant light, its subtlest leaven, its distilled essence, its most perfect fruit and the source of its perfections.
To stress the importance of life, Nursi makes striking comparisons between the gigantic and inanimate and the tiny and animate. He asks us to contemplate on the following metaphor: a lifeless object, even if it is a great mountain, is an orphan, a stranger, and alone. Its only relation is with the place in which it is situated, and with the things which encounter it. Whatever else there is in the cosmos, it does not exist for the mountain. The mountain has neither life through which it might be related to life, nor consciousness by which it might be concerned. Nursi contrasts the mountain with a tiny living creature, a bee. Its life establishes such a connection with the universe that it is as though the insect concludes a trading agreement with it, specifically with the flowers and plants of the earth. It can say ‘The earth is my garden; it is my tradinghouse.’ Thus, through the unconscious instinctive senses which impel and stimulate the bee, in addition to the well-known five external senses and inner senses of animate beings, the bee has a feeling for, and a familiarity and reciprocal relationship with, most of the species in the world, and they are at its disposal.
Since life is the comprehensive attribute of God, Islam places great stress on the value of life. Briefly, the bodies of all creatures including human beings are God’s creation, but after fashioning the human body from clay, God breathed His own spirit into the body to distinguish humanity from other created beings (15:29, 32:9, and 38:72). This Divine spirit transforms an inanimate human body into a living being having a spirit or soul. Muslim scholars make it very clear that the body (the material aspect of a human being) exists and fully functions together with its spirit, ruh; therefore the human body is an important instrument that serves the development of a person’s spiritual being. Hence the spirit is neither part of the body nor completely independent of it. Fethullah Gülen describes the connection between body and spirit in the context of the human being’s relation to two realms, namely the seen and unseen worlds. To put it another way: he states that the material aspect of human beings intimately connects them to the other living things around them whereas the spiritual side places them within the Angelic community. Nevertheless, because a Muslim acknowledges the hand of God in all creation, animate or inanimate, His role as the sole life-giver to His best creation makes the human body and soul a complete trust (amanah) of the Divine. The proper attitude of human beings towards this trust is a very well-established notion in Islam: the human being is only a caretaker or steward; the real owner is God. As caretakers, we have to be very sensitive and aware in regard to protecting both our physical and spiritual life. The notion that we own our life and are free to do with it whatever we please is an alien concept in Islam. This sensibility is rooted in the Islamic notion of the sanctity (hurmah) and dignity (karamah) of the human body, a cornerstone of Islamic legal-moral thinking. In short, Islamic theology tends to see human dignity as residingin the believer’s relationship to God, a position which is quite different to the modern secular approach to the definition of human dignity.
Understanding the very essence of human life depends on the recognition of the interaction between the ephemeral physical substance and an eternal spiritual entity that departs. Contemplating this relationship brings the notion of death to the fore. Besides being the Ever-Living and Giver of life, God also has the attribute of taking life, al-mumit, or causing death. Several verses in the Qur’an (80:16–23) touch on God’s intimate involvement with His creations at the beginning of life and emphasize His interaction with them at every moment up to the end of time; from life to death and resurrection. Here it is important to note that the determination of lifespan is one of God’s essential qualities. In Islamic theology, there are various stages of the human soul’s existence, which Nursi calls an ‘exile’ or ‘journey’. Each successive stage is longer than the previous one. This long journey passes from the world of spirits (ʿalam al-arwah) through the world (life in the womb, then from birth until death) and then the grave (the intermediate realm, barzakh) to the resurrection, a new life in the hereafter.
The Qur’an’s representation of various death themes directs the attention of humanity to the purpose of death, which is always seen as being intimately interconnected with creation and resurrection. Because of this, the Qur’an criticizes unbelievingArabs who say ‘There is nothingbut our present life; we die and we live and nothing but time destroys us,’ referringto their opinions as mere conjecture and ignorance (45:23). Life is the key to death; it is a preparation for the return to God, while death is the gate or the entrance to eternal life. In this sense, death is never seen as extinction in Islam; rather, it is viewed as an altered state of being. Nursi summarizes this point very well in the interpretation of the verse (67:2) ‘Who creates death and life that He may try you, which of youis the best in conduct.’ He says: ‘This verse makes it understood that, like life, death too is created, and it too is a bounty.’ Those who see death as dissolution, non-existence, decay, the extinction of life and the annihilator of pleasures might ask how death could be created and also serve as a bounty. To answer this question, Nursi states:
Death is a discharge from the duties of life, it is a rest, a change of residence, a change of existence; it is an invitation to an eternal life, a beginning, the introduction to an immortal life. Just as life comes into the world through a creation and a determining, so too departure from the world is through a creation and determining, through a wise and purposeful direction. As the death of the seed is the start of the life of the shoot, since it is like life itself, this death is as created and well ordered as life is. Similarly, as a seed sown in the ground becomes a tree in the world of the air, so too a man who is laid in the earth will surely produce the shoots of an everlasting life in the hereafter.
To summarize: since life is the most important bounty and fruit of the universe, and its purpose is creation, then certainly that elevated reality is not restricted to this fleeting, brief, deficient, painful worldly life. The aim and result of worldly life is eternal life in the hereafter; it is life in the realm of bliss, the very stones, trees, and earth of which are alive. The eternity of the spirit is clear evidence of life after resurrection.
Islamic thought regards ethics as concerning first and foremost the assessment or evaluation of a certain act. This differs from many other philosophical systems where ethics is essentially seen in regard to the constitution of an act. Because of the centrality of law in Islam, Muslim societies and cultures are perhaps best understood through it; I would argue that regarding the moral-ethical issues facing Islamic societies, it is difficult to reach any decision without a full knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence. In other words, law and morality cannot be treated as separate entities in Islam, where ethics constitute the very foundation of law (sharia) and every question of law is also a matter of ethics. Hence many questions today revolve around the topics of abortion, stem cell research, cloning, genetic modification, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, any form of transplantation, environmental protection and even interfaith relations. For Muslims these are not essentially theological issues but fundamental questions of religious law. When Fethullah Gülen places great emphasis on dialogue, and declares ‘Interfaith dialogue is a must,’ many people think that he is merely expressinghis goodwill and heartfelt wishes. In fact, his words are clear juristic statements whereby he insists on the religious nature of dialogue meetings, because the basic Islamic sources advise Muslims to engage in dialogue with representatives of other faiths.
Nonetheless, the centrality of law does not mean that Islamic governance is a theocratic system. Muslim societies can be best described as nomocratic (ruled by law) in nature; in other words, in mainstream Sunni Islam there is no well-established religious hierarchy, organized church or ordained clergy with the authority to determine the validity of any religious practice (Shi’ites are somewhat different in this regard). The question thus arises, who is qualified to speak on behalf of Islam and Muslims? Furthermore, what are the major sources of Islamic jurisprudence? Finally, how do the jurists derive legal and ethical norms from the Muslim sources and what ensures the validity of their legal-ethical decisions?
In general, Sunni jurists are required to provide solutions to every new problem that emerges within society. This juristic law took casuistic form, thus it is not subject to a universally constraining code enforced by a sovereign. Although it embraces the notion of legal majority, it is unusual for jurists to speak with one voice on particular issues. This pluralism allows Islamic law to recognize the validity of different interpretations in the same revealed system. The coexistence of four Sunni schools and the Jaʿfarite (Shiʿite) school is clear evidence of this pluralism.
Although Islam gives authority first to the jurists, then to the medical doctors, the rapidly changing aspect of biomedical cases makes intelligent ethical decisions difficult unless one first understands the medical procedures themselves. Because of the complex nature of these issues, many Muslim scholars today think that sound legal and ethical reasoning on such matters poses challenges that go beyond the capacity of any individual jurist. Yet, pioneeringviews can be found in Fethullah Gülen’s work. Since the early 1970s Fethullah Gülen has argued continuously that the ideal solution would be to create a committee whose membership comprised jurists, medical doctors and scientists under the auspices of a High Religious Presidency to formulate their decision as a collective body. For Fethullah Gülen, the judgment of an individual jurist has never led to more than a certain probability (ẓann ghalib); however, the committee’s collective decision would have the status of a binding opinion. Interestingly enough, in the last two decades we have witnessed great efforts to bring prominent Muslim scholars and physicians together to find convincing solutions to these issues. In relation to our second question, it is safe to say that Muslims have very well-established categories of sources. The primary sources of Islamic law in descending order of importance are as follows:
- the Qur’an
- the Sunnah of the Prophet (Prophetic tradition)
- ijmaʿ (the consensus of jurists by acceptance of the community)
- qiyas (the analogical reasoningor exhaustive effort of scholars to find Divine intent in new cases or situations in the light of the norms of the Qur’an and Sunnah)
A number of other pragmatic instruments of jurisprudence have been developed by jurists, such as istihsan (juristic preference or equitable discretion), maṣlaha mursala (general necessity, law for common good, public interest, or general welfare of humanity), sadd dharaʿi (preclusion), ʿurf (customary conventions of the people so long as these do not contradict revealed teachings).
It is important to note here that the Qur’an is an unalterable text which is not a simple book of law; it contains only a few hundred verses giving believers clear directives on ethics, rituals and law. As a rule, Muslim jurists considered strictly ritual matters to be beyond the purview of reason; non-ritualistic matters by contrast were seen as accessible to reason, and such matters constitute the greater part of the law. To put it another way, there are many issues concerningwhich the Qur’an does not make a definite or final statement or judgment. In addition, the Qur’an is not concerned to set forth theories of ethics, but it clearly prescribes moral standards by means of commands, recommendations, permissions, discouragements and prohibitions. Thus every category of act whether classified as incumbent (farḍ or wajib), recommended (mandub), permitted (mubah), disapproved (makruh) and forbidden (haram) in Islam, has been founded upon explicit or implicit rules in the Qur’an or Prophetic traditions. This system clearly shows the richness of the Islamic ethical system, because the value of every human action is morally prescribed.
In order to ensure the validity of juridical decisions in the absence of clear Qur’anic or Prophetic textual evidence, Muslim jurists strive to develop general principles and stratagems based on various rational and ethically sound opinions. These principles mainly place equal stress on the importance of the individual and care for the welfare of the community. Some of the most frequently mentioned principles are as follows:
- Efforts to promote the general good; removal of obstructions to that good.
- Necessity overrides prohibition, or necessity makes the unlawful permissible so long as it does not lead to any detriment.
- Efforts either to secure a benefit or prevent harm.
- The greater evil should be warded off by the lesser evil, or the lesser of two plausible.
- No harm, no harassment.
- Judgment of the action depends on the actor’s intention.
- Removal of harm/evil is has a priority over attracting the benefits.
- Custom determines the course of action.
These principles allow jurists to utilize them as an authoritative basis for deducinga fresh and universal legal-moral ruling. Fethullah Gülen frequently uses these principles as reference sources and they form the basis of his detailed juristic explanations. For example, he addresses the issue of blood transfusions, notingthat the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions contain no direct rulings and that no discussion on this matter were held during the time of the companions and also by following generations, although in classical works the buying and selling of blood are prohibited on the basis of the practice beingunclean and havingno benefit. In addition, Fethullah Gülen points out that since the formative period of Islam there has been a very well-established view among jurists that it is prohibited to use any organ of the human body. Nevertheless, Fethullah Gülen argues that today blood transfusion constitutes a new phenomenon and problem. People know very well that the practice can be beneficial and even life-saving, therefore it is now permissible. Jurists, Fethullah Gülen included, have reached this conclusion by reference to the second of the principles outlined above: necessity makes the unlawful permissible so long as it does not lead to any detriment. Fethullah Gülen uses this principle frequently. It is also important to note that it is possible to justify the permission of blood transfusions by referencing the Qur’an, which regards saving human life as a fundamental human duty. Fethullah Gülen argues that to save the life of a sick person blood should be given, with the conditions that during the process of transfusion only the necessary amount of blood should be transfused and there should be no monetary transaction between the donor and receiver. Thus it is clear that modification of legal judgments will not be denounced in Islam so long as they reflect changing times, places and circumstances. In short, change concerning maṣlaha (wellbeingof the wider society) necessitates that rulings be changed.
Nevertheless, the new rules derived from the principles mentioned above should be in harmony and correlation with the maqaṣid al-shariʿa or maqaṣid al-khamsa (objectives, ends or ultimate goals of Islam), namely preservation of religion, life, intellect/reason, children/lineage and property. Briefly, Islam covers all human actions, whether towards other persons or towards God (Islamic law divides legal obligations into two categories, the rights of God and the rights of humanity); the realization of these ultimate goals is the main purpose of the right of God in this world. Having discussed the ethical foundation of Islamic jurisprudence in the light of Fethullah Gülen’s understanding, we will now consider two important ethical issues connected with the value of human life, namely abortion and euthanasia.
First of all, it is safe to say that there is no absolutist view in Islam regarding abortion; Muslims never argue either that all abortion is unjust killing or that abortion is always permissible. Though Muslim scholars never promote abortion, the existence of different perspectives allows them to recognize abortion as a necessary practice up until a certain stage of pregnancy under certain conditions. But today, many consider that the great number of abortions has become a serious problem; the statistics indicate that abortion is now a very common practice, despite the fact that in almost all religious traditions abortion is regarded as an illegal act with no exceptions. Şahin Aksoy notes that it is very difficult to discuss the moral acceptability of something which has become so widely practiced throughout the world. At least 50.000.000 abortions are carried out annually worldwide.
Before discussing Fethullah Gülen’s analysis, it is necessary to attend to important questions such as: What is abortion? Is abortion allowed in Islam and if it is allowed what kind of abortions are allowed? Who makes the decision? Abortion is normally defined as the artificial termination of pregnancy. When such a termination occurs naturally it is called a miscarriage.
Although in Arabic many words are used to describe different types of abortion, jurists generally use the word ijhaḍ, which denotes a miscarried fetus discharged from the womb before completing the nine-month period of gestation. Jurists are mainly concerned with accidental loss, or miscarriage deliberately inflicted by the wrongful act of a mother, father or a third person because there are incidents narrated in many authentic hadith collections that tell how the Prophet dealt with wrongfully caused miscarriages. Generally, whether or not there is intent, Islamic law punishes those who are responsible for the death of a fetus by imposing a fine of blood money. It is also important to note that because the Qur’an and hadiths provide textual evidence in support of the gradual transformation of the fetus from biological being to human being, the debates about ensoulment play a crucial role in the discussion of abortion. Although some Muslim scholars maintain that ensoulment occurs at the time of conception, the majority disagrees and approaches the issue from various perspectives.
We will now discuss in some detail how Fethullah Gülen addresses the issue of abortion. Fethullah Gülen begins by sayingthat many bio-ethical questions relating to life and death are not dealt with by the Qur’an and Sunnah directly. There were no such problems during the takawwun (formative) and tadawwun (compilation of the early juristic works and collections) periods of Islam. Like many Muslim jurists, Fethullah Gülen begins his argument by statingthat the Qur’anic prohibition of killingchildren is analogous to the prohibition of abortion (6:137, 151, 17:3, 60:31). However, classical scholars do not generally understand that these verses refer directly to intentional abortion. The verses mainly deal with life’s sanctity and dignity. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Qur’an associates infanticide (in verse 6:137) with polytheism. Accordingto Fethullah Gülen, the Qur’an’s instruction not to kill children out of fear of loss of rizq (sustenance) shows that infanticide is clear evidence both of the failure of the people’s trust in God’s power to provide and of the misguided nature of their life.
Indeed, We created a human out of the essence of clay; then We placed him as [a drop of] sperm (nutfa: germ-cell, an embryonic lump) in a place of rest; then We made the sperm into a clot of blood (ʿalaqah); then of that clot We made a lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh (mudgha); then We brought this into being as another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create!
Fethullah Gülen also draws attention to the Prophetic tradition. There are two important reports: one places the time of ensoulment at the end of day 120 and the other specifies the end of day 40, 42 or 45. On the basis of these sources, Fethullah Gülen says that Muslim scholars unanimously hold the view that abortion after ensoulment is forbidden, irrespective of the method of abortion, whether ta’qim or ijhad. Regarding the period before ensoulment, Fethullah Gülen notes that with the exception of the Hanafite jurists, scholars of the four Sunni schools and the Shiʿite Jaʿfarite school either prohibit or disapprove the abortion without any valid reason. Hanafite jurists, however, argue that it is permissible to perform abortion until the fetus takes on the first signs of human form, al-takhalluq. Fethullah Gülen refers to al-Marghinani’s (593/1197) Ottoman commentator, Kamal b. al-Humam (861/1457), who does not consider abortion before ensoulment as an offense/jinayah. Thus it appears that the time of ensoulment is crucial in this debate. In contrast to the great majority of scholars, who hold the view that ensoulment takes place 120 days after conception, Fethullah Gülen identifies the time of ensoulment as the beginning of week seven after conception. Although there are many theological and scientific reasons for this argument, we emphasize here that Fethullah Gülen reads these hadiths in the light of both the Qur’an and modern medicine. Does Fethullah Gülen rely on a particular hadith? He makes it clear that he is following the hadith cited by Muslim in footnote which indicates that ensoulment takes place after 42 nights. Why does Fethullah Gülen prefer this hadith to the hadith that places ensoulment at the end of 120 days? Bearingin mind Fethullah Gülen’s expertise on hadith, one possible explanation for this preference is the absence of the ‘breathingof the spirit’ in some versions of the first hadith. Secondly, in reachingthis conclusion Fethullah Gülen reads these hadiths in the light of the Qur’an and reconsiders them carefully. Thirdly, the heart of the fetus starts beating at the end of week six or the beginningof week seven, and Fethullah Gülen probably takes this into consideration. In addition, as Faruk Beşer argues, if the hadith is mentioned by both Bukhari and Muslim, as a rule Muslim’s wording would be preferred. It may be that Fethullah Gülen has this in mind, but it should be noted that this option is not very clear from his presentation.
Fethullah Gülen also sheds light on the precise nature of the permissibility of expellingthe fetus before ensoulment. Some Hanafite scholars consider this issue in the context of mubah (religiously neutral action) while other scholars hold the view that it is not neutral but requires a compelling justification, ʿudhr. For Fethullah Gülen, abortion before ensoulment is makruh (a disapproved action or a legal category close to forbidden, haram). Here Fethullah Gülen makes a distinction between legal rule and natural law (shariʿah al-fitriyya/ayat al-takwiniyya). He says that abortion before ensoulment is not a crime in legal terms but it is a sin in the sense of natural or creational law. In other words, abortion at this stage is not equal to murder but it is like killingan innocent animal (for example a cat) for no reason and of course killing such a creature is a serious offense but not a crime. Thus his opinion is that certain legally valid human actions are morally questionable. Be that as it may, in my recent conversation with Kurucan, who is a very close associate of Fethullah Gülen, Iwas told that in the light of modern medicine, Fethullah Gülen urges Muslim scholars to re-evaluate their findings in the light of these hadiths. In other words, Fethullah Gülen strongly inclines towards the view that the life of fetus begins with ensoulment.
Despite the existence of a clear Hanafite opinion on this issue, Fethullah Gülen seems very cautious and holds the view that as the modern medicine suggests, the life of fetus begins with conception and with the exception of saving the life of mother, there is no way for abortion. He states that people can benefit from this tolerant Hanafite view and that Hanafite jurists like Abu Hanifa, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Shaybani carry the responsibility of statingthis opinion; and I(Gülen) believe they will overcome the weight of this responsibility in the hereafter. Nevertheless, Fethullah Gülen, although a strong Hanafite scholar, does not disregard the view of other juristic schools. While taking account of the opinions of some scholars from other schools who concur with the Hanafite view, Fethullah Gülen notes that the majority regard abortion carried out without good reason before ensoulment as wrong. He argues that the views of the other three schools of thought should be taken into consideration and concludes that abortion without a legitimate reason before ensoulment and formation should be considered a serious offense, jinayah.
As mentioned before, there is no question of abortion being permissible after ensoulment, as abortion at this stage is an act of aggression. Jurists generally mention some conditions for permissible abortion, notably the preservation of the mother’s health. If the mother’s health is in danger, abortion is considered an obligatory solution. There are also many other instances which are debated by Muslim scholars, such as pregnancies resultingfrom extra-marital relations, from rape or from incestuous relations, pregnancies at too young or too old an age, and abortion of a disabled or abnormal fetus. These issues are among the major challenges facing scholars today. Although permission is sometimes given to a woman whose pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or who is carrying a severely disabled fetus before ensoulment, it seems that the majority of scholars are still very reluctant to legitimize these kinds of abortions for fear that they may later be obliged to approve other grounds for abortion. There is no general rule; therefore every case must be dealt with individually. Fethullah Gülen adopts a similar approach. He advocates the delegation of these sorts of decisions to advisory committees, and is therefore mostly silent on the matter of his opinions being used as fatwa. Nevertheless he provides large amounts of information on the topics of coitus interruptus, sperm banks and organ donations. It will be beneficial to briefly analyze his views on these matters before movingon to the subject of euthanasia.
First of all it should be noted that Fethullah Gülen discussed these topics as far back as the beginning of the 1970s, at a time when they were unfamiliar among Muslims. In particular in the matters of sperm donation, frozen embryos, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilisation, and artificial insemination, the community to whom he addressed his views on these topics may well have heard about them for the first time from him. He was asked the question, ‘There is a great deal of reference to sperm banks in the Journal on Science and Technology. What is your opinion of this?’ and his analytical response is important in terms of our subject. Fethullah Gülen first considers the matter from a religious-juristic point of view, and then conducts various psycho-sociological analyses. Especially, when discussing matters such as donated sperm, donated ovum, or using the womb of another woman, Fethullah Gülen focuses mainly on two points. The first is that if the sperm, ovum or vagina belongs to someone else, then one of the five principal objectives of Islam—the protection of progeny—is violated. The violation of such a very important injunction brings with it a disregard for many ethical and legal institutions such as marriage and various aspects of marriage too. The second point is that such practices go completely against nature as it has been created by God, and a natural outcome of this is the subversion of parentage. Fethullah Gülen discusses this matter in detail. He argues that a child who originates from the sperm of someone other than the mother’s husband may, in the future, be looked upon differently by the mother or her husband, and may not be provided with the same love and care given to the couple’s other children. He argues that a man and wife should try to have children in a legitimate way, and regards taking non-rightful routes as an infringement of the laws of nature; he evaluates such an act as an atrocity. Therefore, Fethullah Gülen views the usingof the sperm of a man other than the husband, or the womb or ovaries of a woman other than the wife in order to have children as ‘civilized fornication’. Finally, if they are still unable to have children despite their legitimate attempts, or if either the man or the woman is inadequate in this matter, Fethullah Gülen believes that people should accept that their infertility is natural and the will of God. He advises those who are unable to have children to support financially the education and development of ten children from other families. Fethullah Gülen calls this way ‘a revival’.
Another issue Fethullah Gülen has frequently been asked to address and a matter that he too has chosen to concentrate on is that of coitus interruptus, birth control and family planning. Similarly to his views on sperm and eggdonation, Fethullah Gülen considers this matter from different angles, and in particular adopts the approach taken by Islamic Law. After giving brief information on the nature of coitus interruptus, he provides examples from the period of the Prophet, and focuses on the views of the jurists. In short, coitus interruptus is defined as taking the necessary measures to prevent conception (the use of birth control pills, or condoms, or the man ejaculatingoutside the woman). While in Islam it is not permissible for a man or a woman to be completely sterilised, there is an agreement among scholars that it is acceptable to practice any of the above so long as it does not cause any harm to the health of the person. The most conspicuous feature of Fethullah Gülen’s approach is the importance he attaches to the views of the majority. Accordingly, in analysing the accounts that hold coitus interruptus permissible, he explains in detail the reports narrated by the companions of the Prophet, AbuSaʿid al-Khudri and Jabir. A reading of these accounts in respected books on the hadiths such as Sahih of Muslim and Sunan of Abu Dawud reveals that some of the companions of the Prophet did not wish to have children from their concubines and asked the Prophet whether it was permissible to use coitus interruptus. It is reported that the Prophet told them they could do so if they wished, but that if God has decided that they will have children they will surely have children. Indeed, Fethullah Gülen notes that the concubine of one of the companions who used the coitus interruptus method did become pregnant.
Fethullah Gülen also cites the prohibitive reports concerningcoitus interruptus. He focuses especially on the Juzamah hadith, and narrates the words of the Prophet that ‘coitus interruptus is equal to disguised or minor infanticide.’ Fethullah Gülen deals with the matter in the light of the Qur’anic verse which discusses the pagan act of burying infant girls alive, also noting the views of the Imam AbuJaʿfar al-Ṭahawi, who attempts to find the middle route between these two different opinions. Accordingto al-Ṭahawi, in matters where there were no provisions the Prophet at first accepted the provisions of the People of the Book (the Jews) and forbade coitus interruptus. However, when he found out what their approach was he stated that coitus interruptus was permissible, thus overruling the previous provision. Fethullah Gülen is inclined towards the permissibility of coitus interruptus, quoting the words of the Prophet to those who wished to use the method: ‘He did not forbid us’. Of course this is not the only factor which leads Fethullah Gülen to this view. He believes that while some jurists approach with caution coitus interruptus which has been performed out of necessity, it is important that the majority of Hanafite scholars (Gülen refers here to fundamental Hanafite sources such as Multaqa, Durar and Ibn ʿAbidin) view it as acceptable. He says that Muslims only possessed the possibility of coitus interruptus on this matter, that the fatwa on this was not issued by him but by the jurists, and that he had said that it could be done in the light of these fatwas.
Fethullah Gülen’s approach to family planningor birth control is similar to that stated above. His opinions on the matter are given cautiously, and he is opposed to a systematic (enforced) method of birth control. However, while not actually recommending it in so many words, he does say that any planning sincerely desired by the family can be carried out through methods such as coitus interruptus. Therefore, he sees any long-term planning using medical intervention as harmful to both women and to society as a whole. Finally, even if he does not directly touch upon topics such as cloning humans and producing healthier babies through genetic engineering, an examination of his opinions in general shows that Fethullah Gülen is very sensitive and cautious in such matters.
As we previously mentioned, one of the ultimate goals of Islamic law is to protect life. For this reason, Islam not only declares life to be absolutely sanctified but also encourages believers to exert great efforts for its protection. The Qur’an equates savingone person’s life with savingthe whole human race. By the same token, killing one person is equal to killing the whole of humanity. Thus human beings are not free to do whatever they wish with their body. They should exert the utmost caution and take all the necessary steps to protect their life. From this point of view, not only is suicide prohibited in Islam but also wishing for death is forbidden. Thus, Muslim scholars never recognize the termination of a life by any form of active intervention. According to Islam, this kind of action is a punishable crime of deliberate homicide.
Traditional anecdotes and many other materials on committing suicide provide ample evidence against active forms of euthanasia. Fethullah Gülen also gives detailed explanations and links voluntary euthanasia directly to suicide in many respects. First of all, the Prophet makes many clear statements which explain that any attempt to commit suicide by throwingoneself from a cliff or a mountain, drinking poison, or using a knife or other weapon will be doomed to eternal punishment.
Furthermore, there are reports of incidents during the time of the Prophet in which the body of a suicide was brought to him; in one case the man had killed himself with an arrowhead and the Prophet did not pray over him. The most frequently mentioned example is that of a mighty warrior who fought for the cause of Islam and performed great feats during one of the battles. When he was injured, he killed himself. The Prophet then described the result of this sinister act, saying that the man would never enter paradise and God had supported His religion with the efforts of a sinful person (in this report the Prophet refers to paradox). Similarly, in the case of the fatally wounded warrior who falls on his own sword to hasten death, God said ‘My servant hastened himself to me and so I make paradise unlawful for him.’
Clearly then, any act intended to damage or kill oneself wipes away all the good deeds accumulated by the servant and dooms the person to hell. These anecdotes are important sources for Muslim scholars, including Fethullah Gülen himself, to refute the claim of killingin the case of unbearably painful suffering, hopeless incurable illness, or any kind of injury and great sufferings. He says ‘If a person who has only two minutes left to live were to say ‘Ican no longer cope with the pain,’ and take his own life, then according to religion he would be a murderer. So, in this respect, a doctor that helps a patient to die, saying‘He is about to die anyway’ is subject to the same provisions.’ In addition, Fethullah Gülen points out that much pain today can be easily relieved by medication or by suitable neurosurgery. In other words, every effort should be exerted to kill the pain not the patient by developingfully adequate pain management. In rare exceptional situations, Fethullah Gülen says, the pain goes beyond bearable limits (when the painkiller does not relieve or mitigate the pain), and in this situation, accordingto Fethullah Gülen, this uncontrolled pain causes the afflicted person to faint naturally (shariʿah al-fitriyyah). More importantly, Fethullah Gülen, in his interview with a journalist from the Netherlands in 1995, repeats several times that in Islam a legal judgment should be based on a clear and very well defined fact. In this case, Fethullah Gülen continues, the notion of pain is extremely relative because even the pain of toothache, headache, or the dropping of stones from the kidney or bladder causes some people serious sufferings.
Here it is important to note that like many other scholars Fethullah Gülen frequently reminds the reader about the importance of efforts to find cures for diseases and sufferings within ethico-religious boundaries. He cites a famous Prophetic tradition: ‘God did not send down any disease without creatingits cure with the exception of old age (in another report it says ‘death’), therefore seek to cure the disease.’ Furthermore, the report contains the expression fa-tadawaw (seek together the cure of diseases); this prompts Fethullah Gülen to make another comment to the effect that the report urges believers to engage in collective efforts to find suitable treatments for every kind of ailment. Muslims believe that any kind of illness or suffering is always to be regarded as either a trial from God to confirm believers’ spiritual situation or as expiation for their sins. They are not evil but the realities of life and there is much other wisdom behind them. As the Prophet himself remarked, ‘No disease, hurt or sadness befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick that is received from a thorn, but God expiates some of his sins for that experience.’ Thus Fethullah Gülen says that a believing patient or sufferer should accept with great patience whatever comes from God. The Prophet Job (Ayyub) is the greatest example of this sufferingand patience. Fethullah Gülen also notes that this earthly deprivation will be rewarded in the hereafter; therefore believers should see a positive role for many diseases and sufferings, accepting that they play an important part in bringing the believer to a higher spiritual and moral station and in developing a stronger sense of trust in God in the face of various calamities. Thus believers should never consider pain and suffering as a legitimate basis for euthanasia.
Nonetheless, we have to admit that the advent of modern medical support intervention together with the notions of brain death, vegetative state, post-coma unresponsiveness and so on both challenge and make more complicated the traditional understanding of death. For Muslims, crucial questions are: what exactly constitutes the state of death? What is the exact location of the human spirit? And What is the precise time when the human spirit departs? Although Muslim scholars admit that the separation of the soul is not open to direct empirical observation, the majority associate the concept of death with the complete cessation of the heart beat. Modern medical experts, however, do not consider the failure of cardiac and respiratory functions to be a valid indicator of death. They even accuse Muslim scholarship of failing to see how the operation of many organs connects life with the functions of the human brain. Thus for them, the brain plays a significant role in determining the very concept of life and is also an important criterion for the establishment of death.
Regarding the question of brain death, it is generally seen by Muslim scholarship as a warning (nadhir) but not a complete death. Nevertheless, Muslim scholars, including Fethullah Gülen himself, do not consider the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments from irreversibly brain-dead patients as euthanasia, so long as well-informed consultations with physicians (five doctors) and other people involved in the patient’s treatment take place. In other words, passive euthanasia or allowing the patient to die by withholding treatment following the professional advice of doctors is not real euthanasia. In this case, the death is regarded as having been caused by the person’s pre-existent disease rather than the intentional act of turningthe respirator off. Although Fethullah Gülen does not make a distinction between partial brain impairment and irreversible loss of brain functions, we can understand from his presentation that he takes both into consideration. Therefore, it seems he implies that sometimes delaying the irreversible death of the patient through a life-support system can be regarded as serious damage, to the detriment of both patient and relatives. Because of the changing nature of the issue, it is quite difficult to arrive in certain conclusion.
The British historian and thinker, Arnold Toynbee, states that the ‘life span of any civilization can be measured by the respect and care that is given to its elderly citizens and those societies which treat the elderly with contempt have the seeds of their own destruction within them’. Today, what is happening in bioethics is, of course, symptomatic of what is happening in society at large for both Muslims and Christians. Unfortunately, our modern world encourages the excessive consumption of entertainment to avoid consideringserious existential questions. Intensive individualism, sexual freedom outside marriage, lack of spiritual support, hopelessness, discontentment with life at an early age, and many other issues are accelerating and aggravating these symptoms. In addition, the birth rate in the developed world is decreasing while the elderly population is increasing, and this brings with it a number of serious problems, whereas in the developing world, the population is growing faster than its existingresources. We are livingin a paradoxical and chaotic world; one in which our understandings of life, birth, death and dying are losingtheir moral context. We urgently have to ask ourselves ‘what sort of world do we want?’
Islam and, other religions of the world, urge their followers to look after their sick people, render them service and spiritually support them. This is the definition of mercy. Life is precious from its beginning to its end, and even the end of life is precious. The young generations should stop thinking about the elderly in terms of their problems and needs, attention to which may restrict their own freedoms. I think that, despite some theological differences, Muslims and Christians can find a great potential in their religious traditions that might provide a way of wisely addressing these life-and-death issues. Perhaps that would be a noble task for both communities to begin with.
When we look at Fethullah Gülen’s approach to such crucial issues it can be seen that he is very sensitive in the case of abortion because the increased use of abortion results in multiple problems and increasing social disintegration. For Fethullah Gülen, abortion damages not only the fetus but also the individual, family, community and social order as a whole. It is very clear that he is aware of the legal situation which paves the way for certain types of abortion; however, he tries to balance this legal understanding with ethical argument in order to discourage people from resorting to abortion whenever they wish. Clearly, Fethullah Gülen displays both realism and responsiveness to human needs, demonstratingthe flexibility that Islam grants to Muslims in dire situations. We observe a similar caution in his approach to euthanasia. There is no active or assisted euthanasia in Islam; nevertheless he insists that medicine and religion must work together to comfort the terminally ill through understanding the process and moment of suffering and death.
 In another place, Nursi says: “Yes, an important Divine bounty is not making the person who has given up his egotism perceive the bounty so that he does not become proud and conceited” (Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Şualar, 317).
 Nursi says “body (or existence) without life is the same as non-existence, ʿadam.” See Nursi, Lemaat (Simplified by Abdullah Aymaz), 42.
 Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Lem’alar, 506–507.
 Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Sözler, 679–680.
 There is also a metaphorical dimension of life which both Nursi and Gülen point to in their writings. The Qur’an explains this metaphor with its own words: ‘Can he who was dead, to whom We gave life, and a light whereby he can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness, from which he can never come out? Thus to those without faith their own deeds seem pleasing’ (6:122). In the light of this verse, Nursi and Gülen hold the view that a person can be alive physically, but dead spiritually or emotionally; similarly, a person can be intellectually brilliant but amoral, so their life should be regarded as of little significance.
 Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Biomedical Ethics, 2009, 167–168.
 Birgit Krawietz, ‘Brain Death and Islamic Traditions: ShiftingBorders of Life,’ Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia, (ed. Jonathan E. Brockopp), 2003, 194.
 Sachedina, 2009:150.
 “God gives life and he makes it die,” “a person dies when it is written.” “Then He shall gather you to the resurrection.” (3:156, 3:185, 29:57, 39:42)
 A number of Qur’anic verses clearly state that God determines a fixed span of life for every person (Jonathan E. Brockopp, ‘The ‘Good Death’ in Islamic Theology and Law,’ in Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia, (ed. Jonathan E. Brockopp), 189.
 Nursi, Sözler, 36; Krawietz, 2003:199.
 Sachedina, 2009:146.
 Nursi, Mektubat, 348–349.
 Nursi, Lem’alar, 518–519.
 Umar F. Abd-Allah, ‘Theological Dimension of Islamic Law,’ The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, (ed. Tim Winter), 2008, 237.
 Abd-Allah, 2008:237.
 Ahmet Kurucan, Fethullah Gülen’s response to legal questions in 1970s, 13. Kurucan checked all of Fethullah Gülen’s answers to questions from the 1970s to the present and selected legal responses and legal interpretations. (He is still workingon the project.) Fethullah Gülen comments: “If one day a committee is formed within the Religious Affairs Directorate, and it looks at these matters in detail, both from a medical and a religious point of view, then there will be no other views as to the statements made by individuals on these matters.’ Elsewhere Fethullah Gülen states: ‘Twenty or thirty scientists or experts come together and make some statements on matters where Muslims are indecisive. They will say that is that and settle it once and for all’; and ‘My only wish in the future is that I hope there will be a perfect committee set up and that they will resolve the matters in which we are indecisive. So that we can say this is the fatwa on this matter. All of the statements we make today are sporadic and are nothingmore than personal opinion.” (Kurucan, 13, 89).
 Donna Lee Bowen, ‘Contemporary Muslim Ethics of Abortion,’ in Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia, 2003, 61.
 Kurucan, 89–90. Fethullah Gülen also gives another example in relation to the notion of necessity: ‘There need to be studies carried out on the body so that autopsies, organ transplants and medicine in general can advance so that young doctors can develop. ...In all these cases there should be as many as are necessary. For instance, if needs are fulfilled by five students working on one body, it would not be permissible for each of them to work on a separate body, otherwise there would be no difference between these students and nabbash (grave robbers) who severely damage the bodies of the dead. This is because necessity makes that which is illegal acceptable, but only in as much as the amount needed.’ (Kurucan, 31). Elsewhere, Fethullah Gülen states that if it is possible to learn by usingartificial materials, that method should be preferred. (Kurucan, 367). Nevertheless, these are his views pronounced forty years ago, there is some possibility that he might change his view in today’s world.
 Besides ijhaḍ (strictly, abortion before the ensoulment, first trimester), there are also isqaṭ (elimination: miscarriage between the fourth and seventh months), ṭarh (expulsion), ilqa (caused to throw: before 7 months), imlaṣ (cause to slip). For instance, when the camel gives birth before its due time, the Arabs say ajhaḍat al-naqatu ijhaḍan (Kahtani, 2008:457; Sachedina, 2009:129).
 ‘Do not kill your children for fear of poverty; We provide sustenance for you and for them (6:151); The Qur’an condemns the pre-Islamic practice of female infanticide ‘when the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain’.
 Ibn Taymiyya is amongthe few exceptions who apply the Qur’anic prohibition on killing children to the case of abortion. The attempt to induce the abortion of a pregnant slave’s fetus (isqat al-haml) is considered unlawful (haram) by the consensus of Muslims. It is a category of waʾd (Katz, 2003:26). In a very significant hadith, Ibn Masʿud says: ‘Iasked God’s messenger which sin is the gravest with Allah? He replied: That you associate a partner with Allah, while it is He who has created you. Ibn Masʿud says: Isaid to him ‘Verily it is indeed grave.’ Ibn Masʿud says: Iasked him what the next gravest sin was. He replied: That youkill your child out of fear that he shall join you in food; and finally fornication with the wife of one’s neighbor.’ (Bukhari, Sahih, www.al-islam.com, XIII.394; Muslim, Sahih, www.al-islam.com, I.238).
 Rispler-Chaim notes the distinction made by contemporary medical dictionaries between embryo (from two to five weeks after fertilization to the end of the seventh or eighth week) and fetus (from seven to eight weeks after fertilization until birth). (See Vardit Rispler-Chaim, ‘Between Islamic Law and Science: Contemporary Muftis and Muslim Ethicists on Embryo and Stem Cells Research,’ Comparative Islamic Studies, 2/1 (2006), 41). Many Muslim scholars, however, follow the division of ʿAli b. Abi Ṭalib, who says ‘If the fetus does not go through seven stages, the ʿazl (coitus interruptus) cannot be considered the same as killingthe daughters alive (waʾd). These stages are as follows: i. wet clay, ii. drop of sperm, iii. sperm into clot of blood, iv. lump, v. bone, vi. flesh and finally vii. another or new creature, khalqan akhar (Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbali, Jamiʿ al-ʿUlum wa al-Ḥikam, Muʾassasat al-Risala 1413, I.156).
 Attention should be paid to relationship between two words, namely al-takhalluq (formation of the creation) and al-akhlaq (ethics and morality). Al-takhalluq is a transformational word and is derived from the word akhlaq that means the emergence of a discernibly human feature. It is an important factor in Ḥanafite discussions of abortion: the majority of scholars pays attention to the gradual development of the fetus and determine the personhood on the basis of the presence of soul in the fetus, which is qualified to have certain rights as a human being. Ghazali: When the spirit is breathed into the fetus and the form is completed, wa-istawat al-khilqa (Ghazali, Ihya ʿUlum al-Din, www.alwarraq.com, I.402).
 In contrast to the heart, the brain and nervous systems develop at the end of the trimester. Kahtani notes that Ibn Qayyim al-Jawdhiyyah wrote in his Kitab al-ruh (The Book of the Spirit) that life begins with ensoulment and has nothing to do with the formation of the brain. (Kahtani, 2008:447–449).
 In the last three decades, these issues have been discussed in great detail among Muslim jurists, who generally hold the view that either the child should be given for adoption or, as in the case of Muslim women who were raped during the Bosnian war, abortion in such circumstances is allowed.
 Kurucan, 256. Fethullah Gülen states that women in particular should not be continuously put through certain treatments like a guinea pig, and they should not be made to think that having a child is absolutely essential. It is interesting that, in contrast to certain Muslim practices in different regions, he also does not recommend that men should take a second wife if their first wife is unable to bear children.
 Kurucan, 14; There are many hadiths on the matter. For relevant hadiths see Bukhari, Sahih, bab bayʿ al-raqiq, VII.476; Muslim, Sahih, bab hukm al-ʿazl and bab jawaz al-ghayla, VII.307 and 323–324; AbuDawud, Sunan, bab ma jaʾa fi ʿal-azl, VI.78.
 Can also be read as Judama. Judama binti Wahb al-Asadi.
 Fethullah Gülen further cites the views of Ibn Ḥazm on the matter. As is well known, Ibn Ḥazm believes that neither usingmedicine nor coitus interruptus are permissible. (Kurucan, 46). For detailed information see Hüseyin Atay, ‘Kur’an ve Hadiste Aile Planlaması,’ Ankara Universitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi, 18 (1970), 17.
 Regardingthis topic, Fethullah Gülen uses the terms tahdid al-nasl and tanẓim al-nasl.
 Fethullah Gülen considers smokinga gradual suicide (tedrici intihar) and regards excessive speed which leads to a fatal car crash as suicide also. (Fethullah Gülen, Gurbet Ufukları, 221–223; Zaman, (01.09.2006); Kurucan, 12, 174).
 Interestingly, Fethullah Gülen says ‘For a start, the legal systems of the world have said noting concrete or final word on this matter. So, if we permit it, we would first of all be saying something contrary to global law. That is to say, if we were to say it should be, it could be construed as a contravention of human rights...’ (Interview).
 Bukhari, Sahih, 18.74; Elsewhere, Fethullah Gülen argues: ‘If a person causes problems for himself due to his own actions of his own free will, or due to his own carelessness, then he will be responsible for that. For instance, if he took a knife and cut himself trying to commit suicide, but did not die and was only wounded, he will be deemed responsible for harmingthe body which has been loaned to him’. (Fethullah Gülen, Fasıldan Fasıla-2, 319).
 Bukhari, Sahih, V.129.
 Ibid., 20.273.
 Ibid., V.152.
 Accordingto a report of another incident duringthe expedition of Khaybar, ʿAmir b. Sinan, a poet companion, while fighting against a Jew with his sword, injured himself unintentionally and consequently died. As a result, the Anṣar (helpers of the Prophet) thought that all his good deeds would be in vain. However the Prophet clarified that ʿAmir would have two rewards. Clearly, a different intention leads to different results (Ahmad b. Ḥanbal, Musnad, 33.274; Bukhari, Sahih, 21.95).
 Fethullah Gülen commented further on the matter: ‘However, if one day the world legal systems and Islamic legal experts can evaluate pain on a computer, and if the sick people are about to die, if these experts begin sayingthat this pain is unbearable, this pain is makingsick person unconscious, or if the experts say somethingnew and different, then it will not be me who has made that judgement, it will be them’. (Interview).
 Taken from the Turkish translation of an interview carried out by a Dutch reporer in İstanbul (19 October 1995). Iwould like to thank Cemal Türk for providingme with the text of this interview.
 Muslim, Sahih, XI.210; Abu Dawud, Sunan, X.343, 371; Tirmidhi, Sunan, VII.349, 403.
 Fethullah Gülen, Fikir Atlası, 165–167.
 Ahmad b. Ḥanbal, Musnad, XX.299.
 Interestingly, pain is the primary reason for the request in only about 5% of cases. Instead, it is a refusal to endure the final stages of deterioration, both mental and physical. (Margaret P. Battin, ‘Euthanasia: The Way We Do It, the Way They Do It,’ in Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine (eds. Bonnie Steinbock, John D. Arras, Alex J. London), 503).
 The longest survival of brain death exceeded 37 years (Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, 341).
 Most Muslim scholars consider that when the heart stops, the departure of the soul has occurred. As long as this separation has not taken place, the patient has to be regarded as living. Nevertheless, Muslim scholars have developed a series of notions which are called characteristics of death (ʿalamat) or signs of death (ʾamarat) such as glazingof the eyes, stoppingof the breath, relaxation of the feet, bending of the nose, deterioration or decomposition of the body, whitening of the skin, sweating of the forehead, discharge of fluids from the eyes, discharge of sperm, partingor wrinklingof the lips (Sachedina, 2009:146–148, 152). The patient’s acceptance of medicine and food are considered a sign of physical life, and many scholars also refer to the continued growingof nails and hair….(Krawietz, 2003:200). Some jurists pay attention to the blood flow test as a reliable indication of stable life. To base one’s validation of death on lack of movement or of pulse is, however, considered somewhat problematic in modern medicine. Clearly, there are some differences between classical Islamic understandings of death and the concepts of modern medicine. Furthermore, there are others who maintain that death occurs only when there is no electrical activity in brain at all (Sachedina, 2009:157–160; Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, 343).
 Krawietz, 2003:200.
 Shabbir M. H. Alibhai and Michael Gordon, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Islamic and Jewish End-of-Life Ethics: A Case-Baed Approach,’ Muslim Medical Ethics: From Theory to Practice, (eds. Jonathan E. Brockopp - Thomas Eich), 182.
This article published in Journal of Islamic Quarterly, 57/2 (2013) 85–116. I would like to thank the editor of the Journal for his kind permission for the republication of this article.
- Created on .