As we live and grow in our Islamic lives, new questions and situations are constantly cropping up. Recently, I was involved with a situation where the donation of human organs from a deceased Muslim was contemplated. In my role as an imam and funeral home administrator, I am blessed to observe many facets of this thing we call death (or more accurately, transition).
Recently, a young man of 19 years, who had a history of physical problems, had a severe asthma attack, became comatose, and subsequently became brain-dead. In cases like this, the â€œGift of Lifeâ€ team routinely visits the family to inform them of the opportunity to donate organs so that others may live. The family happens to be members of our Muslim community in Detroit, and I also serve as a chaplain at many area hospitals, so I was called in to consult.
The family was split on the decision of whether or not to donate. His brothers and sisters had an immediate reaction of, â€œnoâ€! They couldnâ€™t fathom the idea of their brother being cut open and organs removed. There was also a response of â€œnoâ€ from some grandparents â€“ mainly because â€œMuslims donâ€™t do that.â€
Surprisingly, the mother, who is a devout, and peacefully spiritual Muslim lady, had a different feeling. As she looked at her son lying in the hospital bed, she asked herself that if the situation were reversed; if her son needed a heart or kidney, would she want one donated. She said, â€œof course the answer is yes.â€ The father initially was leaning against it, but softened some because of the mother. As a result, the father asked to meet with me to talk to about it.
As I was driving to the hospital, I was asking myself what I would do if I was in the same situation. Would I consent for one of my sonâ€™s organs to be donated? And wouldnâ€™t you know it, thatâ€™s the exact same question the father asked me when I got to the hospital.
It is difficult to answer questions such as these from standard Islamic texts and sunnah because this situation did not exist at the time when hadith were being recorded. We did not possess the knowledge and/or skills to perform such operations so the question never came up. Now the question boils down to the intention of mankindâ€™s use of the intellect provided to us by ALLAH. Would ALLAH be pleased at your actions?
The mother also kept commenting on how her son had a â€œbeautiful heartâ€ and how it would please her to know that that good heart was helping someone else to live. She also said it comforted her to know that a piece of him would still live on this earth.
I was touched that the mother had these feelings and expressed them in such a calm and peaceful manner. I know that the closest bond between human beings is usually between mother and child so her feeling had special significance as I listened to and observed her.
I also consulted with an imam in Detroit who is the recipient of a liver transplant. He received this liver over six or seven years ago and he is doing just fine. He is an African-American male and his donor was a Caucasian woman so he always jokes: â€œWell, so much for racial differences. In the end, it doesnâ€™t matter.â€
I was careful throughout this ordeal not to infuse my personal feelings into this very personal decision of the family. I merely expressed some thoughts on â€œIslamic prohibitionâ€ and spiritual intention. I didnâ€™t feel it my place to tell them to do it or not do it. I kept repeating that I was merely supplying information.
But when the father, mother, and I were in the midst of our talks and the father asked me if, given the same situation, I would allow my own sonâ€™s organs to be donated â€“ I quietly saidâ€¦yes.
As it turned out, the young man was not a candidate for donation because time had elapsed and infection had set in. However, the experience gave much food for thought, of which I am grateful.