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Fatwa on the use of animals in medical research

Question:

What do the scholars and experts of Sharia say about the use of animals for medical research? Globally research laboratories use animals for testing new drugs and vaccines, they use mice, rats, rabbits and even primates. Naturally animals suffer during the experiments and post experiment they are killed. Similarly, medical students use animal organs during their training. Some people regard this as animal cruelty. What does the Sharia say? (Mufti Naseerullah Naqashbandi Imam Bolton Masjid UK)

Answer:

I begin with the name of Allah the Kind, the Caring

All the creation: minerals, plants, animals, insects and birds have been created by Allah for the material and spiritual benefit of humanity. The spiritual benefit is the amazing creation helps humans to understand the divine creative power and thereby recognise and believe in the powerful Lord of the universe. The material benefit is that we can use and consume them for our needs. Allah says, “He created everything on earth for you.” (Al-Baqarah: 29)

The Quran Describes the creation of animals as a special gift for humanity, “He created the livestock to provide wool for warmth, meat for you to eat, and they have other benefits too. How beautiful they look when you bring them home in the evening and take them to the pastures in the morning. They carry your loads from one city to another, without them you would reach there with much difficulty. Your Lord is Compassionate and Kind. He created the horse, the mule and the donkey for you to ride and they make you proud, and He created many things you don’t yet know.” (Al-Nahl: 5-8)

“Haven’t they considered how We created their livestock, made by Our hands; and how We tamed animals to give in to them, so they ride some and eat some of them? And they derive other benefits from them, milk to drink. Won’t they be grateful?” (Yaseen: 71-3)

These passages describe His favours to humanity: the animals to eat, ride and use their hides for clothing and furnishing; domesticated the livestock the camel, horse and ox so people use it for transport and carrying their load there; milk and meat from sheep, goats and cows. They also provide wool and leather for clothing and furnishing. In addition to these animals of the land the following verse mentions the animals of the sea: “Take two bodies of water, they are not the same: one fresh, sweet and pleasant to drink, whereas the other is salty and bitter; from  these waters, you eat the tender flesh of fish, and extract pearls to wear. Similarly, you see ships ploughing through the sea to seek a share of His bounty, so you may thank Allah.” (Al-Fatir: 12) This theme is continued, “Hunting the fish from the sea and eating it are made lawful as a concession to you and for the traveler, but you are forbidden to hunt on land while you are in the sanctified state of the pilgrim; so be mindful of Allah, before Whom you will be gathered.” (Al-Maida: 96)

“The few things He has made unlawful for you are carrion, blood, pork, and animals slaughtered in any name other than Allah’s. However, if anyone is compelled by circumstance,[1] not because he desires it or wishes to disobey Allah, then he commits no sin. Allah is The All Forgiving, The Most Compassionate.” (Al-Baqara:173) From here we learn that in an emergency one can use the forbidden if it is consumed reluctantly and not with pleasure secondly, only the minimum amount to fulfil the need. These verses prove beyond doubt that animals on land and in the sea are for the benefit of humanity so they can be consumed within the bounds.

The research carried out to discover new drugs and vaccines for contagious diseases are to protect humanity from fatal diseases. This is a noble and significant enterprise that is encouraged by the Majestic Quran, “Anyone who saves a life, it is as though he has saved the whole humanity”.(Al-Maida: 32) “saves a life” means anything that saves from injury, burning, drowning, hunger, severe cold or heat. (Mafateeh al-Ghaib: vol 11: p344).

The messenger of Allah has forbidden the killing of any animal without their being clear benefit to people, he said “anyone who kills a sparrow on Judgement Day the bird will protest “Lord so-and-so killed me for no reason”. (Sunan Nisai: 4446; Ahmed: 19470) Allama Muhammed ibn Ali ibn Adam comments “the purpose of this prophetic saying is no animal should be killed without a clear benefit.” (Commentary on Nisai vol 34; p63)

Abdulla Ibn Umar reported the messenger said “anyone who kills a sparrow or a bigger bird without a good reason on the day of judgement he will be questioned. Someone asked, “Messenger of Allah does the bird have a right?” He said it has the right to be properly slaughtered for the purpose of eating. (Nisaie; 4349) In other words to be consumed, not as a game.

Abdullah ibn Abbas narrated that the messenger said, “don’t make living thing a target”, don’t play game with animals. (Muslim: 58) When Abdullah Ibn Umar came across some youth who had tied a bird as a target (anyone who missed the target the owner of the bird would charge him in other words there were gambling.) When they saw Abdullah, they ran away he said, “whoever uses a bird as target is cursed by Allah.” (Muslim: 1958)

When the messenger arrived in Medina, he noticed that people would cut off the camel’s hump and the fat-tail of sheep to use the fat as lard. He told them this was cruel don’t do it to living animals, it’s like killing them, so he disapproved this practice.

Abdullah ibn Umar reported the messenger said “a woman will go to hell because of a cat, she tied it up and didn’t feed it, so it died. (Bukhari: 3318) The messenger may peace be upon him forbade beating animals or branding them with hot rod. Once he saw a donkey with branding on its face, the Messenger (peace be upon him) told the owner “The people who mark animal faces like this are cursed.” (Sunnan Nisaie)

Prophet has given permission to kill animals and insects that can harm human like snake, scorpion, mouse, rat and dog with rabies. (Bukhari: 1828)

In case of conflict of interest between two situations then according to the objectives of the Sharia we will adopt the position that is most beneficial and leave the one that is of lesser value. This is derived from the principle of Islamic jurisprudence “need will make the forbidden permissible”. However, “the need will be kept to the minimum”. The permissibility of the forbidden will be kept to this circumstance only it won’t be applied generally.

The use of animal organs is permissible for educational purposes, similarly the donation of organs like heart eyes and liver for saving human life if the expert surgeons are convinced of the donor’s death. Because the living is deserving of protection of life. This will fall under the principle of ‘need will make the forbidden permissible.’ However, the Sharia does not allow the buying and the selling of human organs. Blood and organs should be donated freely without exchanging money. But if one has no option but to pay for the organ (without causing harm to the donor) it will be allowed. (Al-Fiqh ul Islami Wa Idalatuho volume 4, page 2608)

If the donor demands money, then it would be treated like giving bribe for your rightful need. Though the recipient of the bribe has no right to take bribe, the person who is in desperate need may pay bribe for getting his lawful right.

The Prophet’s sayings and the jurists’ verdicts mentioned above make it clear that taking life of living creature without a good reason is forbidden. The slaughtering of animals for consumption or for other needs is permissible. Similarly, the jurists have allowed the castration of animals to improve the quality of meat. Once the Prophet bought two castrated rams for sacrifice. This is evidence for the permissibility of using animals for research and for testing medicine and vaccines.

The permissibility of post-mortem

Allama Ghulam Rasul Saeedi said, “in our opinion students can use animals or the bodies of the non-Muslims cadavers in their medical training. I mention Non-Muslims who have voluntarily donated their bodies for scientific research. Muslims seldom do this.” Sometimes post-mortem is carried for forensic reasons to prove or disprove a case. For example, the police have a suspect who had the pistol and by doing the post-mortem they can prove the bullet came from this pistol or not. The three imams, Imam Abu Hanifa, Shafeei and Malik allow the post-mortem of a pregnant woman who died in childbirth to deliver the unborn child. So, to save the living the body of the dead can be cut open.

The use of animals in experiments must be humane. The Medical research Council of Britain has given guidelines to minimise the suffering of the animals[i]. This is in accordance with the sharia and the teachings of our blessed messenger. He said “Allah has made it obligatory on everyone to achieve excellence in whatever they do, so when you slaughter do it humanely to cause minimum suffering to the animal by using a sharp knife. (Muslim: 1955)

“Indeed, He has forbidden for you rotting meat, blood, pork, and anything slaughtered without invoking Allah’s name. However, the one in dire need is exempt from this, if he eats without the intention of disobeying and transgressing; Allah is the Forgiving and the Kind” (Al-Nahl:115)

So, we conclude that for medical experiments and the training medical students where artificial organs aren’t available animals can be used.

[1] For example, if you hate the thought but are dying of hunger or thirst, are being force-fed by a captor, or told you will be killed if you refuse to do so, then consuming such meat is not a sin.

[i] The Medical Research Council is a leading funder of medical research in the UK. It considers the use of animals to be essential in biomedical research in order to better understand the living body and what goes wrong in disease, and to develop safe and effective ways of preventing or treating those diseases.

In accordance with the law, research using animals is only undertaken when there is no alternative research technique and the expected benefits outweigh any adverse effects…The use of animals in medical research has made an important contribution to advances in medicine and surgery, bringing major improvements to the health of both human beings and animals.

(https://www.ed.ac.uk/centre-reproductive-health/about-crh/use-of-animals-in-medical-research)

And Allah knows best.

By His eminence Mufti M. Muneebur Rehman grand Mufti of Pakistan[1]

[1] Translation by Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari Translator of Majestic Quran, www.majesticquran.co.uk