Editorial Preface

The suitability and adaptability of Islam to changed contexts and environments through the instrument of ijtihād have long been discussed. In essence, those who argue for the renewal of Islamic thought (including its conceptions of law) point to the fact that Islam originated in seventh-century Arabia in an environment far different and unique from contemporary societies. At the same time, Muslim scripture and tradition claim relevance for all time and place with the immutable principles and core set of teachings of Islam. Yet, relevance is not possible without a response and solution to issues and challenges of the day. The principle of ijtihād encourages a reasoned engagement with texts and recognises that a change in environment and context affects the laws of Islam. It therefore prevents the teachings of Islam from being ossified and frozen in time which hinders progress and development. Accordingly, individuals trained in the interpretation of sources are permitted to offer new readings in the substantive matters (furū‘) of religion as part of seeking solutions.

This process, as evidenced in classical Islamic jurisprudence (around the 9th to 14th century CE) in which later jurists built on earlier texts by way of providing new examples and case studies, ensured a continuous stream of growth and dynamism in the Islamic legal tradition. As a contemporary scholar of fiqh explains, such works are

…..less the achievement of a particular author than the shared effort of a whole school of research and interpretation in explaining rules of divine origin. The cooperative nature of this effort may be seen in the multilayered character of its texts, whose primary authors often merely state the ruling of an act, lawful or unlawful, leaving matters of definition, conditions, and scriptural evidence for the commentator to supply, who in turn leaves important details for both writers of marginal notes and for living sheikhs to definitively interpret when teaching the work to their students. [1]

The process is recorded in many resources that discuss Islamic law. For example, the book ʿUmdat al-sālik wa ‘uddat al-nāsik (The reliance of the traveller and tools of the worshipper) authored by the influential 14th century jurist Aḥmad Ibn Naqīb Al-Miṣrī (d. 1368CE), has been the subject of various commentaries. Under the topic of “marriage” (bāb al-nikāḥ), the author explains the conditions of custody of a child, one of which was that if a child is a Muslim, then the person with custody must also be a Muslim. In his rather peculiar commentary on this point, a 20th century jurist Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil Durubi extends this condition to day-care service, education and schooling. In the specific context in which values contradictory to Islam were feared to have an impact on young children,  he was of the view that it was prohibited for parents of Muslim children to send them to Christian schools.[2] This view, like many other views on the issue that is set in a particular context, would require a more thorough and comprehensive discussion. Whether a ruling is suitable for particular community or in a particular era, it nonetheless contributes to the development of Islamic law and its intellectual heritage by supplementing new cases and examples. As mentioned by a 20th century Moroccan jurist, Muḥammad ʿAllāl al-Fāsī in his book Maqāṣid al-Sharīʿa al-Islāmiyyah wa Makārimuhā:

The small circle of innovative scholars of jurisprudence, small though their numbers may be, constitutes a guarantee that Islamic jurisprudence will go on progressing to the point at which it becomes linked anew with the objectives of Islamic Law and their supporting evidence, and comes to be applied in Muslim courts and lands. [3]

Although it is a very important instrument of Islamic jurisprudence, ijtihād as interpreted and exercised in classical Islam is probably less adequate as a holistic solution in contemporary times and in modern and secular contexts. For example, scholars often adhere to a specific juristic tradition and tend to adopt the principles of that tradition. This also means they will be more likely to adopt the principles of the tradition without revisiting the core assumptions and ways of interpreting the principles. This practice could hinder a path to reforms required in particular situations as rulings are still bound by the conditions imposed by the classical fiqh legal tradition. An important fact that needs to be considered is that the operative environment of the classical ʿulamā is different from the world today, especially after the emergence of a nation-state system that gives rights and freedom to all citizens in various aspects of life, regardless of their background. Muslim communities today also live in very diverse situations; some as majorities but many others as minorities, and under different types of political and legal systems. The task, therefore, of finding solutions that can truly work, given the complexity of certain issues or problems, as well as its novelty and unprecedentedness warrants a more radical approach towards rethinking former and classical approaches to fatwa making.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Muslim scholars begun addressing this challenge under the broad category of reform in Islamic thought. Some scholars have also looked at the interaction between religion and political systems with a serious implication on the broader conception of the Sharī’a (which covers, among others, fatwas). The crux of the debate is where the line should be drawn between two realms and spheres of influence – religion and the secular. An earlier form of this debate had taken place in classical Islam, when scholars differed as to the source of an Islamic political system; whether obligated by reason or revelation.[4] If the Sharī’a is to dominate in all spheres of Muslim life, would this mean an a priori rejection of all other forms of political and legal order?  In early 20th century Cairo, an Azhari jurist and judge ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Rāziq argued that the Prophet Muhammad’s authority was religious/spiritual and not political. The logical conclusion of his argument is that Islam is ambivalent about political systems and orders and is not prescriptive in this regard. Rather, Islam provides a spiritual and ethical paradigm that seek to help Muslims navigate through various systems which may be foreign to the religion. Such a view inspires much confidence to Muslim communities living in a modern and pluralistic society like Singapore that they can continue to function successfully and contribute to the development of society and the state without compromising religious duties. Yet this opinion requires renewed interpretation and critical undertaking in examining the religious texts, as they form the heritage of Islamic law and support the pillars of religious life for Muslims.

In looking for new solutions, several modalities have been suggested towards finding new approaches. An influential approach promulgated in recent times is to go beyond the written law and look at the higher objectives and intent of law (maqāid) and its spirit (ruh al-Sharīa). This approach has its antecedents in the works of early Muslim scholars, such as the 14th century jurist Ibn al-Qayyim who writes in his famous work Iʿlām al-Muwaqqiʿīn:

Islamic Law is based on wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this life and the afterlife. Islamic Law is all about justice, mercy, wisdom, and good. Thus, any ruling that replaces justice with injustice, mercy with its opposite, common good with mischief, or wisdom with nonsense, is a ruling that does not belong to Islamic Law, even if it is claimed to be so according to some interpretation. [5]

Ibn Qayyim’s explanation sums up the importance for Islamic law to achieve the purpose of the Sharīa itself. Widely referred to today by ijtihād maqāṣidi and now internationally adopted by various groups of scholars who issue fatwas in Islamic countries and in Europe, this approach affords greater flexibility in terms of finding new ways at looking at issues and questions. As the scholar ‘Allal al-Fāsī notes, these objectives “[ensure] that people conduct themselves justly, with moral probity and with integrity in thought and action, and that they reform that which needs reform on earth, tap its resources, and plan for the good of all.”[6] This contributes to the critical assessment of the text in light of different contexts. Among other things, it distinguishes between ‘means’ and ‘end’. An example of this concerns the sighting of the (hilāl) moon as the start of the month, in which the visual sighting is a means, like any other legitimate but far more accurate ways (such as astronomical calculations). In this case, the end is to determine the beginning of lunar months with a high degree of accuracy. Here, the purpose and goal of the Sharī’a is the determination of the new month, and the means include precise calculation.[7]

Another contemporary aspect to note is the diversity of Muslim communities worldwide. The issues faced by the Muslim community in Singapore differ, and sometimes, in significant and fundamental ways, from the issues and fatwa evaluations in other parts of the world. For those who live in developed countries and face rapid scientific and technological advances, the considerations on the method of calculation, or generally, the value of scientific knowledge in daily life, will be influenced by the reigning local scientific trends. Further to this, religious questions faced by the Muslim community in Singapore are expected to become more complex. This is not only because of new issues which are not found in religious texts, but because each issue is often multi-dimentional and concerns matters that require specialised knowledge and covers various disciplines, such as science, sociology, humanities, history, politics and others.

In this regard, an important first step is a deep and accurate understanding of the extent of the problem or issue at hand. This requirement cannot be overstated and is not easily achieved, especially in today’s era of specialisation, as each individual has limitations in mastering multiple disciplines. For this reason, although in most Muslim communities today a qualified jurist (mufti) performs this function, in Singapore, a committee of jurists deliberate on such matters in order to tap on collective wisdom. This is not to say that all fatwas are similar in terms of the function they serve. Whilst the majority of fatwas may simply take the form of juristic responsa to a question posed by a questioner (mustafti) with the purpose of helping specific individuals with their religious queries, some others may involve more complex issues that concern the entire community and have implications on public policies. Fatwas in Singapore usually take the form of the latter, as demonstrated in the fatwas published in this volume.

This volume seeks to capture how juristic reasoning and interpretation interacts with the broader factors that surround the issue, which include socio-historical contexts, contemporary needs, and relevant scientific advancements and knowledge. As such, the approach taken here is to discuss fatwas in light of the relevant background and particular contexts. This interaction highlights the flexibility of Islamic law to provide relevant guidelines to society, underlining its dynamic feature. Muis has previously published three fatwa compilations that recorded all fatwas issued by Muis until 1998. However, there is thus far no publication that discusses the broader contexts of these fatwas.

To this end, the Office of Mufti in Muis set up a research team to study the development of fatwas in Singapore. The  team examined records of fatwa meetings in order to identify the background to the fatwa queries. Unlike the text of a fatwa that simply states a ruling and its arguments, the Fatwa Committee discussions as recorded in the minutes of meeting reflect the arguments and considerations expressed by the Fatwa Committee members, as well as any differences of opinion. In addition, the team researched on broader developments relevant to the issue at hand. This could include some historical and socio-religious analysis. In the case of fatwa on organ donation (chapter 3 of this publication), whilst the text of the fatwa itself does not detail the reason and context of the particular issue, a study of the historical development of organ donation through reports in local newspapers and relevant international coverage and the trends and interests in organ donation locally provide a more holistic assessment of the fatwas. This allows readers to better comprehend why certain issues were of a concern to the community, and what the Fatwa Committee’s considerations were in coming up with its decisions.

With these objectives in mind, this publication seeks to be a reference for asatizah, students of Islamic jurisprudence and fatwa, as well as researchers of the socio-history and religious institutions of Islam, and any interested member of the public who wishes to explore the development and management of fatwas in general. The group of researchers and writers hope that by examining the development of fatwa in this book, the reader will be able to appreciate the importance of interpreting religious laws according to contexts, and how this is done without compromising religious principles. In fact, the discussions here seek to provide examples of how contextualisation can be observed if proper attention is given to the purpose and spirit of the Sharī’a and when capabilities to grasp new and complex issues are developed.

FATWAS ON SCIENCE, MEDICINE AND HEALTH

Muis has issued a total of 577 fatwas from the inception of the Fatwa Committee until 2016. These fatwas cover diverse aspects of the religious life of the Singapore Muslim community. This volume is devoted to fatwas related to science, medicine and health.

The old yet pertinent adage that change is a constant rings true in all areas of life, not least in science. Scientific progress and research continue to push boundaries and force us to rethink our religious and ethical positions. This challenge is not peculiar to Muslims, but also applies to other religious traditions, especially those with clear scriptural injunctions and moral guidelines on life’s philosophical questions, such as on human suffering. The march of science, relentless as it may be, often comes face to face with profound ethical questions. Religious communities are, of course, not expected to hinder scientific progress, but this is not to say that one should conveniently move moral boundaries to fit in the conclusions of science and technology. Rather, given a set of principles established in religious texts, how could these principles be read and built upon, with the aim of guiding religious communities to navigate through the unchartered realms of science and ethics.

Whilst an ethical framework inspired by religion does and should not shift much, its principles require continuous reflection. In fact, it is in the application of such principles in new areas and issues that the relevance of these principles are tested. This is an intricate process that involves examining new questions with an open mind. The fatwas in this volume are examples of this process. As is often the case, scholars find their first recourse to established principles to shed guidance on new issues. However, certain matters are simply unprecedented and demand a critical review of classical doctrines and principles. As the Fatwa Committee deliberates and considers the merits and disadvantages of certain propositions, new principles of fatwa begin to emerge. Over time, one could entertain the possibility of a fiqh that is particularised to the context of Singapore. This is one of the purposes of this volume, namely to document and express the thought process behind such fatwas.

To further explain this unique process, the first chapter discusses fatwa management in Singapore and the principles observed by Muis in issuing fatwas. Among these, the Fatwa Committee of Singapore observes the proactive approach and concept of taysīr (simplifying instead of complicating). The chapter also presents a historical background to the establishment of the Fatwa Committee and the collective thinking (jamā’ī) approach as adopted in Singapore.

The second chapter discusses fatwas on family planning and reproductive science. This chapter looks at the use of contraceptives and how this developed historically in Singapore, in the context of the population needs of the country post-independence and the novelty of some approaches in family planning. Questions on permanent forms of contraception (such as sterilisation) and abortion were also asked. In general, the fatwas recognise that this is an area in which both contextual considerations as well as scientific developments affect the way religious rulings are conceived. Some theological principles remain applicable, such as the determination of what constitutes the will of God and the freewill of human beings. The gift of a child remains considered as a divine gift that cannot be annulled by a human act such as abortion. It is only in the instance of established harm to the living, such as imminent danger to the mother bearing the child, that abortion is permitted. As Singapore moved towards more sophisticated reproductive technologies, questions on assisted reproduction such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and sperm banks were also asked.

Organ donation, as discussed in the third chapter, looks at the evolution of Islamic juristic thought in tandem with advancements in therapeutic and biomedical science. In particular, it examines how the ruling on organ donation has changed from prohibition in the first fatwa issued in 1973 to the permissibility of presumed consent in the most recent fatwa issued in 2007. There are two particularly important aspects in this chapter. First is that the fatwas on organ donation incorporate a unique aspect concerning relations between state and religion, as public policy and legislative positions take into account the religious beliefs of the Muslim community as expressed in certain fatwas. Thus, up until the issuance of the fatwa in 2007, Muslims were excluded from the Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA). Second is that the fatwa deliberations focussed on universal values such as compassion and kindness (as key injunctions in the Qur’an). The increasing plight of those who suffer from organ failure thus shaped the discussions and shifted the discourse away from juridical considerations in classical Islam.

The fourth chapter discusses fatwas on biomedical research, comprising responses by the Fatwa Committee to the consultation papers of the Bioethics Advisory Committee Singapore. The issues presented in this chapter range from the use of human stem cells to cloning and genetic testing. Accordingly, these fatwas enter the domain of bioethical thought, away from discussions on points of Muslim law. In general, the fatwas have been supportive of biomedical research so long as it does not cause a clear harm and can secure the common good for society and humankind.

The fifth and final chapter discusses fatwas on therapeutic science and medication. A key issue is the status of ingredients in medical products, especially in medication (such as tablets) and vaccination. Because this involves consumption, the issue of purity and defilement becomes paramount. In many recent pharmaceutical advancements, the use of porcine sources has increased. Because Islamic law has clear rules on the consumption of pork and derivatives of pig, Muslims have raised questions on the permissibility of medical treatments that use products with porcine elements. The fatwas discuss several classical positions on the subject, but recognise a key difference in the nature of the material that is at the center of the debate. Whilst all classical positions discuss the use of pig or its derivatives in unprocessed forms, modern technology has enabled complex chemical processes that alter the nature of the substance. To what extent, therefore, should classical positions prevail? In this regard, the chapter proposes six principles on medication from the perspective of Islamic law and ethics. These include the avoidance of harm, the specific situation of arura (exceptionalism), and securing good (malaa). With particular reference to the nature of pig derivatives in medicine, the fatwas consider two classical concepts with contemporary relevance: istiḥāla and istihlāk. Several other medical- and health-related issues are also discussed, including Advanced Medical Directive (AMD), dialysis and smoking.

This first volume is the first in the fatwa compilation series to be published by Muis. The editorial and writing team hope to be able to publish subsequent volumes on other themes such as theology, acts of worship, and finance and inheritance. These subsequent volumes will adopt a similar approach, but with improvements and refinements based on feedback from readers of this volume. We hope that these efforts receive the blessings of Allah s.w.t. and further enhance the Muslim community’s understanding and practice of Islam, especially in its appreciation of an Islamic intellectual tradition: one that is founded on immutable principles but display courage and audacity to seek new solutions and chart new pathways for a better future.


  1. Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, ed. and trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications, 1994), viii.
  2. Ibid., 552.
  3. Quoted in Al-Raysuni, Ahmad, Imam al-Shatibi’s Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2006), xviii.
  4. The jurist al-Mawardi discusses this in his influential work al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya. See p.3-4.
  5. Quoted in Jasser Auda, Maqasid al-Shari’ah as Philosophy of Islamic Law (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2010), 186.
  6. Al-Raysuni, Ahmad, Imam al-Shatibi’s Theory of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law,  xxiii.
  7. This is an approach accepted by many contemporary scholars such as Faisal Mawlawi and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. See Jasser Auda, Maqasid al-Sharī’a as Philosophy of Islamic Law (Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2010), 187.  

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