Contemporary Islamic bioethics is generally characterized by a friendly relationship with biomedical technology which is usually seen as one of the good fruits of Western modernity. Muslim religious scholars usually hailed this technology and further acknowledged and endorsed, within specific limits, its public benefits in the fields of medical treatment and healthcare. However, contributions of Muslim religious scholars on the religio-ethical challenges posed by the outbreak of AIDS as a fearful epidemic since the 1980s, showed another vision of these scholars towards Western modernity and its possible ethical dangers from an Islamic perspective.

This paper examines one of the milestones of the religio-ethical discussions on AIDS in the Muslim world. On the 3rd of December 1993, the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences (IOMS) held a conference entitled “An Islamic vision for the social problems of AIDS” where more than one hundred Muslim religious scholars and biomedical scientists participated. One of the key issues heavily dealt with was the concept of the “virus of Western modernity”, a phrase formulated by some participants in this conference. Here, the participants debated on the “ugly” or “good” face of Western modernity concerning AIDS. On one hand, some voices stressed that rampant promiscuity promoted by Western modernity should be seen as the main culpable for the outbreak of AIDS. On the other hand, other voices expressed their admiration for the human rights dimension, which characterizes the approach of Western countries towards people infected with AIDS. The other key issue which busied the minds of participants had the tincture of a “science and religion” debate. In order to provide an Islamic “recipe” for the social problems encountered by people infected with AIDS, Muslim religious scholars were in need of medical information about different aspects and possible dangers of this disease. Some participants complained that information provided by biomedical scientists was insufficient and sometimes even sounds contradictory. Alternatively, some biomedical scientists criticized some religious scholars for basing their conclusions on unauthentic information, from a medical perspective.

In their bid to formulate an overall Islamic vision on or “recipe” for the social problems of AIDS, the participants elaborated further on different religio-ethical questions. Some contributions discussed the ontological aspects of AIDS from an Islamic theological perspective. Other contributions approached the social problems of AIDS through the lens of higher objectives of Sharia (maqasid al-Sharia). Furthermore, most contributions focused on specific social problems encountered by people infected with AIDS within family or within society at large. Some central questions in this respect read: Does Islam justify drafting a law requiring a to-be-married couple to receive a certificate before contracting marriage, which shows that they are not infected with AIDS? Is abortion permitted for a pregnant woman infected with AIDS? Does the woman have the right to terminate marriage if her husband got infected with AIDS or vice versa? What is the criminal liability of AIDS patients who deliberately infect other people? Should people infected with AIDS be isolated from specific social interactions especially in schools and workplaces?


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  • Accepted: 23 June 2012
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