During a 1995 meeting of the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences [IOMS] medical experts and Islamic jurists deliberated on “Judically (sic) Prohibited and Impure Substances in Foodstuffs and Drugs.” The seminar resulted in the religious declaration that “gelatin formed as a result of transformation…of a judicially impure animal (e.g. pig)…is permissible to (consume).” This verdict was disseminated to health policy stakeholders by the Regional Office of the World Health Organization for the Eastern Mediterranean, so as to “relieve all Muslims…from the embarrassment they feel” when taking medicines with gelatin-based products.

More than a decade later in 2009, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a religious verdict, fatwa, declaring the GlaxoSmithKline meningitis vaccine to be impermissible, haram, as a result of the vaccine having porcine gelatin components. This judgment caused an uproar within the pharmaceutical industry and the Indonesian health ministry, as not only was a multi-million dollar market at stake, but the ability of Indonesians to fulfill the religious rite of the Hajj, for which the vaccine is required, was at-risk. The following year the MUI issued another fatwa declaring meningitis vaccines produced by Novartis and Tian Yuana to be porcine-free and thus halal.

In this paper we apply a policy-oriented, applied Islamic bioethics lens to the Islamic bioethical deliberations around the use of vaccines with porcine components. We will illustrate areas of an incomplete dialogue between the biomedical community, the Islamic jurist community, and the health policy community that contribute to misunderstandings and misappropriation of Islamic juridical concepts and rulings. As we analyze these arguments, we will discuss how the biomedical community can help inform about the usage and definition of the concepts of istihala (transformation) and darurah (necessity), as used by jurists in their verdicts. We will then highlight how understanding the roles of the hakim (state authority), the differences between tayyib (pure and good) and halal (permissible), and between the normative ideal and contingent ruling within Islamic ethico-legal debate, can inform the biomedical and health policy communities about the application of Islamic bioethical verdicts.

In this manner, we hope to contribute to efforts aimed at an engagement between science and religion where health promotion is valued, while fidelity to Islamic ethico-legal tradition is maintained. A continued dialogue in the encounter between the Islamic tradition, globalized medicine, and public health will enable Islamic legists to develop an enhanced technoscientific image, and will facilitate health actors to gain greater literacy with the pluralistic Islamic ethico-legal tradition, such that Islamic verdicts and health policies better meet the needs of Muslim communities.


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  • Accepted: 23 June 2012
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