Contemporary western bioethics is based on two predominant philosophical theories and their off shoots, viz

1-Utilitarianism:(utilis=useful) is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall happiness, first expounded by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and expanded by his disciple John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) with many offshoots e.g. rule utilitarianism, act utilitarianism. The consequences of each act are more important than its motives. In fact, consequentialism depends on the consequences of the act, and if it brings benefit to the majority then it is a moral act, even if it infringes the rights of some, or even may cause harm to some, provided that the harm is not intended and that the benefit involved is much larger.

2-Deontology (deon=duty) is a moral philosophy which implies doing what we ought to do, whatever may be the consequences. Lying is never a virtue even if it is done to save an innocent man. This philosophy was expounded by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), but there are many additions or deletions by modern Kantian Philosophers.

The Islamic perspective combines both theories with a completely different background. The Muslim attitude to morality and ethics is not limited to our life in this world but extends to the hereafter. Any act should aim to the appeasement of Allah (God), and hence should not in any way contradict a clear Islamic rule laid down in the Quran or the Sunna (sayings and acts of the prophet Mohammed).

The motive of each act is of paramount importance. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: “All actions will be judged by the intention (motive) of the person doing it. A person who migrates to Medina (1st Islamic city state) from Mecca (idol worshippers city), to marry a specific women or to get worldly gain, is not a Muhajir (a person who leaves his home, city or family for the sake of God). His intention rules over him.

Islamic jurists formulated the principle of public interest, maslaha. However, maslaha does not only imply the interest of the majority, but it has to be in line with the Islamic teachings. For example it can be argued breweries can employ thousands, provide income for many people and taxes will be levied to the benefit of the government, which will be spent on matters of public interest. Nevertheless, this maslaha is revoked and nullified, as Islam categorically forbids brewing, manufacturing, selling or imbibing of alcohol. The catastrophes that it brings about weigh heavier than its benefits.

The deontologist approach is accepted in Islamic teachings, yet the intent should be to please God and act fairly to others. The Islamic teachings are however not as categorical as the Kantian dogma, in which, lying is a vice and should not be committed even if it is done to save a human innocent life. According to Islamic teachings, virtues should be held high and practiced, unless real harm is going to befall an innocent person which could be avoided by a slight violation of the virtues. This paper discusses the different aspects of public interest (maslaha), the paradigms of telling the truth, and other virtues.


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  • Accepted: 23 June 2012
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