SE Michigan, Vol. 8 Iss. 39

Muslim Matters

SE Michigan, Vol. 8 Iss. 39

Doctor Teaches Medical Ethics in the Light of Islam at BUC

Bloomfield Hills–September 15–Dr. Mashhad al-Allaf, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toledo, taught a brief seminar on the medical ethics of plastic surgery in the light of Islam this past Friday night at the Bloomfield Unity Center.

Prof. Mashhad al-Allaf, PhD, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toledo, holder of the Imam Khattab Endowed Chair of Islamic Studies. He earned a PhD from the University of Tennessee with a concentration in Science and Metaphysics, and taught at both Washington University in St. Louis and Baghdad University.

The event had about 70 attendees, many of them practicing physicians, who gathered at the Bloomfield Unity Center to engage the subject of Islamic ethics and plastic surgery.

Professor Al-Allaf began by speaking briefly on the prevalence of plastic surgery in the United States, explaining that last year 9.2 million plastic surgeries had been performed.

He explained his fundamental distinction between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic or psychological surgery, explaining basically with reliance on Islamic sources that his view is that cosmetic surgery is haram and reconstructive surgery is halal. As a principle which underlies this, he said that “removing harm” is one of the usul-al-fiqh (principles underlying Islamic law) that justifies many plastic surgeries. While there exists no bright line distinction between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, in many cases it is clearly performed for reasons related to vanity while in other cases it is performed in order to be able to live a fuller life.

He started with a painful picture of a child born with a deformity, a cleft lip, who had undergone plastic surgery in order to be able to live out a normal life. He said that in this case plastic surgery was recommended under Islamic law (by consensus), based on the subject’s genetic abnormality or having suffered from a terrible accident, in order to avoid psychological or physical harm.

He gave another example of a woman having undergone surgery in order to reduce the size of her nose, and showed pictures of prominent celebrities who had undergone repeated surgeries in order to “become someone else,” saying that in fact these surgeries were intended more to address psychological injuries to the subjects rather than physical illness or deformity.

The professor then explored a series of different themes and thinking strategies regarding plastic surgery.

For instance, he explained that the essence of a human is not what is on the surface—that for instance gold is yellow but its essence is related to its atomic place on the chart of the elements, at number 79—other objects may be yellow but they do not have the tremendous value placed on gold.

Discussing the casual nature of plastic surgeries, he said that people in a quest to determine “who am I” might one day choose blue hair or earrings or other changes and can now instead simply do a complete makeover by surgery. By doing this, people incur sometimes great injury to themselves. He said that young people should not engage in cosmetic surgery too early because they have not yet grown into their final form—so it can be
An important theme he engaged was the idea that in fact human beings only gradually come to their final form, and from the point of reaching that form at about age 21 they decay—slowly slowly but nevertheless irreversibly. This should encourage us to examine and develop our internal rather than external character because internal beauty is a force which fundamentally alters the external beauty of a person.

By fighting against nature’s slow decay, he argued, a person is in fact fighting God’s will, swimming against the current, fighting the impossible, trying to maintain his own perfection when the entire force of the universe is fighting in the other direction—he said that the only place where a person can attain perfection is in his internal life—a beautiful intellect and heart. External perfection is unattainable and even our conceptual models of human perfection are unreal creatures—the most beautiful of the beautiful among women, airbrushed to perfection by photographers and artists.

Another important theme he touched on was the pursuit of illusion. Plastic surgery can be an attempt to follow hawa (vain desires), which are categorized by Islamic scholars among 4 different kinds (food, sex, authority, and knowledge)—much plastic surgery is in fact done in seeking these vain desires. He explained that hawa in Arabic is like air, ungraspable, or like a feather in the wind—the only one of these kinds of hawa which is valid and worth seeking is knowledge.

Another important theme he mentioned was that of uncertainty of results—he cited many cases of people who underwent plastic surgery for either bizarre goals or even for typical goals, but which surgery had unforeseen consequences which required follow-up surgeries restorative to the health of the subject. Another example he cited was that of breast enlargement, which frequently has the unintended consequence of making the woman insensitive to feeling and thus transforming her more into an instrument for the pleasure of another person rather than the kind of person that God intended.

This speech was an interesting exploration of different implications of plastic surgery, and of different principles of Islam and Islamic law which apply to plastic surgery, by a professor who has deeply studied plastic surgery, Islam, and Islamic law.


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