The Sanctity Of Life (Ethics 1.3)

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Life, Death and Ethics


1.3. The Sanctity Of Life

How is the human special?

There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that human life has a very special status, more than that of animals. Muslims believe that the first human Allāh created was the Prophet Ādam (peace be upon him), He created Ādam with “His own two Hands.” Allah created him from clay, then Allāh taught him, and then commanded the Angels to bow down to him.

Then Allāh created from Ādam, his wife, Eve (Hawwa), and from them both came the whole of mankind. Humans, the offspring of Ādam and his wife, have the ability to think logically, we have developed sophisticated forms of communications, we have creative skills that we use in architecture, building, travel and science. Humans also have the God-given ability to choose between right and wrong. Muslims believe Allāh has commanded humans throughout the ages to worship Him alone and to behave in a manner that He, the Most High, has commanded and is pleased with. By behaving in accordance to the religion of God, mankind lives in peace and security with each other, and Allah showers upon them an abundance of bounties and blessings.

Muslims also believe in other creatures created by Allāh in the “unseen” world. So there are the “Jinn” that were created from smokeless fire. They have the same obligations upon them as human beings, and they are also given the ability to choose between right and wrong. Also from the “unseen” creatures are Angels. Angels were created from light and are utterly obedient to Allāh. Animals have no such free will, and they do only that for which they are created.

You can see from this that human beings have a unique position amongst creation according to Muslims. However, this does not mean that we can abuse other living things just because we are superior to them in many ways. Islām has guidelines in place that ensure that humans only use animals when needed to advance human life in a manner that is pleasing to Allāh. So Muslims, for example, can eat meat but have to make sure the animal is cared for when alive and killed humanely. Humans use certain animals for agriculture, others for riding upon, and others for their wool in the case of sheep. All of this is permitted for Muslims but without mistreating animals. the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once passed by a camel that was so emaciated that its back had almost reached its stomach. He said,

“Fear Allāh with respect to these beasts who cannot speak.” (Abu Dawud).

A group of Companions were once on a journey with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he left them for a while. During his absence, they saw a bird with its two young, and they took the young ones from the nest. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back. He said,

“Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her.” (Muslim).

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that a prostitute once saw a dog on a very hot day going round and round a well, lolling its tongue because of its thirst. She drew some water for it using her shoe, and for this action her sins were forgiven (Reported by Muslim).

The Messenger of Allah, once saw a donkey which had been branded on its face and he said, “May Allah curse the one who branded it.” (Reported by Muslim). The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

“A woman was once punished after death because of a cat which she had kept confined until it died, and because of this she entered the Fire. She had neither given it food or drink while confining it, nor had she let it free to eat the creatures of the earth.” (Reported by Muslim)

The Sanctity Of life

The fact that human life is special leads us to the concept of the sanctity of life. This means that in Islām, the lives of humans are protected from being harmed and killed. Allāh stated in Qur’ān:

“To kill one person is like killing the whole of mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind” (Quran 5:32)

In a narration the Prophet Muhammad said:

“The killing of one believer is more severe in the sight of Allāh than the destruction of the Ka’bah [in Makkah].”

In another narration he said:

“Whoever kills a non-Muslim under covenant will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

These authentic sayings show the importance of the preservation of life. This means that no person has the right to damage and destroy the life of another against the wishes of Allāh.

There are certain issues that have arisen in modern times that Muslims must deal with in light of the Quranic and Prophetic teachings that deal with the question of when life begins. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“Each of you is gathered as a creation in the womb of his mother as a seed for 40 days, then as clot of blood for a like period, then as a morsel of flesh for a like period. Then an Angel is sent who blows the breath of life (soul) into him and is commanded to write down for him four matters: his means of livelihood, his lifespan, his actions, and whether he will be happy or miserable.”

This tradition shows that life is not blown into the foetus until 120 days have passed. Issues such as abortion have been discussed and researched by the scholars in light of this and other Prophetic traditions that help Muslims make difficult decisions related to child birth. This will be discussed in a later study sheet.

Allāh said:

“Nor can a soul die except by Allāh’s Will, the term being fixed as by writing in the pre-Decree.” Qur’ān 3:145

Tip: You should learn this and use it when writing about about Muslim attitudes to death. A soul has a fixed term to live, and only Allah knows how it will die, when it will die and in which land it will die. No life is taken except by His Will. So even if one is killed by another, it is because that is what Allāh had written for it. And that is the case even if one kills oneself by suicide. Allāh has forbidden human beings from murder and suicide, but Allāh allows it but that does not mean He is pleased with it – so remember that distinction. Allah knew everything that would occur and had written it,  “fifty thousand years before the creation of the Heavens and earth,” as the Prophet stated in a narration.

Quality Of Life

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“The best of you are those who have long lives with many pious deeds.”

He also said:

“Amazing indeed is the affair of the believer.. when he is struck with a calamity, he is patient and that is better for him.”

People may consider whether an illness or particular way of life allows them to lead a comfortable and dignified life. Certain illnesses that require constant painful treatment may cause a person to seek to end his own life. This of course is forbidden in Islām under the principle of “the sanctity of life”. Allāh said:

“Do not kill yourselves (or have yourselves killed), for indeed Allāh has been with you most merciful.” (Quran 4:29)

“..and Allah is the one who gave you life, then shall He ordain you to die, then shall He give you your life again, truly mankind is ungrateful” (Quran 22:66).

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that Allāh will punish severely the person who takes their own life. The question of continuing treatment for a person who is suffering immensely and unlikely to benefit from treatment is also a consideration. The former Mufti (Jurist) of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Ibn Bāz stated that there are categories of people who may not be resuscitated due to the likelihood that they will die regardless, or they are considered “brain-dead” because their bodily organs have failed. This also will be discussed in in detail in a later class.

  1. How do you define the quality of life from an Islamic perspective? i.e. What is a good life?
  2. How did humankind begin as Muslims believe?
  3. What do humans know of the pre-decreed Will (Qadr) of Allah?
  4. What do Muslims believe about suicide?

Question: Does being a member of the human race, and being “superior” to animals affect the way animals are treated? Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

Key terms:

Sanctity of life is the sacredness of life. It cannot be harmed or taken without strictly valid  reasons.

Quality of life: A measure of fulfilment – how good or bad life is in all its aspects.


I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who are working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school can also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.

There will inevitably be typos (or other mistakes). Please leave a reply below if you see any.

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