Life (Al Hayat)
by Prof.Dr.Omar Hassan
DEFINITION OF LIFE
All of us agree when
we see a living thing that it is alive when it is breathing, moving,
and eating. There are several situations that are border-line and
require a clear definition. Both life and death are earthly events
(Qur'an 7:25). Life can not be defined simply as the opposite of
death. It is definable on its own. Life can be defined biologically,
chemically, legally, and spiritually. It is not surprising that
there is no one single definition of life; life is complex and its
definition must be complex. The biological definition is not easy.
Phenomena of death
occur on a continuous basis. On a daily basis cells die and are
replaced. Some organs can die while the rest of the organism is
still living. Even in situations in which the whole organism is
considered dead by ordinary criteria, some parts of it could maintain
manifestations of life for a long time. Organs of dead persons stay
alive for a long time in transplantees. Human cells have been maintained
in long-term culture for decades.
Life could also be
defined in chemical terms as a series of chemical reactions in metabolism.
These reactions are not much different from inorganic reactions
that occur between elements. Viruses make a very fine line between
life and death. One of the signs of life is dynamic change. There
is growth and development. There is also degeneration and death.
The elements that make
up the human body are recycled. The degenerate cells and tissues
whether in life or after death break up and become part of the earth.
They are later incorporated into new cells as food, water or air
that is breathed in. Life could also be looked at in spiritual terms.
Life without any spirituality is no life at all. Spiritual death
could occur without biological death. Spiritual diseases could transform
a human to be at the level of animals or even worse. We can conclude
that life is a complex phenomenon with biological, chemical, and
Life can be described
at various levels: ruh, the whole living organism, the organ, the
tissue or cell, the molecule, and the atom. The highest level is
that of the ruh about which we know very little. We however know
that the ruh is the essence of human life and that it is eternal.
Humans share with animals the biological nature of life but they
have in addition the ruh which makes them special.
The Qur'an mentions
insertion of the ruh in case of Isa (PBUH) (p 515 4:171, 31:91,
66:12). The ruh is inserted in the fetus during intra-uterine life
to give it human life, nafakh al ruh (p 516 15:29, 32:9, 38:72,
p 1249 15:29, 21:91, 32:9, 38:72, 66:12).
The body without the
ruh has lost all the essence of a human being. On burial most of
the human body decomposes and disappears within a short time and
only bones persist. The Qur'an has mentioned the bones as a challenge
to the unbelievers that He can indeed bring them back to life (p
281 17:49, 17:98, 23:35, 23:82, 37: 16, 37:53, 56:47, 75:3, 79:11).
The various organs of the body have a life and an individuality
of their own and will bear witness against the human shahadat al
a'adha (p 230 24:24).
Life can be looked
at in three stages: pre-uterine phase, uterine phase, the post-uterine
phase, and the after death phase. The Qur'an has mentioned two lives
and 2 deaths (40:11). Life on earth is described as enjoyment, hayat
akl duniya matau (p 430 3:14, 3:185, 4:77, 6:32, 7:32, 9:38, 9:69,
10:23-24, 10:70, 10:98, 11:15, 13:62, 20:131, 23:33, 28:60-61, 28:77,
29:64, 33:28, 40:49, 42:20, 42:36, 43:32, 43:35, 46:20, 47:36, 57:20).
Humans have a blind
love for life on earth and its enjoyment (p 382 2:96). Life in the
hereafter starts with resurrection (p 19 6:6:36, 7:29, 7:57, 10:4,
10:34, 11:7, 16:38, 17:49-52, 17:99, 18:48, 21:104, 22:7, 23:100,
28:85, 29:19-20, 30:11, 30:25-27, 30:50, 30:56, 31:28, 32:10-11,
34:7, 36:12, 36:32-36, 36:51-52, 36:27-83, 37:16-21, 46:33, 56:47-50,
58:6, 71:3-4, 83:4-6, 86:8-10).
NATURE OF LIFE
As far as we know human
life exists only on our planet. The possibility of human life on
other planets is possible and was referred to indirectly by the
Qur’an (42:29). The details will have to be unravelled by scientific
research and exploration.
Life belongs to Allah
and not the human (p 382 3:156, 7:158, 8:42, 15:23, 23:80, 30:40,
4);11, 40:68, 45:26, 50:43, 53:44, 57:2, 67:3). Allah gives and
takes away life (2:96, 3:156, 7:25, 7:158, 15:23, 23:80, 30:40,
40:43, 40:68, 45:26, 50:43, 44:53:44, 57:2, 67:2). Humans do not
own their life but are temporary custodians of life. Humans have
no control over life or death (25:3). Death and life are in Allah’s
hands (p 382 25:3). Humans therefore have no right to destroy their
life or that of any other human. Doing so is one of the greatest
There is a continuum
in human life. The start is the state on non-existence (azal). Allah
then created the souls and took an undertaking from them to worship
him (al ‘ahad). Starting with Adam (PBUH) Allah created a physical
body to house those souls during life on earth (hayat al duniyat).
The physical part of existence on earth ends with death and the
souls continue into eternity. Life in the integrum (hayat al barzakh
23:100) is an intermediate stage between life on earth and life
in the hereafter (hayat al akhirat). In the hereafter human life
will re-assume its physical form with the resurrection (al ba’ath).
Life in the hereafter will be eternal. The fortunes of people will
vary; some will be in Jannah while others will be in hell being
punished for their transgressions on earth.
Human life on earth
has a definite time span (ajal) (p 73 6:2, 6:128, 11:3, 13:38).
No human endeavor including the most advanced medical procedures
can shorten or extend this time span. The whole purpose of medicine
is to exert maximum efforts to improve the quality of remaining
life since the time of the ajal is known by Allah alone. The Qur’an
has taught the concept of a fixed time of death for every human
(ajal al mawt) (p 1153 63:10-11; p 73 3:145, 6:60, 10:11, 14:44,
22:5, 39:432, 63:10-11). Only Allah knows this time; humans can
not know it (jahl al insaan bi zaman al mawt, p 1155 31:34). Humans
have no means of foretelling in a certain way the moment of death
(p 1258 31:34). They can predict or extrapolate from their empirical
observations and experience but this remains ar best an approximation.
Death occurs immediately when the appointed hour strikes (buluugh
al ajal). The hour of death is fixed ajal musamma, ajal ma’aluum
(p 1153 35:45). It can not be advanced or forwarded (p 1153 15:4,
16:61, 71:4, 63:10-11).
Humans naturally want
to live for long (2:96). This may be because they want to enjoy
the earth as long as possible or for fear of the unknown after death.
Some humans desire a long life to be able to make a maximum contribution
to improving themselves and the earth on which they live.
Life can be a happy
one (hayat said) or unhappy (hayat dhankat) (20:124). A good life
is related to good deeds (p 382 16:97).
Life on earth is a
test for humans (p 382 67:2). Those who pass the test succeed. Human
life must be purposive to be meaningful. The first and most important
purpose is worship of Allah (‘ibadat). Life devoid of 'ibadat has
lost its purpose. Ibadat is a continuous undertaking as long as
life continues (p 382 19:31). ‘Ibadat is here considered in its
comprehensive sense. All good and well-intentioned human activity
is ibadat and has a reward. It is part of ibadat to fulfil the trust
of human vicegerency on earth (amanat al istikhlaaf). Humans must
improve the earth and leave it better than they found it. They must
improve themselves socially and spiritually. They have to play a
positive role in preserving the stability of the eco-system and
the food chain for their good and that of existing generations and
generation not yet born.
QUALITY OF LIFE
The question whether
life exists or has ceased to exist is a recent pre-occupation. For
millenia humans did not bother to answer the question since the
answer had no practical value. When a person was seriously ill all
they did was to wait. If there was some life the patient could revive
else he would not. Death was easily defined in terms of irreversibility.
There was no hurry to ascertain death. Modern technology has complicated
the picture by introducing methods of keeping some functions of
life like breathing or blood circulation beyond the point at which
traditionally people would have been considered in a state of irreversible
decline to death. It is therefore now important to be able to define
the moment of death to guide decisions on whether to apply or stop
the advanced technology life support. Criteria of life are closely
related to quality of life indices. A high quality of life will
have more stringent criteria. Low quality life will have fewer criteria
needed to define it. It is not possible to discuss criteria without
taking quality into consideration.
Human life must have
some quality. It is not enough to eat and breathe or maintain the
vegetative functions only. A human can not live like a plant or
an animal. The quality of life can be defined in physical, mental,
or spiritual dimensions. The physical criteria are: absence of disease,
comfortable environment, and basic necessities. The mental criteria
are: calmness, absence of neurosis and anxiety, and purposive life.
The spiritual criteria are mainly correct relation with the creator.
Issues of quality of life have been raised in the recent past because
of advances in terminal disease care and the stresses of technological
development. Many patients who used to die of cancer and other debilitating
diseases can now survive. Both the disease and its treatment cause
considerable changes to their lifestyle. The life under these debilitating
conditions is of low quality. Both the original disease and the
treatment contribute to this low quality; the treatment in some
cases has a more contribution. Specialized methods have been developed
to be able to assess the quality of this life empirically. These
indices take into considerations performance status on physical
tasks in addition to social or psychological parameters. Industrial
society has given rise to environmental pollution and mental stress
that affect the quality of life. Decision-making on allocation of
health care resources depend on quality of life assessment.
of the quality of life use anatomical, chemical, and physiological
indices. They indicate general goals and are not good measures of
actual quality of life. The new QOL indices are predictors of the
goals. They are based instruments that are validated and whose reliability
is tested empirically. Some are general whereas others are specific.
Assessment of QOL may be by indices or by profiles; indices being
more popular. These indices are standardized but it must be remembered
that each individual is unique. The indices are used in clinical
trials and clinical practice. In clinical trials QOL indices include
survival duration, impairments (signs, self-reported disease, physiological
measurements, tissue alterations, and diagnosis), and functional
status (physical, psychological, and social)
The commonest scales
of QOL used are: (a) Quality of Well-being Index: combines morbidity
and mortality parameters (b) Sickness Impact Profile: physical and
psychological dimensions (c) Nottingham Health Profile: perceived
health status with no direct questions on health (d) McMaster Health
Index Questionaire: physical, social, and emotional parameters (e)
Index of Health-related Quality of Life: physical, psychological,
and social adjustment (f) Euroqol Quality Life Index: mobility,
self-care, usual activities, pain/discomfort, anxiety/depression
parameters (g) World Health Organisation Health-related Quality
of Life (WHOQOL) is being developed.
QOL indices are used
in the following special situations: cancer, rheumatoid arthritis,
Parkinson's Disease, Asthma and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
hypertension, angina, psychiatry, and skin diseases. In cancer there
are physical, psychosocial and general assessment. Physical performance
status is assessed on the activities of daily living (ADL). In general
the Sickness Impact Profile and the Quality of Well-being Index
START OF LIFE
Human life started
with the stage of ruh when Allah took the covenant 'ahad al laah
ila al bashar ( p. 852 7:172-173, 36:60). This was life at a spiritual
level. It became life in a material form with the creation of Adam
and his wife Hawa. They were created from clay and became humans
when the ruh was inserted. Biologically the offspring of Adam and
Hawa have continued transmitting the original biological material
in the form of DNA all down the centuries from parent to offspring.
The act of creation is repeated every time there is conception when
maternal and paternal DNA combine to give rise to the foetal DNA.
The act is completed by insertion of the ruh during intra-uterine
life. In a biological sense the continuity of life as not been interrupted
from the time of Adam. There is therefore an unbroken continuity.
It is pointless to try to define the exact moment when human life
on earth is considered to start because of the concept of the continuum
above. This is of practical and not an academic interest. Defining
an exact moment in the intra-uterine phase for the start of life
has legal implications in cases of contraception, abortion, inheritance,
We have to be careful
about debates on the start of life. We need to ask ourselves what
is the purpose behind the debates? There are social problems of
an ethical nature that people want to solve by defining the start
of life. The interest is therefore not only legal but is also ethical
and moral. Once the point of start of life has been defined, then
it is possible to legalize any medical procedures involving feticide
provided they are done before the defined time. Trauma or any other
man-made cause of feotal death would be considered homicide only
if it occurred after the defined start of life. In a similar way,
a fetus would have rights of inheritance from the father if the
father died after the period of the defined start of life. In all
three cases the analysis is wrong. Life existed before and beyond
conception. Feticide is committed in societies that want to allow
sexual promiscuity unaccompanied by the responsibilities of child-bearing.
Any aggression to the body of a pregnant woman is to be punished
and should not be related to the life or non-life of the fetus.
It is justice that any offspring of the deceased inherit to be able
to have physical support. We can therefore conclude that the main
motivation for defining the start of life is to find is to escape
moral and social dilemmas. Islamic law and teachings provide adequate
measures for preventing these dilemmas.
The issues of the start
of life have not been studied by Muslims well. Study of sub-cellular
structures may reveal new relations and explanations. Such studies
also will clarify the boundary between the inorganic and organic
parts of the body and the relation between life and the organic.
The boundary between the world of the seen (alam al shahadat) and
the world of the unseen (aalam al ghaib) needs to be elucidated
in biological systems.
VALUE OF LIFE
Human life is a gift
from Allah ,ni’imat al hayat (p 1236 16:78, 67:23). Those who have
life are a select few. A fertilized ovum that eventually grows into
a human being is a very small statistical probability. One male
ejaculate has millions of sperms and only one of them succeeds in
fertilizing the female ovum. In many cases fertilized ova do not
grow into fetuses but are aborted early. Children are a bounty to
parents ni'mat al dhurtiyat (p 1239 3;38, 6:84, 14:39, 19:5-7, 19:19,
21:72, 21:90, 25:74, 29:27, 38:30, 42:49). Humans must be grateful
to Allah for the gift of life by worshipping Him (ibadat).
Each human has an inalienable
right to life from Allah (haqq al hayat). This life can not be taken
away or impaired by any human being except in cases of judicial
execution after due process of the law.
Life is sacred. The
sanctity of life (hurmat al hayat) is guaranteed by the Qur’an.
The life of each single individual whatever be his or her age, social
status or state of health is important and is as equally important
as the life of any other human (p 382 5:32). Protection of life
(‘ismat al hayat/hifdh al nafs) is the second most important purpose
of the shariat coming second only to the protection of the Deen.
It has priority over any other mundane consideration.
No material value can
be put on human life. Legal compensation for bodily damage or homicide
is replacement of lost earnings and not paying for the value of