Islam, Fatalism, and Medical Intervention: Lessons from Egypt on the Cultivation of Forbearance (Sabr) and Reliance on God (Tawakkul)


One of the most fundamental ways that religious devotion is held to be "antibiotechnology" is in its emphasis on submission to divine will. This article seeks to re-orient discussions of religious "fatalism" through ethnographic analysis of terminally-ill dialysis patients in Egypt who argue that they would rather "accept God's will" than pursue kidney transplantation. I argue against the presumptions that this is a religious constraint on a potentially beneficial treatment, or that this reaction is merely a "comfort mechanism" to appease those without access to treatment. I argue that we should not think of people's perceptions of the amount of control they can exert over their lives in terms that would place analyses of social benefit and religious belief in opposing or even in discretely separate categories. I also demonstrate that, far from being passive, the disposition of accepting God's will must be actively cultivated through work on the self.