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A s i a n B i o e t h i c s R e v i e w D e c e m b e r 2 0 0 9 Vo l u m e 1 , I s s u e 4 318 Iran’s Experience on Religious Bioethics: an Overview K I A R A S H A R A M E S H Historical Overview During the golden age of Iranian-Islamic medicine, the most famous Iranian physicians, such as Avicenna (981–1037 AD), Razi (865–925 AD) and Ahwazi (932–994 AD) devoted some chapters of their medical textbooks to a number of instructions about the doctor-patient relationship, which nowadays is considered a major topic of bioethics. They tried to answer questions such as how should a good Muslim physician act? (Larijani and Zahedi, 2006a; Azizi, 2000; Tajbakhsh, 2003) Centuries before, in ancient Iran and before Islam, religious ethical instructions concerning medical ethics were collected in the Vendidad, part of Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, which was Iran’s formal religion before Islam (Razi, 2006). Today, the main sources of moral teachings in the Iranian tradition are Islamic teachings as the primary source, philosophical works rooted in ancient Greek and ancient Iranian traditions, and Tasavvof or Sufism, which was Islamic in origin, but was somewhat influenced by Christian and Buddhist schools of thought. During the first few centuries of Islamic history, philosophical books were translated from Greek and Pahlawi (the Iranian language before Islam) to Arabic and Persian (the Iranian language after Islam continuing to the present), which greatly influenced moral thought in the Islamic world, especially in Iran. In this period, prominent Iranian philosophers (Tabatabai, 1994) tried to found an Islamic moral philosophy based on the teachings of Aristotle and compatible with Islamic teachings; among them were Miskawayh (932–1030), Farabi (872–951), Avicenna and Nasireddin Tousi (1201–1273). Over the following centuries, however, the prominence of Tasavvof suppressed this philosophical movement. Some of the great Sufi scholars, most prominent of them Ghazzali A R T I C L E S 318–328 Asian Bioethics Review December 2009 Volume 1, Issue 4 319 (1058–1111), criticised Islamic philosophers arguing that their philosophy was contrary to Islamic teachings (Zarrin Koub, 2000; for information about ethical teachings of sufist scholars, see Aksoy and Tenik, 2002). These criticisms were very successful and since then, Aristotelian philosophy lost its influence on the intellectual life of Muslim societies. Birth and Development of a Major Branch of Islamic Bioethics Though Iran is an Islamic country, there are some great differences between the main theological and jurisprudential schools in Iran and most of the other parts of the Islamic world. To understand the nature of these differences, in addition to the aforementioned influences from different traditions, one should be aware of the differences between the two major branches of Islam: Shiite and Sunni. Shiite and Sunni each have their own schools of jurisprudence, theology and ethics. While the majority of the Muslims (about 90%) in the world are Sunnis, the majority of Iranians (again, about 90%), are Shiites. Shiite Muslims, like other Muslims, follow the Qur’an and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, in contrast to other Muslims, they believe that the prophet’s family (Ahl al-Bait), including a certain chain of his descendants known as Imams, have special spiritual rule over the community. Furthermore, there are two main theological schools in the Islamic tradition: Ash’ariyyah and Mu’tazilah. From the theological point of view, Shiite’s theoretical framework is similar to Mu’tazilah’s (Motahari, 1981; Aramesh, 2007a). According to Ash’ariyyah thought, there is no such thing as intrinsic and essential moral goodness and badness, because reason and its products cannot stand on their own feet in a way that they have not epistemic justification at all. Rather, they should be taken into account in the light of scripture and the prophetic tradition in order to grasp their own epistemological value (Aramesh, 2007a). According to the Mu’tazilah perspective, however, moral goodness and badness can be revealed by reason on its own. Hence, bioethical judgements can be made based on reasoning rather than...


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pp. 318-328
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Archived 2017
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