Ahmet Göksu – Islamic Philosophy

Cultural collisions of Islamic Philosophical Traditions and Decisions in Modern Bioethics. Challenges for Muslims and Intercultural Ethics in Germany with a Focus on Organ Transplantation and Brain Death Definition


The controversial nature of organ donation in Germany is clearly noticeable by the decline in the number of organ transplantations in 2013, which unleashed great interest in the causes of this decline and which has been explained mainly by the organ transplant scandal of 2012. Despite the scandal, physicians estimate the willingness to donate organs among the Muslim population in Germany as very low. At the same time this (un)willingness in Germany is higher compared to Islamic countries. An explanation that draws on cultural or religious backgrounds is therefore not suitable. Thus this situation raises some questions: What are the causes for the (alleged) lower willingness of Muslims living in Germany to donate organs? Which role does the controversial debate on brain death definitions play in the inner-Islamic discussion?

Migration doubtlessly promotes cultural plurality in societies and supports the multifaceted shaping of coexistence in integrative societies. Simultaneously, cultural plurality affects divergent areas of life. According to statistical data, 15,7 million persons with migration background[1] are living in Germany, which represents about 19,3 percent of the whole population.[2] The first generations of migrants are currently experiencing a significant demographic change. Empirical studies show that in the year 2030 approximately 2,8 million migrants will be older than 60 years.[3] The increasing average age among migrants from different cultural areas implies that these older migrants will need more medical attention in the near future and, with increased health issues, the number of deaths will be climbing. As a consequence, medical caretakers will face more challenges in intercultural treatment situations.[4]

For Muslims in Germany, too, it is of great interest to know how Islamic science and theology positions itself towards modern biomedical interventions at the beginning and end of life, such as abortion[5] and stem cell research, euthanasia, brain death[6] and postmortem organ transplantation[7]. All the conflicts attached to these biomedical issues are central to Muslims living in Germany. Some of these complex topics have been discussed in Islamic theology and philosophy for a long time. Others, due to their modern nature, are newly introduced. Therefore, it is key for my study to follow Islamic ethics from the early philosophers and legal scholars up to the modern forms of these philosophical traditions. Thus a critical questioning and analysis with regard to modern problems of bioethics can partially give insight about essential thinking patterns and movements within these philosophies. On the one hand, the examination of the reciprocal exchange between Islamic and Christian or Western philosophies holds the potential to give Islamic ethics the necessary cause for thought for modern problems in bioethics. On the other hand, such an investigation can support European philosophy to elaborate an intercultural respectively interreligious philosophy.



[1] The Federal Statistical Office defines persons with migration background as follows: „Thus, the population group with a migration background consists of all persons who have immigrated into the territory of today’s Federal Republic of Germany after 1949, and of all foreigners born in Germany and all persons born in Germany who have at least one parent who immigrated into the country or was born as a foreigner in Germany. The migration status of a person is determined based on his/her own characteristics regarding immigration, naturalisation and citizenship and the relevant characteristics of his/her parents.” (2011), p. 6.

[2] Federal Statistical Office (2011), p. 7.

[3] Federal Statistical Office (2007)

[4] Federal Government Commissioner for Foreign Resident Affairs (Ed.) (2007).

[5] Ilhan Ilkilic, Begegnung und Umgang mit muslimischen Patienten, Bochum 2005, 40.

[6] Birgit Krawietz, Grundlagen und Grenzen einer Hirntodkonzeption im Islam, in: Tod im Kopf: Geschichte des Hirntodes und die Kulturen des Todes. Hrsg. v. Thomas Schlich und Claudia Wiesemann, Frankfurt a.M. 2001, 239-256.

[7] Ilhan Ilkilic, Begegnung und Umgang mit muslimischen Patienten, Bochum 2005, 20.


Author: Ahmet Göksu