Human embryology in the islamic tradition the jurists of the post-formative era in focus

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The translation of Greek works on medicine and biology into Arabic and their wide dissemination, at the latest by the 6th-7th/12th-13th centuries, in different disciplines of the Islamic tradition were not without consequences, especially for fiqh (Islamic law). In their religio-ethical discussions, Muslim jurists addressed this Greek medical legacy, together with comments and additions made by Muslim and non-Muslim, especially Jewish, physicians. This essay starts with introductory remarks about the main approaches to medical views on human embryology in philosophy and theology. I then focus on the works of five Muslims jurists from the 7th-8th/13th-14th centuries, with special attention to the Maliki jurist Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285) and the .anbali Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350), whose contributions to human embryology remain comparatively unexplored. My main thesis is that the introduction of medical views on human embryology to fiqh literature opened the door for post-formative jurists to practice ijtihad, sometimes on a large scale, by going beyond the established authority of the madhahib (schools of law). In modern times, Muslim jurists who address human embryology, especially within the nascent of field of Islamic bioethics, have been influenced by these earlier discussions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-208
Number of pages52
JournalIslamic Law and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • Graeco-Islamic medicine
  • Hippocrates
  • Islamic bioethics
  • Jewish physicians
  • beginning of human life
  • collective ijtihad
  • embryology
  • fiqh/jurisprudence
  • ijtihad/independent legal reasoning
  • pregnancy
  • religion and science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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