The Universal Right to Health Services

Can Muslim women seek medical treatment from male doctors?

In Islam, health is regarded as one of God’s greatest blessings and Muslims are encouraged to gain medical knowledge and seek treatment. In fact, many modern surgical practices, a vast collection of medical resources, and even the first hospital, which was open to both men and women, stem back to ninth century Baghdad and the Islamic Age. As such, early Muslims treated access to health services as a universal right granted by the Qur’an, regardless of gender.

Quranic Support

“And We send down from the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe…” (Quran 17:82)

The Prophet’s Sayings

“Allah has sent down both the disease and the cure, and He has appointed a cure for every disease, so treat yourselves medically but use nothing unlawful.” (Narrated by Abu al-Darda)

Cultural norms predicated on gender segregation deprive women of healthcare services, with often deadly results. These norms stigmatize medical treatment from male doctors, and foster a general uneasiness amongst women to seek medical attention. Muslim women who observe strict modesty are unwilling to remove their outer-clothing for checkups, resulting in inadequate and incomplete examinations. However, due to the law of necessity, which states “that which is necessary makes the forbidden permissible,” women have the right to receive treatment from both female and male doctors.

In addition to cultural norms, misconstrued religious ideas about fate and destiny also impact a person’s decision to seek medical care. There is a belief common amongst devout people that illnesses are part of God’s will, so seeking treatment is futile, because it would contradict God’s plan. For example, sometimes mental illnesses are viewed through a strictly religious lens – some believe that a Muslim cannot be depressed if they are correctly following Islam, and thus dismiss depression amongst Muslims. But according to the Qur’an and Hadith, it is necessary to seek both preventative medical care and treatment for all types of illnesses. Leaving any health problem, especially those relating to mental health, unattended can result in grave consequences.

Fragmented and differing scholarly opinions have also created general confusion about receiving healthcare. Contrary to some scholars’ view that vaccinations should be prohibited because they are typically administered by the West, Muslim jurists state that vaccinations are obligatory for the purposes of health. Considering the gravity of healthcare in the developing world and the number of lives at risk, it is incumbent upon both doctors and scholars to correct misunderstandings about healthcare in communities to preserve, enhance, and maximize life.

WISE Position

Muslim women have the right to promote, protect, and enhance the quality of their life. Strict modesty and patriarchal cultural taboos should not pose an obstacle to living healthy lives. As mothers and nurturers of future generations, they have an obligation to preserve the well-being of their bodies by seeking emotional, physical, and mental health care.

WISE Women Active On the Issue

Nafis Sadik, Fatou Waggeh, Hanan Gewefel

Related Articles

Seeger, Dayna M. “Muslim Women and United States Healthcare: Challenges to Access and Navigation.” The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College. Gettysburg College, Spring 2015.