Aasim Padela

Beyond Preservation: The Higher Objectives of Islamic Law and the Enhancement of Life

Associate Professor of Medicine; Director, Initiative on Islam and Medicine
University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine
Chicago, Illinois; United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:50-6:10PM

Echology: The Virtues of Communication under Constraints (and no period at the end of his title)

The maqāṣid al-sharīʿah represent overarching human interests that Islamic law aims to protect. Muslim thinkers increasingly turn to maqāṣid to construct moral and legislative frameworks that address contemporary contexts in light of scriptural values and scientific knowledge. This presentation will examine the utility of maqāṣid for biomedicine by describing (i) models for the essential dimensions of human health and (ii) a health action agenda that can be generated from leading theories of the maqāṣid al-sharīʿah. I will argue that preserving these essential dimensions of health and combating the leading causes of human mortality is the minimal level of what Islam morally obligates upon humankind, and that when we collectively protect these aspects of life, human life is enhanced.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 9:30-10:40AM

Politics and Enhancing Life: Disruption, Dialogue, and Democracy

The premise of our laboratory is that in order to engage fully the questions of enhancing life, one must explore it in relation to global political challenges. This is because global political challenges (e.g. climate disruption, terrorism, refugee crises, post-truth media) provoke questions about power (who’s got it, who doesn’t), value (forms and loci) and shared life (social and ecological, global and planetary) that directly bear on the questions of Enhancing Life Studies. The purpose of our laboratory is to test the utility of “Enhancing Life Studies” as a framework for interpreting and/or morally engaging global political challenges. Our group hypothesis is that Enhancing Life Studies provides a way of looking at global political challenges that illuminates them in new ways which we will explore in the laboratory. 

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

An Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, Dr. Padela directs the Initiative on Islam and Medicine within the Program on Medicine and Religion and is also faculty of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. His scholarship examines how biomedical concepts are translated into Islamic law and how Islamic values influence Muslims’ engagement with healthcare.

Dr. Padela’s training in Islamic studies includes a BA in Arabic from the University of Rochester, seminary studies at Dar-ul-loom Harunia, and ongoing collaborations with Islamic scholars. His health research-relevant expertise entails a BS in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Rochester, an MD from Cornell, and an MSc in Healthcare Research from the University of Michigan.  From 2008-11, Dr. Padela was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at Michigan leading a community-partnered research program utilizing survey and qualitative methods to investigate how religious values and identity influence American Muslim health behaviors, and in 2010 as a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies he researched Islamic theological ethics.

Dr. Padela’s current externally-funded research projects include a multidisciplinary working group seeking to identify how scientific knowledge can inform Islamic ethico-legal constructs and the theology of the soul, a national survey of Muslim physicians detailing the relationships between religiosity and bioethical attitudes, and a mixed-methods intervention study aiming to enhance Muslim women’s intention for mammography. Dr. Padela’a career goal is to reconstitute the synergistic dialogue between biomedicine and Islam through systematic studies of Islamic theology and Muslim lived experiences.

Project Executive Summary

To address the discursive gaps between biomedicine and Islamic theology, I propose to construct a Muslim model of the essential dimensions of human health in the context of contemporary biomedicine. I will develop this model by examining classical and modern valuations of the essential (ḍarūri) and necessary (ḥājī) dimensions of the higher objectives of Islamic law (maqāsid  al-Sharīʿah -the preservation of religion, life, intellect, lineage, and property). I will also identify the bases for moving beyond preservation and toward the enhancement of human life by examining the social, scientific and historical factors that motivate scholars to reclassify aspects of life once considered non-essential as essential in contemporary contexts.

In addition to critically engaging treatises on the maqāsid al-Sharīʿah, I will attend fellowships at leading research centers to present research findings to, and engage in constructive dialogue with, scholars working at the interface of Islamic law and modernity. Project outputs will include (1) two presentations at academic conferences, (2) two courses delivered to a diverse audience of health professionals and bioethicists focusing on the science and ethics of human enhancement technologies, and on religious ontological and philosophical perspectives on life, health and their enhancement, and (3) a monograph on “Human Life and its Essentials: A Critical Reading of the Maqāsid al-Sharīʿah.” Ultimately this project will offer a conceptual basis for interdisciplinary and intra- and inter-faith dialogue regarding Enhancing Life studies and provide Islamic perspectives on what is means to have a healthy life and the essential dimensions of health and well-being.