Surrounded by books on history and spirituality and newspaper clippings on Muslim issues, Lakhani, a former advertising executive and a regular contributor on Islamic affairs to a Gujarati daily, lives alone off a leafy lane in Bandra (West). He has been contemplating donating his body for quite some time. He wants the hospital he will donate the body to, to decide whether it will use it only for scientific research or whether it also wants to donate the cornea, skin, bones and heart valves. Other solid organs such as lungs, heart, kidney, liver, pancreas and intestine cannot be donated after death but can be retrieved from a brain-dead person.
“When I turned 72 in 2002, I brought a donation form from J J Hospital. It demanded consent from immediate survivors. Since my wife had passed away by then, I asked my three daughters to give their consent. They flatly refused, saying it was not permissible in Islam,” says Lakhani. “Yes, we oppose it as we think it is not proper for a Muslim to donate his body after death,” says Lakhani’s youngest daughter Shabnam.
Undeterred, Lakhani took matters in his hand and started approaching senior Shia clerics. When the maulanas (religious scholars) in Mumbai “disappointed” him with their refusals, Lakhani wrote to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Najaf (Iraq)-based top Shia cleric who commands immense respect among Shias across the world. “Can I donate my body after my death?” asked Lakhani. Sistani, who grabbed global headlines recently after he sent a letter to Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party against his re-nomination as PM, sent a one-line reply. In Persian it reads: Wasiyat e mazkoor mahalle ishkaal ast (the above-mentioned will is erroneous).
Leading clerics, both Shias and Sunnis, with the exception of Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, are against organ donation or donation of the body by a Muslim. “Islam demands respect to a dead body. Certain organs can be donated, but not the whole body as every departed Muslim must get a namaaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) and a burial,” says Mumbai-based senior Shia cleric and principal of a Shia religious school Maulana Ahmed Ali Abidi.
Maulana Roohe Zafar, another Shia cleric, refers to a book by Ayatollah Sistani and underlines that a Muslim can donate a part of his/her body only to another Muslim if the recipient’s life can be saved with that donated part. “In no circumstances can a Muslim donate his entire body, whether before or after death,” declares Benares-based top cleric Mufti Abdul Batin Noamani. “Our belief is that every dead Muslim will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement in the same condition as on the day of his death. That’s why there is so much emphasis on respect to the dead,” explains Noamani.
A human chain was formed on D N Road, Mumbai on the eve of World Organ Donation Day.(TOI Photo)
However, Lakhani is not convinced. He quotes senior moderate Islamic scholar Maulana Wahidudin Khan who famously said: “Organ donation is the noblest form of charity.” “There is no problem if this gentleman wants to donate his body. It will be considered an act of charity,” Khan told TOI. Khan’s is a minority voice and he admits his own limitations: “Lakhani is a Shia and his daughters will not heed me (a Sunni scholar).”
While his daughters and top Shia clerics quote scriptures against donation of the body, Lakhani wants to take a scientific approach. “We take advantage of scientific research. So why can’t the clerics see the reason that my body after death can help doctors and researchers? I have lived my life and have no complaints against anyone. I want to do my bit to the development of medical science with my dead body, which will in any way get wasted whether I am buried or burnt,” he says.
A way out can be conversion, but he is reluctant. “How can I convert and leave my daughters horrified and repent eternally?” he asks.