Thinking Out Loud: Exploring the Intersection of Religion and Medicine

By Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA — May 27, 2024
Imagine a world where the nuances of religious beliefs intertwine with medical science, shaping the very fabric of healthcare. Welcome to Halalopathy, a concept emerging from a vibrant Islamic culture and pharmaceutical practice.
Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay

“The intersection of religious beliefs and medical practices profoundly influences medication usage and patient adherence to treatment regimens in healthcare.”

As a surgeon, I am familiar with the religious decision of Jehovah’s Witnesses not to receive blood transfusions under nearly all circumstances. The current debates over the beginnings and ends of life continue to fill the gaps in our scientific “knowledge” with religious belief. Perhaps as an insular American surgeon, I might be forgiven for not knowing anything about  Halalopathy, “the harmonious alignment between therapeutic drugs and deeply held religious beliefs and lifestyles of [Muslim] individuals.”

Jordan and Halal

The study I am sharing was conducted in Jordan, known for the iconic city of Petra, carved into rose-red cliffs. It is 97% Muslim and blends Sharia and French civil law. The pharmaceutical industry is a substantial component of its GDP and provides the Arab world with a host of high-quality generic medications. Its healthcare system is funded through government and payroll deductions and is well-trained.

Halal is the Arabic term for “what is permitted or lawful under Islamic law,” including pharmaceuticals. Ingredients that are forbidden, haram, include porcine gelatin and “pharmaceuticals from plant or synthetic origins [that] include intoxicants of all types, such as alcohol (in elixirs) and illegal drugs.”

The survey evaluated healthcare practitioners' knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of Halalopathy. It was a small study involving about 381 practitioners, including physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and a few dentists. (Why do we always leave the dentists out when discussing health?). Here are a few of their findings about faith, medicine, and their intersection.

  • Only 3.4% of healthcare providers (HCPs) worked in private settings, consistent with what we consider independent pharmacies or medical practices.
  • As you might expect, more than 96% were aware of the terms Halal and Haram, but far fewer, 66%, were aware of the concept of “Halal pharmaceuticals.” Most information came from religious legal opinions (Fiqh Fatwas) followed by that global physician, Dr. Google, showing “the escalating influence of digital platforms in providing information about halal and non-halal pharmaceuticals.”
  • As we find here, words often outpace deeds. While 75% felt it essential “to explain the sources and ingredients of pharmaceuticals to the extent possible and encourage patients to ask questions,” 40% rarely asked when prescribing non-halal medications.  
  • 79% of the participants acknowledge that their religious beliefs influenced treatment and that a very similar number, 76%, of their patients were similarly influenced in the “commitment to treatment.
  • Cost was also a consideration – with two-thirds of HCPs believing that if patients were provided with relatively more expensive halal alternatives, they would be reluctant to use them.
  • HCPs wanted drug manufacturers to provide information, with half desiring branding with a “Halal Logo” on various pharmaceuticals, with a significant proportion indicating a preference (50.7%). There was an overwhelming desire for guidelines and further education.

Finally, there were several ideas and phrases that we apparently shared across the planet.

“the dominance of non-Muslims in the production of cosmetics has generated mistrust among Muslim consumers, prompting scrutiny of global cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.

This support [of Halal pharmaceuticals ] is crucial for delivering patient-centered care that aligns with the cultural and religious preferences of individuals [and] underscores the importance of integrating cultural and religious considerations into healthcare practices to meet the diverse needs of patient populations.

Ensuring equitable access to Halal pharmaceuticals necessitates an understanding of patients’ willingness to invest in these services.”

The intricate relationship between religious beliefs and medical practices holds significant sway over medication usage and patient adherence to treatment regimens in healthcare. Jordan provides an “enriched” example of the same interactions of religion and healthcare in the US, although the faiths, beliefs, and forms of healthcare vary. Patient-centered care respects and aligns with individuals' cultural and religious preferences. The diversity of our beliefs in the US makes that alignment far more challenging.


Source: Assessment of the Knowledge, Attitude, and Perception of Healthcare Providers Regarding Halal Pharmaceuticals The Open Public Health Journal DOI: 10.2174/0118749445296459240322064212

Chuck Dinerstein, MD, MBA

Director of Medicine

Dr. Charles Dinerstein, M.D., MBA, FACS is Director of Medicine at the American Council on Science and Health. He has over 25 years of experience as a vascular surgeon.

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