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Forensic Psychiatry/Psychology in Islamic Law

  • Article
  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Islamic Bioethics
  • Ali, B. & Keshavarzi, H.
  • November 7, 2017

Ali, Bilal and Hooman Keshavarzi. “Forensic Psychiatry.” In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online

Encyclopedic Entry Introduction

Forensic psychology is defined by the American Board of Forensic Psychology as “the application of the science and profession of law to questions and issues relating to psychology and the legal system” (American Board of Forensic Psychology, 2017). In secular legal systems, the expert testimony of a forensic psychiatrist or psychologist is utilized in cases where the psychological status of a defendant is relevant to the legal decision, including but not restricted to criminal liability, custody evaluations, and insurance claims (Goldstein, 2013). In criminal cases, such expertise is used to determine whether the defendant can be deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity” or “unfit to stand trial.”

The wider application of forensic psychiatric discussions in Islamic legal texts highlights one of the major differences between conceptualizations of forensic psychiatry in Islamic and secular legal systems. While secular courts do not concern themselves with religious personal law, the mental capacity question in Islamic jurisprudence frequently involves personal issues of ritual prayer, charity, and pilgrimage, in addition to family and civil issues, such as divorce, abortion, marriage annulment (faskh), and professional ethical considerations (breaking confidentiality), in ways that are unique to Islam. Thus, in an Islamic framework, forensic psychiatric practice extends beyond the purview of the court, prison, or even the hospital, and may be dealt with by non­official juridical authorities (muftīs) in a seminary, mosque, or clinical setting.

Given the encompassing nature of Islamic law as a religious ­ethical code of conduct, the implications of an unsystematic approach to the nuances of forensic psychiatric practice within the context of Islamic law are potentially devastating, and include the possibility of denial of religious dispensations for the mentally ill in issues of ritual worship, marriage and divorce, or abortion. Unfortunately, most psychiatrists/psychologists receive little if any instruction in Islamic ethics or law as part of their training and are thus unaware of the considerations to mental status afforded by the Islamic legal tradition across issues, particularly in clinical settings where Muslim jurists are not typically involved. Further, there is also little research in forensic psychiatry and Islamic law to date, and Muslim­ majority countries typically possess poorly organized forensic psychiatric services and no graduate programs or specialization in forensic psychology/psychiatry (Murad and Gordon, 2002; Okasha, 2011).

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