The first question you will ever get from family, friends, and even the random Muslim cashier at the grocery store who hears you have been accepted at medical school: Isn’t it haram to stare at naked people? Yes, I slaved away for 4 years at a university, survived organic chemistry, and took a grueling 5 hour MCAT just look at undressed strangers. Of course not! The beauty of Islam is that it encourages every Muslim to study not only Islamic knowledge, but academic fields as well. Avicenna and Al-Razi, two great Islamic scholars and scientists, were some of the first people to study cadavers. Rufaida, the first Muslim doctor, treated Companions (RA) injured and wounded in battles. If it was haram, then studying medicine and science would have been haram, and the medical advancements that Muslims achieved over the course of history would never have been discovered! Yes, the cadavers are undressed, and yes, we have to study everything in the human body, but there are ways to excel in anatomy while staying true to your deen.
What worked for me was that I entered the anatomy lab with a clear mind and a pure intention to study the human body as a way to marvel at Allah’s creation and to attempt to understand how every structure in the body works. An important tip is also to study anatomy with a group of people who are not attempting to make crude and inappropriate comments about the cadaver, or to point out structures for no apparent reason. Surrounding yourself with those types of people will make it more difficult for you to remain neutral in your thought. The first few labs involved the back and arm muscles, which assisted with my adjustment to the idea of an undressed human being. When the real test came, the urino-genital section, I was a little apprehensive, but felt mentally prepared. I studied the female anatomy first, and when I felt a little more comfortable, studied the male anatomy with several students. By the time I had reached that point, I was able to prevent any haram or inappropriate thoughts from crossing my mind and to focus solely on the scientific aspects.
As a medical student, the anatomy lab is where you will greet your first patient, especially if you are interested in the surgical field. Studying the cadavers will not be your only encounter with undressed human beings, you will continue to experience this with your standardized patients (the “actors”) in your clinical courses before you head off to rotations in your 3rd and 4th years. Remember that Allah SWT chose YOU to be in this place because He knows that you are capable of focusing your thoughts and remaining a faithful Muslim. Once you pass this first test, it will be much easier to adjust to similar situations that will arise in the future inshaAllah. And no auntie, I can’t hand in a note from the Sheikh excusing me from anatomy lab 😉