It's okay to donate parts of your body when you die, imam tells congregation

An Ontario imam is spreading the message among members of his congregation that it's perfectly acceptable to donate parts of your body when you die to help save lives.

Imam among religious leaders promoting organ donation as part of South Asian Gift of Life Week

Imam Omar Subedar teaches students at the Mathabah Institute, a private Islamic institute that enables adult Muslims to learn Islamic tradition. It's located in Brampton, Ont. (The Mathabah Institute)

An Ontario imam is spreading the message among members of his congregation that it's perfectly acceptable to donate parts of your body when you die to help save lives.

Imam Omar Subedar, of the Islamic Society of Peel and the Director of the Mathabah Institute in Brampton, said there are no Islamic texts that prohibit organ donation. 

Subedar is among a handful of religious leaders promoting organ donation in the South Asian community in the Toronto area this week as part of South Asian Gift of Life Week.

The leaders are confronting interpretations of their religions that forbid the practice and explaining the facts of organ donation, why it is needed and how many lives it saves.

"Perceptions will change if there is education," Subedar told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday. "People are somewhat reluctant to embrace change. Hopefully with this education initiative that we have taken up, people will see it differently."

Subedar said organ donation itself is not off limits, according to research papers published by Islamic scholars, acknowledging there are some texts that discourage making cosmetic changes to a dead body, such as clipping nails, cutting hair and shaving beards, before burial. 

"When it comes to the Islamic faith, we really don't find anything that explicitly prohibits something of this nature," he said.

"Scholars are looking at this more deeply. And they're seeing, if you look at it from a scriptural standpoint, there is really nothing that is prohibiting this. Actually we are finding things that encourage this to save other people's lives."

According to the Trillium Gift of Life Network, a not-for-profit government agency, about 30 per cent of Ontario residents in the 2015-2016 fiscal year registered their decision to donate organs and tissue at the end of life.

Members of Ontario's South Asian community, however, are less likely to register and their families are less likely to consent to deceased organ donation compared to the general public. A study in May 2013 found that 12.8 per cent of South Asians in Ontario registered their consent.

Subedar said some members of the South Asian community are reluctant to embrace organ donation, in part because it is a relatively new phenomenon, but he believes with education, more will register their consent. He is scheduled to speak Friday at Brampton city hall on the subject.

The campaign in favour of organ donation is being taken to temples, churches and mosques across the Greater Toronto Area. Events are scheduled tonight in Mississauga, Friday in Brampton, and Saturday in Markham.

Imam skeptical at first himself

Subedar said he was once unsure of the practice himself but now wants to educate people of its importance.

"I was also very skeptical in the beginning. I was also not fond of donating my organs. A colleague directed me to some published research papers," he said.

He said he realized his position was not based on the facts. "There wasn't any solid research behind it," he said.

"Hence our efforts to try to change perception," he said.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins has said one donor can save up to eight lives and help 75 more through tissue donation. 

The Trillium Gift of Life Network says donor cards are no longer used because they were difficult for hospital staff to access when necessary.

Ontario residents can register formally to donate their organs at a, or a ServiceOntario location.