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Subject : Islamic Ruling on Conducting Social Experiments on People`s Behavior and Ethics

Fatwa Number : 3782

Date : 23-07-2023

Classified : Current Issues

Fatwa Type : Search Fatawaa

Question :

What is the ruling of Sharia on conducting social experiments on random samples to study people's behavior and ethics for scientific research purposes? For example, throwing money in the street and giving it to one of the passers-by, claiming that it fell from them. Moreover, what is the ruling on presenting these experiments to the public?

The Answer :

All perfect praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. May His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.

Social experiments involve testing and exposing individuals to specific situations to reveal hidden traits and characteristics. The intention is to place a person under carefully prepared and arranged conditions to uncover their inner qualities and true nature. As Al-Raghib Al-Isfahani stated: "When it is said that someone was tested in a certain way, it implies two things: first, to become aware of their situation and to discover what was unknown about them, and second, to reveal their goodness or badness, and both aspects might be intended."[Mufradat Alfad Al-Quran, vol.1/pp.146].

He (Imam Nawawi) also said: "Fitan (trials or tribulations) are used for testing, as mentioned in the verse, it states (What means): "And I have tested you with a trial."  [Taha/40]. Fitan and Balaa (calamities or afflictions) are interchangeable in that both are used to refer to situations that reveal a person's true qualities and are employed during times of hardship and ease, with Fitan being more commonly used in times of hardship." [Mufradat Alfad al-Quran, vol.1/pp.623].

In these meanings, these experiments share similarities with the prohibited practice of spying, which is defined as "searching for hidden matters" [Lisan Al-Arab, vol.6/pp.38]. Thus, in these experiments, there is an element of intruding upon a person's privacy by exposing what is hidden from others without a legitimate reason.

The ruling regarding such experiments, in their original form, is prohibition (Haram). However, another ruling might apply based on other considerations, and one of these considerations is the underlying reason for conducting such experiments. If the reason is justifiable and serves a benefit or prevents harm, then testing individuals to the extent of necessity becomes permissible. For example, a man may test a suitor for his daughter to ascertain his suitability as a husband, or to assess his capability and trustworthiness if they were to engage in a joint business venture. 

Such benefits have been mentioned by scholars, like the issue of lineage when there is doubt about it or testing a young child to assess their maturity. Imam Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: "It is necessary to test a young child to know their level of maturity or immaturity, and this varies according to people's different social classes. The child of a merchant should be tested in matters of buying and selling, and how they handle bargaining. The child of a farmer should be tested in matters of agriculture and how they manage expenses related to it. The apprentice should be tested in their respective crafts, and a woman should be tested in matters of spinning, weaving, preserving fabrics, and safeguarding the household from pests like mice and rats, and similar household affairs. A single test is not enough, but it should be done twice or more to ascertain the prevailing inclination towards maturity." [Rawdat Al-Talibin wa 'Umdat Al-Muftin, vol.4/pp.181].

However, if there is no genuine need for testing, rather it is done out of curiosity or to expose the person being tested, then it is not permissible as per the general rule mentioned above.

In conclusion, it is permissible to conduct these social experiments if they are for the purpose of scientific research, specifically for conducting specialized social studies on random samples. These studies have scientific benefits, but it is essential to be cautious and protect the privacy of Muslims, refraining from violating or embarrassing them by threatening them with being recorded or ridiculing those who behave improperly in the experiments. However, when it comes to publishing these experiments and show casing them to the public, whether on social media platforms or other means, the ruling becomes stricter. This is because it could lead to the exposure of Muslims without a genuine need or necessity, and it might be done for mere entertainment purposes and to gain a larger number of followers. And Allah The Almighty Knows Best.




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