ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  6 December 2000


Very informative article on Islamic views on GE from the latest edition of SPLICE.
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Allah “God” bestowed upon us the faculty of the intellect “Aq’il” and has commanded us to ponder over his creation, observing profoundly the signs of his power and his glory throughout the entire universe and within ourselves. It is stated in the Qura’n, “We shall show them our signs on the horizons and in themselves, until it is clear to them that it is the truth.” (Ch.41:53)

Allah has shown his disapproval of those who blindly follow the ways of their fathers and those who were before them. “They say “No”, but we will follow such things as we found our fathers doing.” “What! And if their fathers had no understanding of anything?” (Ch. 2:170) Allah has also shown his disapproval for those who follow nothing but their own personnel whims: “They follow naught but an opinion.” (Ch.6:117)

The Qura’n was revealed more than 1400 years ago to the prophet Muhammed (Pbuh) as a guidance for all humanity. The Qur’an is a religious book with a total of about 6600 verses dealing with many aspects of human life. Nevertheless 1000 of these verses are of a scientific nature, touching upon diverse scientific fields, such as cosmology, geology, biology, embryology and genetics. None of these verses contradict established scientific fact.

The Qura’n encourages direct empirical observation of natural phenomena in order to acquire more knowledge. This encouraged Muslim scientists to adopt an empirical inductive method for scientific research from the closing years of the seventh century A.D.

By the middle of the 8th Century an extraordinary Muslim scientist, Jabir ibin Haiyyan, wrote a scientific procedure in chemistry laying down the ten classical rules for performing an experiment. These are as valid today as they were in the dawn of the age of scientific enquiry.

The tremendous importance of acquisition of knowledge in Islam is reflected in this eloquent exhortation of the prophet (Pbuh): “Acquire knowledge. It enables the possessor to distinguish right from wrong. It lights the way to heaven. It is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, and our companion when friendless. It guides us to happiness.  It sustains us in misery. It is an ornament among friends and an armour against enemies.”

Knowledge enables rules to be established. Sources of Shariah “Islamic Rules”are:

1     Qura’n

2     Sunnah (traditions of the  prophet)

3     Ijma’ (consensus), collective views of jurists “Mujtahid”, who are competent enough to
       deduce precise inferences regarding the commandments from the Qura’n and sunnah.

4     Aq’il, “reasoning”

In facing a problem that is not answered in a straightforward manner by the Qura’n or Sunnah, people should exercise precaution or follow the verdict of a “Mujtahid.”

The speed of innovation in biology and in particular genetic engineering research is so fast that it will outrun peoples’ ability to grasp, adapt and adjust to it in a sensible and rational way. The world lacks the mechanisms to come to term with these sophisticated discoveries. This explains the setting of a wide spectrum of committees, authorities and institutions to deal with different bioethical questions that resulted from the development in this research.

Ethics is the way to deal with extremely difficult questions of right and wrong. It is the study of moral value of human conduct and of the rules and principles that govern that conduct. It is often referred to as Moral Philosophy.

Basic categories of ethical concern fall into two classes:

1     Intrinsic concern which deals with things that are thought to be wrong in themselves such
       as nuclear weapon or human cloning.

2     Extrinsic concern which involve the application of the technologies.  They are neutral in
       themselves, but open to misuse or cause harm to others, such as genetic engineering that can
       be used to treat disease or it could be misused to create biological weapon.

So where does Islam stand?

Islam, along with other major religions faced with these difficult bioethical questions, has to formulate a view derived from its main sources.

Since the cloning of the sheep, Dolly, in February 1997 a large number of conferences and meetings were held a cross the Muslim world to discuss these developments.  Islamic Jurists vary in their verdict towards recent developments in genetic engineering and in particular cloning, ranging from total rejection to giving cautious and conditioned acceptance.

The position of those who reject the technology varies as reflected in the following fatwa (Islamic ruling):

1    The verdict of Dr. Nasser Fared Wasal the Mufti of Egypt who said, “we forbid these
       techniques” and he refers in this instance to cloning even in the treatment of an infertile couple
       and he stated that we should accept the divine will of Allah.

2    Verdict of Sheikh Tantawi the Grand Mufti of Al Azhur Mosque: he forbids this technology
       based on one verse in Qura’n in Ch.2 where Satan argues with God in Verse 119. “Verily,
       I will mislead them, and surely, I will arouse in them false desires; and certainly, I will order
       them to slit the ears of cattle, and indeed I will order them to change the nature created by
       Allah.” And whoever takes Shitan ‘Satan’ as a wali (protector or helper) instead of Allah,
       has surely suffered a manifest loss.

3    Ibn aithemein of Saudi Arabia condemns cloning in very extreme language.

4    Some scholars of Al Azhur even forbid Genetic Engineering applications as a tool whereby
       could be used to alter Allah’s creations. They relay on the same verse mentioned earlier in
       Tantawi’s verdict.

5    Dr Abdul Muti Biaomi of Syria forbids genetic engineering applications and he relies on the
      delicate equilibrium of the ecosystem. He refers to many verses in the Qura’n which indicated
       that any interference that spoils the delicate balance in nature is not allowed in Islam.

There are also scholars who reject the technology on extrinsic grounds.  Fazlullah in Lebanon, Saeed Alhakeem  in Iraq, and Almelani in London have no objection to the technology as such, but worry about its application. They consider that this science reveals the delicate and sophisticated laws of God’s creation and the norm of life, which should strengthen the faith in this divine power.

There are those who have no objection to these technologies. They rely on one ‘jurisprudence’ rule which states that, everything is allowable in Islam unless there is a clear evidence in the Qura’n or Sunnah forbidding it. Since there is no clear evidence, according to their judgement, that forbids these technologies, they have no reason to believe it is forbidden.

Scholars from Islamic Jurisprudence Council, an affiliate of the Muslim World League, a Saudi based organisation, have ruled that Muslims can benefit from genetic engineering to prevent or cure diseases. They urged for steps to ensure the process did not become dangerous or violate Islamic law. The scholars also acknowledge genetic testing as an accurate means of identification and great help to forensic medicine.  The council is an organisation which aims to advance Islamic unity and solidarity which promoting peace and human rights.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) is the cultural arm of the Organisation of the Islamic Countries. ISESCO sponsored a four-day forum for delegates from 12 countries to discuss the Islamic view on modern medical issues including human cloning and genetic engineering. This symposium was held in Casablanca, Morocco June 97.

The delegates agreed principles on cloning techniques and genetic engineering in animals and plants. ISESCO director Abdul azizi Altwajiri of Saudi Arabia called on delegates to find a religious and science based Islamic perception to give guidance on the issue of human cloning.  The Casablanca meeting urged Islamic governments to draw up the necessary legislation to close doors directly and indirectly in the face of foreign research institutions and experts to stop them using Islamic countries as a field for human cloning experiments.

The Casablanca recommendations are not considered a final fatwa or a final scientific opinion. ISESCO is joining the world community in moving towards setting up rules for scientific research in the field of genetic engineering including human cloning.

There are different and somewhat conflicting views regarding genetic engineering applications within the Muslim world. But while there are those who will embrace the technology, and there are those who reject it immediately, there is a strong central position held by those who require more knowledge before a final decision can be taken.

Dr Hamid K Ahmed
Learning Consultant
Halton College
Widnes, Cheshire

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