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Religions under test - Biotechnology 1 - Islam

Genetic engineering, organ transplantation, artificial insemination and other important scientific developments make life difficult for Islamic religious scholars, who find it difficult to provide the faithful with answers. Fertilization, it was ruled, is only permitted from the husband's sperm and only if he is alive. The tendency is to approve genetic engineering but not in humans. As in Judaism, on the

Zvi Barel

Not everything is in Allah's hands/ Illustration: Shirley Agozi

The question before the Saudi investor was whether he was allowed to invest in the American company that invited him to see its experiments. It was not a political or political question, although many Saudi businessmen began to wonder after September 11 how safe their investments in the United States were. The pursuit of the bank accounts of the al-Qaeda organization has already caused considerable financial damage to Arab investors who have nothing to do with the organization. But this time the question was different. The factory to which the investor was invited asked for his assistance in financing experiments that genetically transform a natural food product into an anti-typhoid. The Saudi businessman wanted to know if such an investment is legal from a religious point of view, since there is interference in the ways of God.

The parade of companies engaged in genetic engineering is currently led by four companies: Mosanto, Novartis, DuPont and Husht. Three of them are now being examined by an Islamic council that is supposed to give an answer to Muslim investors regarding the suitability of investing in their shares. Islamic circles do not question the multiple benefits found in genetic engineering or replication, but they wrestle with the moral question that arises from it. The currently agreed answer on the Islamic religious institutions is that genetic cloning and genetic engineering are kosher, provided that they are not human beings.

A discussion held in Jeddah in 1997 dealt with the question of genetic replication; The main question that stood before the debaters was whether there is no harm in such a duplication to Allah's position as the creator of the world. In order to legalize the replication, the opinion was accepted according to which Allah is indeed the creator of the world, but he is also the one who created the method of cause and effect. And so, sowing a seed in the ground is the cause, but the germination and growth of the plant from the seed is in the hands of Allah. The same is true of duplication which is perceived as a cause, but the result is controlled by Allah.

made you a master

Islamic religious scholars are increasingly required to give answers concerning important scientific developments and their compatibility with accepted religious laws. Councils of sages in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the USA and several European countries deal with halachic tests, and each such body has the authority to publish its own interpretation open to every believer.
Unlike in Christianity, Islam does not have an institution similar to the Pope, the arbiter of Halachah for the entire Muslim world and deviation from it means deviation from the religion. In Islam, as in Judaism, the usual rule is "make you a rabbi", or "make you a mufti". Islamic believers are allowed to accept the positions of halachic judges anywhere without being obligated to the halachic judge in their country. Thus, for example, an Egyptian believer can ask via the Internet or by telephone live on the Arab satellite channels the arbiter of the Halacha and receive an answer on the spot. If he does not like the answer, he may turn to another arbitrator, provided that the arbitrators are those who are recognized as scholars of Halacha who work according to the orthodox religious schools.

The situation is different when it comes to rulings followed by the enactment of state laws. Thus, for example, when the regime in Egypt wishes to enact a law concerning the status of women, it must consult the Al-Azhar Research Institute and obtain its halachic approval for the proposed law. The law that will eventually be passed will indeed be enacted by a civil institution, the parliament, but the source of its authority will be the religion as it is represented by the Egyptian scholars of Halacha and not by a random arbiter. And so, laws concerning medicine or genetic engineering will first pass through the religious mill before becoming a state law that binds hospitals or research institutions.

An example of this was the debate over the question of whether it is permissible to artificially inseminate a woman. On a website dealing with providing Islamic halachic answers to life's questions, Dr. Imran Siddiqui, an expert in genetics, explains the position of Islam when it comes to the issue of fertilization. He states that according to Islam it is permissible to carry out such fertilization and on the condition that the fertilized egg will be implanted in the body of the woman from whom it was taken, and not in the body of a surrogate mother. The fertilization should be from the sperm of her legal husband during their marriage and not after their divorce or the husband's death.

But this is only the beginning of the query. The more complex question is what to do with the unnecessary embryos. After all, with less sophisticated fertilization techniques, which did not always guarantee success, additional embryos were "created" from the eggs of the woman who wishes to conceive, which would be destroyed after the successful pregnancy. To this Siddiqui replies that the basic question of when a pregnancy is considered such and what constitutes an abortion must be examined. He clarifies that Islamic law states that a full pregnancy is considered such 40 days after conception. He provides evidence for this from Islamic penal law, according to which if a person assaults a pregnant woman and causes an abortion, his punishment is reduced if he did it during the first period of pregnancy.

Another question that arises regarding fertilization is whether it is permissible to use the embryo for research purposes (and in practice to destroy it) if the research may save human life. "Our answer is that a fetus during the first period of pregnancy, contrary to the Christian view, even if it was created in a laboratory, is still not considered a human being," says Siddiqui. "If he is not placed in the woman's womb he will not be able to grow and therefore will not grow to be a man. That's why there is nothing wrong with carrying out research on fetuses."

Seemingly a clear and tested answer, but still not comprehensive enough. Because the question of fertilization also piles up social and not only moral difficulties. One of the internet arbitrators believes that it is permissible for a woman to carry in her body another woman's egg fertilized by her husband's sperm. But to the question of who the baby will belong to, the husband or the woman who donated the egg, the judge does not have a clear answer. "It is desirable to be careful in such cases", he states. This decision also has a practical side. One of those turning to this arbiter is wondering what is the child's destiny if the sperm is taken from a man to impregnate his wife, and before the fertilization process is performed the husband dies and the fertilization was done after his death. The answer to this is: "The child will be attributed to the sperm donor (he will be born with the father's name) but he will not be his heir, and Allah knows best."

The pace of scientific innovations means that Islamic believers have pens on the judges of Halacha, and especially on those who are able to come up with quick answers via the Internet. Thus, for example, one of the questioners requested the answer of Posak with the following question: "Recently it became clear to me that science is able to determine paternity based on a genetic test of the blood of the son and the father. What happens if the father suspects that his wife cheated on him with another man and a genetic test proves that the son is indeed the other man's son; Should we act according to this information or according to the Sharia laws which state that 'the son belongs to the marriage bed'?"

The answer: The rule stating that "the son belongs to the marriage bed", to his legal parents, is intended for skeptics. Whoever received information through a blood test or in another way, which leads him to a conclusion different from this rule, must act according to this information. But the woman's adultery cannot be proven in this way, and the woman should not be punished for adultery unless her adultery is proven according to the rules established by religious law, the Sharia."

violation of human supremacy

The great difficulty in modern jurisprudence involves finding reasonable compromises between the words of the Prophet Muhammad, who sometimes gave seemingly contradictory instructions, or the Oral Torah that was created after him, and a new technological and scientific reality. One of the examples of this is the question of organ transplantation. The Prophet stated that breaking the bones of a dead person is like breaking the bones of a living person. On the other hand, the prophet says that saving one soul is like saving an entire world. A possible compromise found by halakhic judges in Egypt is that organ transplantation will only be permitted if it is done for the sake of God's name, that is, to save his creatures, and on the condition that it is done voluntarily.

This compromise was accepted even in Saudi Arabia, where King Fahd's blessing to the head of the Saudi health services on the occasion of the thousandth transplant of a human kidney was widely published. On the other hand, according to the interpretation of the more extreme halachic scholars, such as those who hold office at the Albinuria Islamic University in Karachi, Pakistan, organ transplantation is strictly prohibited for three reasons. According to the first reason, "Allah created the world to benefit humanity. Man can therefore use all of God's creation for his benefit, minerals, animals, and plants. But not in other people because that would be a violation of human supremacy."

The second reason is that man is a perfect model of God's expertise. "The human body is equipped with a computer-like machine and senses such as sight, hearing and speech. There is no possibility for science today or in the future to create anything similar. The senses were given to man as a deposit". Therefore, man is not the owner of his organs, and hence the conclusion that their transfer to another person is not within his authority. The third reason refers to the possibility that if organ transplantation is allowed it will open an opening for organ trafficking where the poor will seek to sell organs to support themselves. The result will be that many poor people will be buried without certain organs in their bodies. Worse than that, an organ bank will develop, people will no longer need funerals, and the number of murders for the purpose of removing organs will increase.

This position is among the extremes that can be found in Islamic jurisprudence and is based on the Wahhabi school in its extreme version. The seminary from which she graduated, Alvinoria University, "educated" many students who became terrorists who operated in Kashmir. The university rector's opposition to scientific innovations did not prevent him from approving the establishment of the university's website on the Internet and the opening of a new branch in the United States.

"The dilemma of innovations in religion is not only religious," explains a Turkish cleric who works in the government service. "Religion is related to political existence in every country. Here, in Turkey, it is the government that determines the boundaries of religion, so there is almost no problem in adopting technological innovations in genetics or organ transplantation. In Egypt the situation is different. The public is much more religious and the government must deal with extremist Islamic organizations. Therefore, he cannot deviate too much from the accepted religious interpretation. Lebanon is almost not interested in state religious interpretation, while in Saudi Arabia there is no other way to adopt innovations than through religion. And now we have the addition of the Internet, which is a novelty in itself, robbing the local clergy of the monopoly they have on interpretation. Now go and choose the source of your religious authority and by it you will be able to know whether Islam is renewing itself or progressing backwards".

For part B - Judaism

* The knowledge site was until the end of 2002 part of the IOL portal of the Haaretz group

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