Academic journal article Islamic Studies

Change of Creation or Harnessing Nature? the Reception of Biotechnology in the Islamic World*

Academic journal article Islamic Studies

Change of Creation or Harnessing Nature? the Reception of Biotechnology in the Islamic World*

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper deals with the reception of biotechnology in the Islamic world, particularly focusing on the characteristics of the reception of biotechnology by Muslim legal scholars (fuqaha'), with reference to the general societal discourse. It elucidates the relationship between Islam and Science as an essential paradigm to understand the current discourse on biotechnology. The paper describes the related paradigm shift which has taken place in the Islamic world and deliberates whether or not this paradigm shift has been taken into account in the contemporary discourse on the subject. While attempting to carefully study human cloning and genetically modified food, the paper critically analyses the role of the maqasid (objectives) of the shari'ah in this discourse. It also offers a glimpse of policy making in the Islamic world in the field of biotechnology. The paper arrives at the conclusion that recourse to the maqasid scheme is liable to be instrumental in promoting utilitarian ends rather than the ideals of the shari'ah.

Introduction

Biotechnology and its immense possibilities have led to controversial bioethical, legal and philosophical discussions worldwide. This paper deals with the reception of biotechnology in the Islamic world, primarily focusing on the statements and evaluations made by Muslim legal scholars (fuqaha'). The discourse of the general and educated public as well as that of policy makers in the Islamic world will also be taken into account.

To start with, the paper deals with the relationship between Islam and science as a pre-requisite to understand and evaluate whether and in which manner the contemporary discourse refers to this paradigm. This is followed by an examination of the position of Muslim legal scholars in the contemporary context and a critical analysis of their views and contributions, including a study of a selected number of ijtihads and fatwas on biotechnology. The attitude of non-sha0r'i specialists, and to a lesser extent, of the general educated public to biotechnology will also be given due consideration. In order to set thematic limits, the paper will focus on two issues: human cloning (with its ramifications) and the use of biotechnological procedures in the production of food (GM food). It will also attempt to show how far the development discourse tends to supersede the entire perception of biotechnology and refers to the general tenor of policy making in the Islamic world with regard to biotechnology.

The Relationship between Islam and Science: A Paradigmatic Approach

In order to understand the particularities of the reception of biotechnology and genetic engineering by both Muslim scholars and the general public in the Islamic world, it is vital to formulate some basic ideas relating to the underlying paradigm in the relationship between Islam and science.

It is well-known that Islam is a comprehensive, complete and universal way of life. Qur'anic verses like: "Today, I completed your din for you" (Qur'an 5: 3) are clear to the effect that Islam as a way of life covers all aspects of human life and addresses all imaginable issues, from questions of personal hygiene to state affairs.

Now, science in all its different aspects is a part of human life. Therefore, like any other human activity, whatever is related to research and the use of its results is to be evaluated by Islamic law according the fiqhi categories of human acts: haram (prohibited), makruh (disapproved), mubah (optional), mandub (recommended) or wajib (obligatory). Like any other human act, scientific research will also be subjected to Allah's judgment on the Last Day. Such judgments will affect one's state in the Hereafter, depending on whether or not one's actions were in conformity with Allah's directives.

It has been this Islamic worldview which allowed Islamic civilization to make unique contributions in all walks of life including science and technology. …

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