Islamic Ethical Perspectives on Human Genome Editing: Religious Scholars Take a Generally Favorable Position toward Human Genome Editing Research, and Gulf Countries Have Launched Several Scientific Efforts on the Topic

By Ghaly, Mohammed | Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Islamic Ethical Perspectives on Human Genome Editing: Religious Scholars Take a Generally Favorable Position toward Human Genome Editing Research, and Gulf Countries Have Launched Several Scientific Efforts on the Topic


Ghaly, Mohammed, Issues in Science and Technology


The interest in exploring the interplay of genomics and Islamic ethics took an important turn at the beginning of the 1990s, when the international Human Genome Project was declared. Since then, both Muslim religious scholars and biomedical scientists have been examining the relevant ethical questions from an Islamic perspective in addition to providing recommendations for policy-making pertinent to biomedical and genetic research in the Muslim world.

In the secular bioethical discourse, which dominates the discipline of bioethics in the West, there is a distinct class of bioethicists who lead the discussions. However, the Islamic bioethical discourse is framed by the class of Muslim religious scholars (ulama) who are specialists in the Islamic religious sciences. The positions adopted by these scholars are usually premised on the two main Islamic scriptures, namely the Quran (the literal word of God) and the Sunna (sayings, deeds, and approvals attributed to the Prophet of Islam). Because of the complexity and multidimensional character of the ethical questions raised by the field of genomics, Muslim religious scholars, most of whom received no training in biomedical sciences or in languages other than Arabic, sought the help of biomedical scientists to understand the biomedical aspects of the questions at hand and to gain access to the literature published in non-Arabic languages, especially English. This interdisciplinary collaboration between Muslim religious scholars and biomedical scientists is known in the field of Islamic bioethics as the mechanism of collective reasoning (al-ijtihad al-jama'i).

By the beginning of the 1980s, the collaboration between religious scholars and biomedical scientists started to be the norm in Islamic bioethics, and the mechanism of collective reasoning adopted an institutionalized form through three main transnational institutions based in the Muslim world. The Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences (IOMS), established in Kuwait in 1981 and assuming its current name in 1984, has been the most active of the three institutions. In 1983, the IOMS initiated the series "Islam and Contemporary Medical Issues," which addressed a long list of bioethical questions, including those related to genomics. The IOMS coordinates with two other institutions whose interest in bioethics is rather occasional: the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA), established in 1977, which is affiliated with the Muslim World League and based in Mecca, and the International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA), established in 1981, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and affiliated with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The two-decade period between 1993 and 2013 witnessed the peak of interest in examining genomics through the lens of the Islamic ethical tradition. In addition to individual opinions expressed in works written by religious scholars or biomedical scientists, a large number of symposiums and conferences, which adopted the mechanism of collective and interdisciplinary reasoning, also addressed the ethical questions raised by genomics. The positions adopted by both individual Muslim religious scholars and the authoritative institutions were overwhelmingly positive. Some voices considered joining the genomic revolution not just an ethical option but even a collective duty that Muslim countries should collaboratively achieve. Some specific ethical questions, such as those related to genetic and genomic testing, received considerable attention in these discussions. Other questions, such as those related to incidental findings and genome editing, received less attention. That is why my analysis here will be based on previous discussions with relevance to gene therapy in general, as well as to other related topics within the broad field of Islamic bioethics.

Genome editing

In order to properly understand the Islamic ethical discourse on genome editing in particular, a number of preliminary points on the field of genomics in general are necessary. …

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Islamic Ethical Perspectives on Human Genome Editing: Religious Scholars Take a Generally Favorable Position toward Human Genome Editing Research, and Gulf Countries Have Launched Several Scientific Efforts on the Topic
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