Science

  • Issue 26 / April - June 1999



    Human Clones: An Islamic View

    Abdulaziz Sachedina

    In the present article1 I will attempt to summarize a wide range of opinions that have emerged among the scholars of Islamic law and theology in its Sunni and Shi’I2 formulations in the wake of the cloning technology that produced Dolly the sheep.

    It is important to state from the outset that despite the plurality of reasoning and judicial formulations based on independent research and interpretation of normative legal sources in Islamic tradition, there is a consensus of juridical-ethical opinions among Muslim religious experts on human cloning. The majority of Muslims in North America are Sunnis. Sunni Muslims follow one of the four officially recognized Sunni legal rites.3 The Shi’ites form a minority in North America.4 And even though scholars differ in their method of reasoning, they are in agreement with their Sunni colleagues in flashing the red light on human cloning.

    In the wake of the latest success in animal cloning, prominent scholars representing Sunni centers of religious learning in the Middle East, have expressed a collective opinion on cloning. The official Sunni position in this country5 states that the Arabic term used for this technology in the legal as well as journalistic literature is istinsakh, ‘copying’. This interpretation is not very different from the fictional cloning portrayed In His Image: The Cloning of Man by David Rorvik in the late 1970s, when cloning by nuclear transplantation was the topic of the day in North America. The popular perception that human copies can be produced at will led the leading Mufti of Egypt, Dr Nasr Farid Wasil in Cairo, to emphatically declare his position on the subject. Dr. Wasil declared that possible human or ‘copying’ is both an act of disbelief and immoral. Hence, cloning should be regulated by the government.6 However, this position is disputed by another leading Egyptian legist Yusuf al-Qaradawi who, when asked if cloning was interference in the creation of God, or a challenge to God’s will, replied in no uncertain terms:

    Oh no, no one can challenge or oppose God’s will. Hence, if the matter is achieved then it is certainly under the will of God. Nothing can be created without God’s will creating it. As long as people continue to do so, it is the will of God. Actually, we do not search for the question whether it is in accord with the will of God. Our search is whether the matter is licit or not.7

    Although the issue of cloning technology has not been given much serious consideration in Muslim discussions of cellular nuclear transplantation, there is much concern with the anticipated biological and social effects of cloning on the underlying Islamic ethical framework and social fabric. For instance, al-Qaradawi raises a fundamental question about the impact of this technology on human life:

    Would such a process create disorder in human life when human beings with their subjective opinions and caprices interfere in God’s created nature on which He has created people and has founded their life on it? It is only then that we can assess the human being, that is, to copy numerous faces of a person as if they were carbon copies of each other.8

    The fundamental ethical question, as al-Qaradawi indicates, is whether this procedure interferes with growing up in a family that is founded upon the institutions of fatherhood and motherhood. It is in a family that the child is nurtured to become a person. In addition, al- Qaradawi says, since God has placed in each man and woman an instinct to produce this individual in the family, would there be a need for marriage if an individual could be created by cloning? Such a procedure may even lead to a male in no need of a female. Although al- Qaradawi does not state this, biologically speaking, the male may become superfluous (but not the female, since both her egg and womb will be needed).

    The other point raised by al-Qaradawi against cloning is based on the Qur’anic notion that variations among peoples are a sign from God who created human beings in different forms and colors, just as He created them distinct from other animals. This variety reflects the richness of life. Resemblance’s resulting from “copying” might lead to a situation where spouses were unable to recognize their partners. This “misunderstanding” would clearly have serious social and ethical consequences. From the point of view of health, one could also presume that people would then be affected by the same virus. However, al-Qaradawi maintains that the technology can be used to overcome certain hereditary diseases, such as infertility, as long as it does not lead to abuse in other areas.9

    The Shi’I scholarly position, on the other hand, appears to treat the term ‘clone’ more in its broad scientific sense of making identical copies of molecules, cells, tissues, and even animals involving somatic cell nuclear transplant. In fact, besides the therapeutic use in the hospitals, the technology has been in use in the area of husbandry and agriculture throughout the Islamic world. Hence, Islamic tradition takes the position of endorsing the applications of the technology as long as it provides practical benefit in terms of improved human life. When it comes to cloning human beings, however, the Shari’a-Islamic Jurisprudence-requires that the best interest of prospective parents and their future children be taken into consideration.10

    ISLAM AND TECHNOLOGICALLY ASSISTED REPRODUCTION Although since the 1970s, ethical issues associated with assisted reproductive technologies (such as in vitro fertilization) have been dealt with extensively by Muslim jurists, human cloning remains to be discussed in detail. The facts about it are still emerging. With the prospect of understanding cloning better while, understanding impact it could have on how Muslims conceive of human life and subsequently their destiny, it is reasonable to expect revision in the ethnical and legal assessment of these experiments among the scholars of Shari’a, the Scared Law of Islam. Given the success rate of embryo duplication in a number of animal species, reproductive specialists seem to be confident that the technique will improve the success rates of assisted reproductive technology in humans. Accordingly, the legality of human embryo duplication by splitting has been accepted by Muslim jurists as a replication of natural twinning through legitimate scientific means.

    Let me proceed to summarize the theological-ethical-legal dimensions of the issues associated with cloning in Islam have been explored with due attention to the possible differences in the interpretation of the scriptural sources for these rulings among the Sunni and the Shi’I legists.

    THE THEOLOGICAL DIMENSION OF THE ISSUE

    I want to begin with the teachings of the Qur’an, and see if there is any room for human intervention in the workings of nature associated with reproduction. In Chapter 23, verse 12-14, we read:

    We created (khalaqna) man of an extraction of clay, then we set him, a drop in a safe lodging, then We created of the drop a clot, then We created of the clot a tissue, then We created the tissue bones, then we covered the bones in flesh; thereafter We produced it as another creature. So blessed be God, the Best of creators (khaliqin)!

    Muslim thinkers have gleaned some important conclusions from this and other passages that describe the development of an embryo to a full human person:

    First, creation of a human being is an act of divine will. It is this absolute will that determines the embryonic journey to full human status.

    Second, perceivable human life is possible only at the later stage in biological development of the embryo when God says: “Thereafter We produced him as another creature.”12

    Third, as the last reference implies, the fetus should be accorded the status of a legal person only at the later stage of its development and not in the earlier stage when it lodges itself in the uterus.

    Fourth, because of the silence of the Qur’an over exactly when implantation occurs in the fetus it is possible to make a distinction between a biological and moral person,13 placing the latter stage after, at least, the first trimester of pregnancy.

    On the basis of some traditions ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad which describes the stages of embryonic development,14 the majority of Sunni and some Shi’I scholars draw a distinction between the two stages in pregnancy divided by the end of the fourth month (120 days). However, these traditions, admitted as documentation for such a distinction, are not universally adapted even by Sunni scholars. The majority of the Shi’I and some Sunni legists have exercised caution in making such a distinction because, as they argue, these traditions do not speak about the enrollment of the fetus at all. They simply mention the stage when an angel is sent to the fetus. Hence, they regard the embryo at all stages as alive, and its eradication as a sin.

    The Qur’an and the traditions provide no universally accepted definition of the term ‘embryo’ with which we are concerned in our deliberations about cloning.15 Nor do these two foundational sources of the Shari’a lend themselves to distinctions among the detailed modern biological data about the beginning of life from the moment of impregnation. A tenable conclusion, derived by rationally inclined interpreters of the verse of the Qur’an cited above, suggest that as participants in the act of creating with God (God being the only one who can truly create). Human beings can actively engage in furthering the overall well being of humanity by intervening in the works of nature, including the early stages of embryonic development, to improve human health.16

    Nevertheless, the Qur’an takes into account the problem of human arrogance which takes the form of rejecting God’s frequent reminders to humanity. The reminders state that God’s immutable laws are dominant in nature, and human beings cannot willfully create “unless God, the Lord of all Being, wills (8:29).” The will of God in the Qur’an has often been interpreted as the processes of nature uninterfered with by human action. Hence, in Islam human management of genes made possible by biotechnical intervention in the early stages of life is regarded as an act of faith in the ultimate will of God as the Giver of all life, as long as such an intervention is undertaken with the purpose of improving the health of the fetus or increasing the chances of fertility for a married couple.

    THE ETHICAL DIMENSION OF THE ISSUE

    At the center of the Islamic ethical debate about cloning, as pointed out by al-Qaradawi and other Muslim scholars, is the question of the ways in which cloning might affect familial relationships and responsibilities. In a plethora of concerns voiced by Paul Ramsey about the social role of parenting and nurturing interpersonal relations’17 Islam regards interpersonal relationships as fundamental to human religious life. The Prophet is reported to have said that religion is made up often parts, of which nine-tenths constitute interhuman relationships, whereas only one-tenth concerns man’s relationship to God. Since the fundamental institution to further these relationships is the family, and since human cloning interferes with the workings of male female relations, Muslim scholars have advised their governments to exercise extreme caution regarding this technology.

    Since researchers at the George Washington University Medical Center succeeded in duplicating genetically defective human embryos by blastomere separation in 1993,18 some Muslim thinkers have raised questions about manipulating human embryos in IVF implantation in terms of its impact upon the fundamental relationship between man and woman, and the life giving aspects of spousal relations that culminate in parental love and concern for their offspring. Islam regards the spousal relationship in marriage to be the cornerstone of the prime social institution of the family for the creation of a divinely ordained order. Consequently, Muslim focus on the debate regarding where genetic replication is concerned with moral issues related to the possibility of technologically created incidental relationships that do not require spiritual and moral connection between a man and a woman. Can human intervention through biotechnology jeopardize the very foundation of human community, namely, a religiously and morally regulated spousal and parent child relationships under the laws of God? It is because of this reason that among Muslim scholars the more intricate issues associated with embryo preservation and experimentation have received less attention in these ethical deliberations. Certainly, since the therapeutic uses of cloning in IVF appear as an aid to fertility strictly within the bounds of marriage, both monogamous and polygamous as recognized in the Shari’a, Muslims have little problem with endorsing the technology. The opinions from Sunni and Shi’I scholars studied for this article indicate that there is a unanimity in Islamic rulings on therapeutic uses of cloning, as long as the lineage of the child remains religiously unblemished. In other words, to preserve the integrity of the lineage of a child reproduction must take place within the religiously specified boundaries of a spousal relation.19

    Besides the significance attached to the spousal relationship for bearing and nurturing children, another issue in Muslim bioethics is the problem of determining the moral status of the technology itself. In a world dominated by multinational corporations, Muslims, like other people around the globe, do not treat technology as nonmoral. No human action is possible without intention and will. In light of the manipulation of genetic engineering for eugenics in recent history, it is reasonable for the Muslims, like Christians and Jews, to fear political abuse of the reproduction technology through cloning. With its emphasis on spiritual equality; Islam has refused to accord validity to any claims of superiority of one people over the other. The only valid claim to nobility in the Qur’an stems from being god-fearing. From an Islamic standpoint, it is morally and religiously wrong to employ cloning technology for purposes other than therapeutic.

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