By: Khalid Akram Al Rajhi Medical College Qassim, KSA
GMOs stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. To fulfill the human’s need, scientists use modern biotechnology techniques such as genetic engineering to modify and improve plants, animals, and microorganisms for increasing their productivity. In genetic engineering, scientists select DNA from any organism which has a specific trait and recombines with the new organism. It can be also used to remove the gene from the selected organism which doesn’t show desirable traits. The organism which is modified by this technique is called as transgenic or genetically modified organism (GMO). This technology has greater benefits but it is also associated with some risks. Many environmental groups, consumers and some scientists showed their concern about the impact of genetic engineering on food safety, human health, and the environment for short-term and long-term periods. The products from genetic engineering should be analyzed carefully by scientific procedures and controlled with Islamic laws to ensure that this technology guides us to a happier life with a healthy and harmonious environment.
Some case studies showing the benefits and risks of GMOs
In 1991, WHO gave the challenge to scientists to find a new way by which everyone got access to vaccines within a shorter time. The scientists inject a series of genes into a potato to create a cholera vaccine in answer to the challenge.
Bovine growth hormone is one of early GM product was engineered to increase the milk production without increasing feed intake of cows. People have claimed the possible negative effects on cows, harms on human health and economic effects on small dairy producers.
BT (Bacillus thurengiensis) corn was developed to get rid of the use of insecticides. It became the great controversy of that time – that the pollen grains from BT corns kill the larvae of a butterfly.
Tomato was the first GM food to reach the market. It was designed to increase its longevity. The GM tomatoes were resistant to antibiotics. The concerns were raised at that time that the gene may be passed to humans and make them also resistant to antibiotics.
Ethics in Islam regarding GMOs
The use of genetic engineering should be controlled ethically based on analyzing the above mentioned cases. According to BABAS, ethics is “The branch of philosophy concerned with how we should decide what is morally wrong and what is morally right”. Islam covers all aspects of life and its rules and laws are founded on two main sources; Al-Quran and Al-Hadith. When modern technology has no straight relation to these two sources, Muslims take the Ijma’ (opinions of scholars). Ethics in Islam equally focuses on material and spiritual aspects and the end goal is to achieve success in this world and the hereafter.
Allah is the only Creator
﴿اِنَّ فِیۡ خَلۡقِ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ وَ اخۡتِلَافِ الَّیۡلِ وَ النَّہَارِ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّاُولِی الۡاَلۡبَابِ﴾
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alteration of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. [Al-Quran; Chapter: Aal- Imran; Verse: 90]
Allah has mentioned that he is the who can create everything in this universe and he has the central power to control all the events, processes and objects of this universe. No matter how much modern science explore, it will be always limited. We, humans even cannot create a small insect-like fly. Some scientists claim that they can manipulate and modify the living organism by using genetic engineering. But many ethical issues arise by such claims. The following verse shows that humans cannot create anything as complete as Allah’s creation.
﴿یٰۤاَیُّہَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسۡتَمِعُوۡا لَہٗ ؕ اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ تَدۡعُوۡنَ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ لَنۡ یَّخۡلُقُوۡا ذُبَابًا وَّ لَوِ اجۡتَمَعُوۡا لَہٗ ؕ وَ اِنۡ یَّسۡلُبۡہُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَیۡئًا لَّا یَسۡتَنۡقِذُوۡہُ مِنۡہُ ؕ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ وَ الۡمَطۡلُوۡبُ﴾
O people, an example is presented, so listen to it. Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create [as much as] a fly, even if they gathered together for that purpose. And if the fly should steal away from them a [tiny] thing, they could not recover it from him. Weak are the pursuer and pursued. [Al-Quran; Chapter: Al Hajj; Verse: 73]
Evidence from Al-Quran
The basic, fundamental and primary source of Islamic laws is Al-Quran. Various issues related to GMOs are mentioned in the Quran. One example is foods and drinks made from genetical re-engineering of the products with pork’s DNA lead to disobedience of Allah as pork is prohibited (haram) in Islam. The use of these products is not the case of emergency these days as many alternatives are available. Allah said in the Quran:
﴿حُرِّمَتۡ عَلَیۡکُمُ الۡمَیۡتَۃُ وَ الدَّمُ وَ لَحۡمُ الۡخِنۡزِیۡرِ﴾
Prohibited to you are dead animals, blood, and the flesh of swine. [Al-Quran; Chapter: Al Maaedah; Verse: 3]
Genetic engineering is one of the sects of knowledge that Allah has given to us, as he said:
﴿عَلَّمَ الۡاِنۡسَانَ مَا لَمۡ یَعۡلَمۡ﴾
Taught man that which he knew not. [Al-Quran; Chapter: Al Alaq; Verse: 5]
Moreover, the knowledge which Allah has given to us is one of the signs that Allah is the only creator and he is only one who can control his creation. As Allah said in the Quran:
﴿سَنُرِیۡہِمۡ اٰیٰتِنَا فِی الۡاٰفَاقِ وَ فِیۡۤ اَنۡفُسِہِمۡ حَتّٰی یَتَبَیَّنَ لَہُمۡ اَنَّہُ الۡحَقُّ﴾
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. [Al-Quran; Chapter: Haam Meem Al Sajedah; Verse: 53]
Evidence from Al-Hadith
﴿عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلي الله عليه وسلم ” لَا تَحَاسَدُوا، وَلَا تَنَاجَشُوا، وَلَا تَبَاغَضُوا، وَلَا تَدَابَرُوا، وَلَا يَبِعْ بَعْضُكُمْ عَلَى بَيْعِ بَعْضٍ، وَكُونُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ إخْوَانًا ‘‘﴾
Abu Hurairah, Abd al-Rahman bin Sakhr, reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: “Do not be envious of one another; do not artificially inflate prices against one another; do not hate one another; do not shun one another, and do not undercut one another in business transactions, and be as fellow-brothers and servants of Allah.” [ Saheeh Al Muslim: 6219; Arbaeen Nauwwi: 35]
From this hadith, one sharia’ law is applied “Harm should not be inflicted nor reciprocated”. Since scientists showed their concern that GMOs have long term effects on humans as well as on other creatures. And any act causes harm is prohibited in Islam. Muslim Scholar’s Opinion
According to Shaikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi, Islam never hinders scientific research and narrows the scope of mind in the field of science and technology. There is no contradiction between Islam and science. The abstraction of genetic is welcomed as it is one of the greatest discoveries of this time. He hopes that it will be used for benefits of humanity and the guidelines for the GMOs will be according to the views of qualified Islamic jurists. There are many benefits of using genetic engineering for example; treatment of the genetic disorder. This is the thing that is appreciable in Islam according to the rule “Prevention is better than Cure”. This rule is deduced from the Hadith.
As Allah SWT sent humans as Khalifa on this earth and gave the duty of guarding nature and making all the natural resources good and useful for humanity. Genetic engineering is one of the tools for humans (Khalifa). That’s why this technology should be used wisely by Muslims to establish a comfortable environment. Benefits and Risks of GMOs should be studied in terms of Islamic ethics and safety. If GMOs have any harms to Allah’s creation in the long term or short term, it is prohibited in Islam based on the sources of ethics of Al-Quran and Al-Hadith.