The Islamic perspective on genetically modified organisms is complex and must be investigated from both traditional and contemporary angles, writes Isabel Schatzschneider, with the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), an organization based in Qatar that addresses issues from an Islamic perspective.
Islamic teachings on food must first be considered when debating the ethics of genetically engineered crops or animals. The Quran has many passages regarding food ethics, specifically stressing that food must be good, pure and wholesome, or ‘tayyib’ in Arabic. But the question of what food is ‘tayyib’ cannot be easily answered by only consulting religious texts—it requires a discussion involving Islamic scholars as well as scientists and experts.
The major concern, echoing anti-GMO activist claims that genetic modification violates ‘nature,’ revolves around whether GM foods violate the natural order of things. The Quran teaches that no one should change the creations of Allah, but other verses stress that believers who feed the hungry will be rewarded in the afterlife. There are also passages in the Quran which “motivate Muslims to conduct research and investigate God’s creation.” These passages could be seen as promoting the use of biotechnology to genetically alter crops that withstand drought or are resistant to disease or herbicide or enhance nutrition.
There is an Islamic tradition or story about the Prophet Muhammad that can inform the debate. Muhammad was said to have once witnessed farmers graft branches of different species of date palms together to produce higher yields. He is said to have told the farmers to stop, and they obeyed him, but their yields decreased. When the farmers told Muhammad this, he replied that he is only a human being and the farmers should continue grafting.
This story could be used to show that “even back in the time of the Prophet, Arabs were changing food crops through selective breeding” and that Muhammad was open to changing his mind about the practice as he came to know more about farming and agriculture. In this sense, according to Islamic teachings, GM crops could be viewed in a positive light because they could benefit farmers and can help reduce world hunger.
On the other hand, environmental activist organizations have claimed that GM crops can harm humans and the environment, do not lead to higher yields and prevent farmers from saving seeds from large seed companies (which is true of all patented hybrid seeds, including those used by organic and conventional farmers). If these crops could potentially cause harm to farmers, consumers and the environment, Schatzschneider asks, “How can this food be considered ‘tayyib?’”
Iran’s Ayatullah Muhammad Ali al-Taskhiri, a religious leader and diplomat, is “quite optimistic about the outcome of biotechnology” but he also has said that ethical decisions should not be made in haste when scientific evidence is not conclusive. Islam stresses feeding the hungry and helping the poor, but with the uncertainty behind GM technology, it is “difficult from an Islamic viewpoint to declare it as beneficial or not.”
Read the full, original story here: The Debate on Genetically Manipulated Food An Islamic perspective
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- GM Foods: The Islamic Perspective, GMO Journal