Islamic Ethics and Genomics: Mapping the Collective Deliberations of Muslim Religious Scholars and Biomedical Scientists

in Islamic Ethics and the Genome Question

This study that reviews the Islamic ethical deliberations on the Human Genome Project (HGP) and the field of genomics in general, which started as early as the beginning of the 1990s. To our knowledge, no earlier study analysed this vast amount of literature. The chapter focuses on the interdisciplinary discussions which took place between Muslim religious scholars and biomedical scientists, with frequent references to the contributions made by individual scholars as well. The key questions addressed in this chapter include: How was the HGP and genomics framed and approached through the lens of Islamic ethics? Who contributed to the Islamic bioethical discourse on these issues, which positions did they adopt, and which arguments and counterarguments did they use in order to defend their positions? What impact did these discussions have on the actual scientific activities conducted in Muslim countries?

In order to address these questions systematically, the chapter is divided into three main sections, in addition to a conclusion. The first section, “Genomics in the Age of Collective Reasoning”, outlines the mechanism of the collective juristic reasoning (al-ijtihād al-jamāʿī). It sheds light on how this mechanism was employed to facilitate the interdisciplinary discussions between Muslim religious scholars and biomedical scientists on bioethical issues, in addition to focusing on the main conferences and expert meetings which made use of this mechanism to discuss the ethical issues related to the field of genomics. The second section, “Framing Genomics: Two Main Approaches”, addresses two main approaches within the Islamic ethical discourse towards genomics and related fields, such as genetics and genetic engineering. This section explains how both the “precaution-inclined approach” and “embracement-inclined approach” framed genomics from an Islamic theological perspective and how this framing affected their positions on some practical questions. The third section, “Further Developments”, explores the possible impact of the interdisciplinary discussions and the related two main approaches, reviewed in the first two sections, on the recent developments in the field of genomics and biobanking in the Muslim world. Finally, the “Concluding Remarks” section summarizes the key points of the chapter and further highlights a number of critical remarks and challenges facing the Islamic ethical discourse on genomics and the field of Islamic Bioethics in general.

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