Gene Therapy: Islamic Rules and Regulations

Gene therapy is one of the modern issues approved by Muslim jurists as long as it is done in accordance with the objectives of the Shari`ah. There are certain conditions and guidelines that govern the use of gene therapy atop of which is that there should be no harm inflicted in the course of conducting such therapy. It should be used solely for treatment purposes (i.e. it should not be used to promote destructive purposes). Also, it is safe and permissible to use the gene therapy in agriculture and what benefits human beings in general. Also, it is not permissible to use that gene therapy in a way that leads to any future bad effect on man’s progeny.
Dr. `Ali Muyy Ed-Deen Al-Qara Daaghi, head of the Department of Principles of Jurisprudence (Usul-ul-Fiqh) at the Faculty of Shari`ah, Qatar University, issues the following Fatwa:

First of all, I would like to stress the fact that it is improper to issue a general Islamic ruling concerning different kinds of gene therapy and its advantages and disadvantages from a legal point of view. Truly, if we want to issue an Islamic ruling, we should be aware of the point we are going to tackle as both awareness and deep knowledge of the background of a certain issue (such as the one in question) is a necessary prerequisite to explain the Islamic ruling regarding it.
Evidence Supporting Gene Therapy Treatment
here, I would like to refer to the fact that there are general legal rules and agreed-upon principles that govern therapy in general and gene therapy in particular. Those general rules can be mentioned as follows:
1-The Shari`ah Objectives:
the Shari`ah has come to observe three categories of people’s interests (Masalih), namely Daruriyyat (necessities), Hajiyyat (complementary), and Tahsiniyyat (embellishments).
It is one of the objectives of Shari`ah to draw an equitable balance between the merits and demerits of a certain thing. One of the well known and agreed-upon rules in Shari`ah are the following:
Fending off harm takes priority over incurring a benefit, the lesser harm can be shouldered to fend off a greater one, the harm is to be waived, the harm can’t be waived by resorting to another harm, necessity knows no laws, the boundaries of necessity are to be clearly identified, one can bear an individual harm to fend off a public one, of the two evils one should choose the lesser one, the need is to take the same priority as necessity, hardships necessitate relaxing the law, and harm should not be neither inflicted nor reciprocated.
2-Both Means and Necessities Are to Be Considered:
In Islam, the end does not justify the means. The prohibited and wicked means should not be resorted to even though the end itself is noble. Thus, it is not permissible to use any unlawful means in gene therapy or any other therapy except for DIRE AND EXTREME necessities. On the basis of this, Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim considered the juristic rule of ‘blocking the means (of evils)’ or Sadd Adh-Dhara’i` to be one fourth of both Islam and Islamic jurisprudence.
3-Results of the Treatment Should be Accurately Weighed
Imam Shatibi states that ‘weighing the future results of a certain thing is an objective of the Shari`ah irrespective of whether the acts are Islamically permitted or not. The Mujtahid -the one authorized to deduce Islamic rulings from Shariah primary sources, using his own independent reasoning- is supposed not to issue either positive or negative legal judgement regarding a certain thing unless he first weighs both the pros and cons of that act in a way that merits and demerits, benefits and harms are accurately pondered over in light of the aforementioned legal rulings.
4-Different Kinds of Gene Therapy Entail Different Rulings
In order to issue a precise ruling regarding gene therapy, the nature of the gene therapy should be taken into consideration as it is illogic, as mentioned earlier, to issue a certain ruling without properly understanding it. In the light of the available information concerning the different kinds of gene therapy, I can discuss the whole issue taking into consideration the following dimensions:
A-Ruling Concerning Gene Therapy
there is nothing wrong with gene therapy as long as there is no harm incurred as a result of carrying it as I stated above.
here, I would like to mention the final decisions and recommendations of the Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA), a subsidiary organ of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) affliated to the World Muslim League (WML). In its 15th session that took place in 11 Ragab 1419/H, 31 October 1998, it addressed the ethical guidelines of genetic engineering, its formation, and utilizing that new science in treating diseases and gaining control over hereditary characteristics.
Below are the Final Decisions and Recommendations of The OIC:
Stressing the resolution No. 100/2 issued by the IFA concerning cloning, in its 10th session held in Jeddah from 23-28 Safar, 1418/H.
Making the best use of genetic engineering in help protecting, overcoming, or even alleviating the effects of diseases, provided that no greater harm entails.
It is categorically prohibited to use genetic engineering to attain evil aims or to reach prohibited means.
It is not permissible to conduct any research, carry out any treatment or even diagnosis with the intention to tamper with the genes of a certain human being without undertaking the prior accurate evaluation to the possible future harms and benefits related to this research or that diagnosis. The achieved goals, be they positive or negative, should not be revealed. Hence, the objectives of the Shari`ah regarding the issue have to be observed, in the sense that no violation to the human rights or man’s dignity will take place.
There is nothing wrong in making the best use of genetic engineering, its tools and means in agriculture, and animal breeding under the condition that the necessary precautions and safety methods are undertaken in order to spare human beings, animals and the environment any possible harms, even on the long run.
The IFA calls upon all the companies and factories that produce food and medical products as well as other materials related to genetic engineering to issue public statement about the components of such materials so as to safely deal with them while avoiding what is harmful and prohibited.
The Council advises physicians and lab owners to fear Allah and to avoid causing any harms to the environment, individuals, and the society at large.
B-Altering Allah’s Creation
the issue of altering Allah’s creation through gene therapy or cosmetic surgery has been discussed by Muslim jurists both in past and present times. Here below I would like to mention the decisions issued by the third symposium of the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences:
Surgeries to treat congenital or acquired deformities to restore normal shape or function of an organ are permissible in Shari`ah.
the majority of Muslim jurists hold the opinion that this provision is also applicable to repair a fault or improve an ugly appearance that subjects a person to a physical or psychological disorder.
Impermissible are the surgeries that would change the normal creation of the body or organ, or things that would help criminals dodge justice or pave way for fraudulent practices to spread.
Surgeries that appeared in certain communities, known as sex change operations, giving in to stray whims are definitely prohibited. However, operations to decide and restore the real sex in cases of pseudo-hermaphrodite are permissible.
In light of the above decisions, I would like to conclude the following:
There is nothing wrong in carrying out any gene therapy that is meant to treat deformed genes with the aim of restoring it to normal shape. Also, there is nothing wrong with gene therapy whose aim is to rectify a defect that causes physical or psychological pain.
Gene therapy that is meant to completely alter the creation of the whole body or even a single body organ is categorically prohibited.
It is not permissible to carry out a sex change operation, to change one’s color or outward appearance as all of them do reflect Allah’s Signs and represent His Infinite Wisdom.
Indeed, altering Allah’s Creation is an act triggered by the Shaytan and his aides. Referring to this, Allah Almighty says: (They invoke in His stead only females; they pray to none else than Satan, a rebel. Whom Allah cursed, and he said: Surely I will take of Thy bondmen an appointed portion. And surely I will lead them astray, and surely I will arouse desires in them, and surely I will c
ommand them and they will cut the cattle’s ears, and surely I will command them and they will change Allah’s creation. Whoso chooseth Satan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest.
(An-Nisaa’ 4: 117-119)
he Almighty also says, (So set thy purpose (O Muhammad) for religion as a man by nature upright the nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man. There is no altering (the laws of) Allah’s creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not.) (Ar-Rum 30: 30)
Opinions of Qur’an Exegetes Regarding Altering Allah’s Creation:
the first group of exegetes maintains that altering Allah’s creation means changing one’s religion.
the second group states that altering Allah’s creation is meant to change the outer appearance of man and animals, such as wearing wigs and hairpieces, tattooing, castration, cutting ears, gouging out eyes.
the most correct exegesis of “altering Allah’s creation” mentioned in Surat An-Nisaa’ is that it encompasses both alteration in religion and in the physical appearance of human beings and animals. Ibn `Atta’ has drawn an excellent balance regarding this saying that the wording of the verse of Surat An-Nisaa’ do include both beneficial and harmful change.
In light of the above, it becomes clear that any change or alteration in genes is PERMISSIBLE as long as it is done with the intention to rectify a wrong, prevent a disease within the boundaries of treatment laid by Islam. However, such change or alteration becomes IMPERMISSIBLE if it includes tampering with human genes, altering the outer appearance including complexion, color, etc..
all the above guidelines and conditions are related to physical gene therapy that is done to the person ONLY, in the sense that they are not done to treat the person and have certain effect on his future progeny at the same time.
Effects of Gene Therapy Shifted to the Future Progeny
Gene therapy that is meant to have effect on the future progeny, which is usually done inside gametes, is IMPERMISSIBLE because of the dire ethical consequences that take place as a result of carrying out that kind of therapy.
however, if it is proven through future scientific facts that there is no harm or ill effect in carrying out such therapy, then the ruling of impermissibility can be changed into permissibility.
Finally, I see nothing wrong in carrying out lab experiments on animals if there is a glimmer of hope to achieve future positive results on humans.
It stands to reason that the whole universe is created by Allah to serve man and he is permitted to make the best use of it as long as the religious and ethical guidelines are observed and causing harms to oneself and others are avoided.