Science and Technology

Dr. Tayyaba Abidin Qidwai
MBBS 1978, AMU
Pittsburgh, PA

Science and Technology continue to push the boundaries in order to pursue their goals - of knowing the "unknowable" and doing the "undoable". But, there are some things which man might never be able to know, like the exact time of one's birth and death. Or ever be able to Do , like come back after death to relate to us the experiences after death.

In ancient times, water was just water. Then with the 19th century came the invention of the microscope. When water was placed under it, the startling discovery was made that it contained countless live bacteria. Similarly, the stars that could be seen with the naked eye were supposed to be all the heavenly bodies that existed. Now the skies have been scanned with powerful telescopes and information has been sent back from space probes, with the result that the true immensity of the universe is at last being understood.

I feel that the business of science is to explore the secrets and laws of nature which were set up by God and meant for Man to discover. Islam has always encouraged man to contemplate and explore new horizons, which were meant to be discovered by him in this world.

According to Bertrand Russell, an atheist, there are two forms of knowledge: knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. Only things can be directly observed: truths can only be understood by indirect observation. Or in other words, inference. The existence of light, gravity, magnetism and nuclear energy in the universe is an undisputed fact, but man cannot directly observe these things. He knows them only by their effects. Man discovers certain things, from which he infers the existence of truths. Russell in his time might not have inferred the Divine presence from his reasoning, but there were others like Dr. Maurice Bucaille who did.

In our own times, divine reasoning has become truly scientific. Nowadays man is compelled to infer the existence of a designer of the universe, from the existence of a design in the universe.

The nineteenth century was the century of atheism. But with the arrival of the twentieth century, the whole course of history has changed, with religion again becoming a major force in human life. The obvious causes are discontent with science and the continuing existence of religion as an inherent part of human nature.

But, never the field of science and religion have intermingled so much as in the field of Medicine today in the 21st century. Recent advances in the field of Artificial Reproductive Technology, Cloning and stem cell research have opened up enormous questions and matters for public discussion. It is rare that any other field of science causes so much debate amongst scientists, religious scholars, ethicists, governments and politicians. It is obvious that to make legislation at National and International levels, it helps to know the cultures and various faith traditions.

Here I would just like to share with you an article which gives the Islamic perspective on stem cell research and cloning, which may come as a surprise to many of you. For those who are interested in the article , I am sending it as an attachment. For others, I will just enumerate the broad points -

1. From the Quranic verses and Hadiths and on the basis of current embryological 
knowledge we can say that the ensoulment takes place at 120 days after fertilization, about the end of the fourth month.

Today the human stem cells can be derived from the following sources- 

a. Human fetal tissues following abortions.
b. Human embryos created by In vitro fertilization clinics, that can yield embryonic stem cells.
c. Adult stem cells which are obtained from liver, skin, bone marrow, pancreas,brain etc.
d. Cloned human embryos i.e. from therapeutic cloning which are obtained after removing an egg's nucleus, inserting a donor nucleus and activating the egg to form a very early embryo).

2. In terms of stem cell research, there is no problem in using adult stem cells as long as it does not harm the donor.

3. As far as fetal stem cells are concerned - the age and origin of the fetus should be known.

If the fetus is the result of a spontaneous abortion (Or miscarriage), there is no problem in using it as it will be disposed off anyway. If the fetal age is more than 120 days, since the abortion is forbidden (haram) after this age, there is doubt about the appropriateness about its usage. Islam considers some things as clean or "tahir", and some as impure such as pig and its products and alcohol, due to its nature. The substance which is the fetus in this case is Tahir (clean, pure), whether it is before or after 120 days of development.

Therefore provided the abortion is not undertaken for the purpose of obtaining stem cells, and the fetuses will be disposed off anyway, by using the most frequent maxim amongst Islamic scholars - necessities render the prohibited permitted - it is possible to say that the fetal stem cell can be used for therapy.

4. In the matter of using embryonic stem cells (which have more potential to develop into various cell types when compared to fetal stem cells), we need to know how the embryos are produced. Since spare embryos are used from IVF, it is useful to know the Islamic view on IVF. Islam permits IVF when it is performed between a husband and wife with their consent. 

According to inevitable consequences, reproductive cloning (which is to clone a human being) is prohibited according to majority of Muslim decrees. In addition, much of the research done on this subject points to the fact that it is very difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

Therapeutic cloning is permissible with full consideration as the embryonic stem cells are derived from the inner cell mass of early embryos at a time point that is well in advance of the 'pre-ensoulment' stages of foetus development. It is accepted that ensoulment takes place at 120 days after fertilization; and the embryonic stem cells are harvested from the Inner Cell Mass well before this time. In Christianity , however the belief is that the soul exists from the time of fertilization .

Modern science has offered man innumerable facilities, but along with this it has brought in its wake such great dangers as have rendered all its gifts meaningless. The greatest menace is that of a third world war. In the event of this happening, it will be a nuclear war which will reduce most of the big cities to ruins in a matter of hours. 

None epitomises the dilemma or hypocrisy of 21st century more than Mr. Bush. He uses Scientific Technology to wreak havoc and destroy millions of innocent Adults and Children but considers it moral and ethical to use the dictates of Religion to protect embryos which are either 1. Surplus, or 2. Genetically engineered in therapeutic cloning and cannot result in producing human babies. I wonder if he would face the same moral dilemma if it were Iraqi Embryos in question!

I think Science and Religion must now unite to fight the greatest scourge of Mankind in the Modern World - The Politician .

With help from
Hina Qidwai - Research Associate in a Stem Cell Lab. at University of Pittsburgh.