Religious scholars have a tremendous potential in helping the public towards understanding biotechnology. In most countries, religious scholars have great public trust and considered as credible sources of information during time of crisis or when emerging technologies start to have impact on everyday life. Mosques and churches often become platforms for discussion and deliberation of such issues. Religious scholars are also often consulted by the government on issues related to bioethics and halal status of biotechnology products.
However, there is limited dialogue and discussion between scientists and religious scholars which creates a knowledge and communication barrier between the two groups. For religious scholars to play an effective role in addressing public concerns and ethical issues related to modern biotechnology, consultation between scientists and religious scholars has to be an ongoing process.
A workshop was organized with a focus on agribiotechnology and Muslim scholars to begin engagement of religious scholars with modern biotechnology. With
being a predominantly Muslim country, and with Shariah law governing the life
of every Muslim, this was an obvious choice. All Muslim countries are far from
being self-sufficient in terms of food production. Being net importers of food
and with the yearly increase in the cultivation of genetically modified (GM)
crops, the halal status of foods from GM crops becomes a topical issue. A
record of 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries planted GM crops on 148 million
hectares of land. The four main crops are soybean, cotton, canola and corn.
These four crops give rise to hundreds of products that are used in almost
every food consumed daily. Therefore, there is a strong and valid need to
evaluate the halal status of products that comes from GM technology. The
scientists involved in agricultural biotechnology too, have to understand the
concerns and needs of the Muslim community who make up more than 20 per cent of
the global population.
Religious scholars and Muslim scientists from
Philippines, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, and the USA converged to discuss agribiotechnology and
its permissibility in Islam in Georgetown,
on December 1 and 2, 2010. High level discussion on the technicality of
recombinant technology and principles of shariah took place which resulted in
the adoption of a resolution that states the halal status of GM products, the
need for modern biotechnology in the Muslim world and the obligation of Muslim
community in harnessing this beneficial technology. Penang, Malaysia
Malaysia Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC), the International Halal Integrity Alliance (IHIA), and ISAAA co-organized the international workshop with a focus on alleviating the existing food problems and poverty. The International Workshop of Islamic Scholars and Experts in Modern Biotechnolgy on “Agri-biotechnology: Shariah Compliance” agreed upon the following resolutions:
- Islam and science are complementary and Islam supports beneficial scientific innovations for mankind. Modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are important developments that merit promotion in all OIC Members. Regulatory measures should facilitate the acceptance and use of GM products particularly by Muslims. Genetic modification and GM products are Halal as long as the sources from which they originate are Halal. The only Haram cases are limited to products derived from Haram origin retaining their original characteristics that are not substantially changed.
- Modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are methods of plant improvement and intrinsically are not different from other plant improvement techniques from the shariah point of view.
- In ensuring food security, our Islamic obligations require us to urge all Muslim countries, governments, international organizations and research institutions, to support research and development and use of modern biotechnology, genetic engineering and their products.
- Because of their positive impacts on agriculture and the urgency of food security for Muslim Ummah, promotion of modern biotechnology and genetic engineering are considered “Fardhu Kifayah” (collective obligation) and should not be neglected from the shariah point of view.
- Public awareness and education on modern biotechnology and genetic engineering, demand continuous interaction between the Islamic scholars, scientists and the general public.
- Transparent and complete scientific information should be available for the interested stakeholders for informed decision making.
The proceedings of this international workshop is available for free download athttp://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/shariah_compliance/download/default.asp
For more information materials, visit the biotech information resources page at ISAAA's websitehere: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/default.asp.