On certain occasions, when discussing ethical or particularly controversial issues, I have occasionally thought, “I wonder what Islam says about this,” with the obvious intention of adopting Islam’s stance as my own. Whilst this is the correct thing to do from my religion’s point of view, it does disconcert me to some extent. Instead of forming my own opinions about an issue, am I really willing to blindly accept a specific view or its polar opposite depending on what Islamic scholars interpret from the Qur’an? Should I ditch my “original opinions” if they are deemed wrong from an Islamic point of view? Perhaps that is the right thing to do but it just doesn’t sit well with me. Surely it is better to believe something by questioning it and subsequently understanding it rather than blindly accepting it? So, what is the root of this train of thought?
Stem Cell Research.
Those three little words represent an issue that has bought about discord and dissent and has divided opinion like very few before it. It has certainly divided my opinions. On one hand, embryonic stem cell research destroys a human life and inherently, as humans, we believe that this is wrong. But it is not just the destruction of life that makes me uneasy, it’s also the creation of it; isn’t this almost like playing God?
On the other hand, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning could be the answer to serious illnesses and provide hope for people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
So what is right? I can understand and identify with both points of view but I don’t want to sit on the fence. If push came to shove, I would (reluctantly) say I am pro-stem cell research. I respect the sanctity of life but I think that the creation and destruction of a collection of cells without a nervous system may be worth it to save a “real” human being’s life and/or to cure them of a degenerative disease. Saying that is not easy for me but it is what I would lean towards if I was forced to. I believe that as long as there are strict rules guiding the research and that we don’t somehow branch off into liberal eugenics, stem cell research can be justified.
After I made my decision, I decided to find out what, specifically, was Islam’s stance. Naturally I assumed that Islam would be anti-stem cell research because of the strict ruling on abortion so I was extremely surprised to find from several sources that there was substantial support for it by Islamic scholars. Many say that the Shari’ah (Islamic Law), differentiates between actual life and potential life; that a young embryo outside the womb is not considered a person and the use of it for stem cell research does not violate Islamic law.* Ultimately, this tallies with my personal opinion. Whilst this puts me in the same boat as the person who would blindly accept Islam’s ruling, I am glad that I thought it through and came to a conclusion of my own accord. I actually have deep respect for the people who can accept, “Believe this because Islam tells you to” but I, personally, like to do a little more digging. That way, I will believe what I’m meant to because I believe it and not purely because I’m meant to.
* http://www.islam101.com/science/stemCells.htm has a good article on the matter by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, the Former president of the Islamic Society of North America.