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Human Clones: An Islamic View
Apr 1, 1999

In the present article1 I will attempt to summarize a wide range of opinions that have emerged among the scholars of Islamic law and theology in its Sunni and Shi’i formulations in the wake of the cloning technology that produced Dolly the sheep.

It is important to state from the outset that despite the plurality of reasoning and judicial formulations based on independent research and interpretation of normative legal sources in Islamic tradition, there is a consensus of juridical-ethical opinions among Muslim religious experts on human cloning. The majority of Muslims in North America are Sunnis. Sunni Muslims follow one of the four officially recognized Sunni legal rites.3 The Shi’ites form a minority in North America.4 And even though scholars differ in their method of reasoning, they are in agreement with their Sunni colleagues in flashing the red light on human cloning.

In the wake of the latest success in animal cloning, prominent scholars representing Sunni centers of religious learning in the Middle East, have expressed a collective opinion on cloning. The official Sunni position in this country5 states that the Arabic term used for this technology in the legal as well as journalistic literature is istinsakh, ‘copying’. This interpretation is not very different from the fictional cloning portrayed In His Image: The Cloning of Man by David Rorvik in the late 1970s, when cloning by nuclear transplantation was the topic of the day in North America. The popular perception that human copies can be produced at will led the leading Mufti of Egypt, Dr Nasr Farid Wasil in Cairo, to emphatically declare his position on the subject. Dr. Wasil declared that possible human or ‘copying’ is both an act of disbelief and immoral. Hence, cloning should be regulated by the government.6 However, this position is disputed by another leading Egyptian legist Yusuf al-Qaradawi who, when asked if cloning was interference in the creation of God, or a challenge to God’s will, replied in no uncertain terms:

Oh no, no one can challenge or oppose God’s will. Hence, if the matter is achieved then it is certainly under the will of God. Nothing can be created without God’s will creating it. As long as people continue to do so, it is the will of God. Actually, we do not search for the question whether it is in accord with the will of God. Our search is whether the matter is licit or not.7

Although the issue of cloning technology has not been given much serious consideration in Muslim discussions of cellular nuclear transplantation, there is much concern with the anticipated biological and social effects of cloning on the underlying Islamic ethical framework and social fabric. For instance, al-Qaradawi raises a fundamental question about the impact of this technology on human life:

Would such a process create disorder in human life when human beings with their subjective opinions and caprices interfere in God’s created nature on which He has created people and has founded their life on it? It is only then that we can assess the human being, that is, to copy numerous faces of a person as if they were carbon copies of each other.8

The fundamental ethical question, as al-Qaradawi indicates, is whether this procedure interferes with growing up in a family that is founded upon the institutions of fatherhood and motherhood. It is in a family that the child is nurtured to become a person. In addition, al- Qaradawi says, since God has placed in each man and woman an instinct to produce this individual in the family, would there be a need for marriage if an individual could be created by cloning? Such a procedure may even lead to a male in no need of a female. Although al- Qaradawi does not state this, biologically speaking, the male may become superfluous (but not the female, since both her egg and womb will be needed).

The other point raised by al-Qaradawi against cloning is based on the Qur’anic notion that variations among peoples are a sign from God who created human beings in different forms and colors, just as He created them distinct from other animals. This variety reflects the richness of life. Resemblance’s resulting from “copying” might lead to a situation where spouses were unable to recognize their partners. This “misunderstanding” would clearly have serious social and ethical consequences. From the point of view of health, one could also presume that people would then be affected by the same virus. However, al-Qaradawi maintains that the technology can be used to overcome certain hereditary diseases, such as infertility, as long as it does not lead to abuse in other areas.9

The Shi’I scholarly position, on the other hand, appears to treat the term ‘clone’ more in its broad scientific sense of making identical copies of molecules, cells, tissues, and even animals involving somatic cell nuclear transplant. In fact, besides the therapeutic use in the hospitals, the technology has been in use in the area of husbandry and agriculture throughout the Islamic world. Hence, Islamic tradition takes the position of endorsing the applications of the technology as long as it provides practical benefit in terms of improved human life. When it comes to cloning human beings, however, the Shari’a-Islamic Jurisprudence-requires that the best interest of prospective parents and their future children be taken into consideration.10

ISLAM AND TECHNOLOGICALLY ASSISTED REPRODUCTION Although since the 1970s, ethical issues associated with assisted reproductive technologies (such as in vitro fertilization) have been dealt with extensively by Muslim jurists, human cloning remains to be discussed in detail. The facts about it are still emerging. With the prospect of understanding cloning better while, understanding impact it could have on how Muslims conceive of human life and subsequently their destiny, it is reasonable to expect revision in the ethnical and legal assessment of these experiments among the scholars of Shari’a, the Scared Law of Islam. Given the success rate of embryo duplication in a number of animal species, reproductive specialists seem to be confident that the technique will improve the success rates of assisted reproductive technology in humans. Accordingly, the legality of human embryo duplication by splitting has been accepted by Muslim jurists as a replication of natural twinning through legitimate scientific means.

Let me proceed to summarize the theological-ethical-legal dimensions of the issues associated with cloning in Islam have been explored with due attention to the possible differences in the interpretation of the scriptural sources for these rulings among the Sunni and the Shi’I legists.


I want to begin with the teachings of the Qur’an, and see if there is any room for human intervention in the workings of nature associated with reproduction. In Chapter 23, verse 12-14, we read:

We created (khalaqna) man of an extraction of clay, then we set him, a drop in a safe lodging, then We created of the drop a clot, then We created of the clot a tissue, then We created the tissue bones, then we covered the bones in flesh; thereafter We produced it as another creature. So blessed be God, the Best of creators (khaliqin)!

Muslim thinkers have gleaned some important conclusions from this and other passages that describe the development of an embryo to a full human person:

First, creation of a human being is an act of divine will. It is this absolute will that determines the embryonic journey to full human status.

Second, perceivable human life is possible only at the later stage in biological development of the embryo when God says: “Thereafter We produced him as another creature.”12

Third, as the last reference implies, the fetus should be accorded the status of a legal person only at the later stage of its development and not in the earlier stage when it lodges itself in the uterus.

Fourth, because of the silence of the Qur’an over exactly when implantation occurs in the fetus it is possible to make a distinction between a biological and moral person,13 placing the latter stage after, at least, the first trimester of pregnancy.

On the basis of some traditions ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad which describes the stages of embryonic development,14 the majority of Sunni and some Shi’I scholars draw a distinction between the two stages in pregnancy divided by the end of the fourth month (120 days). However, these traditions, admitted as documentation for such a distinction, are not universally adapted even by Sunni scholars. The majority of the Shi’I and some Sunni legists have exercised caution in making such a distinction because, as they argue, these traditions do not speak about the enrollment of the fetus at all. They simply mention the stage when an angel is sent to the fetus. Hence, they regard the embryo at all stages as alive, and its eradication as a sin.

The Qur’an and the traditions provide no universally accepted definition of the term ‘embryo’ with which we are concerned in our deliberations about cloning.15 Nor do these two foundational sources of the Shari’a lend themselves to distinctions among the detailed modern biological data about the beginning of life from the moment of impregnation. A tenable conclusion, derived by rationally inclined interpreters of the verse of the Qur’an cited above, suggest that as participants in the act of creating with God (God being the only one who can truly create). Human beings can actively engage in furthering the overall well being of humanity by intervening in the works of nature, including the early stages of embryonic development, to improve human health.16

Nevertheless, the Qur’an takes into account the problem of human arrogance which takes the form of rejecting God’s frequent reminders to humanity. The reminders state that God’s immutable laws are dominant in nature, and human beings cannot willfully create “unless God, the Lord of all Being, wills (8:29).” The will of God in the Qur’an has often been interpreted as the processes of nature uninterfered with by human action. Hence, in Islam human management of genes made possible by biotechnical intervention in the early stages of life is regarded as an act of faith in the ultimate will of God as the Giver of all life, as long as such an intervention is undertaken with the purpose of improving the health of the fetus or increasing the chances of fertility for a married couple.


At the center of the Islamic ethical debate about cloning, as pointed out by al-Qaradawi and other Muslim scholars, is the question of the ways in which cloning might affect familial relationships and responsibilities. In a plethora of concerns voiced by Paul Ramsey about the social role of parenting and nurturing interpersonal relations’17 Islam regards interpersonal relationships as fundamental to human religious life. The Prophet is reported to have said that religion is made up often parts, of which nine-tenths constitute interhuman relationships, whereas only one-tenth concerns man’s relationship to God. Since the fundamental institution to further these relationships is the family, and since human cloning interferes with the workings of male female relations, Muslim scholars have advised their governments to exercise extreme caution regarding this technology.

Since researchers at the George Washington University Medical Center succeeded in duplicating genetically defective human embryos by blastomere separation in 1993,18 some Muslim thinkers have raised questions about manipulating human embryos in IVF implantation in terms of its impact upon the fundamental relationship between man and woman, and the life giving aspects of spousal relations that culminate in parental love and concern for their offspring. Islam regards the spousal relationship in marriage to be the cornerstone of the prime social institution of the family for the creation of a divinely ordained order. Consequently, Muslim focus on the debate regarding where genetic replication is concerned with moral issues related to the possibility of technologically created incidental relationships that do not require spiritual and moral connection between a man and a woman. Can human intervention through biotechnology jeopardize the very foundation of human community, namely, a religiously and morally regulated spousal and parent child relationships under the laws of God? It is because of this reason that among Muslim scholars the more intricate issues associated with embryo preservation and experimentation have received less attention in these ethical deliberations. Certainly, since the therapeutic uses of cloning in IVF appear as an aid to fertility strictly within the bounds of marriage, both monogamous and polygamous as recognized in the Shari’a, Muslims have little problem with endorsing the technology. The opinions from Sunni and Shi’I scholars studied for this article indicate that there is a unanimity in Islamic rulings on therapeutic uses of cloning, as long as the lineage of the child remains religiously unblemished. In other words, to preserve the integrity of the lineage of a child reproduction must take place within the religiously specified boundaries of a spousal relation.19

Besides the significance attached to the spousal relationship for bearing and nurturing children, another issue in Muslim bioethics is the problem of determining the moral status of the technology itself. In a world dominated by multinational corporations, Muslims, like other people around the globe, do not treat technology as nonmoral. No human action is possible without intention and will. In light of the manipulation of genetic engineering for eugenics in recent history, it is reasonable for the Muslims, like Christians and Jews, to fear political abuse of the reproduction technology through cloning. With its emphasis on spiritual equality; Islam has refused to accord validity to any claims of superiority of one people over the other. The only valid claim to nobility in the Qur’an stems from being god-fearing. From an Islamic standpoint, it is morally and religiously wrong to employ cloning technology for purposes other than therapeutic.


In Islam, although religious, ethical and legal dimensions are interrelated, it is important to underline the legal doctrines that bear upon the decisions made by Muslim legal scholars in endorsing or prohibiting cloning. Without adequate legal reasoning based upon careful interpretation of the Qur'an and the traditions, in addition to certain rationally derived principles and rules, no Muslin legist can issue judicial decisions on the subject. In connection with embryo cloning the legists invoked the two fundamental principles of 'equity'(istihsan) and 'public interest' (maslaha) to furnish a religious basis for their legal decisions. These two principles function as complementary procedures to derive rules that can be applied to formulate new decisions outside the strict letter of law. Since the subject of technologically assisted reproduction has no precedent in the classical juridical tradition, Muslim legists depend heavily on the scientific information supplied by researchers to deduce their judicial decisions. In addition, there are three major subsidiary principles or rules applied to resolve ethical dilemmas and derive judgments related to all bioethical issues, including cloning: (1) 'protection against distress and constriction' ('usrwa haraj); (2) 'the necessity to refrain from causing harm to oneself and others' (la darar wa la dirar), (3) 'the rule that averting causes of corruption has precedence over bringing about benefit' (dar'u al-mafasid muqaddam al jalb al-masalih). It is obvious that in light of the limited knowledge that we have about who would be harmed by cloning or whose rights would be violated, Muslim legal rulings are bound to reflect a cautious and even prohibitive attitude beyond treatment of infertility or assessment of genetic or other abnormalities in the embryo prior to implantation. Although the recent breakthrough in mammal cloning provides a unique opportunity to the scientists to fathom the secrets of God's creation, it also carries with it grave and unprecedented risks. Nevertheless, since we do not will unless God wills, can this breakthrough in cloning be regarded as part of the divine will to afford human kind yet another opportunity for moral training and maturity? The Qur'an seems to suggest that embryo splitting is just that opportunity for our overall maturity as members of the global community under God.


The recent opinions expressed by the Grand Mufti of Egypt and other Muslim legists around the world confirm my assessment of the ethical issues associated with cloning. Unanimity has now emerged among Muslim scholars of different legal rites that whereas in Islamic tradition therapeutic uses of cloning and any research to further that goal will receive the endorsement of the major legal schools, the idea of human cloning has been viewed negatively and almost, to use the language of the Mufti of Egypt, “Satanic.” A further consensus among Muslims seems to discourage even research directed towards improvement of human health thorough genetic manipulation because of the rule of prioritization based on the principle of distributive justice. In view of limited resources in the Islamic world and the expensive technology that is needed for research related to cloning, Muslim legists have asked their governments to ban research on cloning at this time. Since technologically assisted reproduction in Islamic tradition is legitimized only within the lawful male female relationship to help alleviate infertility, somatic cell nuclear transplant cloning from adult cells for therapeutic purposes will have to abide by the general criterion set for this technology. In the case of cloning specifically for the purposes of relieving human disease, there is no ethical impediment to stop such research, whose probable benefit outweighs possible harm. I believe that research into human cloning from adult cells in the course of reproductive treatment should be allowed, with necessary regulatory clauses to restrict abuse under penalty. My opinion is based on the principle that 'averting (and not interdicting) causes of corruption has precedence over bringing about that which has benefit. In our religiously and ethically pluralistic society where there is a search for a universal ethical language that can speak to the adherents of different religious and cultural traditions, Islamic tradition, with its experience in dealing with matters central to human interpersonal relations in diverse cultural settings, can be become an important source for our ethical deliberations dealing with the ideals and realities of human existence. I am deeply concerned, for instance, about the way we shy away from considering the subjective dimensions pertaining to human spiritual and moral awareness in setting our goals for research with human embryos. Our policies on the matter of cloning should be seriously informed from the perspective of corrective as well as distributive justice. From the standpoint of our moral commitment to the principle of distributive justice, it will be hard to justify a heavy investment in embryonic research related to human cloning without addressing some immediate and serious problems of poverty in our own backyard. Moreover, as the leader of the world community, the U.S. has a responsibility to share its material as well as scientific resources with underprivileged nations whose immediate needs do not go beyond treating common diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.


1 This chapter is an extended version of the testimony presented before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in March 1997. At the global level Sunni Muslims from the majority of the Muslim community, almost 80%; whereas Shi'I Muslims form the minority (20%). The two communities are divided on the question of religious authority to which obedience in matters of religious and moral law is required. The Sunni Muslims recognize the learned jurists at the Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt and Shi'I Muslims depend upon their scholars in Iran and Iraq for moral and spiritual guidance. The fundamental difference between the two communities in matters of ethical-legal decisions is marked by the use of intuitive human reason in deriving ethical-legal judgement pertaining to modern biomedical technology. Whereas the Sunni legists tend to assign a significant role to the Tradition informed by concern for 'public interest' (maslaha) and 'equity' (istihsan), the Shi'I jurist-consults (mujahid) assign intuitive reason a substantial role in finding solutions to the problems raised by technological advancements today. In the North American context also the Sunnis form a majority, whereas the Shi'ites form a minority. However, the actual figures are open to dispute because the number of Iranian Shi'ites who are assimilated in the North American culture remains unaccounted in the census among Muslim communities. The four Sunni legal rites (madhabib) are: Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi'I and Hanbali. Most of the Sunnis belong to the Hanafi madhhab in their religious practice. The Shi'ites form their own madhhab known as the Ja'fari legal rite.

SEE ABOVE, NOTE 2. For various Muslim opinions collected from around the world see: “Religious Perspectives on Human Cloning” by Courtney Campbell Ph.D., Oregon State University, paper commissioned by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. In addition, for specifically Sunni opinions expressed by their leading religious authorities, see: Al-Majalla: The International News Magazine of the Arabs (No.894, 30 March-5 April 1997) and Sayyidati (No 843, 3- 9 May, 1997, pp.62-64). See Al-Ma jalla, No.894, 30 March-5 April, 1997, p.

6 Sayyidat, No.843, p.64 Ibid. p.63 Ibid, p.62-63 The opinions regarding cloning coming out of Lebanon and iron indicate more openness in accepting the technology even adult somatic cell transplant. See Ayatollah Khamenehi, Pizishki dar a'ineh ijtihad (medicine through the Process of Independent Reasoning) (Qumm, 1375/1996); pp.111-112 deal with technologically assisted reproduction. For the Qur'anic exegesis dealing with legal implications, see al-Qurtubi, al-Jami li-ahkam al-Qur'an (Beirut: Dar Ihya' al-Turoth al-Arobi, 1966), vol.12, pp. 6-7. Qurtubi, Jumi, ol. XII, p.6; al-Razi, Fakhr al-Din al-Tafsir al-kabir, al-Muhammed Muhyi al-Din, 32 vols. (Cairo, 1352/1933) vol. XXIII, p.85; al-Tabarsi, Abu Ali al-Fadl b. Hasan (d. 548/1154), Majma al-bayan fi tafsir al-qur'an, 10 vols. (Tehran, 1379-82), vol. VII p.101); al-Tabataba'I, Muhammad Husayn, al-Mizan fi tafsir al-qur'an, 20 vols. (Beirut, 1393- 4/1973-74), vol. XV pp. 20-24. Ayatollah Muhammad H. Bihishti, 'Rules of Abortion and Sterilization in Islamic Law,” in Islam and Family Planning. The international Planned Parenthood Federation Middle East and North Africa Region (Beirut, 1974), vol. II pp. 416-17, indicates the possibility of such a distinction in the context of considering when abortion can be regarded as murder.

14 These traditions ore recorded in the Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim among the Sunni compilations; and Wasa'il al-shi'a, the Shi'ite compendium of traditions. For valuable insights into these traditions I have depended on the commentaries: Fath al-Bari bi sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Al-Matba'a al-Bahiyya al-Misriyya, 1347/1928), vol 11, pp.404-5; Sahih Muslim bi sharh al-Nawawi (Cairo: Al-Matba'a al-Misriyya bil-Azhar, 1349/1930), vol. 16, pp. 190-215.

15 Muammad Na'im Yasin, Abhath fiqhiyya fi qadaya tibbiva mu'asira (Amman: Dar al-Nafa'is, 1416/1996), pp. 9-25, has done extensive research in the Sunni juridical sources to demonstrate the plurality of opinions in determining the beginning of life, and has concluded with mush evidence that the majority of the Muslim scholars do not support the view that moral-legal life begins with conception. For Shi'I views on the subject see: Pasukh bi-su'alha-yi shuma dar barah-I ahkum dar marakiz bihdasht wa darmani (Tehran: Chapkhanah-I Danishgah-I Danishgo-I Ulum-I Pizishki, n.d.); and, Fiqh al-tabib. Compiled by Drs. Mustafa Najafi, Mas'ud Salihi and Mas'ud Firdasi (Tehran: Ministry of Health, n.d.)

16 in particular views expressed by al-Qaradawi and Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadl Allah of Lebanon in support of improving human health regard the advancements in biotechnology as an expression of Divine Will. See the report prepared by Courtney S. Campbell, “Examination of Views of Religious Traditions on Issues of the Cloning of Humans,” where he cites the Lebanese Shi'ite leader's views.

17 Paul Ramsey, Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control (New Haven, 1970).

18 For details of the experiment and related ethical issues in genetic manipulation, see Andrea L. Bonnicksen, “Ethical and Policy Issues in Human Embryo Twinning,” in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 4 (1995), pp.268-84.

19 Among the Shi'ite jurists, Ayatollah Khamenehi, Pizishki dar a'ineh ijtihad, p. 117-122 seems to have sanctioned both surrogacy, and sperm and egg donation, without requiring the donor of the sperm and egg donation, without requiring the donor of the sperm to be the husband as required by senior jurists like the late Ayatollah Khomeini and others. This seems to be on error of judgement on Khamenehi's part. See: Pasukhi bi-su'alha, pp.74-81.