The First &
"To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: It is He Who gives Life and Death; and He has power over all things. He is The First and The Last, The Revealed and The Unrevealed: And He has full knowledge of all things."
We stand on the brink of another century, another millennium in fact. It has, perhaps, been brought closer to our consciousness by Hong Kong's return to China. For those of us who have been here a little longer than others, it seemed such a very long way off when we considered July 1997. Now it is past, and the next countdown is for the year 2000 which is but a short distance, timewise.
What will be the future for mankind upon entering this new millennium? Will we have learned by the previous generations, or will we, as usual, believe ourselves to be all-knowing, all-wise? History and science and life itself will, one day, testify of man's true condition.
We must acknowledge that there have been many worthy achievements during the past years, and this may be observed most markedly in the field of medical science and technology. However there have also been achievements and procedures in this area which have left large question-marks as to the ethical values of such achievements or, indeed, of these avenues of research per se.
Most notable are the questions arising regarding the perception of life itself. Is life, as is reflected by scientific projects, merely the state of a human body which is sparked by birth, governed by hereditary factors, and laid aside, unless of further scientific value, at death? This, then, apart from the quality of living standards and intellectual values, declares man's position as negligible, being but a higher step on the scale of animal life.
If this is the accepted hypothesis, then it follows that the prevailing scientific attitude will not only continue, but scientists will, no doubt, proceed to plumb these alien scientific depths unreservedly. It stands to reason also that social ideologies will mirror such hypotheses, taking from man's social structure the sublime values with which he was Divinely endowed. Of interest is the fact that politically there has been little, if any, interference from governments regarding some monumental lines of research, thus their acceptance raises many more questions.
If we look back we may see evidence of the changing values, particularly when we consider the family unit. In September 1992, Professor Gary Stollak, from Michigan State University, USA, was a guest Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology. His subject was the limitation of reproduction to those worthy of parenthood. While many may applaud this, particularly when child abuse is something with which governments and societies have to contend, there were many areas which needed to be questioned. The most difficult of his prognostications was that all young boys, from the age of puberty, will, in time, be compelled to have irreversible vasectomies after seminal collections are placed in frozen storage for future use, if the subject is worthy of parenthood. This, of course, would mean that pregnancy only by IVF would take place. It was of interest to me that Professor Stollak projected the theory that for this to be successful, women would have to be in power, stating that the biggest hurdle to overcome at that present time was the "dominance of apathetic men."(1)
A few years later, also in Brisbane, in April 1995, a women's scientific Forum Meeting on the subject of Reproductive Technology, took place which was reported in the Riverside News at that time(2). Apart from issues regarding pregnancy, adoption and surrogacy, "some extrapolations - both real and futuristic - which reproductive experimentation has pioneered" were discussed. It was noted that the "ethical issues were immense." Susan Moriarty argued that the development of surrogacy (the bearing of fertilised donor ova (embryos) for other women incapable of sustaining pregnancy) brought with it the "potential of a Brave New World" order of things scientific.
One example was that of the impregnation of neo-morts (brain-dead) with embryos for infertile couples. Another aspect was that of transsexual couples using this method to obtain children, the father then taking on the role of mother. It was also suggested that dedicated female environmentalists might be impregnated with the embryos of certain endangered species - mammals such as apes or chimpanzees!
It was heartening to read that, to many, these issues were unacceptable. Ms. Moriarty argued that the issue of what technology should be patented and utilised, must be one which is resolved democratically: "It must not be captured by experts and quarantined from open, diverse and wide-ranging debate. It must be an issue in which women's voices are well and truly audible. Reproductive technology experimentation must continue amidst a clear conviction that women's right to autonomy and esteem is the central issue of concern."(3) Obviously this was seen in terms of women and their concerns, but did not mention the vital role of family, or religious aspects of such technology and experimentation.
It has been stated that we are about to enter a new, exciting, biological century(4). While I personally believe that all scientific research is something in which we should take an interest, there are certain areas, particularly in genetic engineering, of which we, most certainly, should not be unaware. Even food crops are now being experimented upon with transgenic use of viral, bacterial, animal and other vegetable genes. It is possible that pig genes will be used in this form of experimentation, if it has not occurred already. Can you imagine your favourite fruit or vegetable containing the genes of swine? There are also human to animal transgenic experiments taking place which may limit our use of some food animals. It is being argued that in some of the bacterial or viral markers, lives may be endangered because of the way in which these markers overcome the effects of antibiotics.
In the 1970s an experiment in Britain was successfully completed wherein a female rabbit gave birth to another female rabbit, without male intervention. This was due to mechanical manipulation of the ovum. A forerunner of cloning, it too, gave only a copy of the original.
During this year we have seen the successful cloning of a sheep. What could that mean for mankind? Reportedly only in use for lower classified animals, its elevation for human utilisation could alter families forever. There would be no need for husband and wife. However, duplication of physical ills could, no doubt, be a factor to be reckoned with before this could be, physically, accomplished effectively.
Morally and religiously it presents many questions, and it is notable that the USA's President Clinton has forbidden cloning to be extended to human usage. Is his a lone voice, or will other world leaders also speak out? Most world-watchers are sceptical, believing that even in the USA cloning will eventually extend to that of humans, even if it is under the guise of medical technological experimentation for the "good" of mankind.
While many may view these achievements, particularly that of animal cloning, with great admiration; while scientists, themselves, may feel that they have almost reached the pinnacle in terms of creationism; it is of note that in not one experiment have they achieved creation of the original living cell. They have transferred cells, they have succeeded even in seeing them grow. However, their success is governed by the origins of creation, and by what Allah has allowed them. "...Who originates creation then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth?" the question is asked, "Can there be another god besides Allah?" and the challenge is hurled, "Bring forth your argument, if ye are telling the truth!" (5)
Again it is stated,
"Say: 'Of your partners, can any originate creation and repeat it?' Say: 'It is Allah Who originates creation and repeats it: Then how are ye deluded (away from the truth)?"'
Briefly we have seen that the family unit is something which has not been considered as important in the scientific scheme of things. This highly significant unit of society has suffered many abuses during this century, particularly in the last few years. In many countries laws have been designated which have all but destroyed the security, honour, and identity of families. We are told that it is Allah who has created man,
" Then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for your Lord has power over all things."
If we look carefully at the proposal by Professor Stollak we will note that the family unit is under threat. In his hypothesis (which he asserts will take place) lineage and marriage will be only as the State decrees. Scientific fertilisation and implantation would take human beings to the level of prize cattle. Males would certainly be emasculated and females would be merely incubators.
In our second group of prognostications, as reported in Riverside News, we would have to say that in every case, the honourable position of woman is in jeopardy. Her body is, again, merely an incubator to be used without thought, for a specified purpose. There is no honour, no affection, no tenderness here.
Our third scenario, that of cloning, removes completely any need for a husband and wife relationship. Marriage would not be necessary and this would suit highly those who have entered into single sex relationships, as well as those who wish to see uniformity. If science was to continue, no doubt, as in "Brave New World" the female body itself would no longer be necessary.
Having established that "the family" in Islamic terms is appointed by Allah, let us now look to that unit of the Islamic family, the mother. In almost, if not all, present experiments, woman's role in reproduction is dishonoured. Thus, scientifically, she is being returned to the jahilliyah period wherein she is nothing more than an object.
In 1990 I read for the first time these Quranic words,
"...And (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you."
'Abdullah Yusuf Ali's notation on this is indeed worthy of our attention: "Among the most wonderful mysteries of our nature is that of sex. The unregenerate male is apt, in the pride of his physical strength, to forget the all-important part which the female plays in his very existence, and in all the social relationships that arise in our collective human lives. The mother that bore us must ever have our reverence. The wife, through whom we enter parentage, must have our reverence. Sex, which governs so much of our physical life, and has so much influence on our emotional and higher nature, deserves - not our fear, or our contempt, or our amused indulgence, but - our reverence in the highest sense of the term."(6)
However, I wondered why it was that Allah should have explicitly relayed the word "wombs" to Prophet Muhammad (s) through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Perhaps our honourable brother, Maududi, also thought as I did for his interpretation of the same text is as follows: "and abstain from violating relations between kinsfolk" (7) With this in mind I looked more closely at the text and found that the word "wombs" Arabic transliteration "Arhaamakum" plural, possessive, was most certainly the word given by Divine command. The phrase denoting blood ties also comes from this root.
It is very important for us to note that the word for womb actually comes from the root Rahmah which also describes the Divine attributes of Mercy and Compassion. In this alone we may see the sacredness of procreation. Indeed "reverence" for the womb meant that. It was not to be taken lightly by either the male or the female. To each was the message for the hallowed continuation of mankind.
Further research regarding the word "womb" in the Quran has led me to another remarkable text. Speaking to those who were hypocrites and "in whose hearts were a disease" Allah questions "Then, is it to be expected of you, if ye were in authority, that ye would work corruption in the land and cut (off) (your) wombs?" (8). Generally "tukatteoo Arhaamakum" (cut, or cut off your wombs) has been interpreted: "and break your ties of kith and kin." This, in effect, may be correct, but why has Allah again used the word "wombs"? Is it because Allah knew that in 1418 AH it would be necessary to remind Muslims of woman's respectful position; of the sacred purpose of the womb; of family ties?
The words "mutilation," "violation" and "desecration" may also be used for cutting off the wombs: in a physical sense mutilation is a work of corruption (does this include Female Genital Mutilation?); in a moral sense "violation" is appropriate, and in a religious context "desecration" is germane to the wounds inflicted upon this sacred purpose of the wombs.
Very serious is the position of those in whose heart is a disease; who would devalue the position and purpose of womanhood, thus dishonouring family ties and returning to jahilliyah values. Allah has given a warning, indeed, in the following verse,
"Such are the men whom Allah has cursed. For He has made them deaf and blinded their sight."
Truly He is Allah, The Originator, The First and The Last, Who ever watches over us, and His Message, most surely, is contained in the Quran.
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