16 May 2013

GM and the Ummah: Should Muslims be eating genetically modified (GM) food?

When readiness of a meal coincides with the time for salah (compulsory ritual prayer), the eating of the meal comes first:

Narrated Nafi': Ibn 'Umar said, "Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, 'If the supper is served for anyone of you and the Iqama is pronounced, start with the supper and don't be in haste till you finish it." If food was served for Ibn 'Umar and Iqama was pronounced, he never came to the prayer till he finished it (i.e. food) in spite of the fact that he heard the recitation (of the Qur'an) by the Imam (in the prayer). Narrated Ibn 'Umar: The Prophet (SAW) said, "If anyone of you is having his meals, he should not hurry up till he is satisfied even if the prayer has been started." (Bukhari Book 11, Hadith 642)

With this in mind, I invite you to reflect upon the importance of eating Allah’s gift of food in its best condition. Specifically, I ask you to consider that there may be something wrong with foods that are genetically modified (GM).

Whenever Allah SWT applies the description 'halal’ (lawful; legal) to food in the Qur’an, He also uses the description ‘tayyib’, meaning ‘pure’ or ‘good’. As Muslims, we need to know about the purity of our food. This includes GM food.

"Allah created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): verily in that is a Sign for those who believe." The Qur'an (29:44)

Does GM corrupt Allah SWT's 'true proportions'? To begin addressing this question, let us (briefly) consider what the process of making GM crops entails and what this means for the earth …

To genetically modify the cells of a plant, a gene is usually taken from another plant or other organism and inserted into the plant. All of the plant's cells are then affected by the new gene and take on its characteristics. This includes the reproductive cells, meaning that subsequent generations will inherently carry the GM trait. The inserted gene will be chosen for a particular characteristic, but the insertion process can also lead to impacts on neighbouring genes.

GM can lead to changes that go beyond those that can occur through traditional cross breeding. When GM crops are grown in open land, the spread of GM from them cannot be contained since plants are pollenated by wind and insects. We must question whether impacts upon the food chain and the environment surrounding GM crops can be comprehensively predicted or controlled. These impacts include effects upon the people who eat the products of animals fed with GM crops, for example meat, dairy products or eggs.

As Muslims, we need to consider whether or not the open growing of GM crops, that lead to changes that cannot be contained, transgresses the balance in Allah SWT's creation.

“The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed;
And the herbs and the trees – both (alike) bow in adoration.
And the Firmanent has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice),
In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance.”
The Qur'an (55:5-8)

Do we know whether or not GM food products are tayyib?

“Eat and drink of the sustenance provided by Allah, and do no evil nor mischief on the (face of the) earth.”
The Qur'an (2:60)

The more that GM crops are grown in the environment, the more crops around them can become (and already have become) contaminated through wind and insect pollenation. If GM crops are modified with cells from unlawful organisms, will we be able to eat them? Will we even know whether or not our food contains GM? In our endeavours to eat food in the best and most wholesome condition, don’t we need to consider the entire food production process as well as taking care over the slaughtering of meat, the cooking of meals and the serving?

“It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth.” (Other translations of agents include 'viceroys' and 'successors')
The Qur'an (6:165)

As an agent of the earth, appointed by Allah SWT, have you made an informed decision about GM food yet?

“So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.” (Other translations of Allah SWT's fitrah include 'original' and 'nature')
The Qur'an (30:30)

We choose, every moment, to make intentions, provisions and actions as Muslims. As Muslims, we must uphold Allah's balance in the earth, and avoid spreading mischief. I ask you to make a decision about how you, as a Muslim in this interconnected earth, need to behave regarding GM foods.

Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may Peace be upon him) commanded the licking of fingers and the dish, saying: “You do not know in what portion the blessing lies."
(Sahih Muslim Book 23, Hadith 5043)

I pray that you will not neglect any small actions that would deny you Allah SWT’s blessings through His gift of food, including the blessings of truth, purity and goodness. May you succeed in achieving the best conditions for every morsel of food that you serve and eat.

Useful webpages:

GM and Islam by Wisdom in Nature

GM Watch

Non GMO Project

Food Sovereignty

Organic halal food to buy (UK)

Beyond Halal

This article was published in SISTERS Magazine in April 2013

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