Religious Leaders’ Views on Radical Life Extension

No religious group in the United States has released an official statement on radical life extension. However, here are brief summaries of how some clergy, bioethicists and other scholars from 18 major American religious groups say their traditions might approach this evolving issue. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on radical life extension and related issues, see “Living to 120 and Beyond: Americans’ Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension.” And for an overview of the scientific research and emerging ethical debate, see “To Count Our Days: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Life Extension.”)

Islam

Radically extending life “probably wouldn’t be a problem for most” Muslims, according to Aisha Musa, a professor of religion at Colgate University who has written about the issue from a Muslim perspective. According to Musa and others, Muslims believe Allah (God) knows the exact life span of each person  from birth to death, or what the Quran calls one’s “term appointed” (Sura 40:67). “Since you can’t really violate God’s plan for you, life extension is alright because it’s part of God’s will,” Musa says.

 

Given this outlook, many Muslims would likely see life-extending technologies as in accordance with God’s plan for humanity. “Whenever there is something new, Muslims believe that it has happened with God’s endorsement,” says Abdulaziz Sachedina, chair of Islamic studies at George Mason University and the author of “Islamic Biomedical Ethics.” “Whatever we do, God has a hand in it.”

 

Neither major branch of Islam (Sunni and Shia) has a central authority that would issue a decree on life extension. But Shia Muslims do follow religious leaders known as grand ayatollahs, who issue religious edicts, called fatwas, that are binding on their followers.

 

According to Mohsen Kadivar, a Shia theologian and philosopher based in Iran but currently teaching at Duke University in Durham, N.C., many Shia ayatollahs would likely sanction life-extension therapies as long as their object was not to extend life indefinitely. “There is a difference between life extension and immortality,” Kadivar says, adding, “The first is acceptable and the second is not acceptable, according to Islam and the Quran.”

 

Musa and Sachedina, who are Sunni, agree that striving for immortality would go against Islamic teachings because it would keep Muslims from heaven. “There is a deep-seated belief that death is a blessing,” Sachedina says. “We look forward to dying.”

 

Imam Withdraws His Pro-Evolution Statements After Threats

7 March 2011

Imam and science lecturer Dr Usama Hasan has said that he went too far in defending evolution theory and showing its compatibility with Islam. He suspended his role as Imam at Friday prayers at Leyton Mosque in London. This comes after he has received death threats when giving a lecture in January. A leaflet campaign had been carried out against him.

In 2008, Dr Hasan, senior lecturer at Middlesex University, published an opinion piece in the Guardian, explaining why the belief in creationism was problematic and that evolution theory could also be accepted by practicing Muslims. This, along with his view that the headscarf for women is cultural and therefore optional, has apparently led to fatwas against him in several countries three years ago.

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British Muslim organization rules suicide bombings un-Islamic through Fatwa

The British Muslim organisation Minhaj ul-Qur’an has released the globally first fatwa ruling
suicide bombings and terrorism prohibited and entirely un-Islamic. The author of the fatwa, Muslim scholar Dr Muhammed Tahir ul-Qadri, is the founder of the increasingly influential Minhaj ul-Quran movement. It is based on Sufi principles and in Britain, it advises the government on combating the radicalization of Muslim youth, while the organisation is not government funded.

The fatwa condemns terrorist acts in the name of Islam and uses evidence from the Qur’an and other Islamic writings to prove that suicide bombers are destined for hell, countering the Islamist view that they would enter heaven, as suggested in many Saudi-Arabian fatwas. It leaves no room for interpretation and does away with the myth of martyrdom of suicide bombers.

In December, the 600-page Urdu-language fatwa has already been publicised in Pakistan, but this week it was launched in London, along with an English summary. A translation of the full version into English will also be available soon. While the fatwa may not have much direct influence on Sunni or Wahhabi Islamist thought, it is believed to strengthen the general influence of Minhaj ul-Quran and their engagement against violent Islam, and in the long run contribute to dismantling al-Qaida ideology.

Terrorists smuggle fatwas out of secure prisons in the UK

Some of Britain’s most dangerous al-Qaeda leaders are promoting jihad from inside high-security prisons by smuggling out propaganda for the internet and finding recruits. In an authoritative report, the “counter-terrorism think tank” Quilliam claims “mismanagement” by the Prison Service is helping al-Qaeda gain recruits and risks “strengthening jihadist movements”.

Abu Qatada, described by MI5 as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, has published fatwas – religious rulings – on the internet from Long Lartin prison, in Worcestershire, calling for holy war and the murder of moderate Muslims, it reveals.

Theatre Review: Hanif Kureishi’s play “The Black Album” at Cottesloe Theatre, London

Hanif Kureishi has turned his own vibrant 1995 novel into a play. The result is a busy, hectic affair that raises all kinds of issues about religious and political faith, fatwas and censorship and the purpose of art. But, as so often with adaptations, you get the bones without the thickness of texture that was part of the original’s charm.

The Black Album, for all its allusions to Prince, is actually a very literary book: there’s more than a hint of Balzac’s Lost Illusions in its story of Shahid, a young Sevenoaks Asian who, in 1989, is exposed to the temptations of London. The play follows the novel in showing Shahid torn between conflicting values.

As a student he is eagerly adopted by a fundamentalist Muslim brotherhood led by the charismatic Riaz. But he also embarks on a passionate affair with a lecturer, Deedee Osgood, who in her devotion to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll embodies the seductions of liberalism.

Matters come to a head with the campaign against The Satanic Verses where Shahid is forced into deciding where his allegiance lies. The play throws up a whole heap of ideas: Muslim orthodoxy confronts Marxist-Leninist ideology and there is even a debate about postmodernist teaching versus canonical criticism.

The Black Album, a co-production between the National Theatre and Tara Arts
Cottesloe, London SE1 9PX, until 7 October 2009
Website here

British Muslims get ‘dial-a-sheikh’ helpline from Egypt

The world’s most popular Islamic hotline, the Egyptian based ‘dial-a-sheikh’, is launching in Britain to help the nation’s 1.6 million Muslims deal with everyday dilemmas. At just 75 pence a minute, British Muslims will be able to access scholars from Egypt’s al-Azhar University through al-Hatef al-Islami helpline where they can call in and seek help with their daily problems.

Callers will be able to speak to a sheikh, who is authorized to issue a fatwa, about their problems and expect to receive an answer, using a pin code, within the next 48 hours of the call. The facility also includes email advice sent in English, Arabic and Urdu.

“With one-third of the U.K.’s Muslims under 16, there’s a need to assist in delivering credible and authoritative Islamic advice”, al-Hatef al-Islami’s founder, Cherif Abdel Meguid, says. Yet some scholars in Britain, who welcomed the initiative, nonetheless worried that fatwas and advice from sheikhs not based in Europe may lack the necessary cultural knowledge and understanding of European society and the challenges particular to the British context.