The Islamic Views on Evolution
Islamic views on evolution are diverse, ranging from theistic evolution to Old Earth creationism. Some Muslims around the world believe “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” yet some others believe they have “always existed in present form.” Muslim thinkers have proposed and accepted elements of the theory of evolution, some holding the belief of the supremacy of God in the process. Usaama al-Azami suggested that both narratives of creation and of evolution, as understood by modern science, may be believed by modern Muslims as addressing two different kinds of truth, the revealed and the empirical. Muneer Al-Ali argues that faith and science can be integrated and complement each other.
Main article: Schools of Islamic Theology
Creation of the universe
In the surah Sūrat al-Anbiyāʼ, the Quran states that “the heavens and the earth were of one piece” before being parted.God then created the landscape of the earth, placed the sky above it as a roof, and created the day and night cycles by appointing an orbit for both the sun and moon.
“Have not the people, who have disbelieved (the Message), ever considered this: the heavens and the earth were at first one mass; then We parted them,28 and created every living thing from water?29 Do they not acknowledge (that this is Our Creation)? And We set mountains firmly in the earth lest it should tilt to one side along with them,30 and We left therein open paths31 so that they may find their way.32 And We made the sky a safe canopy,33 but in spite of this they do not pay due heed to its signs.34 And it is Allah, Who has made the night and the day and created the sun and the moon; all of them are floating, each in its own orbit.35“
—Sūrat al-Anbiyā 28-35
Some modern Muslims, including Sheikh Omar Suleiman of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, interpret the Quran’s story of the creation of the world in the context of science, and believe that the scientific theory of an expanding universe is described in Sūrat adh-Dhāriyāt:
We have built the heaven with might, and We it is Who make the vast extent (thereof).
Sūrat al-Aʻrāf states that the “heavens and the earth” were created in the equivalent of six yawm. The Arabic word yawm means “day”, and so some Muslims believe the universe was created in six days, akin to the story of creation in the Book of Genesis. However, other scholars interpret the term yawm to mean a unit of time much longer than a day, as the Quran states that to God, one day is equivalent to 50,000 years or 1,000 years. After completing the Creation, God “settled Himself upon the Throne”. The concept of a “day of rest” does not appear in the Quran.
Creation of life
The only explicit reference to the creation of non-human life in the Quran appears in the aforementioned Sūrat al-Anbiyāʼ, in which God proclaims “We made out of water every living thing.” According to Muhammad Asad, “only water has the peculiar properties necessary for the emergence and development of life.”
Sunni theologian Said Nursî stated the Earth was already inhabited by intelligent species before humankind. He considered, supported by the hadiths from Ibn Abbas and Tabari, the Jinn lived here before but were almost wiped out by fire. A few interpreters of the Quran believed that even before Jinn, other creatures like Hinn lived on the earth although they failed to provide any narration from Quran or authentic Hadith to support these claims.
Creation of man
The characters of Âdam and his wife (in Islamic tradition called Ḥawwāh) appear in the Quran as the first man and woman. The Quran states that they were created from clay, and were brought to life by the divine breath of God entering their bodies. While verses in the Quran and some ahadith indicate that God created Adam first and that Eve was created from Adam, a few scholars proposed that the verses could have multiple interpretations.
The majority of Islamic scholars, including Yasir Qadhi, believe that Adam and Eve were supernaturally created through a miracle by God, though some modern scholars like Mohamed Ghlian have instead asserted that the pair evolved naturally from a common ancestor.
See also: Islam and science
In Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of the Animals), the 9th-century scholar al-Jāḥiẓ references several facets of natural selection, such as animal embryology, adaptation, and animal psychology. One notable observation al-Jāḥiẓ makes is that stronger rats were able to compete better for resources than small birds, a reference to the modern day theory of the “struggle for existence.” In the 11th century, the scholar Sami S. Hawi argues that Persian scholar Ibn Miskawayh wrote about the evolution of man in his Fawz al-aṣghar.
The 14th-century influential historiographer and historian Ibn Khaldun wrote the Muqaddimah or Prolegomena (“Introduction”) on what he referred to as the “gradual process of creation.” He stated that the Earth began with abiotic components such as “minerals.” Slowly, primitive stages of plants such as “herbs and seedless plants” developed and eventually “palms and vines.” Khaldun connects the later stages of plant development to the first stages of animal development. Finally, he claims that the greater thought capabilities of human beings was “reached from the world of the monkeys.”
In his 1874 book titled History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, John William Draper, a scientist and contemporary of Charles Darwin, criticized the Catholic Church for its disapproval of “the Mohammedan theory of the evolution of man from lower forms, or his gradual development to his present condition in the long lapse of time.”
In the 19th century, a scholar of Islamic revival, Jamal-al-Din al-Afghānī agreed with Darwin that life will compete with other life in order to succeed. He also believed that there was competition in the realm of ideas similar to that of nature. However, he believed explicitly that life was created by God; Darwin did not discuss the origin of life, saying only “Probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some primordial form, into which life was first breathed”. A contemporary of Al-Afghani, Shia scholar Hussein al-Jisr, declared that there is no contradiction between evolution and the Islamic scriptures. He stated that “there is no evidence in the Quran to suggest whether all species, each of which exists by the grace of God, were created all at once or gradually,” and referred to the aforementioned story of creation in Sūrat al-Anbiyā.
In Turkey, important scholars strove to accommodate the theory of evolution in Islamic scripture during the first decades of the Turkish Republic; their approach to the theory defended Islamic belief in the face of scientific theories of their times. The Saudi Arabian government, on the other hand, began funding and promoting denial of evolution in the 1970s in accordance to its Salafi-Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. This stance garnered criticism from the governments and academics of mainline Muslim countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran, where evolution is taught and promoted.
Khalid Anees, of the Islamic Society of Britain, discussed the relationship between Islam and evolution in 2004:
Islam also has its own school of Evolutionary creationism/Theistic evolutionism, which holds that mainstream scientific analysis of the origin of the universe is supported by the Quran. Many Muslims believe in evolutionary creationism, especially among Sunni and Shia Muslims and the Liberal movements within Islam. Among scholars of Islam İbrahim Hakkı of Erzurum who lived in Erzurum then Ottoman Empire now Republic of Turkey in the 18th century is famous for stating that ‘between plants and animals there is sponge, and, between animals and humans there is monkey’.
Contemporary Islamic scholars Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, Edip Yüksel, and T.O. Shanavas in his book, Islamic Theory of Evolution: the Missing Link between Darwin and the Origin of Species say that there is no contradiction between the scientific theory of evolution and Quran’s numerous references to the emergence of life in the universe.
While Muslims scholars reject Young Earth creationism, and claim the story of creation in the Book of Genesis was corrupted, a movement has begun to emerge recently in some Muslim countries promoting themes that have been characteristic of Christian creationists. This stance has received criticism, due to claims that the Quran and Bible are incompatible. Adnan Oktar, also known by his pen-name Harun Yahya, is a Muslim advocate against the theory of evolution. He is considered a charlatan by many Muslim scholars, and his representative at a conference on Islam and evolution in January 2013 was ridiculed during and after the conference. Most of Yahya’s information is taken from the Institute for Creation Research and the Intelligent Design movement in the United States. Oktar largely uses the Internet to promote his ideas. His BAV (Bilim Araştırma Vakfı/ Science Research Foundation) organizes conferences with leading American creationists.
According to the Guardian newspaper, some British Muslim students have distributed leaflets on campus, advocating against Darwin’s theory of evolution. At a conference in the UK in January 2004, entitled Creationism: Science and Faith in Schools, “Dr Khalid Anees, of the Islamic Society of Britain stated that ‘Muslims interpret the world through both the Koran and what is tangible and seen. There is no contradiction between what is revealed in the Koran and natural selection and survival of the fittest’.” Maurice Bucaille, famous in the Muslim world for his commentary on the Quran and science, attempted to reconcile evolution with the Quran by accepting animal evolution up to early hominid species, and then positing a separate hominid evolution leading to modern humans. However, these ideas differ from the theory of evolution as accepted by biologists.
Contemporary Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi believes that the idea that humans evolved is against the Quran, but says that God may have placed humanity perfectly into an evolutionary pattern to give the appearance of human evolution. Modern scholar Usaama al-Azami later argued that scriptural narratives of creation, and evolution as understood by modern science, may be believed by modern Muslims as addressing two different kinds of truth, the revealed and the empirical. The late Ottoman intellectual Ismail Fennî, while personally rejecting Darwinism, insisted that it should be taught in schools as even false theories contributed to the improvement of science. He held that interpretations of the Quran might require amendment should Darwinism eventually be shown to be true. Another scholar, Muneer Al-Ali, argues that faith and science can be integrated and complement each other in explaining the complexity and mysteries of existence.
A research paper published in 2016 by the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research wrote that there is not a consensus among scholars on how to respond to the theory of evolution, and it is not clear whether the scholars are even qualified to give a response.
As per a 2008 report, Evolutionary biology was included in the high-school curricula of most Muslim countries. Science foundations of 14 Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt, recently signed a statement by the Interacademy Panel (IAP, a global network of science academies), in support of the teaching of evolution, including human evolution.
A 2009 survey conducted by the McGill researchers and their international collaborators found that 85% of Indonesian high school students and 86% of Pakistani high school students agreed with the statement, “Millions of fossils show that life has existed for billions of years and changed over time.”
According to a more recent Pew study these numbers appear to increase slowly but steadily. For instance, a relatively large fraction of people accept human evolution in Kazakhstan (79%) and Lebanon (78%), but relatively few in Afghanistan (26%) and Iraq (27%), with most of the other Islamic countries somewhere in between.
In 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant captured the Iraqi city of Mosul, the group issued a new set of rules for the schools there, which included a ban on the teaching of evolution.
Rana Dajani, a university professor who teaches evolution in Jordan, wrote that almost all of her students are hostile to the idea of evolution, at the beginning of the class, but by the end of the class, the majority accept the idea.
In 2017, Turkey announced plans to end the teaching evolution before the university level, with education Alpaslan Durmuş claiming it is too complicated and “controversial” a topic to be understood by young minds.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia