THE MUSLIM RESPONSES TO EVOLUTION
Prof. ABDUL MAJID
Department of Zoology
Government Postgraduate College
There are three different viewpoints of Muslim theologians and scholars about evolution. One view is that evolution is totally contradictory and incompatible with the Islamic teachings. The proponents of this view believe literally in the Quran and Hadith.
They argue that Almighty Allah created all organisms in their present form and then scattered from those created parents of animals and plants, all the present diversity of animals and plants. About the creation of man, they quote different verses of the Holy Quran in which it is described that Allah created the father of all humans “Adam” from clay and then from the rib of Adam, his wife Hawwa (Eve), the mother of all mankind. Then from these two, all human beings sprung. The important personalities of this viewpoint are Shihab-ud-Din Nadvi, Wahiduddin Khan and Harun Yahya.
Shihab-ud -Din Nadvi wrote a very comprehensive book entitled “The Creation of Adam and the Evolutionary Theory” in which he categorically refuted the evolutionary theory. Wahidud Din Khan also wrote number of books especially his book“ Ilm- e- jaded ka challenge (The Challenge of the Modern Knowledge ) the English translation of which is published as “God Arising: Evidence of God in Nature and in Science”. Maulana Wahidud Din Khan writes about evolutionary theory as:
“For a hundred years this theory held sway over human thought. But then further investigations revealed that it had loopholes. It did not fully fit in the framework of creation. In certain fundamental ways, it clashed with the order of the universe as a whole. (1)
Harun Yahya is an eminent Turkish scholar, the author of several books on evolution and creation. Yahya’s opponents claim that Harun Yahya is not a single person but a group of writers formed by Science Research Foundation (known in Turkey with its Turkish initials as BAV). They even claim that Harun Yahya is actually Necmettin Erbakan himself or collaboration between Erbakan and Adnan Okhtar. His website http://www.harunyahya.org has an impressive range of books and it states that Harun Yahya is the pen-name of Adnan Oktar, who devoted his life explaining the existence and unity of Allah.( 2) His two important books “Evolution Deceit” and “Allah is known through Reason“ are basically on the refutation of Darwinism. In the introduction of Evolution Deceit, Harun Yahya notes:
“Some of the people who heard of the theory of Evolution or Darwinism may think that these concepts only concern the field of biology and that they have no significance in their every day lives. This is big misconception because far more than a biological concept, the theory of evolution constitutes the underpinnings of a dishonest philosophy that has held sway over a great number of people”. He further says, “This philosophy is materialism which holds a number of bogus views about why and how we came into being. Materialism maintains that there is nothing but the matter and that matter is the essence of every thing ----------- it (materialism) denies the existence of a divine creator, this is Allah. It also seeks to abolish the basic values on which the state and society rest.”(3) Harun Yahya’s book Evolution Deceit is in fact a scientific approach to refute and reject Darwinism, that is why it is written on the first page of this book.
“The Scientific collapse of Darwinism and its Ideological Background”. Harun Yahya refers to the event of “Cambrian Explosion” during which the remarkably complex forms of animals appeared suddenly, some 550 million years ago. He then quotes a number of contemporary biologists who authenticate the “Cambrian Explosion” and then at page 30 of his book (the Evolution Deceit) writes “the fossil record indicated that living things did not evolve from primitive to the advanced forms, but instead emerged all of a sudden and in a perfect state.”(4)
Some of the very important and recent traditional writers as Martin Lings (Abu-Bakr-Siraj-ud-Din) Frithjof Shuun and Sayyed Hossein Nasr offer clear and lucid arguments to condemn the theory of evolution in its present form. Shuan points out that the transformist evolution of species is a prolonged elaboration that is at once arbitrary and unlimited.
Materialists, even those who consider transformist evolution “inexplicable and even contradictory, accept this hypothesis as an indispensable idea, which moreover carries us outside of Science and into Philosophy, or more exactly into rationalism with its reasoning cut off from the very roots of knowledge, and if the evolutionist idea is indispensable to them, it is because in their minds it replaces the concept of a sudden creation ex nihilo, which to them seems to be only possible solution.” He further notes that “modern philosophers replace metaphysical causality with physical and empirical causalities, which no doubt demands intelligence”. (5)
S.H. Nasr gives the main reason for the acceptances of evolutionary theory:
“Rather in a world in which the Divinity had been either denied or neglected to the role of the maker of the clock which the seventeenth century conceived the universe to be and where sapiential wisdom based on the contemplation of the higher states of being had become practically inaccessible, the theory of evolution seemed the best way of providing a background for the study of the amazing diversity of life forms without having to have recourse to the creation power of God. Nasr further argues, that the theory of evolution soon turned into a dogma precisely, because it rapidly replaced religious faith and came to provide what appeared to be a ‘scientific’ crutch for the soul to enable it to forget God.”(6)
Jamal-ul-Din Afghani also refuted Darwinism by writing an essay titled Al-Radd ala al Dahriyyah (The Refutation of Materialists) in 1881. In 1885, Muhammad Abduh, one of Afghan’s disciples, translated this text into Arabic. Dr Muzaffar Iqbal, after discussing the views of Afghani, writes that in his later life, Afghani softened his stand (about the rejection of evolution) but he remained a firm believer in the special creation of Man.
Ghulam Ahmad Pervez and his student Dr. Abdul Wadood are included in the category of those who totally accept evolutionary theory and endorsed Darwin’s idea into a book titled, “The Phenomena of Nature in the Quran and Sunnah” in which he completely derives the evolutionary stages from different verses of the Holy Quran.
The third category of Muslims response can be called as a moderate response i.e. trying to relate some of the features of the theory to the teachings of Islam (especially the Quran). The important figures, which have this viewpoint, are Hossein al-Jisr, al-Asfahani, Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, Dr. Inayatullah Mashriqi, Dr. Ahman Afzal, Dr. Israr Ahmed Dr. Absar Ahmad.
Hossein al-Jisr, a Lebanese Scholar who wrote more than twenty five books, including Al-Risala al-Hamidiyya and Falsafa Science and Quran. The former is translated from Arabic into Urdu by Syed Muhammad Ishaq and published in Urdu as Science and Islam under the patronage of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi. The latter (Falsafa, science and Quran) is the translation of al-Jisr’s Arabic book. Qissat-ul-Eman bain-ul-falsfa wal-hilm wal Quran by khuda Baksh kaliar Advocate and is in dialogue from. In these two books, especially in Falsafa, science and Quran at pages 203 to 211, he makes efforts to reconcile the theory of evolution with the Quranic teachings. He seems to defend Darwinian Theory and quotes elsewhere the Quranic verse “We made every living thing from water, will they not believe?” (21:30) and then agrees with the theory of evolution. “There is no evidence in the Quran”, he writes, “to suggest whether all species, each of which exists by the grace of God, were created all at once or gradually.”(7)
Another Iraqi theologian, Abu al-Majid Muhammad Rida al-Isfahani accommodated the evolutionary theory in his book Naqd Falsafa Darwin, (Critique of Darwin’s Philosophy). Isfahani defends a God-based version of evolution and counted Lamarck, Wallace, Huxley, Spencer and Darwin among those who believed in God. He referred to the works of Imam Jafar Sadiq (especially to his Kitab al-Tawhid) and to those of Ikhwan al-Safa to point out anatomical similarities in Man and apes, claiming that Darwin could never provide full treatment of these similarities as compared to Ikhwan. But he disputed the embryological similarities between man and other mammals. He affirmed that the structural unity of living organisms was a result of heavenly wisdom and not a consequence of blind chance in nature”. (8)
Dr. Inayatullah Khan al-Mashraqi also defended the Darwinian theory of evolution in his famous book Tazkira. According to him, evolution is inherent in nature as a well thought out program of Almighty Creator; it has not merely been going on ever since creation but it will continue for endless years till the fulfilment of the purpose of creation. He appears at variance with Darwin who was reluctant to accept God as an entity, and also differs with his somewhat limited framework of ‘fitness’ which when applied to human societies is found inadequate. Allama Mashraqi, wrote a long footnote in the Urdu text of the first volume of Tazkira (published in 1924) in which he took a comprehensive view of this phenomenon with special reference to and support of Darwin in the context of what the Quran stated over 1400 years ago. (9)
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal noted in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam that the idea of evolution was first presented by Muslims scientists before Darwin or Lamarck. Iqbal recalled that it was Al-Jahiz (776 –869 CE), the author of Kitab-al-Haiwanat who first hinted at the changes in animal life caused by migrations and environment generally, and Ibn Maskawaih (942 –1032 CE), the author of Fauz al-Asghar, who give a clear and in many respects thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man. Iqbal further notes, “The discoveries of Newton in the sphere of matter and those of Darwin in the sphere of natural history reveal a mechanism. All problems, it was believed were really the problem of Physics, Energy and atoms with the properties self-existing in them, could explain everything including life itself, thought, will and feeling. The concept of mechanism –a purely physical concept – claimed to be the all-embracing explanation of Nature. And the battle for and against mechanism is still being fiercely fought in the domain of biology. The question, then, is whether the passage to Reality through the revelations of sense perception necessarily leads to a view of Reality essentially opposed to the view that religion takes of its ultimate character. Is Natural science finally committed to materialism?”(10)
Iqbal further states, “though natural science can produce a verifiable data about matter, life and mind it generates a sectional view of Reality”. He then delineates the limitations of natural sciences: “the moment you ask the question how matter, life and mind are mutually related, you begin to see the sectional character of the various sciences that deal with them and the inability of those sciences, taken singly, to furnish a complete answer to your question. (11)
Dr. Hamidullah fully accommodated the theory of evolution and the process of evolution. During the question-answer session that followed the lecture on “Religion’ some one asked Dr. Hamidullah: If Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct from the scientific point of view, there is conflict between science and Islam. Kindly explain. Dr. Hamidullah’s answer is totally astonishing, he said:
It has been presumed that Darwin’s theory had been rejected by Islam. It appears to create complications for us because we presume that Darwin was an atheist, although he believed in God. When he completed his medical education and entered his family profession, Darwin went through a metamorphosis. Being sick of the world he became interested in God. He studied Christianity in the Faculty of Religion at the University of Cambridge. Comparative Religion was one of the subjects taught in the university. Darwin also learned Arabic in order to understand Islam. In the collection of his letters that have been published, a number of them are addressed to his Arabic teachers. They are couched in extremely reverend and respectful language.
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal, after quoting the above mentioned answer, writes, “This is indeed an amazing statement that belies all known facts about Darwin.” (12)
Then Dr. Hamidullah elucidated the theory of evolution contained in “The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity” (Ikhwan-al-Safa) and states:
In the Quran it is stated that God made men out of clay. Our concept of the creation of man is that God, like a potter, moulded clay into shape and breathed his spirit into it and Adam was thus created. Possibly this was the process but what does one do with verses 18:37, 22:5, 25:11, 40:67 which state time and again that God created man from clay and sperm? It is obvious that clay does not create sperm: it comes from an animal and a human being. It means that the mention of all intermediary stages of evolution has been omitted and attention is drawn to the original source, which is clay. The last cause is the sperm of man which stays in the womb of a woman”. According to Dr. Muzaffar, the worst example of this attitude is the definition of evolution that he ( Dr. Hamidullah) produced from the Quran “He created you in stages” (Wallah-o-Khalaqaqum Atwara ,71:14). The word tawr is the basis of tatawwar, which means evolution. This is then further defended: This can also mean that God created man as a mineral in the first instance. Mineral developed into vegetation, which developed into animal life. There is no contradiction. (13)
Dr. Rafiuddin and Dr. Ahmed Afzal have more or less the same opinion about evolution and Darwinism. Dr. Rafiuddin discussed in detail the Darwinian Theory in his book, Quran and Ilm-I-Jadeed. Dr. Israr Ahmed who is very much impressed by ideas of Dr. Rafiuddin has discussed the concept of evolution in detail in the special issue of the Hikmat-I-Quran entitled “Eejad-o-Abda-I-Alam”. Dr. Ahmed Ahmad Afzal, who is student of Dr. Israr Ahmed, wrote a brilliant and thought provoking article entitled “Quran and Human Evolution” about which Dr. Absar Ahmed writes: “Dr. Ahmed Afzal’s brilliant and substantial article, essentially concurring and amplifying the idea and insights of Dr. Israr Ahmed as it does, cuts new grounds in this area by bridging the gulf between the theory of Special Creation and natural biological evolution.” (14)
These three scholars are of the opinion that evolution is not synonymous with Darwinism; secondly they confess that although evolution is a universal fact which can be established through the study of comparative morphology, Palaeontology, embryology, anthropology and genetics – the theory which is commonly propounded to explain its mechanism i.e. Natural Selection, is by no means a secure and scientifically proven fact. Thirdly they consider that human beings have a dual nature. There is a non-material mind or spirit or ego which exists side by side with man’s corporeal body. They further argue that the real essence of human being is his spiritual soul which is directly inspired in humans and it has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution concerns only the physical body of man. The man’s true superiority over the rest of creation, including angles, is not because of his physical body, which he shares with other animals, but is actually due to his spiritual soul which truly distinguishes him and sets him apart from all living creatures. The tradition of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that “Allah created Adam in his own image”, refers to man’s spirit and not his body. Then Dr. Ahmed Afzal says that the dual nature of man represents the duality of God’s creation. Then he refers to Shah Waliullah Dehlvi who had discussed in his Hujjal-ullah-al-Baligha, the two types of Divine creative activity. According to Shah Waliullah Dehlvi (1703—1762 A.D. ), there are two types of Divine Creative activity viz; Al-Aalam Khalq & Al-Aalam Amr. The Al-Aalam Khalq, the world of Allah’s ordinary creatures, in which every thing that happens takes times (e.g. the universe took approximately 15 billion years to develop from Big Bang and the primitive gaseous state to its presents form. A fertilized ovum takes 270—280 days to grow into a fully developed baby). But there is Al- Aalam Amr, or the domain of Divine Creative Energy, that is a direct manifestation of His Word or Logos that is His command of Be! There is absolutely no time factor involved in this realm and things happens instantaneously. He says: Be! and it becomes (Al-Quran 36:82). The initial act of the creation of matter out of nothing (creatio ex Nihilo) represents a direct command or Amr of Almighty Allah. According to the Holy Quran “Ruh (soul) is an Amr-i-Rabb (17:85)]. (15)
He further refers to verses of the Holy Quran in which different stages of the creation of man are described like:
Allah has caused you to grow as a growth from the earth (Nuh 71:17)
He brought you forth from the earth and settled you therein (Hud 11:61)
He fashioned you in stages (Nuh 7:14)
He created man of fermented clay dried tinkling hard like earth ware (Ar-Rahman 55:14).
He fashioned man from fermented clay dried tinkling hard (A. Hijr 15:26).
It is He who created man from water (Al-Furqan 25:54).
Then Dr. Ahmad Afzal mentioned the fossil record of bipedal human like forms Australopithecines, (approximately 3-6 million years old), Homo hobilis, Homo erectus (Java Man and Peking man belong to this group) Homo sapiens neanderthalenisis and finally Homo sapiens (Modern Man). The fossils of this last mentioned form are as old as 35000 (According to some, biologists 50000 – 100,000). It must be noted that although there is no general agreement regarding the precise relation ship between modern Man and the various man-like forms mentioned above, a number of anthropogical and biochemical studies have pointed the emergence of all present day humans from a small group of individuals, perhaps some where in the middle East. It is supposed that their descendants soon migrated to various continents and adopted to their different environments and climatic conditions leading to the variations in the skeletal, muscular, and other details of different races. (16)
Dr. Ahmed Afzal (and similarly Dr. Israr Ahmed) is inclined to believe that when the process of biological evolution reached its goal and the final form of man appeared on earth, Almighty Allah selected a single pair – a male and female – and endowed them with their spiritual souls. It is not entirely in conceivable that all other members of this species died and became extinct and that all of us are, therefore, descendants of this, primordial human pair, Adam and Eve, as alluded to in the Quran (Al-Hujrat 49:13). The Quran, however, gives no clue as to when this happened. (17)
Now the modern scientific findings also confirm that all human beings of today are the descendants of a single pair, “because the Mitochondrial DNA in each living human being can be traced back to a single female, who lived in Africa or Asia some 100,000 years ago”. (18)
The Quran declared this fact 14 centuries ago.
O mankind! Reverence your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and He created there of his mate and from them twains, He spread countless men and women. (Al-Quran 4:1)
In another verse Almighty Allah Proclaims:
(Allah is the one God) who made all things He created excellent; and He began the creation of man from clay. Then He made his offspring from the extract of base fluid; then He fashioned and breathed into him of His Spirit; and gave you hearing and sight and the faculty of inferring. And yet how little are the thanks you offer! Qaliluma ma Tashkuroon (Al-Quran, 32:7-9)
1. Wahiduddin Khan: God Arising, Evidence of God in Nature and in Science (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 1999), p.182
2. Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal: Biological Origins: Traditional and contemporary perspectives, p.33. This paper was presented at an International conference on God, Life and Cosmos: Theistic Perspectives held – November 6-9, 2000, Islamabad.
3. Harun Yahya: Evolution Deceit (London: Ta-Ha Publishers, I Wynne Road, 1999), p.1
4. Ibid, pp.29-30
5. F. Schuon: From the Divine to the Human, (Bloomington, Ind: Word Wisdom Books, 1982), p.88 and F. Schuon’s book Roots of the Human Condition (Bloomington Ind. 1991), p.5 both quoted in John Herlihy’s book Modern Man at the Crossroads (Lahore: Suhail Academy, 1999), p.93
6. S. H. Nasr: The Need for a Sacred Science (NY: Albany Sunny Press, 1993), p.156, Quoted in Modern Man at Crossroads, p.94
7. Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal’s paper op.cit, p.30
8. Ibid, p.31, and for details of Isfahani’s and other Muslims’ views, please see Adel A. Ziadat’s book ”Western Science in the Arab World”: The impact of Darwinism, (London, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1986), pp.84-122
9. Inayatullah Khan Al-Mashriqi: Tazkira (Amritsar: Idaratul Ishayat-lil-Tazkirah, 1924), Muqaddima, pp.1-41 and for English version of that Syed Shabbir Hussain (ed): Quran and Evolution (Islamabad: EI-Mashriqi Foundation, 1987), pp.30-75
10. Dr. Mohammad Iqbal: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Ed. By M. Saeed Sheikh, (Lahore: Iqbal Academy and Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986), p.33
11. Ibid, pp.33-34
12. Dr. Hamidullah: The Emergence of Islam, Lectures on the Development of Islamic world-view, intellectual Tradition and Polity (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 1993), pp.143-144 quoted in Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal’s paper, op.cit, pp.39-42
13. Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal, op.cit. p.42
14. Dr. Absar Ahmed: Religion and Science (editorial) The Quranic Horizons 1:3, 1996 (Lahore: The Quran Academy), p.11
15. Dr. Ahmed Afzal: “Quran and Human Evolution” in the Quranic Horizons, 1:3, 1996, pp.50-51
16. Ibid, p.53
17. Ibid., for details also study, Dr. Absar Ahmad’s Article: Creation and Evolution in the Quranic Perspectives in this issue.
18. John Herlihy: Modern Man at the Crossroads: The search for the Knowledge of first origins and final ends, (Lahore: Suhail Academy, 1999), p.49
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