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Blogging the Quran by Ziauddin Sardar- Part 52: Evolution



By Ziauddin Sardar


September 15, 2008


You ask, Madeleine "is it true"? Yes, it is true as an allegory, as a figurative vision of the awesome creation of the universe. But it is not a precise manual of the processes of creation which occurred in time, and definitely not the kind of timescale we are familiar with in our daily life. I would say that those Muslims, such as the popular creationist preacher "Harun Yahya", who take what is clearly meant to be metaphorical as literal are up a gum tree; and doing violence to the spirit of the Qur'an in the process.

The entire debate about faith and evolution has been constructed using the history and concepts of Christian thought. The creationists' arguments, including the idea of intelligent design, are shaped by a literalist reading of the Bible. We should be careful not to import attitudes and ideas from this debate into the very different context of the Qur'an. The Qur'an refers, as we have already seen, to narratives familiar from the Bible - including creation and Prophet Nuh (Noah) and the flood - but it does so in its own distinctive ways. But these are not meant to be "creation myths" but allegories. As always, we must read and try to understand the Qur'an in its own terms.

We find frequently reference in the Qur'an to God as the creator of all things. In 7:54 we read: "Your Lord God is he who created the heavens and the earth in six days". What are we to make of these "six days"? Should we take them literally? The word translated here as "days" is ayyam, the plural of yaum, which can signify both a day in the sense of 24 hours as we understand it or an indeterminate period of time, "whether extremely long (aeon) or extremely short (moment)", to use the words of Muhammad Asad. That the word is not to be taken literally, and only has allegorical significance, is made clear elsewhere in the Qur'an. In 41:9, for example, we read, "Would you indeed deny him who has created the earth in two aeons?" The verse then goes on to present a clearly allegorical image of creation: "Above the earth he erected towering mountains, and he blessed it, and appraised its provisions in four days, in equal measure to those who need them. Then he ascended to heaven, while yet smoke, and said to it and the earth: 'Come forth, willing or unwilling!' And both responded: 'We come willingly'. He then ordained the seven heavens in two days and inspired each heaven with its disposition ... Such was the devising of the almighty, all-knowing." (41:10-12) (I have used the rather poetic translation by Tarif Khaldi)71:71 we are specifically asked to reflect on the fact that "He has created you stage by stage".

This is why creationism, as formulated by Christian fundamentalists, has never been a Muslim position in history. As early as 10th century, Muhamad al-Nakshbandi, a teacher of religion from central Asia, wrote in The Book of the Yield: "While man has sprung from sentient creatures, these have sprung from plants, and these in turn from combined substances". And, in his classical novel Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, the 12th-century Andalusian philosopher Ibn Tufayl had his protagonist Hayy "spontaneously generated" from a mud slime and evolve through various stages into a rational man.






How Can We Reconcile Faith And Science?


By Madeleine Bunting


September 15, 2008

I like creation myths, and these verses are no exception. The idea that God created the world in two days communicates not a scientific fact but a wonderful expression of his power over the physical properties of the universe. I like the poetry of an earth and sky which can speak, and of the jinn created from the fire of scorching wind. This is beautiful.

But, Zia, is it true? And this is what I'll be fascinated to hear you explain because you have a considerable background in science and I just can't see how you are going to reconcile your scientific knowledge and these verses.

It seems to me that as most Muslims take a very literal reading of the Qur'an, these verses are very problematic. I would argue that they are metaphor - and perhaps metaphors which are more about describing God than the nature of the creation. But it seems to me that you are in a tricky corner now Zia: how are you going to reconcile faith and science?


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