By T.O. Shanavas, New Age Islam
12 November 2015
According to the theory of evolution, all
living beings share a common ancestry, and therefore they are interconnected
and interrelated. This vision of continuum of life seems to challenge our
traditional religious sense of ontological discontinuity between human and the
rest of life. Most Imams and Muslim scholars, who express an opinion on the
theory of evolution, counsel the community that the theory of evolution is a
dangerous idea and it rejects belief in God and with it the sense of divine
purpose, design, or intentionality to the world and especially to human life.
Therefore, for example, Muslim medical students in U.K are refusing to attend
the theory of evolution class that is part of their medical school curriculum.
An Imam was fired because he suggested not to ignore the theory of evolution.
In our country, USA, sadly, science is
never discussed in the Islamic centres even though science is the driving force
of the economy of any country. The
result is reflected in the performance of Muslims high school children in the
prestigious Intel Talent Search in Science. In its list of three hundred
semi-finalists every year for the past eight years, there were 0-3 traditional
Muslim names. But there are 58-62 Hindu sounding names and many Chinese names.
At personnel level my son, while in high
school, asked me, “Dad, you send me to the best school around our home to study
science. You send me to the Islamic Center to study the religious truth.
Science says that human beings evolved from earlier species, but the Islamic
Center informs us that humans were initially created in Heaven and came to
earth fully formed. The teacher provides us lots of evidence for evolution but
Islamic Center does not give any proof, but tell us to believe. What is the
truth?” His question led me to study the creation/evolution topic.
Unlike contemporary Muslim scholars and
Imams, I do not believe that the theory of evolution is a dangerous idea, but a
great idea. I have drafted four questions and its answers to justify the theory
as a great idea.
are the core elements of the theory of evolution?
do Muslims must investigate origin of life and human species?
What was the Pre-Darwin Muslim scientific perspective of the origin of
life and human?
Is there conflict between Muslim and scientific explanation of human
Are there verses in the Qur’an and its tafsir that suggest the creation
of human from a different
1 Why do Muslims need to study the
origin of life and human?
There are many practical applications for
the theory of evolution. One of the practical applications of the theory lies
in the discovery and use of Taxol, a drug used in the treatment of breast
cancer, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer. Initially, Taxol was available only
from low-growing Pacific yew tree initially. Three trees had to be destroyed to
provide enough Taxol to treat one ovarian patient, meaning that about 38,000
trees a year would have to be destroyed to treat ovarian cancer patients in the
United States alone, according to the National Cancer Institute. So, the
research in the evolution of the Pacific yew tree leads to more sources for
Taxol in other closely related trees.
Moreover, the Qur’an demands the study of the
origin of life and human. The Quran 29:20 states:
سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ بَدَأَ الْخَلْقَ ۚ ثُمَّ اللَّهُ
يُنْشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“Say: ‘Travel through the earth and see how
Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah
has power over all things.’” The verse asks Prophet (s) to tell his followers
“to see how God creates original creation and later creation.” It suggests that
Divine process of creation and His products are comprehensible to human mind.
Otherwise, God would not have given such a command. Secondly, the verse states
“Travel through the earth and see…” The message is obvious that tools needed
for human to figure out Divine process of creation and His products are
provided right on the earth.
What was the Pre-Darwin Muslim scientific perspective of origin of life
There were many pre-Muslim evolutionists’
centuries before Charles Darwin. Many Muslims may ask, how can anyone with a
faith in God believe in the evolution of life while the theory rejects God?
They may argue that the phrase, Muslim evolutionist, is oxymoronic. Let me show
you that it is definitely not an oxymoronic term. I need to borrow two
technical terms, genotype and phenotype, from standard biology textbooks to
Genotype is defined as the complete set of
genes of a plant or animal population while phenotype means the outward
manifestations of genotype. Every living being on the earth, seen by our naked
eyes, is only a projected image of the genotype. In other words, the chemistry
of the genotype determines how every living being seems to our sight. Let me
introduce these two terms into our creation/evolution discussion. If the creation is genotype, evolution is
phenotype. Based on this definition of creation and evolution, the early
Muslims’ scientific understanding is: yes, it is creation but it appears to our
naked eyes as evolution connecting all living beings together. Therefore, the
term, Muslim evolutionist, is not oxymoronic.
2. Is there conflict between the Pre-Darwin
Muslim and scientific explanations of human origin?
In order to answer the question, I chose
three pre-Darwin Muslims out of many who lived long time before Charles Darwin.
They are Ibn Khaldun (over 400 years before Darwin), Imam Al-Razi (700 years
before Darwin), and Al-Biruni (900 years before Darwin). I have gathered seven
core elements of the theory of evolution. They are 1. All forms of life came to
existence by evolution, 2. Species change by Mutation, 3. Cumulative change in
the genetic makeup of a population results in the birth of new species, 4.
Natural Selection: Preservation of plants and animals with proper standard and
destruction of poor quality, 5. Competition and survival, 6. Laws of Nature
drives Evolution, and 7. Human Species belongs to the Animal Kingdom.
In the following slides, each of these core
elements of the theory of evolution are juxtaposed against what the pre-Darwin
Muslim scholars had written about the origin of life and human species against.
the theory and Ibn Khaldun agree that life evolved from nonorganic realm into
progressively complex life forms in a gradual and timely manner with the
emergence of human on the tree of life as one of the distal twigs.
modern science and Ibn Khaldun agree: The nature transforms one species to another.
Pre-Darwin Muslim scholars believed human family was created from the ape
family. But now we know human species was not evolved from monkey but ape
family and human family have a common ancestor. Ape and human species are
distant cousins. Secondly, the sentence, “At this point we come to the first
stage of man (after the world of monkeys),” suggests that the pre-Darwin
Muslims knew about the existence of other hominid species. Thirdly, physical
observation of the nature led Muslim to the idea of evolution of life. That is
why Ibn Khaldun states: “This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.”
The third element of the theory of
evolution is in the next slide.
If we introduce our modern technical terms
of biology to Ibn Khaldun, he would have written the above sentence as in the
fourth element the theory is Natural Selection. According to it, the species
with advantageous traits reproduce and outlive those with weaker traits.
this illustration the birds love the green bug. The orange colour is an
advantageous trait in this scenario and so the orange coloured bugs without the
bird as a predator reproduce and outlive with green bugs. This is what Darwin
called Natural selection.
Next three slides show, over 900 years
before Darwin, Al Biruni explains how Natural Selection works in nature.
Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species explains
Natural Selection using identical example that Al Biruni used here.
The fifth element of the theory of
evolution is competition and survival.
Most animal and plant species reproduce
much more offspring or babies than needed to maintain the population as shown
in the left side of the slide. But the space and food are limited. So, the
babies in their own generation compete each other and with others for food and
space in order to live on as depicted in the right side of slide. In this
competition for space and food, the species with advantageous traits, such as
suitable structure for a particular environment, survive.
The 5th element of the theory is known
to pre-Darwin Muslim scholars. Al Biruni states:
What Is The Driving Force For Evolution?
Materialists among scientists argue that
biological evolution is an “inherently mindless purposeless process.” They
argue that impersonal laws rule the universe and that atoms are at work in the
operation of life. Biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins insists that
contingency and natural laws operating over a long period of time, account for
evolution. Richard Lewontin, a proponent of scientism, states that “materialism
is absolute [and] we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
On the other hand according to Qur’an,
natural law is only an extension of Mighty Arm of God. A few verses are quoted
in the slide as an example.
According to the above verse, what is known to
science as water cycle and germination of plant life happens as a result of
This Qur’anic guidance is reflected in the
views of Muslim scholars.
According to the pre-Darwin Muslims, the nature
is an office of God that drives the evolution by carrying out the God-delegated
we replace “generate substances” and “change essences” with our modern
technical terms--mutation and genotype, it would read the slide as follows:
Al Biruni also believed that the nature is
an office of God with assigned duties.
According to the 7th element of the theory of
evolution, human is only an animal. The
pre-Darwin Muslims accepted it centuries ago.
far, I hope that I met the objective of answering first three questions and
showed that Muslim scholars almost verbatim described seven core elements of
the theory of evolution centuries before Darwin. Our venerated pre-Darwin Muslims scholars,
who created the golden age of Muslims, did not disassociate their Iman (i.e.,
Acknowledging God with full sincerity of heart while accepting all his
attributes and their obvious corollaries) with their faith in divinely guided
evolutionary origin of all life including human species.
The final question is in the next slide.
There are many verses in the Qur’an explaining
a divinely guided process to an evolutionary origin of all life including human
species, for example, the Chapter (6) sūrat l-anʿām (The Cattle), Verse 133.
verb is used in the Chapter (6) Sūrat L-AnʿĀm (The Cattle), Verse 133.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149-1209) in his
celebrated work, Al Tafsir al-Kabir, gives the following interpretation of the
we introduce our modern technical term into his work, it will read as follows:
John William Draper was a famous American
scientist and a contemporary of Charles Darwin. He served in the position of
president of New York University and was the first president of American
chemical society. Six months after the publication of Darwin’s book, Origin of
Species, Professor Draper presented a paper at the meeting of the British
Association for Advancement of Science entitled “The Intellectual Development
of Europe Considered with Respect to the Views of Mr. Darwin.” During the
discussion of this paper, Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford contemptuously inquired
of Thomas Huxley, an eminent scientist and advocate of the theory of evolution,
whether Huxley claimed his descent from monkeys “through his grandfather or
grandmother.” During the discussion of this paper, the meeting side-stepped and
discussed Origin of Species in a scientific meeting for the first time. As you can see, John W. Draper was closely
associated with Darwin’s work. He did not identify the theory of evolution with
Charles Darwin but Muslims, as evidenced below.
1. It is a Muslim duty to study the origin
or creation of life and human.
2. Pre-Darwin Muslims scholars’ description
of origin of all life is consistent with modern theories of evolution.
3. Natural laws without God is nothing more
than a glove without God’s Hand in it. All that happen in the universe by the
gloved hand of God is done by the Mighty hand and not by the glove.
Evolution, therefore, is a process not a power; a method of operation,
not the operator.
I have not dealt with few major and
important topics, such as the creation of Adam, the location of forbidden tree,
divine design, teleology, random events, etc. Each of these topics must be