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Islam and Evolution
Author/Source: Researcher: Zarif Rahman, Supervisor: Abdullah Rahim  Posted by: admin
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Islam Students - Research Association (ISRA) presents:

 

Islam and Evolution

 

 

Researcher: Zarif Rahman

Supervisor: Abdullah Rahim

 

24.01.12

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed and the conclusions drawn in this research report do not necessarily reflect the views of the supervisor. Every effort has been made to ensure dissemination of correct information only; however, supervisor does not accept any responsibility for possible errors and omissions, if any. The supervisor has only advised the researcher on how to progress in his/her own line of thinking.

 

 

Introduction:

 

Evolution in simple terms means gradual change over time. The theory of biological evolution is the idea that all living things undergo physical changes caused by natural selection and that all of life is connected and can be traced back to one common ancestor. Evolution can be classified into two categories: Microevolution and Macroevolution. Microevolution states that genetic changes occur within living things which may or may not be noticeable whereas macroevolution is used to refer to changes in organisms which are significant enough that, over time, the newer organisms would be considered as an entirely new species. Macroevolution has long been a controversial topic in all the three Abraham faiths .There are differences of opinion among the Abrahamic faiths regarding the theory of evolution whenever it is used to describe the origins of man. It is best to approach such a controversial topic in a completely objective and academic manner and therefore I will be looking at the following in my report   

 

- Different opinions held by prominent Muslims regarding evolutionary theory

- Quranic verses that may relate to the theory of evolution  

- Examining some of the verses that Muslims find contradictory to the theory of evolution.

 

Please Note - I will be not discuss the scientific accuracy of the theory of evolution. My intention is only to see whether or not the theory contradicts the Quran. 

  

Muslim Creationists and Evolutionists:

 

Theories relating to biological evolution have existed long since in the Muslim world. In fact it may surprise many to know that Afro-Arab biologist Al-Jahiz (c. 776-869) ,a Muslim scientist and philosopher, was one of the first few individuals to express the notion of natural selection. In his book “The book of animals” he states.

 

“Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”

 

Other Muslims such as 13th century theologian Nasir al-Din al-Tusi have expressed the idea of common descent .Tusi explains how elements evolve into minerals, then plants, then animals, and then humans. In addition he also indicates how natural selection causes transmutation within species and leads to genetic variability which results in the survival of the fittest.

 

"The organisms that can gain the new features faster are more variable. As a result, they gain advantages over other creatures. [...] The bodies are changing as a result of the internal and external interactions."

 

What is most surprising to find is that it was Muslims who were perhaps the first to express the idea of man’s descent from apes. The Brethren of Purity, a secret society of Muslim philosophers in Basra, Iraq, in the 10th century CE ,expresses a man –ape relation in their “Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity”. Furthermore in the 14th century, Ibn Khaldum expressed similar beliefs in his work “The Muqaddimah”.

 

"We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds are arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.

Plants do not have the same fineness and power that animals have. Therefore, the sages rarely turned to them. Animals are the last and final stage of the three permutations. Minerals turn into plants, and plants into animals, but animals cannot turn into anything finer than themselves”

 

While it is true that down the ages many Muslim theologians have accepted the theory of evolution, many have also have rejected it .In fact belief in evolutionary theories has greatly declined in the current Muslim world. A 2007 study of religious patterns found that only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree with Darwin’s theory of evolution.

 

Most scholars who reject the theory of evolution contend that evolution contradicts the Quran. They would argue that God created all the organisms in their present form and then scattered from those created parents of animals and plants, all the present diversity of animals and plants. However when it comes to the creation of man, they quote different verses of the Holy Quran which according to them indicates that Adam was a special creation of God and was created directly. According to these scholars God  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. Scholars such as Shihab-ud-DinNadvi, Wahiduddin Khan and Harun Yahya adhere to this view point.

 

Harun Yahya, an influential contemporary Islamic creationist, views evolution as materialistic philosophy which “holds a number of bogus views about why and how we came into being”. His book “Evolution Deceit” is in fact a scientific approach to refute and reject Darwinism, and 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)  he 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. Shihab-ud -Din Nadvi has also written a very comprehensive book entitled “The Creation ofAdam and the Evolutionary Theory” in which he categorically refuted the evolutionary theory. 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.”

 

Evolution in light of the Quran:

 

In order to understand evolution from an Islamic perspective we have to deeply examine the Quranic statements alluding to man’s origins of life. Below I will refer to some thought provoking arguments put forward by Hassan Ali El-Najjarn who has written an excellent article entitled “Creation and Evolution in the Holy Qur'an”.

I will also try to shed some light on the Quranic verses which according to many Muslims contradicts the theory of evolution. I intend to look only at the Quranic statements and will not bring in any other Islamic narratives such as the hadith while evaluating my arguments. My intention is not to prove whether evolution is right or wrong but to show that evolution does not contradict the Quranic statements.

 

Allah tells us in the Holy Quran that he has created every living out of water

 

“Allah has created every animal out of water . Of them (is a category which) walks upon its belly,  ( another which) walks upon two legs, and ( a third which) walks upon four . Allah creates what He wills. Allah is Able to do everything (he wants) “ (24:45)

 

He also tells us that every human beings are made from clay

32.7. “(Allah is He) who has made everything He created better, and He began the creation of the human (being) out of clay.”

 

In this verse, we are told that Allah (Praise to Him) began the creation of human beings out of clay, but that was only the beginning. He then improved His creation making it better.The most relevant word in this verse is "began" (bada-a), which tells us clearly that creation happened in a process that had a beginning, not just at once. The same meaning is found in Verse 15, Chapter 50.The scientific evidence available to us tells us that the beginning of life was in an environment similar to swamps, which are composed basically of water and earthly matter. This produced clay, where the first forms of life began in the form of single cell organisms. These organisms multiplied reproducing themselves first by splitting and division. However, later, they paired as males and females to reproduce as they took other life forms in the sea and on land. Reproduction has become in the form of uniting the watery genetic materials of males and females, as the following verse (32.8) reveals:

 

“32.8 . Then He made his offspring from a quintessence of despised water (coming out of parents).”

 

When the fetus reaches a degree of mental development that allows it to receive information, God’s basic software is installed in it. An angel blows part of God’s spirit in His new creation. This includes at least two programs.

 

The first is shared with other living beings, in order to make the organs of an organism functioning internally and automatically. The second is unique to humans in that it allows humans to distinguish good from evil and consequently enables them to choose their actions. This is implied in the following verse

 

“32.9. Then He shaped him (in due proportions), and breathed in him of His Spirit, and made for you hearing, sight, and hearts; little thanks you give”

 

Surah 32 Verse 7-9 is according to me is the key verse which implies that the creation of man did not occur overnight but rather gradually. I believe that it is possible to interpret from the verse that at one point in time Adam(pbuh) was born out of some “non human” species and he was probably the first being to be given the “soul”. Assuming that such a interpretation is true then that instance when Adam was given the soul is exactly when the creation of the first human being was finally completed. 

 

“He has created you in diverse (and successive) stages.”(71:14)

 

The above verse may be interpreted to refer to the successive stages of the development of a fetus in its mother’s womb. However, it can also be interpreted to refer to the successive stages of the human evolution

 

A specific description of the environment where life started is given in the verse below

 

“AND, INDEED, We have created man out of sounding clay, out of dark-slime transmuted” (15:26)

 

This according to my understanding is referring to swamps where still water is combined with the earth soil, which creates stinking but smooth clay. This is exactly the type of environment biologists have come up with to explain the origins of life on Earth.

 

Another verse that may allude to the evolutionary theory can be found in surah 82 verse 7

 

“O mankind, what has deceived you concerning your Lord, the Generous, (6) Who created you, proportioned you, and balanced you? (7) In whatever form He willed has He assembled you.”( 82.7))

 

This verse may refer to three main stages of the creation of human beings. The first was the creation of a living cell (The Arabic verb khalaqa, created). The second was the change from unicellular prokaryote organism to the multi-cellular eukaryote animal organism (The Arabic verb sawwa, proportioned you or fashioned you). The third was the human departure from the animal stage (The Arabic verb 'adala, made you walk in an upright way or balanced you)

 

The above arguments which I have mostly extracted from Hassan Ali El-Najjarn article “Creation and Evolution in the Holy Quran” and find to be tenable, is based on scientific interpretation of the Quranic verses. We must keep in mind that these are arguments that are based on interpretation and speculation and therefore may or may not be true.

 

 

Some Controversial Quranic Verses:

 

I would now like to talk about some verses of the Quran which many Muslims seem to have difficulty reconciling with the theory of Evolution. The most controversial verse is the one from surah 4 verse 1.I will put forward two different translation of the verse. The first one is by Pickthall

 

 

“O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you.”

(4:1)

 

This is more like the classical translation of this verse. By just looking at this verse one can contend that due to the  use of the word “soul” the Quran is stating that human beings have originated from one man who according to the prophetic narration is Adam(PBUH). However this claim is unwarranted   because the word “nafs” which is denoted as “soul” in the above translation, can have multiple meanings .Below is Mohammed Asad’s translation and tasfeer which I think speaks well for itself.

 

“O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women.1 And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you!”  

 

Mohamamad Asad states in his book “The message of the Quran”

                                 

Out of the many meanings attributable to the term nafs - soul, spirit, mind, animate being,

living entity, human being, person, self (in the sense of a personal identity), humankind,

life-essence, vital principle, and so forth - most of the classical commentators choose

"human being", and assume that it refers here to Adam. Muhammad 'Abduh, however, rejects

this interpretation (Manar IV, 323 ff.) and gives, instead, his preference to "humankind"

inasmuch as this term stresses the common origin and brotherhood of the human race (which,

undoubtedly, is the purport of the above verse), without, at the same time, unwarrantably

tying it to the Biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve. My rendering of nafs, in

this context, as "living entity" follows the same reasoning - As regards the expression

zawjaha ("its mate"), it is to be noted that, with reference to animate beings, the term

zawj ("a pair", "one of a pair" or "a mate") applies to the male as well as to the female

component of a pair or couple; hence, with reference to human beings, it signifies a woman's

mate (husband) as well as a man's mate (wife). Abu Muslim - as quoted by Razi - interprets

the phrase "He created out of it (minha) its mate" as meaning "He created its mate [i.e.,

its sexual counterpart] out of its own kind (min jinsiha)", thus supporting the view of

Muhammad 'Abduh referred to above. The literal translation of minha as "out of it" clearly

alludes, in conformity with the text, to the biological fact that both sexes have originated

from "one living entity".

 

I think the tafseer clears out any misconception we may have regarding surah 4 verse 1.

Moreover if we are to follow Mohammed Asad’s explanation of the verse then we can also conclude that both Adam and Eve could have evolved from apes which, however, may or may not be true.

 

Another verse that is used by some Muslim scholars to refute the evolutionary theory is from surah 3 verse 59

 

“Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he is.”

 

Many respected scholars such as Ghamidi argue that this verse suggests that Adam (PBUH) was born without the agency of parents just like Jesus (PBUH) and therefore was a direct creation of GOD. However this verse according to me indicates that Jesus (PBUH) simply had a miraculous birth and so did Adam (PBUH).If we are to assume that Adam was given birth from something “Non human” than that fact itself is a miracle. Moreover if we consider the birth of Jesus, it is not that he just popped up all of sudden

but rather he was born of the virgin Mary. Therefore if we for instance assume that Jesus came into existence exactly like Adam came into existence, then it must necessarily follow that Adam was given birth from something else in a miraculous way.   

 

The last contention that some scholars use is that Adam was created in heaven and not in Earth. This is not an objective claim to make. The fact whether Adam was created in heaven or in Earth is debatable. Some scholars argue that the word “jannah” that is used to mean garden is not the jannah that the righteous are supposed to go after they die.

The Heaven mentioned, in which Prophet Adam and Eve were residing and from which they were temporarily evicted, was actually (according to these scholars) a heaven in this world. In another place in the Holy Quran it is clearly mentioned:

 

"And for him who fears to stand before his Lord are two Gardens" (55:46).

 

There is a consensus of opinion that the two Gardens (ja-na-taan) means the heaven of this world, and the Hereafter. Some other scholars also argue that Adam was rewarded to stay in Heaven with his wife AFTER he won the contest against the angels (the naming of creatures) as the Quran states in surah 2 verse 35.

 

 

 

Conclusion:

 

On researching briefly on this topic I have come to believe that the theory of evolution does not contradict the Quranic statements. The Quran does not explicitly affirm the theory but neither rejects it. I might, however, be wrong in my understanding and I am open to any form of correction. Only Allah (SWT) in his infinite wisdom knows best. I hope Allah (SWT) accepts my humble effort and increase us all in knowledge. I would now like to conclude with a beautiful verse from the Holy Quran

 

“Say: “Go all over the earth and behold how [wondrously] He has created [man] in the first instance: and thus, too, will God bring into being your second life for, verily, God has the power to will anything!”(29:19-20)

 

 

References- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_evolution

                          http://www.aljazeerah.info/Islamic%20Editorials/2007/October/Creation%20and%20Evolution%20in%20the%20Holy%20Qur'an%20By%20Hassan%20El-Najjar.htm

 

http://www.understanding-islam.com/q-and-a/overview-of-islam/does-islam-refute-evolution-4989

 

“Muslim response to Evolution” by Abdul Majid

 

“The message of the Quran” by Mohammed Asad

 

 

 

 


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