Friday, August 07, 2009

Dr. Israr Ahmed on Evolution

Dr. Israr Ahmed was perhaps the most influential religious figure in Pakistan in the 1980s - thanks to his popular TV show Al-Huda. Originally, a disciple of Maududi, Israr Ahmed split from Jamaat-e-Islami and formed his own group, Tanzeem-e-Islami. In the spectrum of Ulema conservatism, he is certainly to the right. While his influence is much diminished, he is still an important religious figure in Pakistan.

So what does he have to say about biological evolution? As usual, there is much confusion. At first, it appears that he seems to be ok with evolution. For example, he divides the world into a matter world and a spiritual world, and allows evolution to be the governing process in the former. In fact, in his 1996 book, The Objective and Goal of Muhammad’s Prophethood, he explicitly mentions Darwin by name:
Darwin, too, was not entirely wrong in asserting that human biological evolution which is a fact in respect to the natural development of the earthly or animal part of the brain.
This statement has a whiff of 19th century science discourse ("animal part of the brain"), but this seems to suggest that he may be ok even with human evolution. However, Dr. Israr Ahmed also addressed the topic in considerably more detail in a 2004 lecture on Human Personality and 2 forms of Knowledge as part of televised Round Table with Dr. Israr Ahmed. It is here that his confusion becomes apparent. Initially, he appears to give explicit support to the idea of evolution:
Our animal existence includes life – and it has come from the clay and the crust of the Earth through a very long, very long, very long process of evolution. But our spirits, human spirits, are not from clay or sand.
In fact, he goes as far as to include human evolution:
From the interaction of water and clay started the life on this planet. From a single cell to the most evolved Homo sapiens. It might have taken millions of years…but then Allah…selected one Homo sapiens and blew into him the spirit…Now we have a human being.
Here is the video of this part of his lecture (yes, for your convenience, it is in English). Look for evolution comments around 10 minutes into the video and specifically about human evolution at around 24:00:


Taken these statements together, they seem to endorse an Islamic version of theistic evolution: God worked through the process of evolution to create the diversity we seen on Earth and a “spirit” is injected by Allah into a hominid species and that makes it a human and a conscious being. However, at the end of the lecture when asked specifically about natural selection as the process of evolution, Israr Ahmed rejects it completely and endorses a view that is closer to the special creation of individual species:
I do believe in evolution but not in Darwinian evolution. Evolution is something else and the mode through which it has taken place is something else. The struggle for existence, and the survival of the fittest, and natural selection – this is wrong. At every change of species, we need another “kun” from God.
The last statement brings him closer to the more traditional creationism: God independently created all species. Similarly, his stated objections to evolution, such as “it is only a theory’, appear to have been borrowed from creationist literature as well. His primary objection, though, is related to the origins of morality. According to Israr Ahmed, Muslims reject Darwinian evolution because of its focus solely on the animal being – thus losing any foundation for morality. Hey - he didn't check out the essay by Frans de Waal on the cognitive continuum between animals and humans.

Here is the video of the Q&A session (the question about natural selection comes at 1:31):


Actually, some of the questions seem to be quite reasonable. But his answers mostly highlight confusion. And then there is a bizarre exchange about science & religion towards the end (around 42:50). Ian Markham from the Hartford Seminary was giving him a soft ball by crediting religion for the rise of science (the search for order in nature, etc). But Dr. Israr rejects this idea and then goes on to make sweeping assertions about Europe's historically anti-science attitude - supporting the classic conflict thesis between science & religion. Here it seems that the people asking questions are familiar with recent science & religion debates in the West and they are trying to get a unified stance from religions, whereas, Dr. Israr is looking at it from Islam vs the West prism. For him, Muslims transferred the scientific knowledge to Europe and then Europe screwed up with its anti-science attitude (he especially mentions the papal authority). A few minutes later he takes the stance that science and religion exist side-by-side - and there is no conflict (i.e. non-overlapping magisteria). But then, why did he reject natural selection in the first place?

Aaah....my head is spinning from so many contradictory statements within the same session. On the other hand, this simply is the state of discourse over evolution amongst most contemporary Muslim scholars. They have not really given a serious thought to the subject - and all we get are responses based on popular misconceptions about the theory.

Also see:
Ghamidi on Islam and evolution
The evolution of Harun Yahya's "Atlas of Creation"
Zakir Naik's rant against evolution
Yusuf Estes' ignorance and hilarity combo about evolution
Maududi on evolution
"Islamtoday" on evolution

10 comments:

Atif Khan said...

Sorry to say but I find Asrar Ahmad twisted and confused and he keeps changing his standing on different topics. He lacks the understanding of evolution and tries to manipulate everything to validate his self assumed sense of evolution.

furrukh said...

nice approach and lecture style is also very convincing. and esspecially the discussion about soule(rouh). thaxs a lot for all this.

HammaD AfzaL said...

Thanks for sharing. I haven't seen the video yet but I have found your approach very prejudiced, typical anti-mullah. At least watch these with learning point of view instead of showing same austerity which is usually labelled on the religious personnels. I am going to start video with a bad taste now.

Dr. Hammad Afzal

rafat said...

i am sorry i thought this blog page is really a place serious discussion about the subject of science=quran, or science vs quran.but no reply to my all three e.mails by mr.salman hameed is not understandable ?although the subject of all e.mails is physics/astronomy/math and interpretation in terms of quran. if this blog page is maintained just to disagree with any or all interpretations provided by religion esp.islam to question mostly unanswered by science even today ,then whats the fun in supporting only science which is deficient ? please reply mr.salman hameed,i am looking forward eagerly to your replies .

Anonymous said...

i am sorry i thought this blog page is really a place serious discussion about the subject of science=quran, or science vs quran.but no reply to my all three e.mails by mr.salman hameed is not understandable ?although the subject of all e.mails is physics/astronomy/math and interpretation in terms of quran. if this blog page is maintained just to disagree with any or all interpretations provided by religion esp.islam to question mostly unanswered by science even today ,then whats the fun in supporting only science which is deficient ? please reply mr.salman hameed,i am looking forward eagerly to your replies .

UK - Unknown said...

"The struggle for existence, and the survival of the fittest, and natural selection – this is wrong. At every change of species, we need another “kun” from God."

I cant belive this... most of what he says is plausible sounding metaphysical statements having no grounds in reality.

Imran said...

Its Dr. Israr Ahmed's interpretation of the Quran. not binding on anyone to cling on.

Evolution was not the topic of this video it should not be expected that Dr Israr could fully explain his THEORY. If given chance, he might have been able to clear any 'contradictions'.

Wallahu Aalam.

Anonymous said...

According to my point of view, Dr Israr has rightly taken up the point of view about evolution. Yes Human beings have evoloved through a process of evolution gradually. But yes natural selection is doubtful. Natural Selection could only be a guided process which needs to be controlled by some external source. Ofcourse not possible without the will of Allah

Farzana Tasneem said...

I have heard Dr Israr ahmed's tafseer of Quran in Urdu and he keeps telling us about verses of Qur'an which can be taken to accept Evolution, if Evolution can get proven through scientific studies.
Till date we do not have any intermediate between humans and apes.
In fact to rove it many frauds have been done, but of no avail
Currently theory of Evolution is being accepted by those scientists who do not understand the frauds being undertaken to promote it

Anonymous said...

I'll just be specific. Everything is moulded and constructed by Allah. The Quran blatantly states the human structure and reasserts it in various places. The evidence of spirit blown into a monkey as claimed by Dr. Israr Ahmed is found nowhere in Islamic hadith or Quran. Hence, verifying the fact with obtuse and fatuous notions divulged with self-contradicting statements forms no valid grounds in Islam. The beauty of what Islam stands by is clarity. Our Quran is clear on what's forbidden and what's permitted. The Hadith concedes certain matters to be allowed but negates many ideologies slash practices which are debated on in today's era. It's simple. Photography is not allowed. Music is haram. Purdah is Fard. And no, evolution, as derived from current findings of fossil fuels and batteries hidden deep under ground for centuries depict equally intellectual forms existing way back. If evolution existed and we all adapted according to the surrounding, then I am sure a lot of Dr. Israr Ahmad's followers can explain Julia Pastrana. Or perhaps, not? Which is exactly what Islam stands by- leave the doubtful and adopt the evident and transgress not Allah's limits.