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.
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