Sunday, March 06, 2011

Nuance needed regarding the issue of evolution and London Imam Usama Hasan

by Salman Hameed

This is a follow-up to Nidhal's post Muslim Inquisition Today: The Plight of Usama Hasan. There is absolutely no question about condemning those who have threatened Usama Hasan based on his views regarding evolution or hijab and I completely agree with Nidhal's view point.

But, as expected, this issue is also now being picked up by the British newspapers. The headlines scream "London imam subjected to death threats for supporting evolution" (from The Guardian) and "Scientist imam threatened over Darwinist views" (from The Independent). We have to be very careful here. Such headlines can provide fodder both to Islamophobic elements in Europe and to the conservative and fundamentalist elements of the Muslim society.

The reality - both on the issue of evolution and also on the specific case of Usama Hasan - is more complex and is unlikely to be captured by the headlines. For example, there is no "official" position of Islam on evolution. There are many who reject evolution and there are many who accept it. In addition, there are many who identify the word "evolution" or "Darwin" simply with atheism - and have not really thought about biological evolution nor are they aware of even the basics of the scientific idea.

Similarly, the campaign against Usama Hasan has lot of other elements. For example, there has been an insidious campaign against him (personally) for a while, and some have objected to his statements about hijab. Therefore, to reduce the whole episode to his views on evolution is misleading and too simplistic (but as Nidhal pointed out, even if evolution was the only issue, he should still have the right to state his ideas and freedom to say things that others may or may not agree with).

However, such a controversy allows the extreme elements from both sides (those who portray Muslims as a threat to Europe, and those who claim that rejection of evolution is the only Muslim position) to stake out a representational position on the issue.

Lets hope we all root for nuance over a black and white interpretation.

Even the acceptance/rejection of evolution is a complex topic. For example, it will be a mistake to take what is going on amongst Muslim immigrant population in Europe and generalize it to the larger Muslim community. The acceptance or rejection is deeply dependent on the local cultural and political contexts - and rarely do we see a nuanced discussion of religious and philosophical ideas. Europe is currently a battleground for the formation of Muslim identity for the immigrant population (Please note that even within Europe, Muslim immigrant issues are different for different countries - from Turkish immigrants to Germany, Pakistani immigrants to UK, and North-African immigrants to France). Such identity formation battles often take place in public schools and issues such as hijab and evolution then take a center stage and serve as identity markers for the immigrant community. It is easy to see how evolution can get associated with the values of the dominant culture - and thus, its rejection becomes the norm for the smaller, immigrant population. I should add that the immigrant experience of Muslims in the US is different (both economically and in terms of education level) - and so far - we do not see evolution playing the same role here.

4 comments:

Mohamed said...

Salman.You bring up some good points and a sensible balanced perspective to this whole issue. It's not as simple as many people portray it, and the intrusion of religious and identity politics complicates things further. It's wrong to threaten people when there are disagreements and I hope we can all learn to have a civil discourse on the issue of Evolution.

পৃথ্বী said...

Salman, how exactly do you reconcile the Adam-Eve myth with Evolution? It's true that Quran is not explicitly anti-evolution, nobody expects the Quran to scream "DARWIN IS WRONG!!!", but the book does emphasize the concept of "Ashraful Makhluqat"(which I think you know very well to be scientifically inaccurate) and it does claim that all men are descended from Adam and Eve. No two individual gave rise to the entire human race, so even if you are willing to concede that the aforementioned couple were apes(as a layman would understand the word), you still won't get it right.

Evolution is a very slow process of development while creation is the instantaneous materialization of something, what creative agency would opt for a slow process like evolution when it has the supernatural power of instantaneous creation in it's hands! These two concepts are fundamentally different, hoping for a reconciliation between these two is nothing but a waste of time.

What you should do is campaign for secularization of Muslim countries and promote free thought and philosophy of science. I'm a high school student in Bangladesh, believe me, NO ONE will seriously consider the proposition that evolution is compatible with Islam. Pious Muslims(or any pious person for that matter) do not study science for the sake of knowledge, they study science to become engineers and doctors and live an opulent life. A radical change is needed in people's outlook on science for evolution to be portrayed as what it really is.

As for the news article, call it "Islamophobia" or any such self-victimizing name, but there's no denying that Muslims today have absolutely zero tolerance for dissident views. They are now what Christians were in the pre-Enlightenment era. There is really no "positive" way to report on how Islamists threatened an imam for the "crime" of expressing "Darwinist" views.

emre said...

This kid is going to go far, especially since he knows English as well as he does ;)

inayat said...

I have written about the Usama Hasan controversy over at Cif:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/mar/09/islam-science-evolution