Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Islamtoday" on Evolution

Usually, Islamic responses to evolution have been based on straight forward misconceptions about biological evolution ("just a theory", missing links, etc.) rather than taking the theory seriously and looking at a theological response (see links below). Here is a response prepared by the "Research Committee of under the supervision of Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî". They specifically ask the question of human and non-human evolution and the process of evolution, natural selection. But the key difference from other Islamic responses: They address only the religious aspect and leave aside the scientific merits of the theory.

So what they have to say? Well...they take a literal interpretation of the Adam and Eve story and conclude that they were especially created:
We also see that Allah created Adam directly without the agency of parents.

Allah says: “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’ and he was.” [Sûrah Âl `Imrân: 59]

We also know that Eve was created from Adam without the agency of parents.
However, they give it an interesting twist at the end:
The direct creation of Adam (peace be upon him) can neither be confirmed nor denied by science in any way. This is because the creation of Adam (peace be upon him) was a unique and singular historical event. It is a matter of the Unseen and something that science does not have the power to confirm or deny. As a matter of the Unseen, we believe it because Allah informs us about it. We say the same for the miracles mentioned in the Qur’ân. Miraculous events, by their very nature, do not conform to scientific laws and their occurrence can neither be confirmed nor denied by science.

This is interesting as most religions today do seek validity from science. While their conclusions may be suspect, their logic is correct here: If it was a miraculous event, then science won't be able to say any thing as it doesn't deal with miracles.
Thus, their perspective requires a special creation - an event that is now out of bounds for science (how convenient? :)). Ok...but in this case a conflict is inevitable - as there are two competing explanations, one from science and one from religion. We know how this will end up.

For non-human evolution, they seem to be quite open:
What about other living things, besides the human beings living on the Earth today? What about plants, animals, fungi, and the like?

When we turn our attention to this question, we find that the Qur’ân and Sunnah do not tell us much about the flora and fauna that was present on the Earth before or at the time of Adam and Eve’s arrived upon it. The sacred texts also do not tell us how long ago Adam and Eve arrived upon the Earth. Therefore, these are things we cannot ascertain from the sacred texts.

The only thing that the Qur’ân and Sunnah require us to believe about the living things on Earth today is that Allah created them in whatever manner He decided to do create them.

Allah says: “Allah is the Creator of all things and over all things He has authority.” [Sûrah al-Zumar: 62]

Indeed, Allah states specifically that He created all life forms: “And We made from water all living things.” [Sûrah al-Anbiyâ’: 30]

We know that “Allah does what He pleases.” Allah can create His creatures in any manner that He chooses.

Therefore, with respect to other living things, the Qur’ân and Sunnah neither confirm nor deny the theory of biological evolution or the process referred to as natural selection. The question of evolution remains purely a matter of scientific enquiry. The theory of evolution must stand or fall on its own scientific merits – and that means the physical evidence that either confirms the theory or conflicts with it.
The emphasis is the original. Now, I'm confused. If "Allah does what He pleases" and he may have created evolution via natural selection, I'm not sure why humans were not created in a similar manner. I mean, one still has to interpret the meaning of "clay" and other things in the Adam and Eve story too. Why not take a similar stance of God's absolute providence there too? least they thought about the topic a bit mroe than some of the other reactionaries. However, their answere regarding human evolution will definitely lead to a conflict with science.

Read the full article here.
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


Sabio Lantz said...

Interesting ! Thank you. I come to your site often. Given your background, and I would bet you are asked this often, could you tell us your favorite English version(s) of the Koran (and why) and favorite books on understanding Islam.

I have been trying to build a list for myself -- see here.

Thanx for any time you have.

Unknown said...

Well this line of argumentation can already be found in Husayn al-Jisr's Risâla hâmidiyya from the 1880s.

Salman Hameed said...


Yes, of course. And there are only a limited number of ways these arguments can be made. But do you know if these guys are actually using the same language as Jisr (i.e. they are aware of his work and are referring to it) or they are coming to it on their own?

I'm not a Qur'an scholar - so can't say much about it. However, a friend of mine, Uwe Vegelpohl, works on the translations and teaches on this material. Here is a handout on translations from one of his classes. I find it useful (I prefer Muhammad Asad):

Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–1936) English, novelist, traveler and educator who con-
verted to Islam in 1917. his The Meaning of the Glorious Koran has few explanatory notes and is supposed to let the text speak for itself. it follows a rationalistic
interpretation of the text by downplaying descriptions of miracles. The translation’s popularity has waned considerably since the 1950s.

Arthur Arberry (1905–1969) English, scholar of Arabic and Islam. His translation, en-
titled The Koran Interpreted, sought to reproduce the poetic power of the Arabic
original. It remains one of the most widely used English versions of the Qur’¯an

Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali (1872–1952) Indian, civil servant with a university education in the Classics and law. His verse translation, The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary, comes with copious notes and explanations, some of which have not stood the test of time. The text was revised in 1989 and widely distributed by the Saudi authorities. A good translation, but thanks to the sometimes offensive explanatory notes, the endorsement by the Saudi authorities and the somewhat antiquated language, its influence has declined in recent times.

Muhammad Asad (1900–1992) Austrian, journalist and convert to Islam. His The
Message of the Qur’an is still one of the best translations available, its language is clear and straightforward and it comes with numerous useful explanatory footnotes. Banned by the Saudi government for its unorthodox stance on a number of
doctrinal issues.

Ahmed ‘Ali Pakistani, distinguished writer and diplomat. The purpose of his Al-Qur’an,
A Contemporary Translation is to replace the sometimes archaic prose of his predecessors, most notably Pickthall and Yusuf ‘Ali, with a text written in contemporary English prose that attempts to stay away from interpretation. Criticized by Muslim scholars for alleged liberties it takes with the text.

Majid Fakhry Pakistani, emeritus of philosophy at the American University in Beirut. In An Interpretation of the Qur’an, he again attempts to avoid the archaic language of previous translations—in the process, he glosses over some of the original’s rhetorical power and beauty. Consequently, it received unfavorable reviews in the
Western academic press.

Muhammad Abdel-Haleem Egyptian, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of London who also received the traditional religious training in Egypt. The aim of his The Qur’an, A New Translation is to improve the clarity, accuracy and flow of previous versions. A competent and remarkably precise prose rendition of the Qur’an; it comes with a minimum of explanatory notes.

Unknown said...

But do you know if these guys are actually using the same language as Jisr (i.e. they are aware of his work and are referring to it) or they are coming to it on their own?

Al-Jisr's book is still published in Lebanon, but I think due to the interest in local history and the willingness of Western institutes for Islamic studies to buy such stuff.
The argument that evolutio
n might hold true for plants and animals but definitely not with regard to humans seems to me in the Islamic context "typically Arab". I do not thnik that recent authors are still taking the arguments from al-Jisr. But in the 1950/60s these arguments were also used, for example by Sayyid Qutb. And I think although I cannot prove it that at the authors writing at that time were still aware of him. So they might be considered the "missing links".

Interestingly that position was taken by many Catholic authors in the late 19th/ early 20th century.

BTW: That piece of Dawkins -bashing is really fine:

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