Monday, February 28, 2011

Muslim Inquisition Today: the plight of Usama Hasan

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
History is full of episodes and examples of people who, for having been a bit more clairvoyant, thoughtful, humanistic, or heterodox than the rest of their society paid a dear price, sometimes with their lives: Socrates, Hypatia, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Bruno, Galileo, and many others.
But one would have thought that times have really changed, that someone refusing to lie about his conviction that Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct would not be called a heretic and be the subject of all kinds of threats. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Dr. Usama Hasan is going through these days, and not in some corner of Pakistan or Yemen – right in London, UK!
Usama Hasan is a special specimen. He presents himself as “an imam, scientist, lecturer & activist based in London, UK”; the Guardian describes him as “a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, former planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, and a part-time imam”; a longer bio can be found on the Global Experts website, where one reads that “Dr. Hasan received his PhD in Electrical Engineering at Imperial College, University of London… [an] MA (Hons.) [in] Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge and MSc (Distinction) [in] Mathematics at King’s College, London.” All of this is quite impressive, but what really makes Dr. Hasan a special specimen is the fact that he “successfully memorized the Koran at the age of eleven and has continued training in the traditional Islamic sciences”, particularly under the guidance of his father, a respected Muslim scholar. He has thus served as an Imam for two decades, hosted a weekly TV show on Islamic jurisprudence issues, and appeared on various British and US media outlets, particularly the famous BBC-TV show Hardtalk, speaking out against Muslim extremists, especially after 7/7 (the London subway bombings, the UK equivalent of 9/11).
All this, and Usama Hasan is only in his forties…
But then Darwin’s anniversary came (in 2009), and it brought troubles to Dr. Hasan, after he penned an article in the Guardian, titled “Knowledge regained” but more interestingly subtitled “In contrast to their forebears, modern Muslims have a childlike view of science, especially evolution. This needs to change.” (I know, these titles and subtitles are rarely chosen by the authors, the editors always find “better” ones…) In the article, Dr. Hasan was not only arguing that Muslims’ knowledge and view of the theory of evolution was woefully poor – hence the widespread opposition to it – but that the illustrious scholars of our civilization’s golden age were so far ahead of today’s Muslims in their knowledge of nature and their evolutionary conception of the living world. And that's when all hell broke loose. Google "Usama Hasan" and Evolution together and you get 3,370 pages, including Adam Deen's "Responding to Usama Hasan's Muslim apes" and ""Sheikh" Usama Hasan on Evolution"
Now, those of us who speak or write on controversial issues or just hold unpopular views are used to the invectives and even the hatred. But in Dr. Hasan’s case, things went much worse.
First he was hit by a fatwa. As documented by Usama Hasan, “Sheikh Salih al-Sadlan of Riyadh gave a fatwa on not praying behind anyone who accepts Darwinism.  This fatwa was given at the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham, HQ of Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, during their annual conference 24-28 Dec 2010.” Dr. Hasan describes Sheikh al-Sadlan as “a respected Professor of Law, especially Hanbali Law”… Upon hearing about it, Dr. Hasan called the Sheikh on the phone and politely tried to explain his views to him, but to no avail…
Then he was hit by a petition for his removal from the mosque. He tried arguing back, by posting long rebuttals and excerpts from illustrious Muslim scholars’ views on Evolution and by giving, or at least trying to give, a lecture on Evolution (on the 22nd of January 2011). The lecture was shouted out, and things have gone from bad to worse, as one person – as reported by Dr. Hasan – called for his killing.
Now, Usama Hasan, has posted a new entry on his blog (interestingly called “Unity: A website devoted to the unity of God, the unity of knowledge & the unity of the peoples of the world”), where he tries to show the extent to which he must be seen as an orthodox Muslim, since he believes that “As Allah revealed to us in the Qur’an, He created Adam, peace be upon him, the first human, from earth, or clay and water.  He created Him with His Two Hands, breathed His Spirit into him…” He also, unfortunately, starts to reduce the importance or the merits of scientific theories, stating that “people are free to accept or reject a particular scientific theory”, which I think is an inappropriate statement. He does, however, immediately add that “theologians who have no grounding in science, have no right to pronounce upon scientific subjects.  Any such fatwas about science from people ignorant of the subject matter are null and void.” These last two sentences are fully correct, and I support them without reservation.
It is very depressing – and even shocking – to me to witness such an inquisition on a learned, enlightened, and moderate man like Usama Hasan, who in other lands would have been hailed as a beautiful flower, grown and nurtured by a family of knowledge, and benefiting from all that is great in not one but two civilizations. That a man of science and faith, who devotes his time and his life to educating people, from the mosque to the planetarium and the media, would be “rewarded” as such is a great calamity of our times. I don’t know if something like this could happen nowadays in any other culture but the Muslim one. What a shame!
We all must speak up against such despicable acts and attacks. And we must continue to spread knowledge and civil discourse.
Usama, you are not alone out there, defending your knowledge, your faith, and your sincerity. I and many others, I hope, stand beside you to the extent we can – mostly with our thoughts, our words, and our prayers.


Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

It's pity people like Dr Usama has to face such a response. I believe, Creationist should be defending there theory which has no proof what so ever; not the other way around.

The problem is that any such attempts to educate Muslims about theory of evolution draws comparison (shall I say in conflict) with the literal reading of Quran. And that's where problem lies... as we discussed earlier.

As for how to approach fellow Muslims, I think someone who has expertise in both fields (Islam and science) should address them. If I go and tell them about evolution theory its immediately refuted as I dont have any understanding of Islam, other than being raised into an Islamic family.

We need more people like Dr Usama. And more importantly... they should be heard, rather than forced to retreat or defend themselves.

I'll definitely share this info on my FB and in my Yahoo! group (which discusses matters of science and religion).


abunuha said...

I am very surprised at Usama Hasans departure due to his beliefs in evolution. He has over recent years adopted the creed of 'secularism' aligning himself with the most anti-islamic strains in the UK such as the Quilliam Foundation and given his support to the British governments in its crusade in Afghanistan and yet he was still able to maintain his position. It is very sad to see the state of the muslims in the UK that a view although blatantly in contradiction to the islamic viewpoint was given more weight then those views Usama has been spreading for a longer time and that carry far greater consequences.

A final point is that Usama did not bring any new found interpretation of the Islamic text or scientific knowledge into the fore to support his views. He expected people to swallow his ideas based on his educational background and lineage. He orchestrated the public event in a Masjid that was under his fathers control and was challenged so I think it would be wrong to call this an inquisition

Mohamed said...

Great post, Nidhal! I’m glad that you’re bringing this story to our attention. It’s shameful that Muslims in the 21st century still behave this way. I can understand it if someone disagrees with the Theory of Evolution, but to respond with fatwas, death threats and removal from the mosque is…well, downright medieval. I wonder when we’re going to grow up, learn to be civil in our discourse and tolerate others who have ideas we don’t like. This story is typical of several incidents that I’ve seen first-hand both in the Middle East and the US.

Also, I wonder about the fate of the current revolutions in the Middle East if most people in the Arab/Muslim world still think and behave like this. If we want real democracies and open societies we have to give people, especially scholars, the freedom to think, write and speak---even (especially) in religious realms---without fear.

I share your support of Dr. Hasan, and in my own, limited way I am trying to educate my friends and colleagues on this issue.

Nidhal Guessoum said...


First, when a learned person is attacked with a fatwa and threats for his views on a scientific theory, it is an inquisition, whether you happen to disagree with him or not.

Secondly, Dr. Hasan did write at length explaining why and how he thinks Evolution is not irreconcilable with Islam; please check out his (very) long post here: .

Thirdly, his political views, which I am not very familiar with, and his relations with various UK organizations, are all irrelevant to this case. Let us not muddy the issue just to make it easier to justify such attacks.

Lastly, thanks to Ali and Mohamed for the supportive comments.

Ali said...

I am with Adam Deen and the like on this.
No surprise? Ha ha.
An no thanks to me either I suppose. :)

Dr Usama Hasan may be a great scientist. He might also be great scholar of Islam. I just do not know. But, even if he has memorised the Qur'an, I think he has not understood the Qur'an enough in terms of a reconciliation with evolution.

Personally, I do not know how God created Adam. May be like how a potter makes a pot, may be not like that, may be through evolution. If it is through evolution, it cannot be by means of Darwinian mechanism. Please don't ask me for the alternative because I have no clue. I believe it cannot be Darwinian mechanism because, if it was so, creation of Eve cannot be explainted at all. Moreover, it defies intellect to believe that a random, blind process can give rise to thinking, rational, intelligent beings. Adam hs to be a special creation.

I am convinced that Adam is the first human and we are all descendants of Adam. The current knowledge on evolution does not contradict this.

Having said that, more surprising to me is the fact that, Dr Usama Hasan, who seems to be a brilliant person (This is from the knowledge I have managed to gather about him after reading this post. I have not heard of him before.) would advocate a Darwinian mechanism for the creation of Adam. In my opinion, he obviously has not done his research on this before he spoke.

I would say his statement on his blog, that Nidhal referred to, is the result of completing his research and not the result of Fatwas, etc. I am just guessing. Only Dr Hasan and God will know the truth.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

How much do we know about the origin of life and evolution? We don't even have a SINGLE clue whether our Earth is the only planets harboring life or not in this entire, vast, very vast universe...this is how much we know about life and its origin. And looking into the odds and chances that make Earth a planet somehow perfectly suitable for the origin and sustainability of life are so infinitesimally minimal, we can only hope if this can be a case anywhere else in this entire, vast, very vast universe. You can write piles of literature to explain the function of a single enzyme,let alone a single as we know it, is that much complicated. Darwinian evolution is an attempt to oversimplfy a much much more complicated process. And the way some people advocate it religiosly sometimes makes me feel that it should get a place in theology than science.

Ali said...

I ccompletely agree with you, Dr Akbar.

I think few medical doctors will advocate Darwinism. The many years we spend in medical college, learning the mechanisms of the human body, teach us how complex the living cell is and how little we understand about its mechanisms. This alone is enough to realise that a blind process CANNOT give rise to such co-ordinated complexty that works in absolute harmony. How can such a process create intelligent beings?

Only intelligent beings can undrestand this.

When people say that a blind process can give rise to thinking, conscious, rational and intelligent beings, I wonder where the intelligence God bestowed on them is. I ask this question more when people try to convince others that a blind process evolved the humans from ape-like primates.

By the way, 60 percent of US medical doctors do not believe in Darwinism.
And many UK medical doctors (not just Muslim doctors) do not believe in Darwinism.
Surely there must be a reason.

No offence to anyone, but, I think it might be relatively easy to convince those doing physical sciences that Darwinian mechanisms can give rise to human beings. But it will be hard to convince medical doctors of the same.

I wish Salman would focus his studies in finding out why it is so hard for medical doctors to believe in Darwinism. If you do this study, Salaman, I would love to know the results.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

The whole issue of this post was not whether Evolution is correct or not; it was about the fatwas and threats that get issued toward someone who states that he is convinced the theory is correct and that it does not conflict with Islam.

Whether Darwinian Evolution is correct or not is for the experts to speak about. Whether the process must be "blind" and purely materialistic or whether one can see God's plan in there is another issue.

And, with all due respect, whether you are more on Adam Deen's side or on Usama Hasan's is also not the issue. It is whether, even when one totally disagrees with Dr. Hasan, one can tolerate or at least turn a blind eye on the fatwas and threats.

Can I ask you, Ali, and everyone who wishes to comment on this case, whether you find acceptable the treatment that Dr. Hasan has been subjected to?

Mohamed said...

I find it unacceptable.

I happen to think that there's no problem in accepting the Theory and still being a Muslim, but that's beside the point. Even if I oppose Evolution, I would still find what Dr.Hasan was subjected to unacceptable. I could even argue that the way he was treated was un-Islamic.

Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

I agree with you. My comment was not to depart the argument from the real topic. The treatment of Mr. Hasan was truly abhorrent. And yes, I was once told by a well educated person in our country that 'astronomy' is forbidden in Islam. This is what happens when people with little or no knowledge of astronomy confuse it with astrology. Same goes with needs at least some basic understanding of the biological processes together with basic astrophysics to at least make a useful comment over the topic. Same goes with needs some basic understanding of what a said religion says about its ideas of life and divinity, otherwise one would turn up to be fun stock like Richard Dawkins.
Thanks for pointing that out. The more you get deeper into the micro-universe of a cell and molecular biology, the more Darwinian evolution appears to be something primitive, overly simplified, and childish, isn't?

Junaid Bhatti said...

It turns out that this whole story about Dr. Usama Hasan being sacked was a hoax perpetrated by someone inside the Mosque who stole official headed notepaper and put out a statement without the consent of the Mosque.

You can find out more here:

Nidhal Guessoum said...


The "whole story" was not a hoax; Dr. Hasan talked by phone to Sheikh Salih al-Sadlan, who had issued the fatwa; his lecture on evolution was shouted out in the presence of many people; a group tried to prevent him from leading prayers, etc.

Let's not try to minimize these abominable events.

Ali said...

My apologies, Nidhal.
I got carried away, I guess.

I do not agree with the views of Dr Usama Hasan. But I do not think that threats should be given and fatwas should be issued if all he did was advocate Darwinism. Thats unacceptable.

Ali said...

Dr Akbar,

"The more you get deeper into the micro-universe of a cell and molecular biology, the more Darwinian evolution appears to be something primitive, overly simplified, and childish, isn't?"

I cannot agree more.
How can a process like the Kreb's cycle for example, arise by means of a blind process?

Some people who advocate Darwinism has no knowledge of what goes on inside the cell. So its easy for them to think Darwinian evolution explains everything about life on Earth.



"Whether Darwinian Evolution is correct or not is for the experts to speak about. Whether the process must be "blind" and purely materialistic or whether one can see God's plan in there is another issue."

I notice that you have included the word blind in inverted commas. Darwinian evolution, as the evolutionists advocate, IS a totally blind process. So if we are talking about Darwinian evolution, we ARE talking about a totally natural process that has no role of God, whatsoever.

(Sorry, Nidhal. These comments are not about the topic of this post. But this discussion is also interesting. :) )

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

I've shared this story on my FB page in support of Dr Usama and to highlight the injustice he has faced. But it quickly turned into evolution vs creation debate. And what a heated debate it was.

I was off the opinion that there is no harm in accepting evolution, if thats what scientists come to understand/prove. But my fellows were bent on proving it wrong as it goes against the teachings of Islam (when u do the literal translation of Quran). Anyways... we couldnt get to any conclusion even after 70+ comments.

I dont understand one thing... what so wrong with evolution theory? Why so much of resistance. We dont resist many other scientific theories (proven or not).

But then I think thats last thing between us (as God's fearful creatures) and total rejection of God/religion and the philosphy of life.

No wonder the foremost authority on evolution nowadays Dr Richard Dawkins is also the foremost (or the most popular) atheist.

Is the world moving towards atheism?

Sorry to digress a bit from the main topic.

Junaid Bhatti said...

Prof Guessoum, I think you misunderstood. The hoax I am referring to was the widely distributed letter stating that Dr. Hasan had been officially removed from his post as Imam and Trustee at Leyton Mosque.

No-one has expressed doubt that he was indeed heckled and hounded at his Evolution lecture - we have access to YouTube footage showing this happening. And there is an online campaign against him, but that is old news and has been going on since 2008.

The new development was the issuance of a letter claiming the Trustees had voted him out, and the Chairman has now confirmed publicly that Dr. Usama Hasan is still in place at Masjid Tawhid.

Usama Hasan said...

Prof. Nidhal,

Salams & Thank you very much for your support. I'm humbled by it. I think we met at an ICOP conference, btw.

I'm also planning to buy and read your recent book very soon, God-willing! Looking forward to that. :)

Thank you to everyone else for discussing here & on your FBs, blogs, etc.


Dr. M. Akbar Hussain said...

How does evolution contradicts divinity or supports atheism? It is just the way you look at things, an objective approach adulterated by subjective outlook by theologists like Maududi or priests of atheism like Dawkins. Evolution is a complicated process and the beauty of creation is how life moulds itself through a complicated process for its progression in an ever changing system both in time and space. Answers lie only for questions you look for.

Anonymous said...

Usama Hasan was legally removed by the Mosque Trust.
I am a employee and have witnessed everything.

Anonymous said...

Is it an inquistion?
Usamah Hassan has rejected the beliefs of orthodox muslims.
He should have the courage to stand by his beliefs, and if orthodox muslims dont want to pray behing him he should respect that.

Anonymous said...

Your hagiography ignores the fact that, whatever his position now, Usama Hasan was not always moderate. Just google 'Recaputuring Islam from the Pacifists' his reponse to Islamic scholars who condemned the 9/11 terrorist attacks

Darsh said...

Ali (of the seventh post),

As a medical man, you'll have no trouble explaining how uncorrected errors in DNA copying occur in mitosis, and how changes to our genome become heritable.

So - how do you explain them?

Also, some citation for your statistic on US Doctors and belief in evolution would be good. Thanks.

(To bring this back on-topic: yes, I think what's happened to Dr Hasan is appalling, but not surprising - as long as some people confuse faith with an obligation to defend their opinions at all costs, this will keep happening.)

Larry Gilman said...

Comment: "Darwinian evolution is an attempt to oversimplfy a much much more complicated process."

That is a baffling statement, given that evolutionary biology is in fact tremendously complex -- the study of a lifetime. I have been reading Douglas Futuyma's college survey text _Evolution_, cover to cover, and "simple" is not exactly the right word for the body of science it describes. The field has grown constantly over the last century by accepting complication after complication. There is, in reality, no specification anywhere of any "much more complicated process" than evolution: all theories of miraculous intervention in life's history, including human origins, are _simpler_ than the scientific account.

Alas, the fairly common attempt to "accept" evolution while holding out for an Adamic exception (as Mr. Usama apparently does) will not wash. There is no category of evolutionary evidence or explanation that applies to non-humans, but not to humans: there is only one body of biological knowledge, and that body of knowledge covers human and nonhuman origins with equal authority. There is no factual ground for any distinction or dividing line between human evolution and all other evolution. In fact, human origins from are described by an unusually rich and finely-graded record of transitional fossils (as well as the usual DNA evidence).

Finally, it is not true, at least in the US and Europe, that medical doctors are unusually skeptical about evolution. The opposite: about 80% of US medical doctors accept the scientific fact of evolution, a much higher rate than the general population ( ).


Larry Gilman

K said...

"Usama, you are not alone out there, defending your knowledge, your faith, and your sincerity. I and many others, I hope, stand beside you to the extent we can – mostly with our thoughts, our words, and our prayers."


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