Evolution has been a hot topic in the West for some time now. An article in the latest issue of the journal, “Science,” suggests the evolution–creationist divide is about to emerge in the Muslim world about Evolution and Islam. The article’s author, astronomer Salman Hameed, talks to “The World’s” Marco Werman about why the debate is heating up now, and implications for Muslims on both sides of the debate. The creation story in Islam is similar to the Biblical creation story, according to Professor Hammed: “But unlike the Book of Genesis, it is not laid out in a chronological order, nor is it in one single place. Secondly, it has this six-day creation, but the length of the days is less ambiguous.”
In his article, Professor Hammed explains why a serious debate among Muslims is just around the corner: “Now with the education levels rising, and access to the Internet and exposure to the evolution-creation controversies in the U.S., the topic of evolution is coming to the forefront, and now people are wondering whether evolution is compatible with Islam or not.
Many Muslim science students deeply anguished by the fact that evolution by natural selection contradicts the core belief with which they were brought up – that the Qur’an is the literal word of Allah. To ask them if they might consider the idea that the Qur’an wasn’t a divine document they say that this was “impossible” for them, that their “life would have no meaning” if the Qur’an was not literally true. Many Muslim science students experience “inner turmoil” as a result of studying evolution. They had lost or were in danger of losing, their belief in Islam because they could not reconcile what they believed the Qur’an says with what they learned in their science lessons.
Students of all faiths confront this sort of dilemma, particularly when teaching about the Big Bang theory. Like the theory of evolution taught in biology lessons, the Big Bang theory is one that challenges what young people from religious backgrounds believe about the origin of the universe. Creation stories are amongst the first we hear as children and, unlike other stories, parents often present the creation stories of their particular religion as the literal truth, an idea that can stick well into adulthood.
Dr Usama Hasan seemed clearer about his position on Qur’anic literalism that “excessive literalism is a serious problem for Muslims”, particularly when it comes to reconciling science and Islam. In a piece for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Dr Hasan wrote, “One problem is that many Muslims retain the simple picture that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into the lifeless statue and lo! it became a living human. This is a children’s madrasa-level understanding and Muslims really have to move on as adults and intellectuals.” His views have made him unpopular with some and he made headlines in the UK in 2011 when his life was threatened by extremists who objected to a lecture he was giving about how Islam and evolution could be reconciled.
As for the wide-reaching consequences of this debate in the Muslim world: “We’re talking about a sixth of the world’s population. Muslims are already behind in science and technology. The next century is going to be the century of biology. And evolution is the bedrock — the fundamental principle underlying all of biology — if Muslims en masse reject evolution that will make the chances of Muslims catching up in science even further removed.