How do we reconcile evidences for evolution with Islamic texts?
Before I state the theory (or theories), let me state that it is meant to be a discussion on the different possibilities without concluding decisively on one as a fact. Furthermore, it is meant to be a possibility that does not contradict both Islam and science, of what is known to us today. If a theory can be devised that does not contradict both, then this, at a minimum, proves that evolution is not an Islamic problem and Muslims would/should have no problems textually to believe in it. Even furthermore, this theory does not challenge the scientific statements and viewpoints even though there are considerable differences (and perhaps gaps) in it. If Muslims are losing faith due to evolution, then they should know that even with such scarce data on evolution and its varying and numerous theories, there is nothing that contradicts Islamic text (see the theory below). Ideally it would be better to wait out and let science advance further to come up with better responses but an attempt has been made below to prove that it is not a subject to lose faith over and that nothing from science contradicts Qur’an or Hadith.
In the Qur’an 2:21, we find that Allah informs us: O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you (1) and those before you (2), that you may become righteous. The beings in group (1) could either be mankind or those from mankind reading/listening to this verse. If it refers to those listening, then those before would be the previous people i.e. our ancestors. If the people in group (1) are the entire mankind (as indicated by the beginning of the verse), then those before you could refer to creatures before mankind. Allah knows best.
In the Qur’an 2:28, we are told that the people were dead before being given life. How and when were we ever dead? This could be referring to the initial days of pregnancy when the soul has not been blown even though the piece of flesh may biologically be alive or it could also be referring to the creation of the first man who was also dead before life was entered into his body or the single cell that may have started the evolutionary process later evolved to pre-human beings (neanderthals, heidelbergensis etc.) who were dead in the sense that they had no soul and then through divine intervention, the first man was brought to life. Allah knows best.
When Allah informed the angels about the creation of Adam (عليه السلام), the angels asked ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood’ (2:30). ‘Causes corruption’ is present continuous; there were some beings on earth similar to humans who caused evil. Allah said that He would ‘make upon the earth a successive authority (Khalifa)’. This word has been used elsewhere in the Qur’an to refer to ‘reproducing generation after generation, replacing each other on earth’, ‘inheritors of the earth’.
Now there is nothing here that directly states that there were beings already on earth but the words also do not deny it; in fact they hint towards some creatures (close to human shape) already being on earth whom the angels saw as chaotic and hence asked the Creator why He would create a similar being in shape and form.
Human beings inherited the earth from them and are in-charge of it now as allowed by Allah. Furthermore, the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) and their followers (tabi’een) were open to the idea of beings before Adam (عليه السلام) other than the Jinn. Whether true or false, the point is that the idea was there and, even if false, was not considered a deviant belief and hence I believe, we have freedom to explore in this area. Allah knows best.
These verses so close to each other and around the mention of the creation of man is no coincidence. Let us look at the possible Islamic stance on evolution below:
Allah created Adam and Hawwa (Eve) (عليهم السلام) and they stayed in heaven for a period of time, the length of which we do not know. While they were in heaven, some of the species such as homo erectus, heidelbergenis etc. went extinct (or they were extinct before their creation, doesn’t really matter does it?). Now when Adam (عليه السلام) was sent to the earth and if the other creatures had already gone extinct, then the case is closed and we have no issues.
If they did not go extinct then, Adam and Hawwa (Eve) (عليهم السلام) could have lived while the Neanderthals also existed on earth and may be more other beings.
I tried looking for a text that may contradict this statement – there is nothing that denies that Adam (عليه السلام) was not alone and he could have occupied the earth along with Neanderthals and/or more beings. They later on became extinct.
The statement of Allah to Adam (عليه السلام) in paradise: ‘O Adam! Inform them of their names’ (2:33) is striking. Neanderthals and/or other similar beings did not have fully developed language and spoke in grunts and puffs or in basic words and small sentences until they met homo sapiens sapiens (human beings). If they already had basic forms of communicating words, then they developed it further and if they did not have more than grunts and puffs, then they acquired it from scratch from the humans.
Some (or many) of their womenfolk could have married (or intermingled) with human beings to eventually become humans. I say womenfolk because them marrying human men would not be a scriptural problem and it would mean all the human beings today are bani Adam (descendants of Adam) (totally perfect!) and if human women married Neanderthal and/or other beings’ men, then the human population of today would not all be bani Adam as lineage comes from the father. It is, Islamically, not correct to say that human beings have come from more than one source; all source is Adam and Hawwa (عليهم السلام). If there is a room here that human men and women mixed with Neanderthal men and women and, Islamically, all of the resultant population could/would still qualify as bani Adam, then the matter ends here and a solution is reached at. However, this would not be an Islamically correct view. This theory of Neanderthal women mixing with homo sapiens sapiens men, and not vice versa, may sound unscientific (why only men married their women) but it could still be logically justified. We have statements from the Salaf (early generations) that Adam and Hawwa (عليهم السلام) gave birth to twins and each boy married daughter from another delivery but nothing from the Qur’an or Hadith and hence once could say the basis for this is Israeliaat (Jewish traditions). Such a story is found in the lost books of the Bible [Book of Jubilees p.52 verse 9 onwards]. A potential theory, if the son and other daughter marriage is not accepted, could be that Adam (عليه السلام) only had sons who married Neanderthal women and hence the issue of DNA, evolution, common ancestor and everyone being bani Adam is resolved; again the matter ends here and a solution is reached at.
Eisa (عليه السلام) created birds from clay and by the will of Allah, the clay birds became real. The Qur’an quotes him saying, Out of clay, I fashion the figure of a bird and by Allah’s leave, it turns into a (real) bird when I blow into it (3:49). The descendants of these birds fly around today along with the evolved birds. The ‘single moment created birds’ would have mixed with the evolved birds. Just like there were Adam and Eve for humans, there could be Adam and Eve for animals as well, all sent down, who mixed with the evolved animals to eventually produce the modern animals that exist today or have existed before. Even if there aren’t, the theory won’t have any issues.
There was a divine intervention similar to what the theory above states in regards to humans. However, the difference with humans is that the beings from evolution died out and what is present today is the result of that divine intervention.
The bottom line is that all human beings today are bani Adam; others might have mixed with our ancestors and become human while the other (non-humans) died out.
What about common origin? Does it contradict Islam? The theory only gives exception to human evolution but what about other creatures?
The following verses would indicate that common origin view is not against Islamic scripture:
Allah created every [living] creature from water. Some of them go on their bellies, some of them on two legs, and some on four. Allah creates whatever He wills. Allah has power over all things. (24:45)
Do those who disbelieve not see that the heavens and the earth were sewn together and then We unstitched them and that We made from water every living thing? So will they not believe? (21:30)
And it is He Who created human beings from water and then gave them relations by blood and marriage. Your Lord is All-Powerful. (25:54)
Human beings also have a degree of common origin while at the same time, they did not evolve from apes and other semi-human creatures. Possibility 1 above is plain and simple while 2 goes with the idea that humans mixed with other beings and 3 is more of a support to both of them in the sense that divine intervention is evidenced in the case of birds and hence, is also possible for human beings.
Allah Almighty says that He gave us cattle for our benefit (22:36) such as riding, food, and clothing among others. If these creatures evolved completely randomly, then this is by complete accident and they could have evolved in such a way that they were of no benefit to the human beings; in fact, all the animals could have ended up being of no use. On the other hand is the possibility that this evolution was not random and was part of Allah’s plan, controlling which changes came at which point. As a Muslim, I choose the latter and ask the reader to ponder over this as well.
To end it here, evolution is not a Muslim problem and there is nothing in it to lose faith over.
Indeed, Allah knows the best.