Islamic stance on evolution

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[1]. 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.

Background

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:

Possibility 1

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.

Possibility 2

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.

Possibility 3

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)

Conclusion

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.

Recommended reading:

[1] How to tackle human evolution

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Islamic stance on evolution

  1. Totally relevant. I always felt the same theory but never cared to share with others. Some people have more neanderthal than others, euro whites and east/north Asia have the most at up to 15 percent. Blacks have the least. Researchers are now under the impression that neanderthals are very crafty and intelligent. I think that is because they are white researchers who have only recently learned they have the most neanderthal blood.
    I would say they were instinctively violent, yet with ice age survival qualities.
    Allah can create however he wants. What may seem like millions of years of evolution for say a turtle, could have been fast forwarded in an instant. Allah gave us oil energy via jurassic jungles, that is a the best of Planners. Subhanallah

  2. I must commend you, Mr. Rahma: possibility number 2 is most clever.
    Of course, none of the three possibilities are presented in the Quran itself, nor does the Quran reveal which possibility is in fact what happened. Instead of dealing with these possibilities, the allah of Muhammad thought it was a much higher priority to, say, rush to Muhammad’s aid when Muhammad’s guests were staying too long at Muhammad’s home, Muhammad being too shy to ask them to leave (see Quran 33:53).

    Indeed, evolution itself is not mentioned in the Quran. Why is that? Well, let me state at this point that Mr. Rahma is one of the most adept Islamic apologists I have encountered. Suppose, Mr. Rahma, a person were to declare, “Evolution is not mentioned in the Quran, because Muhammad did not know about evolution, and if Muhammad did not know about evolution, then the god of Muhammad’s imagination likewise could not know about evolution.” How would you respond?

    • Of course evolution is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and nor do I argue that it is or it isn’t the correct theory; I maintain silence on it in the essay and I only intend to show that it is not a problematic issue for the Muslims. The Qur’an is a book of signs and not science. It speaks of scientific facts but the purpose, from among the purposes, is guidance of humanity. The Qur’an provides us with an open approach without constricting words that such theories do not contradict it. Humans have been given a free hand to explore this field. We find a somewhat similar approach in our lives as well. Our parents provide us an overall system in which we nourish and flourish and within that system, we develop and grow; they do not inform us of each and everything but their guidance is the most important to us by which to live our lives. Our morals, values, manners, and so on come from there and similarly, if you find that God provides you with superior level of everything within which you develop and grow, why would you be bothered by it? In fact, we should be thankful for the guidance of God.

      Here is a passage from a Qur’anic commentary which I hope enlightens everyone:

      When the sun, moon and the stars were mentioned, they were so with the examples that did not contradict the intellectual and mental state of the time but sufficient flexibility was retained such that after centuries, when the astronomical beliefs change, the explanation of the words of the commentary of the Qur’an do not confuse the mind. Roundness of the earth and its rotation and the movements of the sun and the moon – all these had not been mentioned in that time openly. The engineers of Greece and India, astronomers of Iraq and Egypt; all were of the view that the sky is the name of a big and vast roof in which the stars, moon are placed and fixed. If it had been mentioned, then who would have considered this Book worthy of believing and so many arguments, intellectual and mental, would have taken away the real purpose of guidance. The wisdom of Almighty chose such a miraculous way of speech in which the apparent meaning made sense to the people of that time but sufficient flexibility and space was kept so that when the intellect and knowledge of men reach its peak, then that same Book become a permanent evidence, and apart from pure believers and truthful ones, others also get benefit from it.

      As for your comment on priority, I’m sure you would disagree if you put yourself in similar situations. Some believe that the creation of the heavens and the earth are big issues, purpose of life is a big question and there are similar big issues and questions in life, then why does the Qur’an care so much about trivial issues like the qibla, like Abu Lahab (Surah 111) and so on? Imagine a deep thinking person who is also a scientist and thinks about major world issues, works on eradicating diseases and constantly strives for betterment of his field of specialty. This person would likely not be bothered by such ‘trivial’ issues but suppose, a person stands outside his home constantly and simply stares at him and his family whenever they pass by. The police do not take action as he is not doing anything illegal – only stands in a public place and simply stares. This may sound like a ‘trivial’ matter but this can have the impact of devastating the life of the said intellectual, scientist, inventor etc. Therefore, we learn that ‘trivial’ matters are not actually ‘trivial’ and every matter has its own importance even matters like routine marriage issues, disputes and so on. Once one encounters a certain situation, only then he/she is better able to appreciate its significance; from the outside, every matter has the potential to appear ‘trivial’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s