Yellow Tang

A Sea of Assumptions: Islam and Evolution

Reading Time: 4 minutes
New York Museum
Photo by Lenna, American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

Cover photo by Craig Lovelidge on Unsplash

by Lenna

Loaded down with baggage, and lots of it. That’s how many people approach Islam.

I’ve found this to be especially true of people who are of Christian background. Whether they have remained Christian or left their faith behind, they assume that Islam is pretty much the same as Christianity, including all of its warts and flaws.

That simply isn’t true.

Reaffirming Scientific Findings

One of the things many Muslims find so compelling about Islam is that is it consistent with what we discover through science. Obviously, the Qur’an is not a science textbook, and we should not pretend that it is. But if it’s truly the word of Allah, then it at least should not contradict what we discover through science. Fortunately for Muslims, it does not!

In fact, there are some things the Qur’an revealed long before science caught up. If you want to know more about that, please get yourself a copy of The Bible Qur’an and Science. It’s an older book, but still the best, I think. I’ve seen other treatments of the topic, but some of them overstate the case with implausible examples. This one is excellent reading.

Evolution

For my purposes here, I want to single out evolution because it’s a contentious topic. Muslims are not faced with the same projects as Christians when it comes to evolution. Opinion among Islamic scholars is mixed, and can’t be reduced to assumptions and sweeping statements.

If someone wants to argue that Islam contradicts evolution, let him or her show the evidence to support this assertion. One thing we know the Qur’an does say is this:

Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? ~Qur’an 21:30

Ponder that for awhile, in light of what we know about science. Then read the book I recommended, and prepare to be dazzled. It’s truly is amazing.

But if what I’m saying is true, it begs a question.

Why do some Muslims speak out against evolution, and insist it’s untrue? Or a least doubtful?

Muslims vs Islam

Recently a loon posted a discussion starting with “Islam says…” and then quoted the words of a Muslim. As if what every Muslims says becomes Islamic doctrine. This is obviously incorrect.

It is true that there are Muslims who deny evolution outright, and other Muslims who are critical of the theory for various reasons. One valid reason to question all scientific findings is that sometimes they have elements of faith, just like faith.

If you peel back layers of assumptions, not every single thing in science is absolutely bulletproof. Some people who have knowledge of science can make their case effectively and at least tell us what is quite well substantiated. But believing in scientific explanations over religion doesn’t automatically make someone an expert. There are ignorant non-believers talking about science, and sometimes religion too, despite their own ignorance.

Personally, I confess to not being terribly interested in science. I have read the book I mentioned earlier on before I converted to Islam. But as a general topic, I don’t delve very deeply. For the same reason, I usually don’t weigh in on matters pertaining to science. But why do some people become immediately agitated when a person questions some aspect of evolution?

Welcoming Questions

Not everything we learn about science is complete and correct. It’s a discovery process, and the very nature of scientific inquiry is about questioning and testing assumptions. It’s the very spirit of science is to question the current consensus and basically everything we think we know.

Evolutionary science isn’t perfect. There are open questions. Even among scientists. That said, evolution is not something we can easily dismiss. There’s a lot that appears to be right about evolution. We’re sure about some of it, and it doesn’t make sense to deny that. As Muslims, the good news is that we don’t have to.

Adam and Eve

I love the creation story. It is filled with a deep meaning we can ponder for hours and even days, weeks, or months. If you don’t view that story as profound, maybe it’s time to revisit with an open mind. I highly recommend you seek out Jordan Peterson’s YouTube videos on this topic and the Bible more generally, especially if you’re of Christian background. He offers a fresh perspective that may impress even the most hardened critics.

However, the Creation Story arguably puts believers, both Christian and Muslim, on a potential collision course with evolution.

If evolution is true, then what are we to make about the story of Adam and Eve? They were humans, right? Not fish in the sea nor apes in the trees!

How can we accept Adam and Eve in the garden from Day 1, and also accept humans coming into being through an evolutionary process? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

The One Exception

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi to the rescue! He is one among many scholars who have spoken on the matter of evolution. He has the distinction of being widely respected and also having a background in science. Qadhi has studied evolutionary biology. He is an Islamic scholar who says many of the findings are valid, and that the process of evolution cannot and should not be dismissed by Muslims. 

Qadhi says that we can and should accept evolution, but with one exception.

The ONE exception we must make to bring the Quran and science into harmony on the matter of evolution is the exception of Adam. Banu Adam are special, and Allah intervened in the evolutionary process in order to create us, and endow us with special attributes that no other creature has. That essence which the Creation Story describes. Free will, and the ability to discern good and evil that necessarily goes with the gift of choice.

His video on the topic was previously posted on the Far-Reaching Argument and is posted below.

Conclusion

There are some Muslims who disagree with Yasir Qadhi. Obviously, his opinion is not the only one. Even among scholars, never mind laypersons

The takeaway here is that making sweeping assumptions about Islam and evolution is a mistake.

Islam is not Christianity. Muslims are not confronted with the same problems Christians face with their doctrine. Please don’t hastily lump together two doctrines that are in some ways quite different.

We as Muslims have a doctrine we can reconcile with science. Beyond that, we have the Qur’an, which revealed centuries ago what has only fairly recently been discovered by humans. If you have a doubt, please take the time to read the book I recommended, and watch this video: