Dr. Khalid Sohail

Dear Rafi Aamer,

          Of all the people I know you seem to be most knowledgeable about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and seriously involved in discussions with those Muslims who do not believe in evolution. I am so glad that you have agreed to have a dialogue with me about the conflict between religion and science and its relationship with evolution. I would like to ask you a few questions but before I do that let me share a few glimpses of my struggles with this dilemma.

          When I was a teenager I studied science as well as religion and found myself in conflict. Religion promoted blind faith and science demanded rational and analytical thinking. Religion demanded faith in God, scriptures, Prophets and life after death while science focused on those realities that could be observed by microscopes and telescopes and then understood logically. One of the painful surprises for me as a teenager was that my science teachers had not studied Quran and Muslim scholars that I consulted did not have a solid base in science. So both groups could not answer my questions satisfactorily. When I was disappointed in them, I started studying different translations of Quran myself and comparing the interpretations of different scholars. During my research on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution I found two groups of Muslim scholars.

First Group…..Muslim Scholars who did not believe in evolution.

This group included scholars like Maulana Abul Ala Maududi. He believed that theory of evolution was in conflict with Islam and Quran. He believed human beings were the children of Adam and Eve who were created in Paradise and then came to earth to reproduce. He gave an interesting analogy about evolution. He started that if a species came from Mars to earth and after seeing a car, a bus, a truck and an aero-plane started believing that they are all linked and an aero-plane was originally a car and then evolved to a bus then to a truck and then to an aero-plane, we would think he was too naïve or ignorant. Similarly he said that after seeing birds and animals and humans for us to believe that human beings were monkeys before they became humans is a naïve and ill informed idea. He empathically refuted theory of evolution.

Second Group…Muslim Scholars who believed in evolution

This group included scholars like Abul Kalam Azaad who did not see any conflict between evolution and Islam. Azaad believed in God, Prophets and Quran and did not see any conflict between Quranic teachings and Darwin’s Theory.

When I compared the writings of two groups I discovered that Quranic expression….’nafs-un-wahida’…..that was translated as ‘Aadam’ by many Muslim scholars was interpreted as …..’unicellular organism’….by Azaad. (Nafs…life…cell....Wahid….single….uni…so unicellular organism…amoeba).

Azaad quoted a series of Quranic verses from different chapters in Tarjamanul Quran, to prove his point. Those verses stated

…..life started from water

….life evolved at different stages before taking the form of humans

…human life starts as a clot of blood and then passes through evolutionary stages

The most interesting point Azaad made was that if we observe a human fetus grow in mother’s womb, the baby crosses all the evolutionary stages of millions of years in nine months. He believed that at one stage fetus looks like a fish, then a bird, then an animal and finally takes the shape of human. Azaad felt that it was a common sense proof that human beings had passed through all those stages.

          Azaad did not see any conflict between science and religion, between theory of evolution and his belief in God. Azaad believed that God created the whole universe, the galaxies, the suns and moons and earth and created life and that life evolved and after passing through different stages created human beings.

          Azaad believed that scientists are just explaining how ‘God’s mind’ works.

          For me it was interesting that different schools of thought among Muslim scholars not only had passionate but also bitter debates about this issue and declared each other kafirs and issued fatwas. Those who were more conservative and traditional and focused more on divine revelations than science like Maududi did not think highly of those Muslim scholars like Ghulam Ahmed Pervaiz who put a lot of emphasis on logical and rational thinking and did not believe in miracles.

          Allama Iqbal believed that story of Adam and Eve in Quran was the symbolic story of every Man and Woman and in his book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam stated that heaven and hell were ‘states not places’ and stressed that Muslims should make metaphorical interpretations of Quran rather than having literal translations.

          It is interesting to see a trend in Muslim history. When a Western scientist makes a new scientific discovery many traditional Muslim scholars reject it, while some modern scientific minded Muslim scholars accept it and then rationalize it by their re-interpretation of Quranic verses. I was amazed that those interpretations were made after and not before those scientific discoveries by non-Muslim scientists. I would not be surprised to find out that those scientists who made those discovers based on their secular research had never studied Quran.

          I find it amusing that many Muslims scholars criticize theory of evolution without seriously studying or understanding it. I think it would be a great service to Muslims especially those teenagers who are keen to advance their knowledge and not be brainwashed by their traditional, conservative and religious parents and teachers if you could answer the following questions.

1.    Can you give a summary of theory of evolution in layman’s terms?

2.     How did Darwin bring the discussion of evolution in the world of science from the world of philosophy and mythology?

3.    What can we learn from Darwin’s book Origin of Species?

4.    What was the reaction of Catholic Church to Darwin and his book?

5.    Who are the other biologists and zoologists and scientists who made advances to Darwin’s theory?

6.    What are the contributions of Richard Dawkins and his book The Selfish Gene?

7.    What do you see the basic conflicts of religion and science regarding theory of evolution and why do you think many educated Muslims still do not accept this theory?

8.    How do you think the dialogue in the Muslim world about evolution is different that the debate in the Christian world?

9.    What do you think enlightened parents can do to help their children about scientific education?

10.                       What can enlightened teachers do to teach evolution to their students and how can they deal with religious parents who do not want their children to learn theory of evolution in schools?

          As far as my beliefs are concerned you are aware that I am a secular humanist. For me holy books are part of folklore and wisdom literature. I do not see holy books as scientific books and I do not consult them for scientific discoveries. I think in the modern world we need to study science, psychology and philosophy more than holy scriptures. For me they are of historical importance now.

          I will look forward to your response, as I am sure I would learn a lot from your vast knowledge on the subject. I am optimistic that when we put our dialogue on the website many other people would also find it interesting and might share their views on the subject.


                                                                             Khalid Sohail

May 2007