Islamic views on evolution

Islamic views on evolution
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Islamic views on evolution refers to varying Muslim beliefs on how the life (including humanity) came to be. Muslims acknowledge God as the Creator, as explained in the Qur'an. Other than that, Muslim views on evolution vary. Throughout history some Muslim thinkers have proposed and accepted elements of the theory of evolution, while insisting upon the supremacy of God in the process, thereby adopting a theistic evolution stance. In modern times, some Muslims, inspired by American advocates[1] of intelligent design, have rejected evolution.



The Qur'an does not contain a complete chronology of creation.[2] It declares variously that it took "six days" or "eight days" to create the "seven heavens [or firmaments] and earth"[3][4] but the length of the "days" is not interpreted as literal twenty-four hour periods but as stages or other periods of time to complete (it is rather a relative quantity of time),[2][5] and therefore is not subject to the same level of debate as some interpretators of the Bible regarding scientific evidence and chronology. This ambiguity leaves the possibility of an old earth. Young Earth creationism is wholly absent from the Muslim world.[1]

Skeptics point out there is no explicit mention of the extinction of whole species long before the creation of man in the Qur'an, whilst its inspiration is defended on the grounds that it is not a book of science. The Bible is held by Muslims to contain errors and therefore has not presented the same level of difficulty in the Islamic world as in some sections of Christianity outlined above. However, in recent years, a movement has begun to emerge in some Muslim countries promoting themes that have been characteristic of Christian creationists and Bible literalists in the past. A few oppose this citing the lack of compatibility between the two and that the Qur'an contradicts the Bible in numerous passages.[6][7][8] Khalid Anees, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, at a conference, Creationism: Science and Faith in Schools, made points including the following:[9]

"Islam also has its own school of Evolutionary creationism/Theistic evolutionism, which holds that mainstream scientific analysis of the origin of the universe is supported by the Qur'an. Many Muslims believe in evolutionary creationism, especially among Sunni and Shia Muslims and the Liberal movements within Islam. Among scholars of Islam İbrahim Hakkı of Erzurum who lived in Erzurum then Ottoman Empire now Republic of Turkey in 18th century is famous of stating 'between plants and animals there is sponge, and, between animals and humans there is monkey'."[10]

Universal creation

There are several verses in the Qur'an which some modern writers have interpreted as being compatible with the expansion of the universe, Big Bang and Big Crunch theories:[11][12][13]

"Do not the Unbelievers see that the skies (space) and the earth were joined together, then We clove them asunder and We created every living thing out of the water. Will they not then believe?"[Quran 21:30]

"Then turned He to the sky (space) when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth. They said: We come, obedient."[Quran 41:11]

"With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space."[Quran 51:47]

"On the day when We will roll up the sky (space) like the rolling up of the scroll for writings, as We originated the first creation, (so) We shall reproduce it; a promise (binding on Us); surely We will bring it about."[Quran 21:104]

Pre-modern thought

Primitive Evolutionary ideas have existed in the Muslim world ever since they were expressed by the Afro-Arab biologist Al-Jahiz (c. 776-869), who first described the struggle for existence, a precursor to natural selection.[14][15] Many other medieval Islamic philosophers and biologists later expressed evolutionary ideas, including Ibn Miskawayh, the Brethren of Purity,[16] Abu Rayhan Biruni,[17] Nasir al-Din Tusi[18] and Ibn Khaldun.[19][20]

Natural selection

The Mu'tazili scientist and philosopher al-Jahiz (c. 776-869) was the first of the Muslim biologists and philosophers to develop an early theory of evolution. He speculated on the influence of the environment on animals, considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the struggle for existence, a precursor to natural selection.[14][15][21] Al-Jahiz's ideas on the struggle for existence in the Book of Animals have been summarized as follows:

"Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring."


In Chapter 47 of his India, entitled "On Vasudeva and the Wars of the Bharata," Abu Rayhan Biruni attempted to give a naturalistic explanation as to why the struggles described in the Mahabharata "had to take place." He explains it using natural processes that include biological ideas related to evolution, which has led several scholars to compare his ideas to Darwinism and natural selection. This is due to Biruni describing the idea of artificial selection and then applying it to nature:[23]

"The agriculturist selects his corn, letting grow as much as he requires, and tearing out the remainder. The forester leaves those branches which he perceives to be excellent, whilst he cuts away all others. The bees kill those of their kind who only eat, but do not work in their beehive. Nature proceeds in a similar way; however, it does not distinguish for its action is under all circumstances one and the same. It allows the leaves and fruit of the trees to perish, thus preventing them from realising that result which they are intended to produce in the economy of nature. It removes them so as to make room for others."

In the 13th century, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi explains how the elements evolved into minerals, then plants, then animals, and then humans. Tusi then goes on to explain how hereditary variability was an important factor for biological evolution of living things:[18]

"The organisms that can gain the new features faster are more variable. As a result, they gain advantages over other creatures. [...] The bodies are changing as a result of the internal and external interactions."

Tusi discusses how organisms are able to adapt to their environments:[18]

"Look at the world of animals and birds. They have all that is necessary for defense, protection and daily life, including strengths, courage and appropriate tools [organs] [...] Some of these organs are real weapons, [...] For example, horns-spear, teeth and claws-knife and needle, feet and hoofs-cudgel. The thorns and needles of some animals are similar to arrows. [...] Animals that have no other means of defense (as the gazelle and fox) protect themselves with the help of flight and cunning. [...] Some of them, for example, bees, ants and some bird species, have united in communities in order to protect themselves and help each other."

Tusi then explains how humans evolved from advanced animals:[18]

"Such humans [probably anthropoid apes] live in the Western Sudan and other distant corners of the world. They are close to animals by their habits, deeds and behavior. [...] The human has features that distinguish him from other creatures, but he has other features that unite him with the animal world, vegetable kingdom or even with the inanimate bodies."

Transmutation of species

Al-Dinawari (828-896), considered the founder of Arabic botany for his Book of Plants, discussed plant evolution from its birth to its death, describing the phases of plant growth and the production of flowers and fruit.[24]

Material in Ibn Miskawayh's al-Fawz al-Asghar and the Brethren of Purity's Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity (The Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa) has been criticized as overenthusiastic.[25] Muhammad Hamidullah describes their evolutionary ideas as follows:

"[These books] state that God first created matter and invested it with energy for development. Matter, therefore, adopted the form of vapour which assumed the shape of water in due time. The next stage of development was mineral life. Different kinds of stones developed in course of time. Their highest form being mirjan (coral). It is a stone which has in it branches like those of a tree. After mineral life evolves vegetation. The evolution of vegetation culminates with a tree which bears the qualities of an animal. This is the date-palm. It has male and female genders. It does not wither if all its branches are chopped but it dies when the head is cut off. The date-palm is therefore considered the highest among the trees and resembles the lowest among animals. Then is born the lowest of animals. It evolves into an ape. This is not the statement of Darwin. This is what Ibn Maskawayh states and this is precisely what is written in the Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa. The Muslim thinkers state that ape then evolved into a lower kind of a barbarian man. He then became a superior human being. Man becomes a saint, a prophet. He evolves into a higher stage and becomes an angel. The one higher to angels is indeed none but God. Everything begins from Him and everything returns to Him."[16]

English translations of the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity were available from 1812.[26]

In the 14th century, Ibn Khaldun further developed the evolutionary ideas found in the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity. The following statements from his 1377 work, the Muqaddimah, express evolutionary ideas:

"We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.[27]
Plants do not have the same fineness and power that animals have. Therefore, the sages rarely turned to them. Animals are the last and final stage of the three permutations. Minerals turn into plants, and plants into animals, but animals cannot turn into anything finer than themselves."[28]

Numerous other Islamic scholars and scientists, including the polymaths Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Khazini, discussed and developed these ideas. Translated into Latin, these works began to appear in the West after the Renaissance and may have had an impact on Western philosophy and science.[citation needed]

Modern thought

In the 19th century the prominent scholar of Islamic revival, Jamal-al-Din al-Afghānī agreed with Darwin that life will compete with other life in order to succeed. He also believed that there was competition in the realm of ideas similar to that of nature. However he was unwavering in his belief that God had to be the one controlling this process as a creator.[29]

Another prominent, yet controversial Islamic Scholar, Ghulam Ahmad Pervez holds and defends the view that there is no contradiction between the scientific theory of evolution and Quran's numerous references to the emergence of life in the universe.[30]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement's view of evolution is that of universal acceptance, albeit divinely designed. The movement actively promotes it.[31] Over the course of several decades the movement has issued various publications in support of the scientific concepts behind Evolution and frequently engage in promoting how it contends with religious scripture.

Adnan Oktar[32] is a prominent Muslim advocate against the theory of evolution. Most of his information is based on the Institute for Creation Research and the Intelligent Design movement in the United States.[1] (His predecessor, Said Nursi, led a similar campaign in the late 1970s). Oktar uses the Internet as one of the main methods for the propagation of his ideas.[33] His BAV (Bilim Araştırma Vakfı/ Science Research Foundation) organizes conferences with leading American creationists. Another leading Turkish advocate of Islamic creationism is Fethullah Gülen. Due to the lack of a detailed account of creation in the Qur'an, aspects other than the literal truth of the scripture are emphasized in the Islamic debate. The most important concept is the idea that there is no such thing as a random event, and that everything happens according to God's will. This does not mean that God has to interfere with the universe. Hence such are closer to Intelligent design than to Young Earth Creationism.

According to Guardian some British Muslim students have distributed leaflets on campus, advocating against Darwin's theory of evolution.[6] At a conference in the UK in January, 2004, entitled Creationism: Science and Faith in Schools, Dr Khalid Anees, president of the Islamic Society of Britain stated that "Muslims interpret the world through both the Koran and what is tangible and seen. There is no contradiction between what is revealed in the Koran and natural selection and survival of the fittest."[9]

Maurice Bucaille, famous in the Muslim world for his commentary on the Qur'an and science, has attempted to reconcile evolution with the Qur'an. He accepts animal evolution up to early hominid species and then posits a separate hominid evolution leading to modern humans. However, these ideas are still different from the theory of evolution as accepted by biologists all over the world.[1]

Muslim societies

Evolutionary biology is included in the high-school curricula of most Muslim countries. Science foundations of 14 Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt, recently signed a statement by the Interacademy Panel (IAP, a global network of science academies), in support of the teaching of evolution, including human evolution.[1]

Little is known about general societal views of evolution in Muslim countries. A 2007 study of religious patterns found that only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree that Darwin's theory is probably or most certainly true, and a 2006 survey reported that about 25% of Turkish adults agreed that human beings evolved from earlier animal species. In contrast, the 2007 study found that only 28% of Kazakhs thought that evolution is false; this fraction is much lower than the roughly 40% of U.S. adults with the same opinion.[1]

According to Salman Hameed, writing in the journal Science, there exists a contradictory attitude towards evolution in the Muslim world. While Muslims accept science as fully compatible with Islam, and most accept microevolution, very few Muslims accept the macroevolution as held by scientists, especially human evolution.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hameed S (2008). "Bracing for Islamic creationism". Science 322 (5908): 1637–8. doi:10.1126/science.1163672. PMID 19074331. 
  2. ^ a b "The Origin of Life: An Islamic perspective". Islam for Today. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  3. ^ "It is Allah who created the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them in six days", Qur'an, Surah 32:4
  4. ^ Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measured therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in FOUR Days in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance). Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience." So He completed them as seven firmaments in TWO Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge.Koran, Surah 41:9-12
  5. ^ "Then it will ascend to Him in a Day, the extent of which is a thousand years of those which you count", Qur'an, Surah 32:5
  6. ^ a b Campbell, Duncan (2006-02-21). "Academics fight rise of creationism at universities". Guardian.,,1714171,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  7. ^ Sayin, Ümit; Kence, Aykut (1999). "Islamic Scientific Creationism: A New Challenge in Turkey". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  8. ^ Koning, Danielle (2006). "Anti-evolutionism amongst Muslim students" (PDF). ISIM Review 18: 48. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  9. ^ a b Papineau, David (2004-01-07). "Creationism: Science and Faith in Schools". Guardian.,,1117752,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  10. ^ Erzurumi, İ. H. (1257). Marifetname
  11. ^ Harun Yahya, The Big Bang Echoes through the Map of the Galaxy
  12. ^ Maurice Bucaille (1990), The Bible the Qur'an and Science, "The Quran and Modern Science", ISBN 8171011322.
  13. ^ A. Abd-Allah, The Qur'an, Knowledge, and Science, University of Southern California.
  14. ^ a b Conway Zirkle (1941). Natural Selection before the "Origin of Species", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 84 (1), p. 71-123.
  15. ^ a b Mehmet Bayrakdar (Third Quarter, 1983). "Al-Jahiz And the Rise of Biological Evolutionism", The Islamic Quarterly. London.
  16. ^ a b Muhammad Hamidullah and Afzal Iqbal (1993), The Emergence of Islam: Lectures on the Development of Islamic World-view, Intellectual Tradition and Polity, p. 143-144. Islamic Research Institute, Islamabad.
  17. ^ Jan Z. Wilczynski (December 1959). "On the Presumed Darwinism of Alberuni Eight Hundred Years before Darwin". Isis 50 (4): 459–466. doi:10.1086/348801 
  18. ^ a b c d Farid Alakbarov (Summer 2001). A 13th-Century Darwin? Tusi's Views on Evolution, Azerbaijan International 9 (2).
  19. ^ Franz Rosenthal and Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, Chapter 6, Part 5
  20. ^ Franz Rosenthal and Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, Chapter 6, Part 29
  21. ^ Paul S. Agutter & Denys N. Wheatley (2008). Thinking about Life: The History and Philosophy of Biology and Other Sciences. Springer. p. 43. ISBN 1402088655 
  22. ^ Islam's evolutionary legacy
  23. ^ Jan Z. Wilczynski (December 1959). "On the Presumed Darwinism of Alberuni Eight Hundred Years before Darwin". Isis 50 (4): 459–466 [459–61]. doi:10.1086/348801 
  24. ^ Fahd, Toufic. "Botany and agriculture". pp. 815. , in (Morelon & Rashed 1996)
  25. ^ Footnote 27a to Chapter 6, Part 5 in Khaldūn, Ibn. The Muqaddimah. Franz Rosenthal (trans.). 
  26. ^ "Ikhwan as-Safa and their Rasa'il: A Critical Review of a Century and a Half of Research", by A. L. Tibawi, as published in volume 2 of The Islamic Quarterly in 1955; pgs. 28-46
  27. ^ Muqaddimah, Chapter 6, Part 5
  28. ^ Muqaddimah, Chapter 6, Part 29
  29. ^ al-Afghani, Jamal al-Din (1838-97)
  30. ^ Quran and the Theory of Evolution
  31. ^ Jesus and the Indian Messiah – 13. Every Wind of Doctrine
  32. ^ "Seeing the light -- of science". Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  33. ^ Darwinism's Contradiction with Religion, Why Darwinism is Incompatible With the Qur'an, Harun Yahya

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