Note: This is the second part of an article published in last month’s issue. Part 1 can be found here.
Adam (AS) is formed out of clay, as though he were a sculpture. Allah (SWT) breathes life into him. Hawwa (AS) is created out of his rib. From those two, all humans are born.
This is the Islamic creation story as most see it – simplistic, literal, and seemingly at odds with the theory of evolution. But it doesn’t need to be, for there are numerous signs in the story of our creation in the Quran and Sunnah that indicate it doesn’t have to be so straightforward. In a conversation with Shaykh Abdalla Idris, I asked him about a specific verse in Surat Al Baqara:
We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve” (2.38).
The word used for “you” in this verse is the plural (more than two), as opposed to the dual (two) as in other verses, indicating it is more than just Adam and Hawwa whom Allah SWT is addressing. Could it be that the entire human race was in Jannah at this time? Certainly the word choice seems to indicate this, especially the use of the phrase “all of you”. If that were the case, it would resolve the apparent contradiction between humans being created out of two people (as in the Quran), and evolving collectively as a species (as in the theory of evolution). The former happened in paradise, while the latter happened on earth. When the original human souls were expelled from paradise, they inhabited the evolved bodies of homo sapiens, distinguishing them from other animals.
Was this a possibility?
“Absolutely,” Sh. Abdalla told me.
In fact, there are plenty of other hints in the Quran that the origin of humans is not as simple as some would claim. In 71.17, we are told, “And Allah has caused you to grow from the earth a [progressive] growth.” According to the theory of evolution, original life was formed through the mixture of soil and water creating unicellular organisms, from which all current species evolved. Could there be any better description of this than, “growing from the earth a progressive growth”?
Perhaps even more remarkable is the verse, “Say [O Muhammad], ‘Travel through the land and observe how (Allah) began creation’” (29.20). Isn’t that exactly what Darwin did? He travelled through the land and, by excavating fossils, discovered how Allah (SWT) originated life on Earth. It is only through the theory of evolution that these fossils explain the beginning of creation as the Quran says they do, because they show the progression of life from the very first cells to the many species we see today. In fact, Sh. Abdalla went as far as to say, “Darwin did what we [Muslims] should’ve done.”
Science changes, and it is absolutely possible that the theory of evolution will be discarded in the future. But as it stands, it is a theory that has an abundance of evidence in its favour, and has been accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. Why are we positioning our theology in needless contradiction with academia? We live in a world where rationality and religion have been pushed to opposite sides of the spectrum, and where atheism has been promoted as the most logical option. Why are we fueling this false dichotomy?
The many Muslims seeking to disprove evolution with no formal education in science are missing the point. Whether the theory is correct or not is a scientific matter that should be resolved within the scientific community. By telling Muslims to reject evolution by virtue of their Islam alone, we only further remove the already diminished credibility religion has in our unfortunate social climate.
Nevertheless, for those still dissatisfied with the current evidence for evolution, I put a simple question to Sh. Abdalla: if evolution were to be proven without a shadow of a doubt tomorrow, would Muslims have a problem? Would it contradict our theology?