Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: The theory of evolution is really pushed in schools and society as a whole. In our tradition, is evolution true, false or a difference of opinion? Can you please clarify the Islamic position on evolution and the Big Bang?
Answer: assalamu alaykum
1. According to most scholars, there is no problem accepting the Big Bang as it does not directly contradict any of the primary texts on the origins of creation. Some scholars have even cited Quran 21:30 and 41:11 as supporting the Big Bang theory.
2. As for evolution, the dominant – if not consensus – viewpoint among scholars is that it is in direct contradiction of the primary texts affirming an original and direct creation for Adam who was the first human being. These texts, such as Qur’an 38:71-76, indicate that Adam did not arise from a prior species. This was not because God could not have created humans through an evolutionary process but because He willed not to do so and informed us of this through revelation.
The Qur’an, however, does not state the same regarding non-human species. Consequently, some scholars have differentiated between human evolution and non-human evolution stating that the primary texts only affirm an original creation for humans, namely Adam, not non-humans. Therefore, the theory of evolution in relation to the latter poses no intrinsic problem whether at the level of macro-evolution or micro-evolution.
An important point that needs to be kept in mind is that even when evolution is accepted (i.e. for non-humans), it is still understood as an act of God stemming from His will and power. Evolution as random mutation and natural selection causally independent of God is decisively rejected whether the theory is applied to humans or non-humans.
Science and Religion
In any discussion on the relationship between science and religion, the first point that must be clarified is that the Qur’an was not revealed as a book of science. Nor was the sunna primarily interested in elucidating points of scientific fact. Rather, the purpose of both of these sources is to instruct humans regarding the manner in which they should live in order to recognize God and attain to felicity. In other words, the Qur’an and sunna are sources of guidance: “Indeed, this Qur’an guides to the straightest way and gives glad tidings to the believers,” (17:9) and “A book we have sent down to you so you may bring forth mankind from darkness to light.” (14:1).
With this said, there is no denying that the Quran and sunna make reference to the cosmos and natural phenomena. Debates over the interpretation of certain verses and prophetic statements that describe the cosmos is nothing new. For example, scholars have discussed issues such as the flatness of the Earth, the heliocentric nature of our galaxy, and so forth with a view towards what the primary texts indicate about these matters and what empirical evidence affirms.
A very basic framework that scholars forwarded when discussing contradictions between the primary texts and empirical evidence returned to notions of the decisive and probabilistic:
(a) a decisive text takes precedence over the probabilistic.
(b) a decisive text can only be conditioned by something that is decisive.
Consequently, the principle is that whenever a literal or outward reading of a verse of the Qur’an or a prophetic statement seems to contradict a decisively established point of fact, that verse or saying is interpreted in a manner that accords to this established point of fact.
Of course, it should be noted here that scholarly conceptions of decisiveness may vary and even change over time as it relates to certain issues. Even within the scientific community, the notion of scientific consensus, certainty vs. uncertainty, and so forth, can prove to be quite contentious. Therefore, while our tradition does not shut the door on utilizing the empirical to accurately understand the meanings of the primary texts, it does require grounding in and knowledge of the tradition, its principles, and an awareness of the complexities underlying empirical and scientific research.
Evolution Being ‘Kufr’
Following from the above, it is also important to address the fact that a number of scholars have stated that evolution as the theory claiming man evolved from a prior non-human species is disbelief (kufr), such as our teacher Shaykh Nuh Keller.
It is important to keep in mind here that:
(a) this does not necessarily entail that the proponent of such a view is in fact a disbeliever (kafir), and
(b) it is not even necessarily the case that the belief itself is literal disbelief (kufr) especially as it relates to Muslim evolutionists who continue to affirm God’s creative power and will, that Adam was a real human, and that he was in some manner created by God.
This latter point is important in light of the fact that disbelief is commonly defined as denial and disavowal (takdhib), which is not necessarily applicable to those who reach unsound conclusions based on erroneous-interpretations (al-ta’wil al-fasid) or ignorance (al-jahl).
For example, one cannot think of a clearer Qur’anic text than, “God is the creator of all things,” (39:62) and yet leading scholars have classically not affirmed the disbelief of groups such as the Mutazila and the Shia who opined that God does not create evil. This is because they do not actually deny the Qur’anic verse in question. Rather, they continue to affirm it but interpret it in an erroneous manner.
Indeed, a number of Muslims who affirm evolution do not seek to deny the Qur’an at all but interpret it in an erroneous manner. Therefore, it is difficult to apply the word disbelief (kufr) to the views of these individuals except as an expression of severe censure or in the meaning of their views having the potential to entail disbelief.
The details of the principles surrounding kufr and takfir have been detailed by al-Sharif Hatim al-Awni in his work Takfir Ahl al-Shahadatayn. Of course it goes without saying that not labeling a particular view as disbelief does not indicate that said belief is acceptable or sound.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani