ITEP Week #2: Discussion on Aims of Education

Assalaamualaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh Brother Hasrizal,

It was interesting to read your explanations of case 3. I’m particularly interested to know how you will integrate usul al din to teach evolution. Is it specifically the ayats of the Quran or hadith or do you have a different explanation.  was Salaam

Sister ‘F’

Waalaikum al-Salam WBT.

Thank you for your kind response.

Usually when Muslims heard the word evolution, many would quickly think about the Darwinism, the origin of man, were human being apes etc. I can still remember when I took my students to Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland, one of my students saw orang utan or gorilla, he said “look, it’s our grandfather!” I was laughing at that time, but then felt sad and worry. I am not a man of science. My first degree was in Islamic Studies. So, if any of our colleagues found my argument wrong, please do not hesitate to correct me and guide me to a sound stand on this matter.

What I understand, Charles Darwin is one thing, evolution theory is one thing, implementing Darwin’s theory upon human being is also another thing. Here came names like Herbert Spencer who was known as Social Darwinist who implemented Darwin’s theory on human being. There were chain of events and developments before Social Darwinism involved in colonialism and became a political concern. So, we can actually separate evolution theory from Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, the origin of man, colonialism etc. What worries me is when evolution theory is solidly placed against Islam, many students, particularly in biology will face dilemma, especially at the university level. In our country, we had students who were so troubled with this issue and caught in a position to choose between Islam and science simply because they were told that evolution theory is 100% against Islam, while in their lectures, they’re convinced that there are ‘some’ truth to be considered regarding the validity of evolution theory (which has nothing to do with the claim that men were apes).

This issue is not limited only to science class.

When students study history, one of the subjects to be tackled is the historiography of World History. Students will study how historians from different civilizations perceived this world and reflected it in their writing. If we take a quick look at our great books of history like Tarikh al-Tabari, we’ll see that before the creation of Adam, there were at least 10 chapters including the idea of time, the creation of the earth and heaven and who inhabited this world before Adam. This area is problematic. We found many skeletons all over the world which scientifically they show that their age reached even more than 1 million years old, long before what we understand about the period between Adam and Muhammad peace be upon them (perhaps only around 50,000 years based on some riwayah from Rasulullah PBUH and his companions).

Who were these skeletons?

The interesting part is, our early scholars like  Ibn Miskawayh (932–1030) or Ebn Meskavayhregardless of the limited access to scientific research at that time, explored this issue.

Ibn Miskawayh was one of the first to clearly describe a version of the idea of evolution. Muhammad Hamidullah describes the evolutionary ideas found in Ibn Miskawayh’s al-Fawz al-Asghar 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.”

Further details can also be obtained from some journals like:

  1. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/meskavayh-abu-ali-ahmad
  2. http://ejournal.ukm.my/islamiyyat/article/viewFile/2507/1732

There is a speculation saying that maybe Charles Darwin himself had the access to Ibn Miskawayh’s materials but I don’t have much info on this matter. It was also said that Charles Darwin read Arabic.

The evolution and the origin of man also emerged in our schools here in Malaysia in the class of Tafseer, in Surah al-Baqarah verse 30. When Allah mentioned that He is to create Adam as the Khalifah, the Malaikah asked for clarification about the reason. They have some brief idea about the potential of Adam and his children to spread blood and mischief, even before Adam was created. Where did that knowledge come from? Al-Tabari argued that the Malaikah compared Adam to Jinn. While our students speculated, were there ‘Adam(s)’ before our Adam?”

This topic is difficult. Our students are curious. They cannot avoid the controversies surrounding the issue, and they want their Islamic Studies teachers to clarify what does Islam say about evolution.

So, in our experience, we wont ‘kill’ the curiosity. We cannot silent them. Instead we encouraged them and allow them to explore all the puzzles by guiding them to the relevant materials. We did not reach any definitive conclusion but we inform our students that this case really demonstrates how important for future Muslim scholars to have a strong and broad knowledge, inter-discipline, and have the braveness like  Ibn Miskawayh to explore the knowledge of Allah.

Wallahu A’lam.

Sorry my dear friends for long and not so structured explanation. Thank you. Love you all.

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.