Islamic Scientific Creationism: What Do We Know?

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Strict-creationism, or scientific creationism, is unified in its opposition to evolutionary theory, especially human evolution, and although having its strongest footholds in the United States and Australia, it has a presence in other areas too, including Islamic communities and countries. Islamic scientific creationism is understood as the claim that God, or Allah, created all living entities and species separately and they did not evolve into other species. This creationism, suggests Salman Hameed, finds success in some in Islamic states and countries with large Muslim populations because,

“Relatively poor education standards, in combination with frequent misinformation about evolutionary ideas, make the Muslim world a fertile ground for rejection of the theory. In addition, there already exists a growing and highly influential Islamic creationist movement. Biological evolution is still a relatively new concept for a majority of Muslims, and a serious debate over its religious compatibility has not yet taken place. It is likely that public opinion on this issue will be shaped in the next decade or so because of rising education levels in the Muslim world and the increasing importance of biological sciences” (1).

Data From Studies of Muslim and Majority Muslim Countries

A brief look at the available although limited data on Islamic scientific creationism suggests it to have a presence and following. Those living in Turkey appear to be highly sympathetic to creationism as suggested by two surveys conducted asking Turks their views on evolution and human origins (2). According to a 2006 study conducted by Jon Miller, Eugenie Scott, and Shinji Okamoto only 25% of respondents agreed to the statement: “[h]uman beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals” (3). In a study by Riaz Hassan in seven Islamic countries, 22% of Turkish adults agreed with Darwin’s theory of evolution (4). For some, these low levels of public acceptance of evolution are worrisome given Turkey’s status as one of the most educated and secular of Muslim countries. Such perceptions are no doubt encouraged due to the efforts of organizations, such as the Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV), spreading Islamic scientific creationism in Turkey. Acceptance of evolution in several Muslim countries hovers around 38% (Kazakhstan), 22% (Turkey), 16% (Indonesia), 14% (Pakistan), 11% (Malaysia), and 8% (Egypt) (5). In a study of 25 Muslim university students from Turkey and Morocco studying in Holland, most accepted microevolution but almost all rejected macroevolution and connected it to atheistic aspirations and to the impossibility of chance and mutations leading to complex organisms and species (6).

American Creationist Influences on Islamic Creationism

The Qur’an teaches that God created the universe, the Earth, and life, but since its creation story is not particularly specific, Muslim creationists do not tend to put too much emphasis on the age of the Earth. The Qur’an has a six-day account of creation but the length of a day differs depending on the verse in question: one verse has a day been defined as “a thousand years of what you count” (32:5), elsewhere it “is fifty thousand years” (70:4). A number of features of Islamic creationism have been directly copied from American creationism. According to Edis, the Christian creationism of the Institute of Creation Research (ICR) was easily transplanted into an Islamic context because “creationism mobilizes traditional Abrahamic convictions about the moral significance of the natural world against the threat of social modernity” (7). This highlights the potential of creationism to adapt to local circumstances, including circumstances within Muslim communities. Perhaps the most well-known Muslim creationist is Adnan Oktar who borrows his ideas from the ICR and, more recently, from the Intelligent Design movement in the United States. Oktar’s organization has produced and distributed many anti-evolutionary documentaries, pamphlets, and books. He also has a website where these materials are available for download for free. Oktar’s main problem with evolution is not the age of the Earth it supposes but rather the social and cultural threat it presents in the form of materialism and atheism. It is also common among American creationists to equate evolutionary theory with the atheistic-materialist worldview. According to Hameed, “this is especially a problem when many, perhaps most, in the Muslim world confuse evolution with atheism and consider it inherently against religion” (8). Several other Muslim intellectuals are known to reject evolution, including Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University) and Muzaffar Iqbal (biochemist and editor of the Canadian journal Islam & Science).

The Social and Cultural Threat of Evolution

Creationists have attempted to undermine evolution by correlating it with people’s major moral, social, and political concerns. For example, in some parts of the former Soviet Union, evolution is associated with communism. In Muslim communities, however, it stands for the moral degradation that allegedly comes with Western secularism. Hameed states that “Opposition to evolution is often not centered on any particular verse from the Koran, but rather on the social and cultural threat that the theory poses for Muslims” (9). Speaking of creationists in general, Blancke, Hjermitslev, Braeckman, and Kjærgaard state that “By tapping into people’s greatest fears, creationists are able to present their beliefs as the ideal remedy against those purported cultural and political maladies” (10). However, some Muslims are pro-evolution. The South Asian thinker, Mohammad Iqbal, accepted evolution reluctantly but credited a ninth-century Muslim philosopher, Al-Jahiz, for its idea. He also credited Ibn-Maskwaih, a thinker from the eleventh century, as the “first Muslim thinker to give a clear and in many respects a thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man” (11). Although the ideas presented by these historical thinkers differ significantly from natural selection, they do evidence Muslim attempts to prove the consistency of evolutionary theory with their religion. Other groups attempting to respond to the pseudoscience of Muslim creationist groups include TUBITAK (the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Council) and TUBA (the Turkish Academy of Sciences),

Evolution in Muslim Teaching Materials

In some Muslim countries biology (and other subjects) is typically taught in a very religious environment. In Pakistan, a country where there is no separation of state and religion, the national biology curriculum’s purpose for grades 9 to 12 is to “enable the students to appreciate that Allah… is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe” (12). Science textbooks thus include relevant Qur’anic verses on the origin and creation of life. Biology textbooks in Pakistan contain a chapter on evolution where the theory is presented as a fact of science. Further, the scientific foundations of fourteen Muslim countries, which include Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt, signed a statement by the IAP (Interacademy Panel, a global network of science academies), in support of the teaching of evolution, including human evolution (13). Iran’s science textbooks shown an acceptance of evolutionary theory, although the first page of state produced textbooks declare the bismillah (“In the name of God”) (14). However, many South Asian Muslims are known to reject the theory of evolution because of its incompatibility with their accepted theological premises (15) while in Saudi Arabia science textbooks produced by the Saudi Ministry of Education present numerous quotations from the Qur’an and attempt to discredit evolution (16). The high-school biology textbook has two full pages devoted to discrediting Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory. Darwin is described as an atheist who rejected divine creation and is an example of the ominous western influence that needs to be rejected. In truth, Darwin was not an atheist and he did not reject divine creation; rather, presenting Darwin in this way highlights how anti-evolutionism involves more than religious convictions alone. According to Elise K. Burton, in some Muslim countries,

“Middle Eastern opposition to evolutionary theory, especially on a statewide policy level, is just as likely to reflect a general resistance to Western in fluence, especially in states affected directly or indirectly by the legacies of recent European colonialism… Patterns of evolution education and societal acceptance of evolution in the “Muslim world” can likely be more easily understood by subdividing majority-Muslim countries based on historical and sociopolitical criteria” (17).

References

1. Hameed, Salman. 2008 “Science and Religion: Bracing for Islamic Creationism.” Science 322(5908):1637-1638.

2. Hameed, Salman. 2008. Ibid.

3, Miller, Jon., Scott, Eugenia., and Okamoto, Shinji. 2006. “Public Acceptance of Evolution.” Science 313:765-766.

4. Hassan, Riaz. 2007. “On Being Religious: Patterns of Religious Commitment in Muslim Societies.” Muslim World 97(3):437-478.

5. Hameed, Salman. 2008. Ibid. p. 1637

6. Koning, D. 2006. “Anti-evolutionism among Muslim students.” ISIM Review 18(1):48-49.

7. Edis, Taner. 1994. “Islamic Creationism in Turkey.” Creation/Evolution 14(1):1-12.

8. Hameed, Salman. 2008. Ibid. p. 1638

9. Hameed, Salman. 2008. Ibid. p. 1637

10. Blancke, Stefaan., Hjermitslev, Hans Henrik., Braeckman, Johan., and Kjærgaard, Peter. 2013. “Creationism in Europe: Facts, Gaps, and Prospects.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81(4):996-1028.

11. Iqbal, Muhammad. 2009. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Dodo Press. p. 127

12. Asghar, B. Alters, Proceedings, National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference, New Orleans, LA, 15 to 18 April 2007.

13. Hameed, Salman. 2008. Ibid. p. 1638

14. Burton, Elise K. 2011. “Evolution and Creationism in Middle Eastern Education: A New Perspective.” Evolution 65(1):301-304.

15. Riexinger, Martin. 2009. “Responses of South Asian Muslims to the Theory of Evolution.” New Series 49(2):212-247. p. 243.

16. Burton, Elise K. 2011. Ibid. p. 303-304.

17. Burton, Elise K. 2011. Ibid. p. 304.

3 comments

  1. James our Bibles are clear in its statement “let the Earth?, “Let the Sea” etc that the Created chemicals and their reactions produced species that reproduced in their kind.

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