Salam Dear Walter,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Within the past century, the theory of evolution has been taught, particularly in Western schools, as fact.
While there is much controversy surrounding the conclusiveness of evolution, our response does not seek to disprove the theory nor repaint it in a faith-based light.
It should be noted that volumes have been written on the subject; they reflect a spectrum of positions including scientific skepticism of evolution to scriptural defense of it. If you are interested in the issue, we suggest that you examine it from several angles before you draw your conclusions.
Rather, our response aims to clear up areas of evolution that cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Islam, while acknowledging areas that may or may not be accurate – the Truth being known only to Allah.
We hope that if our answer is found to be satisfactory, you will consider it as further proof of the soundness of the Islamic doctrine, particularly when compared with other creeds that demand “leaving the intellect at the door.”
To begin: the most important fact to bear in mind is that Allah alone controls ALL affairs. Allah is Qadeer, the Absolute Controller, of every event that has taken place, is taking place, and will take place. Nothing happens outside His will.
Nothing happens before Allah wills, nor after He wills. Nothing happens more than He wills, nor less than He wills. Nothing happens in a different manner than He wills.
A snowflake does not fall in the arctic except by the will of Allah; a grain of sand does not blow across the desert except by His permission. A molecular mutation in a genetic code does not occur except by His power and control.
Allah alone causes life, and Allah alone causes death. Every living thing in the universe has been given life by Allah, and He alone is sustaining every second of its life. If a species survives better than another in a particular environment, it is because Allah allowed it to live more days, and He willed for its progeny to continue.
Allah has both a Sunna (usual way of making things happen), and He has a Qudra (ability to do anything even if it contradicts the usual order of things). He controls both cause and effect. Allah can will an effect to happen without a cause, and He can will a cause to take place but with no effect.
Regarding the former, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once fed an entire army to its fill with a single pot of food, due to Allah’s Blessing (baraka) and not due to any perceivable cause, such as more food being added to the pot, etc.
Similarly, the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was thrown into an enormous fire by the wicked King Nimrod, but Allah willed for the fire to be cool for him, and thus he was not harmed.
Allah removed the quality of burning from the fire, thereby overruling its effect. Both cases illustrate the Qudra of Allah, whereas water’s typical freezing at zero degrees Celsius illustrates His Sunna, though it does so only by the will of Allah.
Allah is both transcendent and imminent in His qualities. Among the evolutionists, the role of “nature” or “natural selection” is confined to an absolutely transcendent and unconscious force that driven by an ill-defined “will to live.” It is not governed by wisdom, mercy, or justice. This is not Allah.
Furthermore, as we described the absolute control that Allah exhibits over His creation, it is impossible for Him to have started creation and then let it continue on its own.
In other words, “random mutation,” if we are suggesting this as a means by which Allah might cause the origin of a new species from its cousin, is not absolutely random in that it cannot act outside the power of Allah.
In practical terms, if we take the theory of Evolution as a means by which Allah diversifies life on earth to show us His majesty and ability, then He alone, for instance, causes a nucleotide base to be deleted or added in a DNA sequence, thereby causing a frame shift mutation, which leads to the birth of a new species, which represents an evolutionary superior to its genetic predecessor, which passes on its DNA to its progeny, which results in a subsequent mutation, ad infinitum.
Furthermore, Allah not only starts this process but He also sustains and directs every second of its execution and development.
Evolution is a huge subject; we naturally cannot do justice to it in a few paragraphs. For a more detailed look at an Islamic perspective on Evolution (but not the only Islamic perspective), please refer to the following link:
In answer to your question, it is important how we think we were created, because it reflects our understanding of Allah. If I think that Allah created the first seeds of life and then “stepped back” from His creation, I am deluded as to the reality of my Sustainer.
As such, I will not be able to worship Him correctly, with the proper level of reverence, and I may even consider there to be powers that act outside of His will. To think that something other than Allah has inherent power and can function beyond His power is a form of shirk, associating partners with Allah – the only unforgivable sin.
Furthermore, Evolution can help to explain how life functions, but it will never explain why it functions and exists.
Only the prophets of Allah, those who have been selected by Allah to transmit knowledge of the unseen world to us that we otherwise could never access, are able to teach us the purpose for our existence and show us the way to Success.
We hope our answer has cleared up at least some of your inquiries. Thank you for your question, and please stay in touch.