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Darwinism from an Islamic Perspective

16 January, 2019
Q Dear scholars, As-Salaam `Alaykum. Would you please shed some light on Darwinism and the theory of evolution and the Islamic stance on it? Jazakum Allah khayran.


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

It is a plain fact that what the Darwinism wants to prove runs in sharp contrast to the divine teachings of Islam, and even to all the teachings of all heavenly revealed religion. Thus, it’s totally a sign of disbelief for one to claim that the origin of man is a non-human creature because this negates the facts embedded in Allah’s words about the creation of Adam, and the creation of man in general.

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This point is further clarified by  Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller:

As far as the creation of humankind is concerned, Darwin believed that “probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from one primordial form, into which life was first breathed” (The Origin of Species, 455).

This is incompatible with the Quranic account of creation. Our first ancestor was Prophet Adam (peace and blessings upon him) who was created by Allah in Paradise and not on earth.

Adam was also created in a particular way that Allah describes to us, saying:

{[So mention] when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I am going to create a human being from clay. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.” So the angels prostrated – all of them entirely. Except Iblees; he was arrogant and became among the disbelievers. [Allah] said, “O Iblees, what prevented you from prostrating to that which I created with My hands? Were you arrogant [then], or were you [already] among the haughty?” He said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.” (Sad 38:71-76)

God in Islam is transcendentally above any suggestion of anthropomorphism, and Quranic exegetes like Fakhrud-Deen Ar-Razi explain the above words “created with My two hands” as a figurative expression of Allah’s Special Concern for this particular creation, the first human, since a sovereign of immense majesty does not undertake any work “with his two hands” unless it is of the greatest importance. (Tafsir Al-Fakhr Ar-Razi, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1405/1985 (26) 231-32)

I say “the first human,” because the Arabic term bashar used in the verse “Truly, I will create a man from clay” means precisely a human being and has no other lexical significance.

The same interpretive considerations (of Allah’s transcendence above the attributes of created things) apply to the words and “breathed into him of My spirit”. The Quran unequivocally establishes that Allah is Ahad or “One,” and not an entity divisible into parts. Exegetes say this “spirit” was a created one, and that its attribution to Allah (“My spirit”) is what is called in Arabic idafat al-tashreef, “an attribution of honor,” showing that the ruh or “spirit” within this first human being and his descendants was “a sacred, exalted, and noble substance”. (ibid. 228) A “part of Allah” as such could not enter into Adam’s body, and this surmounts to unbelief.

Similar attributions are frequent in Arabic, just as the Kabah is called bayt Allah, or the “House of Allah”, meaning Allah’s honored house. It does not mean that it is His address. The she-camel sent to the people of Thamud was called naqat Allah, or “the she-camel of Allah,” meaning Allah’s honored she-camel. It signifies its inviolability in the Shari`ah of the time and does not mean that He rode it.

All indicate that according to the Quran human beings are intrinsically at a different level in Allah’s eyes than other terrestrial life (by their special nature, celestial provenance in paradise, and spirit or soul) whether or not our bodies have certain physiological affinities with them. This is the prerogative of the Maker to create.

As far as other species are concerned, change from one sort of thing to another does not seem to contradict revelation, for Allah says: {O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.} (An-Nisaa 4:1)

Concerning the metamorphosis of a disobedient group of the Children of Israel (Banu Isra`il) into apes, Allah Almighty says: {So when they were insolent about that which they had been forbidden, We said to them, “Be apes, despised.”} (Al-A`raf 7:166)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “There shall be groups of people from my community who shall consider fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful: groups shall camp beside a high mountain, whom a shepherd returning to in the evening with one of their herds shall approach for something he needs, and they shall tell him, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ Allah shall destroy them in the night, bringing down the mountain upon them, and transforming others into apes and swine until the Day of Judgment.” (Al-Bukhari)

Most Islamic scholars have understood these transformations literally, which shows that Allah’s changing one thing into another (again, other than the origin of man) is not traditionally considered to be contrary to the teachings of Islam. Indeed, the daily miracle of nutrition, the sustenance Allah provides for His creatures, in which one creature is transformed into another by being eaten, may be seen in the food chains that make up the economy of our natural world, as well as our own plates.

If, as in the theory of evolution, we conjoin with this possibility the factors of causality, gradualism, mutation, and adaptation, it does not seem to add anything radically different to these other forms of change.

The Islamic tenets of faith do not deny causal relations as such. But the view that causes have effects in and of themselves is like ascribing partners to Allah in His Actions. Whoever believes in the latter causality (as virtually all evolutionists do) is an unbeliever without a doubt. “Whoever denies the existence of ordinary causes has made the Wisdom of Allah inoperative, while whoever attributes effects to them has associated partners (shirk) to Allah Most High.” (Al-Hashimi, Miftah al-Jannah fi Sharh ‘Aqidat Ahl al-Sunnah, Damascus: Matba`a al-Taraqi, 1379/1960, 33)

Muslims believe that Allah alone creates causes, Allah alone creates effects, and Allah alone conjoins the two. In the words of the Qur’an: “Allah is the Creator of everything.” (Ar-Ra`d 13:16)

A Muslim should pay careful attention to this point, and distance himself from believing either that causes (a) bring about effects in and of themselves; or (b) bring about effects in and of themselves through a capacity Allah has placed in them. Both of these negate the Oneness (wahdaniyyah) of Allah.

Allah alone is Master of Existence. He alone causes all that is to be and not to be. Causes are without effect in themselves, but rather both causes and effects are created by Him.

The causes and the effects of all processes including those through which plant and animal species are individuated are His work alone. To ascribe efficacy to anything but His action, whether believing that causes (a) bring about effects in and of themselves; or (b) bring about effects in and of themselves through a capacity Allah has placed in them, is to ascribe associates to Allah.

Such beliefs seem to be entailed in the literal understanding of “natural selection” and “random mutation,” and other evolutionary concepts, unless we understand these processes as figurative causes, while realizing that Allah alone is the agent. This is apart from the consideration of whether they are true or not.

Thus, the claim that man has evolved from a non-human species is unbelief, even if we ascribe the process to Allah or to “nature,” because it negates the truth of Adam’s special creation that Allah has revealed in the Quran.

Humankind is of special origin, attested to not only by revelation, but also by the divine secret within him and the capacity for knowledge of the Divine that he alone of all things possesses. By his God-given nature, man stands before a door opening onto infinitude that no other creature in the universe can aspire to. Man is something else.

Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.