Evolution from a Qur’anic Perspective
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following was written by Shaykh Abu Faydhan Faridi Muhammad Harun Riedinger (q.s.), on the 02nd May 2014.
The ongoing conflict between proponents of science and religion in general and between evolutionists and creationists in particular, is caused and perpetuated on one hand by the ignorance and blindness of the advocates of the materialist philosophy of science, who try to cover up and eliminate the Ultimate Cause of all existence, and on the other hand by the limited perception and lack of vision of the formalist theologians, who fanatically insist on a literal interpretation of the scriptures, which is no less than another kind of ignorance, blindness and materialism, no less deplorable than the one the former are afflicted with.
The fact of the matter is that true knowledge, whether it is in relation to the Creation or in relation to the diyn, the rules of conduct for man to live in harmony with himself, his fellow creatures and his Creator, comes all from One Source, the Knower of the ‘Alam Ghayb wa Shahidah, Seen and the Unseen, one of the Qur’anic Designations of Allah (s.w.t.), and can therefore not be in real contradiction.
To have access to true knowledge, however, requires purity or rather ongoing purification. This is very clearly indicated in the Book of Allah (s.w.t.):
هُوَ ٱلَّذِى بَعَثَ فِى ٱلۡأُمِّيِّـۧنَ رَسُولاً۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡہِمۡ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ وَيُزَكِّيہِمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ وَإِن كَانُواْ مِن قَبۡلُ لَفِى ضَلَـٰلٍ۬ مُّبِينٍ۬ (٢)
It is He Who has Sent, amongst the unlettered, a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom ― although they had been, before, in manifest error ― (Surah al-Jumu’ah:2)
The teaching of knowledge is preceded by purification, and it must be preceded by it, because knowledge has an immense power potential, and the unpurified self of man is self-destructive by nature and commands him to perpetrate evil.
… إِنَّ ٱلنَّفۡسَ لَأَمَّارَةُۢ بِٱلسُّوٓءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّىٓۚ … (٥٣)
“… the (human soul) certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord does Bestow His Mercy ...” (Surah Yusuf:53)
Since man, however, was destined to become the khalifah, God’s Representative or, as it were, viceroy on Earth, the process of self-purification was instituted by Allah (s.w.t.), the Absolute Owner of knowledge, power and wisdom as the key element in the prophetic teaching and mission of all messengers that He has sent to mankind. This very special role of man as the khalifah, has long become evident on the grosser level of outward manifestation, by man having been able to “colonize” and subject to his control almost every aspect of existence on this planet of ours.
The fact that man has overstepped all bounds in doing so, and is, where he is going now, headed straight for the destruction of his very living space is not a proof that he was incapable of fulfilling the task he had been Given by God, but rather a proof that he misappropriated what had been Given to him as a trust, as the direct result of neglecting that process of self-purification. He has separated the Creation from the Creator and started worshiping himself, striving to fulfill each and every desire of his lower self. By doing so man not only takes the Creation out of its context and meaning, but also cuts himself off from the access to the knowledge of what and who he really is and from the realisation of the purpose of his existence.
Coming back to the potential of the being that was to take up the responsibility of vice-regency over God’s Creation on Earth, such a being not only required to surpass the rest of Creation in intellect, mental and physical flexibility and adaptability, but also had to have a very intimate knowledge of the nature of the other creatures that were to be put under its care, a knowledge that could not possibly be acquired any other way, than by actually taking on their very nature and characteristics, videre licet actually becoming each one of them.
This also is a well-established principle: Foreign and imposed rulers always have to fight insurgencies and their authority is always challenged by their subjects, and all the prophets that God has ever Sent to mankind were Commanded by Him to deliver His Message in the language and at the level of understanding of the people they were sent to, as a matter of fact, they were almost always chosen by God from among their own communities.
Another essential precondition for the meaningful discharge of the khalifah’s duties was that he had to have the freedom to take decisions on the basis of his own discernment, but his discernment had to be capable of constantly receiving illumination by the Divine Wisdom, and to ensure this, the khalifah had to have the inseparable companionship of a divine agent, or in other words an inextinguishable spark of the Light of God as an intrinsic faculty of his being. To contain such a quintessence of Holiness and Purity, a receptacle of absolute, id est Divine Perfection had to be fashioned, a form that was itself the quintessence of all creational forms.
By Creating man the way He Did, and about which He Informs us in His Holy Book, these aforementioned requirements were fulfilled in the most wonderful manner, bearing testimony to the unfathomable Wisdom of the Creator. Contemplating the following passages of the Qur’an, a few cosmic facts and creational details will come to light.
ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضَ وَمَا بَيۡنَهُمَا فِى سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ۬ ثُمَّ ٱسۡتَوَىٰ عَلَى ٱلۡعَرۡشِۖ مَا لَكُم مِّن دُونِهِۦ مِن وَلِىٍّ۬ وَلَا شَفِيعٍۚ أَفَلَا تَتَذَكَّرُونَ (٤) يُدَبِّرُ ٱلۡأَمۡرَ مِنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ إِلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ ثُمَّ يَعۡرُجُ إِلَيۡهِ فِى يَوۡمٍ۬ كَانَ مِقۡدَارُهُ ۥۤ أَلۡفَ سَنَةٍ۬ مِّمَّا تَعُدُّونَ (٥) ذَٲلِكَ عَـٰلِمُ ٱلۡغَيۡبِ وَٱلشَّهَـٰدَةِ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ (٦)
It is Allah Who has Created the Heavens and the Earth, and all between them, in six days, and then He Established Himself on the Throne (of authority): you have none besides Him, to protect or intercede (for you): will ye not then receive admonition? He Rules (all) affairs from the Heavens to the Earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, on a Day the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning. Such is He, the knower of all things hidden and open, the Exalted (in power) the Merciful; ― (Surah as-Sajdah:4-6)
The Creation of the cosmic system, which is of concern to man was completed in time, id est the laws that govern the time-space continuum were an integral part of it, and hence there is no conflict with the oft-quoted statement:
إِنَّمَآ أَمۡرُهُ ۥۤ إِذَآ أَرَادَ شَيۡـٴً۬ـا أَن يَقُولَ لَهُ ۥ كُن فَيَكُونُ (٨٢)
Verily, when He Intends a thing, His command is “Be” and it is! (Surah YaSin:82)
The six creational cycles of which the ayah speaks thus indicate a gradually evolving completion of the creational process. He did not Create the universe and then leave it to itself unattended. This is further indicated in the subsequent verse, where Mention is made of the revolving, bidirectional interplay of meaning, cause and form, effect, and where at the same time the relativity of time is explained too.
فَسُبۡحَـٰنَ ٱلَّذِى بِيَدِهِۦ مَلَكُوتُ كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ وَإِلَيۡهِ تُرۡجَعُونَ (٨٣)
So Glory to Him in Whose Hands is the Dominion of all things; and to Him will you be all Brought Back. (Surah YaSin:83)
After these revelations relating to the macrocosmos and to the principles of the process of Creation in general, there is a reminder that there is no room for imperfection in the Creation of Allah (s.w.t.), neither in the process of it, nor in the result. The usage of the word “tsumma”, in the below verse does not mean that Allah (s.w.t.) was not in a position of authority before that, but indicates continuity in His Concern for the Creation, id est the people who are finding faults in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Creation and have the arrogance and audacity of passing judgements about it are only projecting their own defects, which it turn are increased thereby. In another place, Allah (s.w.t.) States:
… مَّا تَرَىٰ فِى خَلۡقِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ مِن تَفَـٰوُتٍ۬ۖ فَٱرۡجِعِ ٱلۡبَصَرَ هَلۡ تَرَىٰ مِن فُطُورٍ۬ (٣) ثُمَّ ٱرۡجِعِ ٱلۡبَصَرَ كَرَّتَيۡنِ يَنقَلِبۡ إِلَيۡكَ ٱلۡبَصَرُ خَاسِئً۬ا وَهُوَ حَسِيرٌ۬ (٤)
… no want of proportion will you see in the Creation of (Allah) Most Gracious. so turn your vision again: See you any flaw? Again turn your vision a second time; (your) vision will come back to you dull and discomfited, in a state worn out. (Surah al-Mulk:3-4)
Finally our attention is directed to the Creation of man:
ٱلَّذِىٓ أَحۡسَنَ كُلَّ شَىۡءٍ خَلَقَهُ ۥۖ وَبَدَأَ خَلۡقَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنِ مِن طِينٍ۬ (٧) ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسۡلَهُ ۥ مِن سُلَـٰلَةٍ۬ مِّن مَّآءٍ۬ مَّهِينٍ۬ (٨) ثُمَّ سَوَّٮٰهُ وَنَفَخَ فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِهِۦۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡأَبۡصَـٰرَ وَٱلۡأَفۡـِٔدَةَۚ قَلِيلاً۬ مَّا تَشۡڪُرُونَ (٩) وَقَالُوٓاْ أَءِذَا ضَلَلۡنَا فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ أَءِنَّا لَفِى خَلۡقٍ۬ جَدِيدِۭۚ بَلۡ هُم بِلِقَآءِ رَبِّہِمۡ كَـٰفِرُونَ (١٠)
He Who has Made everything which He has Created most good. He began the Creation of man with (nothing more than) clay. And Made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised: But He Fashioned him in due proportion, and Breathed into him something of His spirit. And He Gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and feeling (and understanding): little thanks do you give! And they say, “What! When we lie hidden and lost, in the Earth, shall we indeed be in a Creation renewed?” Nay they deny the Meeting with their Lord! (Surah as-Sajdah:7-10)
The picture of God as an artist, who is sculpting with His Own Hands the human shape of Adam from a heap of potter’s clay as a replica of His Own Image, and then bringing it to life by Blowing His Breath into it, surely has some symbolic value in as far as it conveys certain meaning contents, but it can hardly be taken as a factual account of the genesis of man in the realm of phenomenal existence that is governed by the laws of nature.
The meanings that can be taken from it and that are in fact very real, are firstly that Allah (s.w.t.) gives, “Personal” and special attention to the Creation of man, different from the rest of Creation, as it were. Secondly, man is constituted on the same patterns as the universe, like the Sufis say. “Man is the miniature universe and the universe is an infinitely enlarged version of man.” And lastly man is of the same substance as the Earth, and his lower aspect is therefore always attracted to it, but besides his terrestrial nature and origin he also has a celestial nature and origin, which attracts him to God.
The above given allegory is the biblical account of man’s Creation that has also generally been adhered to within the Islamic tradition, whereas the here quoted Qur’anic passage goes much more into the detail of the creational procedure.
The statement that man’s life originated in the mineral kingdom can be taken as a clear indication that organic life in general evolved from there, emerging initially as a mono-cellular organism, since it is only in the subsequent creational phase that reproduction, i.e. by means of fertilisation of a female reproductive cell by a male one is stated to have been instituted. Again, the usage of the word “tsumma”, meaning “then” in the sense of a temporal sequence and continuity, with which verses 8 and 9 begin, is of great significance, because in both places it introduces the onset of a new creational phase, indicating an evolutionary pattern. The primitive life form that originated from inorganic matter had to evolve into a more complex multi-cellular organism in order to bring forth generations of progeny, as mentioned in Verse 8.
With this, we enter into the phase of perfecting the form. The word used for this in verse 9 is “sawwahu”, meaning, “He made him even or smooth”. All flaws and crudeness were Removed from that life form so that it could become the receptacle for that Divine Breath that we call the spirit – so that it would be able to consciously bear the Divine Presence within itself.
The previously already referred to creative Command “kun”, “Be!” by the All-Knowing and Almighty Creator of the universe, to Whom everything, all beings and energies of the Heavens and the Earth are subservient, produces end results that reflect the Perfection of the Creator. The “fayakun” following the “kun”, the compliance with the command, id est “be”, and it “comes into being” however must be understood in the sense of verse 5 of the above quoted passage of Surah as-Sajdah that speaks of a descent in relative time. Within the timespace continuum in which we are living, and which is the reality that phenomenal existence is made up of, it does not imply immediacy, but gradual emergence with intermediary results.
مَا خَلَقۡنَا ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضَ وَمَا بَيۡنَهُمَآ إِلَّا بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَأَجَلٍ۬ مُّسَمًّ۬ىۚ وَٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ عَمَّآ أُنذِرُواْ مُعۡرِضُونَ (٣)
We Created not the Heavens and the Earth and all between them but for just ends, and for a term appointed: but those who reject faith turn away from that whereof they are warned. (Surah al-Ahqaf:3)
People who are consciously living in the Presence of God are often able to see from the first signs of the manifestation of a Divine Decree the end result of it, and when they make it public, we speak of prophecy.
فَوَجَدَا عَبۡدً۬ا مِّنۡ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ رَحۡمَةً۬ مِّنۡ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمۡنَـٰهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلۡمً۬ا (٦٥)
So they found one of Our servants on whom We had Bestowed mercy from Ourselves and whom We had Taught knowledge from Our Own Presence. (Surah al-Kahf:65)
Hence the perfected form that was intended by the Creative Command emerged from an almost infinite multitude of ever more sophisticated life forms, competing as it were to reach the divinely intended perfection, but it was only after Allah (s.w.t.) applied the ultimate finishing touch to it, which is expressed in the Qur’anic verse with the phrase, “wa nafakha fihi min ruhihi”, meaning “and He Breathed into him of His Spirit”, that this form became a human being – Adam. Prior to this, “man” was mineral life, plant life, animal life, but not human. When this ultimate aim of creational design had finally been achieved amidst myriads of life forms that had come into being in the course of it, the process of fashioning ever new and more complicated biological life forms came to its final conclusion, in the same manner as the growth process in an individual organism comes to an end at a certain point, when its anatomical proportions are in perfect balance and all its physiological systems have matured to full functionality. After the emergence of homo sapien sapien, to my knowledge no further definitive evolutionary development has been known; neither in man nor in other species.
Allah (s.w.t.), the Exalted Owner of all Existence had in His Infinite Wisdom instituted evolution as a means to an end, a production process as it were, to Create man, a being that was capable of communicating with Him consciously and out of his own free will, and thereby of fulfilling the ultimate purpose of Creation altogether, id est recognising and falling madly in love with the Creator. This is the meaning of this:
وَمَا خَلَقۡتُ ٱلۡجِنَّ وَٱلۡإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُونِ (٥٦)
I have only created jinn and men, that they may serve Me. (Surah adz-Dzariyat:56)
The word used for this relationship, “ya’budun” contains the meaning of bondage and worship, and Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (r.a.) interpreted “illa liya’budun” as meaning: “illa liya’rifun”, “except that they know Me”.
If man has attained gnosis of Allah (s.w.t.), if he has truly recognised his Lord, he cannot but worship Him with the utmost passion and devotion, and he also, not only realises his utter bondage, but cherishes it. By passing through those evolutionary phases, man became acquainted in the most intimate manner possible with those other life forms, videre licet he accumulated their genetic codes in his own DNA, or in other words he was endowed with genetic knowledge about them.
نَحۡنُ خَلَقۡنَـٰكُمۡ فَلَوۡلَا تُصَدِّقُونَ (٥٧) أَفَرَءَيۡتُم مَّا تُمۡنُونَ (٥٨) ءَأَنتُمۡ تَخۡلُقُونَهُ ۥۤ أَمۡ نَحۡنُ ٱلۡخَـٰلِقُونَ (٥٩) نَحۡنُ قَدَّرۡنَا بَيۡنَكُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتَ وَمَا نَحۡنُ بِمَسۡبُوقِينَ (٦٠) عَلَىٰٓ أَن نُّبَدِّلَ أَمۡثَـٰلَكُمۡ وَنُنشِئَكُمۡ فِى مَا لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ (٦١) وَلَقَدۡ عَلِمۡتُمُ ٱلنَّشۡأَةَ ٱلۡأُولَىٰ فَلَوۡلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ (٦٢)
It is We Who have Created you: why will you not witness the Truth? Do you then see? ― The (human seed) that you throw out, ― Is it you who create it, or are We the Creator? We have Decreed death to be your common lot, and We are not to be frustrated from changing your forms and creating you (again) in (forms) that you know not. And you certainly know already the first form of creation: why then do ye not celebrate His praises? (Surah al-Waqi’ah:57-62)
If one does reflect on the possibilities of the underlying reality of this Qur’anic testimony it becomes easy to understand that other religions, or one should rather say earlier expositions of the Divine Message, Sent to different cultural and social environments, have arrived at concepts like reincarnation and transmigration of souls.
Traditional Islamic teachings do not subscribe to the like of such concepts, because they are neither confirmed by the Book of Allah, nor by the teachings of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.); rather Allah (s.w.t.) has Chosen not to give away much of the secret of the spiritother than that He Breathed it of Himself into man. And this is probably the underlying reason that such concepts could never enter into Islamic ‘aqidah, as they are putting certain limitations on something that cannot be limited.
سُوۡرَةُ بنیٓ اسرآئیل / الإسرَاء
وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنۡ أَمۡرِ رَبِّى وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلۡعِلۡمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً۬ (٨٥)
They ask you concerning the Spirit (of inspiration). Say: “The Spirit (comes) by Command of my Lord of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you (O men!) (Surah al-Isra’:85)
All forms and phenomena in Creation have no other meaning than to reflect the Attributes of the Creator. Having genetically been taught the knowledge of the characteristics of his fellow Creation from which he evolved, man was Equipped with the means to rule over it, and having been illumined by the spirit that Allah (s.w.t.) breathed into him upon Perfecting him outwardly, the successful conclusion of his biological evolution, all the forms that he had passed through, from the inorganic mineral to the complex organisms, flared up with the lights of the Divine Attributes that they are the reflectors of, “teaching Adam their names”, which means revealing their meanings and reality, and thereby giving him the means of knowing and worshiping Allah (s.w.t.).
وَعَلَّمَ ءَادَمَ ٱلۡأَسۡمَآءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَہُمۡ عَلَى ٱلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنۢبِـُٔونِى بِأَسۡمَآءِ هَـٰٓؤُلَآءِ إِن كُنتُمۡ صَـٰدِقِينَ (٣١)
And He Taught Adam the names of all things; then He Placed them before the angels and Said, “Tell Me the names of these if you are right.” (Surah al-Baqarah:31)