Saturday, July 9, 2011


An excerpt from THE ISLAMIC THEORY OF EVOLUTION, T.O. Shanavas, BrainbowPress, 2011 (pp.107-114)

Pre-Darwinian Muslims and the Theory of Evolution

THROUGHOUT HISTORY, Muslims had long recog­nized that humans have an ancestral link to apes, and they taught this fact in schools which, at the time, were extensions of mosques. Nonetheless, Judeo-Christian individuals in the West were shocked when they first read Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859). Their immediate response was generally similar to that of the wife of the Bishop of Worcester, who after hearing that humans evolved from monkeys was reported to have exclaimed, “Descended from apes! My dear, let us hope it is not so; but if it is, that it does not become generally known.”1

The theory of evolution described by Darwin’s in The Origin of Species had once been widely known, however; his book was only a confirmation of a centuries-old Muslim theory of evolution through data that he had collected in his travels. John William Draper (1812-1883), a prominent scientist, evolutionist, and professor of chemis­try at New York University, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin. In 1838 he made the first photographic portrait of the moon through a chemical process.2 Among his many works are his History of the Intellectual Development of Europe and The History of the Conflict be­tween Religion and Science.

Six months after the publication of Darwin’s book, Professor Draper presented a paper at the meeting for the British Association for Advancement of Science entitled “The Intellectual Development of Europe Considered with Respect to the Views of Mr. Darwin.” During the discussion of this paper, Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford contemptuously inquired of Thomas Huxley, an eminent scientist and advocate of the theory of evolution, whether Huxley claimed his descent from monkeys “through his grandfather or grandmother.”3 & 4

Draper pointed out in The History of the Conflict between Religion and Science that the Fathers of the Church insisted upon a more re­cent origin of Creation. He explained such insistence as a justifi­able response to claims that God had neglected the human race as a whole in favor of “the few who were living in the closing ages of the world” for salvation. Draper explained that Christian teachings of the story of the perfect world of Adam served as a necessary premise for the fall of humanity, which in turn was a prerequisite for “the plan of salvation.” In Draper’s view:

“[Christian] (t)heological authorities were therefore constrained to look with disfavor on any attempt to carry back the origin of the earth to an epoch indefinitely remote, and on the Muhammadan theory of evolution [italics mine] which declared that human be­ings developed over a long period of time from lower forms of life to their present condition.”5

Draper, an independent western source, knew that Darwin’s theory of evolution was actually the Muslim theory of evolution. One finds it difficult to believe that European scientists, who were neighbors to the Muslims, were unaware of their theory of evolution when an American scientist, a contemporary of Darwin, knew that the theory originated among the Muslims. Is it possible that Europeans, who followed Roger Bacon’s advice to “learn Arabic and Arabic science for progress,”6 did not know about the Muslim theory of evolution?

In our own time, there is a sharp rejection of evolutionary stud­ies. The free press in the West, especially that of the United States, avoids the mention of the word “evolution” in some public school textbooks, fearing condemnation from some Western religious es­tablishments. For example, Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), begun in 1963 by the National Science Foundation, was finally published in 1970 by the Education Development Center as an introduction to evolution for elementary school students. “No commercial publisher would touch the project because religious groups would not endorse the teaching of this type of material,” until a small foundation agreed to publish it. By 1974, many school districts in forty-seven states had adopted MACOS, but in 1975, when organized opposition be­gan to assert itself, this sales rate plummeted seventy percent. “The National Science Foundation, which had provided $4.8 million to develop MACOS, suddenly was attacked in Congress. The House of Representatives passed the Bauman Amendment in 1975, giving Congress direct supervision and veto power over every single NSF research grant, [and] Nineteen eighty-one saw a drastic cut in federal support for social science research, and science education was virtu­ally eliminated from the federal budget.”7

Contrary to the current opposition to teaching evolution in American public schools, the doctrine of the gradual development of life, humankind, and other life forms was part of the curriculum in Muslim schools centuries before Darwin. Draper discredited the Western myth that Lamarck and Darwin were originators of the the­ory of evolution and declared that the Muslim theory was more ad­vanced than that of Darwin.

“Sometimes, not without surprise, we meet with ideas with which we flatter ourselves with having originated in our own times. Thus our modern doctrine of evolution and development were taught in their [Muslim] schools [italics mine]. In fact they carried them much farther than We are disposed to do, extending them even to inorganic or mineral things.”8

Most Western evolutionists agree that Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), influenced his grandson’s interest

in evolution.9 Little is written, however, about influences on their thoughts on the subject. Erasmus Darwin was a philosopher, a bota­nist, a poet, a physician, and the founding member of a philosophi­cal society called “the Lunatics.”10 In Erasmus’s day and long before, almost all philosophical and scientific books were translations or re­tellings of Arabic books from Muslim scientists and philosophers.11 Erasmus Darwin, being a philosopher and physician, most likely had discussed Muslim philosophical and scientific work during the meeting of “the Lunatics.” I believe, therefore, that the Darwins learned evolutionary biology from Muslim scientists, which is con­firmed by the history of medical education in Europe. Professor Draper describes the state of Islamic and European medicine before the Enlightenment of the West as follows:

“Saracens commenced the application of chemistry, both to the theory and practice of medicine, in the explanation of the func­tions of the human body and in the cure of diseases. Nor was their surgery behind their medicine . . . How different was all this from the state of things in Europe: the Christian peasants, fever-stricken or overtaken by accident, hied to the nearest saint-shrine and expected a miracle; the Spanish Moor relied on the prescrip­tion or lancet of his physician, or the bandage and the knife of his surgeon.”12

Will Durant, the American historian, informs us that the Manual for Oculists, written by the great Muslim occultist Ali ibn-Isa, was “used as text in Europe till the eighteenth century.” Durant also stresses the importance of the works of Abu Bekr Muhammad al-Razi (844–926), better known in Europe as Rhazes, who was one of many Muslim scientists and healers. According to Durant, Al-Razi’s twen­ty-volume book, Kitab al-Hawi (The Comprehensive Book), which covered all branches of medicine and was translated into Latin, was “probably a highly respected and frequently used medical textbook in the white world for several centuries” and was one of nine books used at the University of Paris in 1395. Another famous figure whose philosophical and Scientific contributions are illuminated by Durant is Abu Ali al-Husein ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980–1037), whose books were encyclopedias of knowledge that included studies in math­ematics, physics, physiology, hygiene, therapy, pharmacology, phi­losophy, metaphysics, theology, economics, politics, and music. His books were taught as main texts in “the universities of Montpellier and Louvain till the middle of the seventeenth century.”13 Two other Muslim physicians who influenced Europe and European medicine were Abu Bekr ibn Tufail (Abubacer) (1107–1185) and his student Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126–1298). Ibn Rushd wrote an encyclopedia of medicine (Kitab al-Kulliyat fi-l-tibb) that was translated into Latin and taught in Christian universities. All Muslim physicians were evolutionists, and Western historians have acknowledged the fact that books of medicine written by phy­sicians of the Golden Age of Islam served as the standard textbooks used in all medical schools in Europe until the eighteenth century. Therefore, Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882), grandfather and father, Erasmus and Robert Darwin, both physicians, were undeniably in­fluenced by the above-mentioned textbooks.

Lastly, the first Latin translation of Abu Bakr ibn Tufail’s The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan (The Journey of the Soul) by Edward Pocock, Jr. was published in Oxford in 1671. Several editions of this work ap­peared in the years from 1671 to 1700. Then, in 1708, Simon Okley published the first English translation, and Dutch, German, French translations were made in eighteenth and nineteenth century.14 The publication of many editions and different translations of this book in England and other parts of Europe in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries suggest that it was a very popular book; the probability is great, therefore, that Charles Darwin, his father, and his grand­father, all read it. Moreover, Abu Bakr ibn Tufail’s The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan (The Journey of the Soul) is an allegorical tale of the theory of evolution of life and human society. Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature15 is mostly a poetic rendition in English of Tufail’s celebrated work.

Clearly, Erasmus and Robert Darwin most likely learned about the Muslim theory of evolution from the translations of Muslim books. A slight chance exists that these erudite men did not know that the authors of their textbooks of medicine and philosophical essays were evolutionists. In that case, such ignorance can only be explained as an unlikely historical oddity. If, as is far more likely, they did learn about evolution from Muslim scholars, their failure to credit their sources appears to be an intentional plan to obscure the pioneering Islamic contributions to the study of evolution. The evidence pre­sented above makes the second premise more likely.

Muslims nowadays, like many non-Muslims in the West, resist the idea of evolution. Curiously, these are the same Muslims who boast about the scientific contributions made by their ancestors. They gleefully ask others whether they have heard about Al-Biruni, who, like Bacon, wrote in his Vestiges of the Past (Atharul- Baqiya), “We must clear our minds . . . from all causes that blind people to the truth—old custom, party, spirit, personal rivalry or passion, the desire for influence.”16 Muslims never fail to remind us that Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine (Qanun-fi-l-Tibb) was the chief textbook of medicine in European medical schools until the seventeenth cen­tury,17 and continue to praise al-Haitham’s contributions to science. Yet if they were told that these great scientists, of whom they are rightfully so proud, were evolutionists, they would be amazed and annoyed.

Most Muslims in the world believe that Adam and Eve were created in Paradise. They have been indoctrinated with the Judeo-Christian belief that God created Adam, then created Eve from Adam’s rib. Jews and Christians who accepted Islam early in its history imported this theological doctrine into Islam. We shall discuss later how this Judeo-Christian story of the ex nihilo creation of Adam and subse­quent creation of Eve was transplanted into Islamic faith. First, how­ever, a review of early Muslim scholarly works will show that these scholars were evolutionists and did not find any conflict between their faith and the theory of evolution.

Ibn Khaldun, the most famous Muslim historiographer and social scientist, who wrote his Muqaddimah [An Introduction to History] over 400 years before Charles Darwin, states:

“One should then look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs, and seedless plants. last stage of plants such as palms and vines is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power to touch. The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group. The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a grad­ual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man (after the world of monkeys). This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.”18

The reference in the above passage to the “first stage of man” clearly show that Ibn Khaldun knew that other hominoid species, more advanced than the monkey but not equal to modern man, were created before modern man emerged. Moreover, he states that he ar­rived at his conclusion from physical observation. As we have seen in the section on uniformitarianism, Ibn Khaldun believed that the human races originated as a result of natural causes. According to the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun and other Muslims believed that a series of transmutations of one species into another over a long pe­riod of time resulted in the gradual evolution of life, from primitive organisms into a bush with numerous branches. Thus, life forms are not independently created but are evolutionary products from ances­tral species.

Ibn Khaldun concludes his view on the origin of the races as fol­lows: “Physical circumstances and the environment are subject to changes that affect later generations; they do not necessarily remain unchanged.”19 According to him, species are not fixed but subject to changes with a changing environment. Even human species are sub­ject to change. He believed that the physical characteristics of organ­isms are determined by their “essence.” He maintained that active nature (kiyan) “has the ability to generate substances and change essences”20 and that earthly existence is a continuum of transforma­tions of essences that occur in stages in a natural order of ascent and descent. He describes the transformation of species into other spe­cies as a result of modification of essence (gene) by nature:

“The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with the palms and vines (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.”21

If he were writing today, Ibn Khaldun would replace the word es­sences with the term “genes” or “DNA.” He would be saying: “Nature prepares the genotype (essence) of species to be transformed into the genotype (essence) of the adjacent species.” Similarly, instead of saying “transformed into the next stage by nature,” he would say: “Gradual evolution can be explained in terms of small genetic changes (mutation) in the species and by the ordering of this genetic variation by natural selection.”

1. Blackmore, Vernon., Page, Andrew. Evolution the Great Debate, Illinois: Lion Publishing Company, 1989, p. 106.
2. Ibid. 102
3. Gould, Stephen Jay. “Knight Takes Bishop?” Natural History, (May 1986), p. 18.
4. Lucas, J. R. Historical Journal, XXII (1979), p. 102
5. Draper, John William. The Conflict between Religion and Science, pp. 187–188.
6. Briffault, Dr.Robert. The Making of Mankind, p. 201.
7. Godfrey, Laurie R (ed.). Scientists Confront Creationism, “Scopes and Beyond: Antievolution and American Culture,” Cole, John R, p. 25–27.
8. Draper, John William. The Conflict between Religion and Science. p. 118.
9. Mayr, Ernst. One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought, p. 3.
10. Miller, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Evolution, p. 116.
11. Hitti, Philip K. History of Arabs, p. 588.
12. Draper, William John. The Intellectual Development of Europe, Vol. 2, pp. 39–40.
13. Durant, Will. The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, p. 246-249.
14. Tufail, Abu Bakr Muhammad. Hai bin Yaqzan (The Journey of The Soul), pp. vi–vii.
16. Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, p. 243.
17. Ibid. 249.
18. Khaldun, Ibn. The Muqaddimah, trans. by Franz Rosenthal, Vol. 1, p. 195.
19. Ibid. Vol. 1, p. 173.
20. Ibid. Vol. 3. p. 238
21. Ibid. Vol. 2, p. 422–423.


  1. The title of the extracted chapter comes across as somewhat misleading, but nonetheless presents an interesting take. Likely authored by a contemporary, western-trained mind, who makes some rather bold-faced leaps from some truths and falls somewhat short of carrying aloft the presumed objective of portraying a comprehensive reality.

    For eg., it begins with, 'Throughout history...' conveniently failing to mention what era of whose history the reference is to. Nor does the article mention which culture of Islam the notables it proceeds to then quote quite liberally, variously hail from. So when the matter of such "facts" being taught in, '...schools which, at the time, were extensions of mosques...' is slid earlier on into the text, the reader is left oblivious as to the coordinates that would place both the chapter, as well its authorship within a context of geographic locale, and observable culture; let alone relative, historical time. Arguably, such statements fail the premises of sound Historical narrative.

    Nonetheless, the above is only an observation based on an extract. The full context may well be addressed in other areas of the book. Yet, if it is, the author has such responsibility to make such connection "reader friendly".

    The interesting aspect is that for eg., when one goes through Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yuqzan, apart from the allegory that this extract correctly captures, one cannot but realize how such a work would have also made for the prototype to the story of Robinson Cruseau! Written, as this latter work was, at the dawn of the industrial era, in imperialist times, its escapist premise makes sense. And who at the time cared about plagiarism? The masses in the industrial era were all being slowly but surely subjugated to the mechanical workings of homogenized production; enslaved to horrendous conditions of making a living, and works of the genre of Robinson Cruseau, The Blue Lagoon, Swiss Family Robinson, etc., all presented the industrial era psyche a moment of escape from reality - analogous to a modern day cruise of sorts.

    The admirable aspect of a work such as the one extracted is that it makes connections that many reasonably well read Muslims know to be true, or at least have heard about, but which are only just beginning to come into the light of day for most western minds. Average prejudice about such takes though is still quite well entrenched. People are usually quite content to live in the bliss of ignorance, as long as material comfort lulls one into the delusion of emotional security.


  2. Interesting essay, which however seems to disagree with the most basic tenet of the Quran and thus Islam, that Adam and Eve were created by Allah. One can certainly, in the process of metaphorizing the Book, explain divine creation as comprising/ meaning the process of evolution succinctly described, and claim that since everything is divinely created, evolution is just another facet or another word for creation.
    That is however a huge leap to take that could be at best erroneous and at worst blasphemous. No Muslim scholar that I know of, at least modern ones, has embraced the current theory of evolution as fully acceptable. As for me, I do believe in it excepting humanity. By that I mean that the world around us, including minerals, animals and plants is the result of evolution, as Allah created the earth for man, whom He then created out of clay and blew His spirit into.

  3. One of the comments states: "No Muslim scholar that I know of, at least modern ones, has embraced the current theory of evolution as fully acceptable."

    I am yet to meet one Muslim scholar or Imam who has any basic training in biology. So, it is not surprising not to find an Imam who accept the theory of evolution. I read the book. Every Muslim Muslim must read the book.

  4. this book is a total fabrication if you read the total of the 555 pages of Ibn Khaldon you will not even find the word monkey existed, and not only that the text is posted in this article or book as a false translation not fabrication a fabrication this is the text as it is in Arabic I'm going to post it "الآثار فيها ثم انظر إلى عالم التكوين كيف ابتدأ
    من المعادن ثم النبات ثم الحيوان على هيئة بديعة من التدريج آخر أفق المعادن متصل بأول أفق النبات مثل
    الحشائش و ما لا بذر له و آخر أفق النبات مثل النخل و الكرم متصل بأول أفق الحيوان مثل الحلزون و
    الصدف و لم يوجد لهما إلا قوة اللمس فقط و معنى الاتصال في هذه المكونات أن آخر أفق منها مستعد
    بالاستعداد الغريب لأن يصير أول أفق الذي بعده و اتسع عالم الحيوان و تعددت أنواعه و انتهى في
    تدريج التكوين إلى الإنسان صاحب الفكر و الروية ترتفع إليه من عالم القدرة الذي اجتمع فيه الحس و
    الإدراك و لم ينته إلى الروية و الفكر بالفعل و كان ذلك أول أفق من الإنسان بعده و هذا غاية شهودنا
    ثم إنا نجد في العوالم على اختلافها آثاراً متنوعةً ففي عالم الحس آثار من حركات الأفلاك و العناصر و في
    عالم التكوين آثار من حركة النمو و الإدراك تشهد كلها بأن لها مؤثراً مبايناً للأجسام فهو روحاني و
    يتصل بالمكونات لوجود اتصال هذا العالم في و جودها و لذلك هو النفس المدركة و المحركة و لا بد
    فوقها من وجود آخر يعطيها قوى الإدراك و الحركة و ي

    what Ib Khaldon is saying is that Allah he created everything in stages as the Qur'an & Hadith mention on six days starting from the sand and, mountains, trees and plants ending with Adam and that his base on the prophet of Islam teaching

    Abu Haraira reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) took hold of my hands and said: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday and He created the mountains on Sunday and He created the trees on Monday and He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday and created light on Wednesday and lie caused the animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam (peace be upon him) after 'Asr on Friday;the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, i. e. between afternoon and night. (bukhari ,Book #039, Hadith #6707)

    I found a great book to learn about Islam it's called "the deception of Allah"



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.