I have just finally got round to watching Yasir Qadhi’s views on human evolution as espoused at the Deen Institute’s conference a couple of weeks ago. I have been sent a number of emails over the past week linking to a video of his speech but they have always come up with a copyright violation message. However, yesterday ‘Uthman posted a link to a Youtube video that contained a watchable video (I don’t know if it will still be up by the time you read this though!).
Anyway, I found the video to be extremely disappointing for the following reasons:
1) Yasir Qadhi made no attempt whatsoever to address the scientific arguments that so strongly point to humans having a common ancestor with apes. At the outset he said he would limit himself to a theological discussion based on Islamic scriptures. Refusing to engage with the science is hardly an approach that is going to inspire much confidence.
2) It was clear that Qadhi is a scriptural literalist when it comes to the story of Adam in the Qur’an. He simply refused to countenance that the story of Adam could be a metaphor for the evolution of free will (and hence a sense of morality) in humankind and that a more symbolic interpretation was valid. That closed mindedness was very worrying. As I have noted previously, senior Muslim scholars such as Professor Muhammad Abdel Haleem and Muhammad Hamidullah have clearly stated that the story of Adam can indeed be interpreted symbolically.
3) Yasir Qadhi denied that the great 14th century Muslim jurist Ibn Khaldun entertained the possibility of evolution. However, as I quoted yesterday, Ibn Khaldun appeared to have done just that and was clearly even willing to support the idea of human evolution. Here is a quote from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah:
It should be known that we – May God guide you and us – notice that this world with all the created things in it has a certain order and solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless…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 to reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of the monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking.
It is worth adding here that Darwin’s theory stands or falls on the evidence behind it. It does not require that any particular Muslim scholar accepts it in order to be true or not. The only reason for quoting Ibn Khaldun is not to show that evolution is true – that should be judged on the facts which really speak for themselves – but to show that Muslim scholars in the past often possessed greater vision and intelligence than those today.
4) Qadhi at the end of his talk appeared to allow for the acceptance of evolution of all beings except for human beings. That is a very unscientific approach. You cannot simply and arbitrarily rule out the evolution of human beings because of your interpretation of religious scriptures. Apart from contradicting fossil and DNA evidence which clearly show that humans have evolved just as all other living organisms, such a worldview would kill scientific research into human origins in Muslim countries. In short, Qadhi is a living example of the huge danger to scientific progress if religious bigots are able to influence the educational curriculum of countries.
To those who may be superficially attracted to Yasir Qadhi’s religious arguments I would simply ask them to compare Qadhi’s talk with the clear sighted and evidence based approach of a scientist like Professor Kenneth Miller. This clip is less than five minutes long: