Tag Archives: Yasmin Khan

Islam and evolution

Yasmin Khan’s Jan. 9, 2013 posting on the Guardian science blogs provides some fascinating insight and I strongly encourage this piece in its totality but for anyone who likes -previews, here’s the opening paragraph (Note: Links have been removed),

More than 850 delegates flocked to a seminal conference [Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution?]  in London on Saturday about the compatibility of modern evolutionary theory and Islamic theology – despite scaremongering and the refusal of Islamic student societies to participate. Determined organisers had overcome pressure to cancel by changing the venue from Imperial College to Logan Hall at the University of London. The event was the brainchild of the Deen Institute, which runs courses to promote critical thinking among Muslim students and kindle rational dialogue within Islam. The need for dialogue is urgent, because to date there has been little open discussion within British Muslim communities on this divisive subject. Recent debates in the US suggest that evolution is not as much of a problem theologically to Muslims as it is to Christian creationists, but there is work to be done to clarify the situation.

Here’s another snippet of what appears to have been a very lively dialogue (Note: Links have been removed),

Fatima Jackson, a biological anthropologist at the University of Maryland, offered a compelling alternative narrative. Nothing in biology would make sense outside the evolution paradigm, which she defined as a “basic organising tool”. She reconciled her faith with science by holding to the belief that the singularity of life is a manifestation of the unity of God. In her view, exploring natural phenomena helps to bring us closer to God. “Evolution doesn’t replace faith, it complements it.”

Each primate, she said, “has its own trajectory from a common ancestor which has diversified”. Humans are a part of the natural world and not a unique creation. “You can’t just push the fossils away,” she cautioned, citing an article by Sheikh al-Turayri, who asserts that the question of evolution is purely a matter for scientific inquiry.

The Deen Institute mentioned as the ‘brains’ behind this initiative seems to have burst onto the scene in June 2012, from a June 22, 2012 Deen Institute press release (scroll down the page to the first press release),

Adam Deen, Co-Founder and Director of the Institute, explains: “People of faith are viewed in some quarters as uneducated, blindly and unquestioningly following outmoded ideologies, which they have not chosen, but rather inherited. The Deen Institute is about challenging that view, about emphasising that faith is the result of rigorous critical thinking and intellectual thought.”

Through dialogue and discussion, The Deen Institute aims to foster engagement with society and contribute to highlighting the fact that Islam is as relevant today as it was fourteen hundred years ago.

The institute will provide academic courses, devised and taught by qualified and experienced instructors, aimed at bridging the gap between the precepts of the faith as enshrined in their historical context and their application to the contemporary era. Courses will center on ethics, philosophy, history and science, and the Institute will also host forums, roundtables and debates aimed at challenging prevailing assumptions. The contents will be summarized in regular publications and online.

The Deen Institute considers the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah) to be the ethical benchmark in the elaboration of an enlightened philosophy and this premise will be reflected in the organisation’s work. However, the Institute is not exclusive to any particular Muslim group or perspective and features eminent scholars from all backgrounds. It also welcomes students from all faiths or none.

The Deen Institute seeks to provide a platform from which shared concerns and questions can be openly discussed and examined, in an atmosphere of respect, civility and mutual understanding.

The Institute and this recent discussion of evolution and Islam puts me in mind of the  House of Wisdom (mentioned in my Sept. 24, 2009 posting in reference to the opening of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia),

The House of Wisdom existed from the 9th to 13th centuries CE (common era) in Baghdad. Originally intended as a library whose main purpose was for the translation of books from Persian into Arabic, the House of Wisdom became a centre for the study of the humanities and sciences that was unrivaled in its time. One of its great scholars (Al-Khawarizmi) is known as the ‘father of algebra’. They invented the library catalogue where books were organized according to subjects.

All the best to the Deen Institute and their continued dialogue efforts.