(UNDATED) Growing up in Pakistan, Salman Hameed navigated freely between his Muslim beliefs and his secular studies. Now, as an assistant professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, he teaches about the scientific origins of the universe, including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
But in recent visits to his homeland, Hameed, 38, has discovered a contrary theory rapidly gaining ground: Islamic creationism.
Championed by prolific Turkish author Harun Yahya, this growing movement surprised Western scientists and academics in 2007, when they began receiving unsolicited copies of Yahya’s colorful, 850-page “Atlas of Creation.” In response, Hameed wrote “Bracing for Islamic Creationism” in the December 2008 issue of the journal Science.

Some answers have been edited for length and content.
Q: How did Islamic creationism come to your attention?
A: When I was visiting Pakistan in the late 1990s, I started seeing Harun Yahya’s work everywhere, with special sections in very good bookstores devoted to his books. These are glossy, expensive books, sold very cheaply. In Pakistan, for kids going to school, the textbooks are not as good, in terms of the paper. That can, potentially, be a problem.
Q: How does Islamic creationism differ from the traditional Christian views on the issue?
A: Young-earth creationism — the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old — is completely missing in the Muslim world. The Quran is ambiguous — it deals with a six-day creationism, but at one place it said the length of a day may be 10,000 years, at another point it says the length of each day may be 50,000 days. So, Muslims had accepted the scientific answer to the age of the earth, which is in billions of years. There was no conflict with scientists.
Q: Does this difference reflect that the Quran was revealed 2,000 years after Genesis, when people had more scientific knowledge about the world?
A: That’s more of a question for the Quranic scholars. The Quran simply doesn’t have creation accounts laid out, as in the book of Genesis. A lot of biblical scholars say Genesis can be interpreted in different ways; with the Quran, the creation accounts are more ambiguous.
Q: How was Darwin’s theory of evolution originally received by Muslims?
A: The Quran has a lot of detail about the creation of Adam. It says Adam was created out of dirt, but in another place it talks about life being created from water. People can use their imaginations. You can bring in a theistic evolutionary theory — that God used evolutionary processes to create Adam.
After the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” a lot of reformers thought evolution can still be worked out in an Islamic context, so the debate did not play a central role in science and religion in the Muslim world. It’s happening now, though.
Q: Why is creationism gaining ground in the Muslim world?
A: Now you have more access to the Internet, to false and true information about evolution. In the next five to 10 years, views will solidify over what is the perspective of Islam regarding evolution. We do not have a central pope-like authority, especially in Sunni Islam, and there are different parties jockeying to be spokespersons. At the present time, the most dominant voice we have is from creationists like Harun Yahya, defining evolution as a Western propaganda or worse, linking it purely with atheism. For Muslims, if evolution gets equated with atheism, they will reject it because religion plays a central role in their culture.
Q: There are Christians all over the world who reject evolution. Why is it so problematic if more Muslims do, too?
A: The danger is that the Muslim world is already behind in scientific development. The 20th century was the century of physics, but the 21st century is going to be the century of biotechnology. If Muslims reject evolution — we’re talking about one-sixth of the world’s population — that will be detrimental to the development of science and of those countries themselves.
Q: What do you propose should be done to promote evolution in the Muslim world?
A: Educators and scientists should stand up and present it as a fact of science, independent of one’s beliefs. You can always say, if you are a believer, the process either was set forward by God, or the laws of natural selection were decided by God. If evolution gets defined in the context of atheism, a vast majority of the Muslim population may end up rejecting evolution. The key point to make is that Islam and science are compatible.
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved.No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.
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