Are We Ignoring Muslim Creationism?
by Salman Hameed
Muslim creationism is not being ignored, but I think our perspective in the United States is definitely skewed. Often, we focus on the rantings of Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar, who goes by the name of Harun Yahya. He loves controversy and publicity—especially when he is mentioned in newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, or The London Times. He then uses this to frame his brand of simplistic creationism (borrowed from U.S. creationists) as a battle against the West. In fact, much of his efforts have been aimed at Muslim diasporas in the West.
But the actual situation is quite complex. First, there is tremendous diversity in the Muslim world. The political, cultural, and social factors that shape evolution-creation debates are quite different in Turkey as compared to Pakistan, or in Egypt as compared to Malaysia or the sub-Saharan Muslim Africa, or in majority Shi’a Iran. Painting with a broad brush may lead us to generalities that may not exist in reality.
Second, for the most part, evolution is a relatively new topic for the majority of Muslims. Increasing access to the internet and rising education levels is indeed bringing this topic to the attention of a larger population, but as yet, there is no consensus position. This is especially true in the majority Sunni Islam, where there is no Pope-like central authority figure. Thus, there are several social groups vying to interpret evolution’s place in Islam—from biologists and medical doctors to religious scholars and political leaders. Indeed, some have found ways to accept evolution in the context of Islam, and some reject evolution outright. But it is a complex landscape for which we don’t, as yet, have much information. But by overemphasizing the importance of vocal creationists like Harun Yahya, we may inadvertently be strengthening their position.
Third, we may be making the mistake of seeing evolution-creation issues in the Muslim world through the lens of creation battles in the U.S. For example, the court cases in the U.S. have focused on the separation of church and state—and we often highlight the “religion” in creationism. This type of separation can be seen in Turkey (also the scene of creation battles)—but not necessarily in other Muslim states. For example, evolution is presented as a fact of science in 11th and 12th grade biology textbooks in Pakistan. However, the epigraph of the chapter on evolution is a verse from the Qu’ran. The science text itself has no religious references. Perhaps it is this accommodation that makes it acceptable to include evolution as a fact of science. To be sure, human evolution is not mentioned at all—neither in opposition nor in support. It is simply ignored.
Thus, we have to appreciate these complexities and understand how Muslims are dealing with evolution beyond the most vocal creationists. It is possible that a vast majority of Muslims will en masse reject evolution. But we are not there yet and it is equally likely that Muslims will find ways to accept evolution—something that many religions, such as the Catholic Church or Reform Judaism, have already done. How is it all going to turn out? We don’t know. Stay tuned.
Salman Hameed is an assistant professor of Integrated Science and Humanities at Hampshire College. He also runs the science-and-religion blog Irtiqa at http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/