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THE QURAN ON HUMAN EVOLUTION: Insights from Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
Science and Religion
Dr. Junaid Hassan

The aim of religion is to purify humans morally, so that they can render themselves eligible for an eternal life with God (Quran 87:14-17)[i]. With this aim in view, various secular topics (pertaining to, for instance, science, philosophy, or history) are alluded to in the Quran to substantiate its argumentation. An example of such topics is prominent events in human evolution, which we are going to discuss here. The Quran (32:7-9)[ii] says:

 

And He (God) began the creation of man from (the extract of sticky)[iii] clay[iv]; thereafter, He made his progeny from the extract of a worthless fluid. Then, He proportioned him, blew into him of His subtle breath, and (thus) made for you ears (to hear), eyes (to see), and minds (to understand). (Yet) how seldom are you grateful!

 

He began the creation of man from (the extract of sticky) clay. This is a description of the first phase during which the physical/animal form of man was created. For this, the same process of creation that is now accomplished in the mother’s womb was accomplished in the earth’s belly. Thus, the soil components that enter our bodies as food and transform therein into gametes, thereby initiating the process of human production, underwent the same process within the mud of a river-bank or a seashore, producing the first life-germ. The mud surrounding this life-germ, or cell, dried up and formed an egg-like shell around it, which the Quran alludes to as ‘sounding clay’:

 

And it is We (God)[v] who created man out of dried, sounding clay of black (rotten) mud. (15:26)

 

He created man out of dried, sounding clay like the potter's. (55:14)

 

Within such an egg-like lodging, the various stages of prenatal development were accomplished. Eventually, there hatched out a fully-formed creature, capable of looking after itself. This creature should be called the animal-form of man. At other places, the Quran alludes to this process of creation as follows:

 

He is the one who produced you from the earth. (11:61)

 

And it is God who grew you from the earth in a meticulous manner. (71:17)

 

From this, it may be inferred that all other creatures were also first created likewise.

 

Thereafter, God made man’s progeny from the essence of a worthless fluid. This is the second phase in which the thus-formed creature or primitive humans, if you like, acquired the ability to produce their offspring by themselves. Thus, the same process that once took place in the earth’s belly began to take place in the mother’s womb. This was the time when man was still an animal, void of knowledge and understanding.

 

Then, God proportioned man and blew into him of His subtle breath. This is the third phase wherein the animal-form of man was further refined, perhaps through the breeding of many generations, until it became capable of receiving the human soul. The soul was subsequently bestowed upon two such animals, thereafter named Adam and Eve – the parents of all humans.[vi] Into them, the soul was instilled by an act of divine intervention, which the Quran refers to as the blowing of a subtle divine-breath. It is a metaphor, used to communicate, through best possible means, an event whose reality is beyond human knowledge, reason, or imagination (See verse 15:29 in [1]).

 

And (thus) God made for you ears (to hear), eyes (to see), and minds (to understand). This is the consequence of receiving the human soul, which conferred upon a mere animal knowledge and intellect, aesthetic and moral sense, and willpower to choose between right and wrong. These are the capacities that differentiate man from other animals and render him answerable to God for the choices he makes. The same divine breath is blown into every human foetus (i.e., animal-form) in the mother’s womb, which transforms it into a totally new creation (i.e., a human being; see 15:29 and 23:14 in [1] and narration no. 3208 in [2]).

 

This interpretation of Ghamidi amply explains the hitherto available scientific data. It endorses evolution roughly within and below the taxonomic rank ‘genus’, which is indisputable for extensive direct-evidence is available for that. However, it rejects common descent, i.e., the view that all species have descended from a common ancestor. This idea is disputable because, first, it is inferred from indirect or circumstantial evidence (genetic relatedness)[vii] and, second, part of the available evidence (paleontological record) does not support it, to say the least (For details, see Chapter 6 in [3]).

 

 

References

[1]        J. A. Ghamidi, Al-Bayān, 5 vols. Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2018.

[2]        M. ibn I. Bukhārī, Al-Jāmi‘ Al-Ṣaḥīh, 2nd ed. Riyadh: Dār Al-Salām, 1999.

[3]        J. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, 2nd ed. Oxford: Lion Books, 2009.

[4]        A. A. Islahi, Tadabbur-i Qur’ān, 9 vols. Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1985.

 

 

Acknowledgements 

I would like to thank my teachers Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and Sajid Hameed for explaining their views, answering my questions, and sharing their insights regarding the linguistic features of the Quran. I would also like to thank Razi Allah Lone for his useful suggestions. – J.H.

 

 

Appendix

A Summary of Sajid Hameed’s Interpretation of 32:7-9

 

Sajid Hameed (pers. comm.) does not agree with his teacher, Ghamidi, regarding the interpretation of 32:7-9. To appreciate his view, it is important to first look at his translation and interpretation of the following verses:

 

Indeed, the example of Jesus to God is like that of Adam. He created him from dust, so He said, ‘Be,’ and he began to materialise. (3:59)

 

According to Hameed, this verse implies that, contrary to Ghamidi’s view, Adam and Eve had no parents. Instead, they were directly produced from clay by a word (commandment) of God[viii], resulting in a physical process devised for their creation.

 

O people! Fear your Lord, who created you from a single (monadic) human being and from it created its mate. (4:1)

 

The word translated, as per Hameed’s suggestion, ‘(monadic) human being’ is 'نفس'. Hameed believes that this word refers to the first human life-germ or cell, which was created from clay and had the ability to self-replicate, i.e., divide into two to eventually evolve into Adam and Eve. (Ghamidi, however, believes that this word refers to the first human being; see footnote no. 6.)

 

And it is We (God) who created man out of the extract of clay (12); then, We placed him as a drop of life-germ in a safe lodging (13); then, We developed this drop into a clot of blood, the clot into a lump of flesh, the lump into bones, and clothed the bones with flesh; then, We developed him into another creature. (23:12-14)

 

These verses, says Hameed, describe the stages of human creation not only in the mother’s womb but also in the earth’s womb, when man was first created therein. Considering these expositions, his interpretation of 32:7-9 is as follows:

 

He began the creation of man from (the extract of) clay (7). Therewith, from the extract of a worthless fluid (extracted from the clay), He accomplished (the process of) his (first) procreation (8). Eventually, He completed him, and blew into him of His subtle breath. And (to appreciate all this) He endowed you with hearing, sight, and minds, (but) how seldom do you acknowledge! (32:7-9)

 

From the extract of clay (23:12), the first human life-germ evolved in compliance with God’s commandment (3:59). This life-germ or, specifically, something like a zygote-cell is referred to as ‘worthless fluid’ in 32:7. This father-cell, or a ‘(monadic) human being’ (4:1), then divided into two to initiate the formation of Adam from one cell and Eve from the other. The clay surrounding these cells dried up and hardened, forming an egg-like shell around them, as 23:13, 15:26, and 55:14 allude to. Within this ‘safe lodging’ (23:13), the prenatal development of Adam and Eve was accomplished, followed by conferring of human soul upon them (32:9). Eventually, Adam and Eve hatched out of their egg-like lodging(s), most probably at an age when they were able to look after themselves.

 

 


[i] All interpretations of the Quran are taken from [1], unless mentioned otherwise.

[ii] Keeping in view the context of these verses, human evolution is mentioned herein to remind man of a) God’s greatest favour upon him, i.e., life; b) the logical conclusion of such a life, i.e., the Day of Judgement; and c) the power of God to resurrect man therefor, after he is disintegrated into the earth. Thus, rather than turning away from God, denying His existence and the Final Judgement, worshipping other gods, or spreading mischief on His earth, man ought to be grateful to his Lord and lead a righteous life, striving for His blessings and salvation in the Hereafter (See [1] and [4]).

[iii] At another place (37:11), the adjective ‘sticky’ is explicitly used. And in 23:12, the Quran says, ‘It is We who created man out of the extract of clay.’ The original word, translated here as ‘extract’, is 'سُلاَلَة'; it refers to a thing obtained from basic components of something (Ghamidi, pers. comm). Ghamidi further clarified that this word cannot be used for creating something from clay by hand.

[iv] The Quran is revealed in literary (not scientific) language; thus, regardless of the subtle (scientific) differences among ‘clay’, ‘mud’, or ‘wet-soil’ etc., all such words adequately communicate the meaning of the word 'طين' used here and in several other verses.

The Quran (25:54, 21:30, and 24:45) also says that God created all living beings from water. This, some believe, is contradictory to what is said in the above verse. However, the original words are 'مِنْ الْمَاءِ' (“from water”), wherein 'مِن' (“from”) is used in the sense of ‘by using’, i.e., God created all living beings by means of or by using water as an essential building-block of life (Ghamidi, pers. comm).

[v] In Arabic, plural pronouns are used for singular nouns to express respect or eminence. Some other languages also share this stylistic feature, for instance, German, Urdu, and French.

[vi] In 3:59, the Quran says, ‘Indeed, the example of Jesus to God is like that of Adam. He created him from dust, so He said, "Be," and he began to materialise.’ This verse, as Ghamidi understands, implies that when Adam did not become God because of being born without both mother and father, then how could Jesus become God owing to a similar reason [1]? But we have seen above that, while explaining 32:7-9, Ghamidi suggests that Adam/Eve did have parents. When inquired about it, he explained that since the biological parents of Adam/Eve were not humans, here at 3:59, the Quran has not regarded them as normal parents but only as a phase in the evolution of Adam from dust.

However, a prominent student of Ghamidi, Sajid Hameed, believes that 3:59 indeed implies the non-existence of any (animal or human) parents of Adam/Eve. This prompted him to ponder upon 32:7-9 differently and come to a different understanding of it than Ghamidi’s (See Appendix).

Another verse of the Quran (4:1) is also worth mentioning here, which seems to corroborate the Biblical view that Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs. However, Ghamidi as well as several classical and modern exegetes do not think so. Literally, the verse reads, ‘O people! Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate.’ While interpreting it, Ghamidi’s mentor Amin Ahsan Islahi writes, ‘"خَلَقَ مِنها زَوجَها" (‘Created from it its mate’) means “created out of its own kind/genus its mate”. Although people have taken it in other meanings, but the basis of their opinion is extremely weak. The meaning we have taken is corroborated from the Quran itself. In Surah Naḥl (16:72), God says "وَاللَّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُم مِن أَنفُسِكُم أَزواجا" (‘And God made for you from yourselves wives’). Obviously, it can only mean that "God made for you out of your own kind your wives”. No one can take them in the meaning that wives are created out of husbands.’ [4, parentheses mine]

[vii] Instead of a common ancestor, Ghamidi’s view relates genetic relatedness to a common Creator.

[viii] Just as Jesus was produced by a commandment of God, resulting in his formation in Mary’s womb (See 4:171 in [1].)

   
 
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