Manufacturing ImpostureThe View on the Theory of Evolution through the Prism of Islam and Science
by Abdelhaq M Hamza
Today’s world cannot be conceived without the World Wide Web, the world of the Millennials: an ocean of information where one can easily drown while seeking knowledge, an impossible quest if one is not equipped with traditional tools and values that allow the identification of the invariants. But then again, in an era dominated by the internet and the indexing of scholarship, one is led to believe that “knowledge is what is left when the internet is down,” and one is not sure as to how much is really left, especially when ‘apprentice sorcerers’ have taken control of the keyboard, the mouse and the touchscreen.
The object of the present paper is to discuss some of the literature available on the net that is directly relevant to the field of Islam and Science. More specifically, we will focus on the misinterpretation of traditional texts by a new wave of Muslim writers, who have sought to discredit the conventional wisdom by suggesting that science alone, modern science, should dictate the new order. Most, if not the majority should we say, of these Muslim writers have very little background in the hard sciences, and those who do have some have ceased to conduct research and have become armchair scientists claiming absolute expertise in science, philosophy and theology, erudite in the science of imposture. The road to scholarship is a thorny road; it takes a lot of efforts, constant vigilance, and all the patience one has to stay on this road: “Knowledge will not give you part of it, until you give it all of you”. The quantification of scholarship has been conducted through indexing, and like any other quantification system indexing has some serious loopholes that have yet to be plugged.
In an essay entitled “How to become a celebrity scientific expert,” Dorothy Bishop, a professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford university, captures a rampant phenomenon in academia, and suggests a list of six golden rules, if followed, can secure fame and celebrity, highly sought commodities by certain species of academicians and journalists. The rules are simple and clear:
- Establish your credentials;
- Find a controversial topic;
- Specify a causal chain;
- Avoid rigorous peer review;
- Assemble supportive evidence;
- Anticipate criticism but don’t let it worry you.
Gisèle Sapiro, on the French side, writes in the French newspaper Le Monde:
“… Or, ce qui caractérise les intellectuels médiatiques, c’est précisément qu’ils sont capables de parler de tout sans être spécialistes de rien. Pénétrés de leur importance, ils donnent leur avis sur tous les sujets, par conviction sans doute, mais aussi et surtout pour conserver leur visibilité. Car la visibilité médiatique n’est pas donnée, elle se construit, elle s’entretient. Aussi sont-ils prompts à s’attaquer les uns les autres pour tenir en haleine les médias et le public, même si force est de constater qu’on est loin du panache d’un duel entre Mauriac et Camus. …”.
which can be translated as:
“… What characterizes media intellectuals is precisely that they are able to talk about everything without being specialists in anything. Imbued by their importance, they give their opinion on all the subjects, by conviction without doubt, but also and especially to maintain their visibility. Because media visibility is not given, it is built, it is maintained. So, they are quick to attack each other to hold the media and the public in suspense, even if it is clear that we are far from the excitement of a duel between Mauriac and Camus …”
We will argue and demonstrate in what follows that the field of Islam and Science has been monopolized by a group of Muslims who are not necessarily the most qualified people to address the complex issues raised in the domains of Science, Philosophy and Theology, yet they have become the most visible in the virtual space by adopting the Bishop rules cited above. Often, one can easily identify all the symptoms of the Dorothy Bishop syndrome; indeed, most of the literature available on Islam and Science, in general, is not peer reviewed and often finds a quick way to readers through multimedia. Moreover, a great deal of activity in the cyberworld is financed by specific foundations, which are not necessarily interested in exposing various scholarly positions on the subject of Islam and Science; This constitutes a major problem for as far as scholarship is concerned. In particular, we will focus on what we believe has been a systematic case of apophenia: A case driven by a group of Muslim modernists writing about science subjects and suggesting that traditional manuscripts contain the seeds for modern theories, and in particular the theory of evolution; manuscripts from the ninth century onwards are cited to support ideas or should I say memes and/or agendas. These same modernists have expressed themselves very loudly against any type of ‘concordism’ (I’jaz el-I’lmi) in Islam. We should clarify, before going any further in our analysis, that we have adopted Malek Bennabi’s position on the ‘Modernist Movement’. We should also point out that Seyyed Hossein Nasr has a position similar to Malek Bennabi’s on the ‘Modernist Movement’, see for example ‘The Library of Living Philosophers’
Let us take a step back and analyze what is available on the net on the subject of Islam and Science and try to identify the drivers and the deliverables. In what follows, we will try and deconstruct the arguments put forth by the Muslim modernists, who claim that early Muslim manuscripts going as far back as the ninth century contain ideas that are coherent with the theory of biological evolution as we understand it in this early part of the twenty first century. The following references can be consulted for accuracy for as far as the use of traditional texts written by Muslims to justify the presence of biological evolutionary ideas, in the modern sense.
Nidhal Guessoum in an interview with Rachael Kohn states:
“A number of thinkers and scientists of the golden age of Islam were specialists of zoology, of plants, of humans, of history, of sociology, etc. … and observed and noted that there are signs of evolution, that there are signs of adaptability, that there are signs of similarities between apes and humans for example, or between certain species of animal…
Al Jahiz [776-869], a very well-known thinker and writer has this huge book called The Book of Animals, which seemed to express what I call proto Lamarckian views that the environment seems to push a species to adapt by changing some of its features and transforming some of its organs and thereby evolving”.
Kohn goes on to write:
“The professor, who spoke on ‘Creationism in the Muslim World’, is keenly aware that the scientific aspirations of Al-Jahiz and other Muslim thinkers, including the 13th century poet Jalal Adin Rumi, who wrote a poem about the evolution of humans from inanimate matter through to plants and animals, not only collapsed in subsequent centuries, but by the second half of the 20th century were actively replaced by fundamentalists thinkers”.
More recently, Nidhal Guessoum in an article on the Moon as a physical object and reference to various physical phenomena, published in Arab News, cites Rumi completely out of context:
“Luna has also been a favorite motif of poets. For example, the great Sufi master and poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi said: “Who could be so lucky? Who comes to a lake for water and sees the reflection of the Moon?” And: “At night, I open the window and ask the Moon to come and press its face against mine. Breathe into me. Close the language-door and open the love-window. The Moon won’t use the door, only the window.””
Guessoum exposes his lack of sensitivity for the esoteric literature. The Moon of Rumi has nothing to do with the Moon of the empiricist that Guessoum is.
In a recent lecture at the ‘Institut du Monde Arabe’ entitled “Dialogue entre Islam et Science,” Ines Safi suggests that Ibn Khaldun tells us in his ‘Muqqadimah’ about common ancestry with monkeys as a matter of fact.
The internet is littered with statements like Ines Safi’s and Guessoum’s suggesting that the theory of evolution has seeds in the traditional Islamic texts.
Salman Hameed, who has made the theory of evolution a stock in trade, writes:
“There are many others, however, who accept various interpretations of evolution. Often, this acceptance is justified in the context of the Koran or by crediting the theory of medieval philosophers. For example, the South Asian philosopher and poet, Mohammed Iqbal, while accepting evolution reluctantly, credited 9th century philosopher, Al Jahiz for the idea of evolution and Ibn-Maskawaih, in the 11th century, as the “first Muslim thinker to give a clear and in many respects a thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man” (5). Indeed, a few medieval Muslim philosophers elaborated on the theories of common descent known at the time, but none postulated any process similar to natural selection”.
Rana Dajani , the biologist in house, writes in various news items:
“Before Darwin, al-Jahiz and others proposed rudimentary evolutionary theories in the ninth century”.
In an essay, written as a contribution to a Task Force study sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, Rana Dajani writes:
“Scientists during the Islamic civilization have been doing just that producing a civilization where scientific discoveries flourished. Amongst the scholars and scientists Ikhwan Al-Safa, Al Jahez and Ibn Khaldoun produced theories similar although rudimentary to the theory of evolution as we know it today (1).
Al Rumi very nicely described his theory of evolution in his poem …”.
Usama Hassan , The Quilliam foundation representative, and according to whom Evolution is a “Muslim Theory,” writes on various slides of a presentation on the subject of Islam and the theory of evolution:
- Al-Jahiz (9th century, 776-869) & the “Struggle for Existence”
- Influence of environment on animal survival in his magnum opus, Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals)
- Came up with a crude Lamarckism, that was later replaced by Darwinian evolution
- “dogs, foxes & wolves must have descended from a common ancestor” (4:23, cf. Jim al-Khalili, Pathfinders, p. 76)
- Understood eco-systems, Understood natural selection
- Understood adaptation (Rebecca Stott, Darwin’s Ghosts, Chapter 3)
- Ibn Miskawayh & the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa’) (Persia, 10th century)
- Mineral → Plant → Animal → (Monkey) → Human
- Source: Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, famous 20th century Hadith scholar
- Ibn Khaldun (14Th Century, d. 1408)
“One should then look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch. The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group … 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. At this point we come to the first stage of man. This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.”
- Rumi (poem from Masnavi)
- ‘Allamah Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.”
From these few references, we notice the common references to Al-Jahiz, Ikhwan el-Safa, Ibn-Maskawaih, Rumi and Ibn-Khaldun; though none of these references point to the actual sources and none are cited within their actual and proper contexts. We shall address each of these references by going back to the actual sources and by deconstructing the arguments of the Muslim modernists.
We will dedicate a section to ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’ by al-Jahiz, since he is cited by all those who claim that his ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’ describes clearly that which parallels the modern theory of evolution. We will also dedicate a section to ‘Ikhwan el-Safa’, ‘The Brethren of Purity’, who wrote fifty-one or fifty-two Epistles some of which on religious and conventional sciences. A thorough discussion of a passage in Rumi’s Mathnawi is necessary, for some claim it is clear evidence for an argument for biological evolution. A close look at the work of Ibn Miskawaih ‘Al-Fawz al-Asghar’ reveals yet another misreading of the traditional manuscripts. In the end we wrap up this document with a discussion on scholarship in a field plagued with mediocre contributions. We will conclude after a thorough analysis of the texts cited that the Muslim modernists have been manufacturing mediocrity and imposture for they either take deliberately the texts out of their respective contexts or they have not read the sources and fail the very scholarship they pretend to hold.
The Theory of Evolution and its Muslim Apprentices
Reading the literature published over the past two decades on Islam and Science, one is led to conclude that apophenia has not spared some Muslim writers, who seem to perceive connections and meaning in various classical texts on various science subjects, and especially evolutionary biology while at the same time condemning any type of concordism ‘I’jaz I’lmi’.
In the next few subsections, we will attempt to deconstruct some of the common arguments brought forth by various Muslim writers who suggest that some classical texts contain genuine thought on very modern science subjects. We shall focus primarily on the abuse of classical texts that are described as Islamic sources supporting modern theories.
Reading Evolution in Rumi’s Poem
The poetry of Djalaleddine Rumi , especially his ‘Mathnawi’, has been read for many centuries, and continues to attract flocks of people from various backgrounds and ideologies. But one should remind readers that Rumi was a Muslim who expressed his belief through mystic poetry that is anchored in the creed (A’qida) of Islam. To read in Rumi’s text that which goes against the very Islamic A’qida is to have misread Rumi, who subscribed to the ‘Hanafi’ school of jurisprudence. In an article that appeared in the New Yorker on January 5, 2017, Rozina Ali writes:
“Rumi himself described the “Masnavi” as “the roots of the roots of religion”—meaning Islam—“and the explainer of Koran.” And yet little trace of the religion exists in the translations that sell so well in the United States. “The Rumi that people love is very beautiful in English, and the price you pay is to cut the culture and religion,” Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early Sufism at Rutgers, told me recently.”
Rozina Ali continues and writes in her New Yorker’s article on Rumi:
“In the twentieth century, a succession of prominent translators—among them R. A. Nicholson, A. J. Arberry, and Annemarie Schimmel—strengthened Rumi’s presence in the English-language canon. But it’s Barks (Coleman Barks) who vastly expanded Rumi’s readership. He is not a translator so much as an interpreter: he does not read or write Persian. Instead, he transforms nineteenth-century translations into American verse…
In our conversation, Barks described Rumi’s poetry as “the mystery of opening the heart,” a thing that, he told me, “you can’t say in language.” In order to get at that inexpressible thing, he has taken some liberties with Rumi’s work. For one thing, he has minimized references to Islam. Consider the famous poem “Like This.” Arberry translates one of its lines, rather faithfully, as “Whoever asks you about the Houris, show (your) face (and say) ‘Like this.’ ” Houris are virgins promised in Paradise in Islam. Barks avoids even the literal translation of that word; in his version, the line becomes, “If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say, Like this.” The religious context is gone. And yet, elsewhere in the same poem, Barks keeps references to Jesus and Joseph. When I asked him about this, he told me that he couldn’t recall if he had made a deliberate choice to remove Islamic references. “I was brought up Presbyterian,” he said. “I used to memorize Bible verses, and I know the New Testament more than I know the Koran.” He added, “The Koran is hard to read …
Rumi used the Koran, Hadiths, and religion in an explorative way, often challenging conventional readings. One of Barks’s popular renditions goes like this: “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. / I will meet you there.” The original version makes no mention of “rightdoing” or “wrongdoing.” The words Rumi wrote were iman (“religion”) and kufr(“infidelity”).”
It is clear from these passages that Coleman Barks has not done justice to Rumi’s poetry, which is anchored in the Islamic tradition. Cherry-picking seems to be the ‘modus operandi’.
There is absolutely no need at this point to get into further details for as far as translations of Rumi’s poetry is concerned. We will address one passage in “Masnavi” that is of interest for some Muslim modernists have suggested that latent in Rumi’s poem are the seeds of a biological theory of evolution or more specifically human evolution.
It is in “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam,” that Mohammad Iqbal first introduced some sources, which he thought explicitly describe the ‘mechanism’ of biological evolution in Muslim thought. He writes:
“How did man first emerge? This suggestive argument embodied in the last verses of the two passages quoted above did in fact open a new vista to Muslim philosophers. It was ‘Jahiz’ (d. 225 A.H.) who first hinted at the changes in animal life caused by migrations and environment generally. The association known as the ‘Brethren of Purity’ further amplified the views of ‘Jahiz’. Ibn Maskawaih (d. 421 A.H.), however, was the first Muslim to give a clear and in many respects thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man. It was only natural and perfectly consistent with the spirit of the Qur’an, that Rumi regarded the question of immortality as one of biological evolution, and not a problem to be decided by arguments of purely metaphysical nature, as some philosophers of Islam had thought. The theory of evolution, however, has brought despair and anxiety, instead of hope and enthusiasm for life, to the modern world. The reason is to be found in the unwarranted modern assumption that man’s present structure, mental as well as physiological, is the last word in biological evolution, and that death, regarded as a biological event, has no constructive meaning. The world of today needs a Rumi to create an attitude of hope. And to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for life. His inimitable lines may be quoted here:
First man appeared in the class of inorganic things,
Next he passed therefrom into that of plants,
For years he lived as one of the plants,
Remembering naught of his inorganic state so different;
And when he passed from the vegative to the animal state,
He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except the inclination he felt to the world of plants,
Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers,
Like the inclination of infants towards their mothers,
Which know not the cause of their inclination for the breast.
Again the great Creator, ass you know,
Drew man out of the animal into the human state,
Till he became wise and knowing and strong as he is now.
Of his first souls he has now no remembrance.
And he will be again changed from his present soul.
Let us contrast Iqbal’s rendering of Rumi’s poem to that of Nicholson’s before commenting. We should remind the reader that Reynold Alleyne Nicholson was an English orientalist who became a scholar in Islamic literature and Islamic mysticism, and is believed to be one of the greatest Rumi scholars and translators of ‘The Masnavi’ to the English language. What follows is Nicholson’s translation of the same passage cited above by Iqbal:
“3900. O my noble (friends), slaughter this cow (the fleshly soul), if ye desire to raise to life the spirits (possessed) of insight. I died to the inorganic state and became endowed with growth, and (then) I died to (vegetable) growth and attained to the animal. I died from animality and became Adam (man): why, then, should I fear? When have I become less by dying? At the next remove I shall die to man, that I may soar and lift up my head amongst the angels; And I must escape even from (the state of) the angel: everything is perishing except His face.”
These two translations of Rumi’s verses from the Mathnawi are worlds apart; Iqbal’s version confines the verses in the horizontal plan of the body and seeks clearly a connection with evolutionary biology while Nicholson’s catches the rise of the soul in the vertical direction and sees no connection with the material world in his attempt to bring Rumi to the English reader.
I would also like to expose the translation to French of the same verses by Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch, because she too seems to be closer to Nicholson than Iqbal. Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch was a doctor of Islamology (Islamic Studies), and was the first one to translate the “Masnavi” to the French language. What follows is her attempt to translate Rumi’s passage to French:
« L’ascension sur l’échelle de l’être, mue par l’Amour divin qui tend à faire réintégrer dans l’Unité les parties du tout disperses dans la multiplicité, a donc pour raison et pour but l’apparition de l’Homme parfait: “Il n’y a pas d’autre cause finale que l’homme,” dit Shabestari; “les deux mondes étaient le moyen de sa production”. Rumi décrit ainsi cette évolution:
Du moment où tu vins dans le monde de l’existence,
Une échelle a été place devant toi pour te permettre de t’évader;
D’abord, tu fus minéral, puis tu devins plante;
Ensuite, tu es devenu animal: comment l’ignorais-tu ?
Puis, tu fus fait homme, doué de connaissance, de raison, de foi;
Considère ce corps, tire de la poussière: quelle perfection il a acquise !
Quand tu auras transcendé la condition de l’homme, tu deviendras, sans nul doute, un ange;
Alors tu en auras fini avec la terre: ta demeure sera le ciel.
Depasse même la condition Angélique: pénètre dans cet océan,
Afin que ta goutte d’eau puisse devenir une mer …
De même, dans le Mathnawi, sont décrites les différentes étapes par lesquelles l’âme doit passer avant de retourner à Dieu, et l’état d’inconscience qui accompagnent ces changements:
L’homme vint tout d’abord dans le règne des choses inorganiques, puis de là il passa dans le règne végétal, ne se souvenant pas de sa condition précédente. Et lorsqu’il passa dans l’état animal, il ne se rappela plus son état en tant que plante: il ne lui en reste que l’inclination qu’il éprouve pour cet état, notamment à l’époque du printemps et des fleurs, telle l’inclination des petits enfants à l’égard de leurs mères: ils ignorent la raison qui les attire vers le sein maternel: ou comme l’inclination du disciple pour le maître spiritual: l’intelligence partielle du disciple dérive de l’intelligence universelle … Puis l’homme est entré dans l’état humain; de ses premières âmes il n’a point de souvenance, et il sera de nouveau changé à partir de son âme actuelle.
Il peut donc s’écrier:
Je suis mort à l’animalité et devenu Adam: que Craindrais-je ? Quand ai-je-été diminué par la mort ?—Puis je mourrai à l’état d’homme afin de pouvoir prendre mon essor parmi les anges;—Et je dois échapper même à cet état angélique: Toute chose est périssante sauf Sa Face; A nouveau je serais sacrifié et je deviendrai ce que l’imagination ne peut concevoir. »
Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch makes it clear that Rumi’s poem is all about the ascension of the soul, and nothing to do with that which Newtonian gravity will hold down.
To complete this survey on the translation of Rumi’s verses, one would have to add the Arabic version of the verses found in the Mathnawi.
كانت بقرة موسى أضحية لكن أقل جزء منها صار حياة لقتيل.
لقد قفز ذلك القتيل واقفاً ناجياً من الأذى، عندما خوطب ب "اضربوه ببعضها".
يا كرامي اذبحوا هذا البقر إن اردتم حشر أرواح النظر.
لقد مت من الجمادية وصرت ناميا، ومت من النماء وانقلبت حيوانا.
ومت من الحيوانية وصرت إنساناً، إذن فمن أي شيءٍ أخاف؟ ومتى نقصت من الموت؟
وأموت مرة أخرى من البشرية، حتى أخذ من الملائكة أجنحتها وقوادمها.
ومن الملائكية ينبغي أن أقلع عن الطلب، ذلك أن كل شيءٍ هالك إلا وجهه.
ثم أصير بعدها فداء من الملائكية، وأصير إلى ما لا يحده وهم.
إذ أصير عدماً والعدم كالأرغنون، يتغنى قائلاً "إنا إليه راجعون".
فاعلم أن الموت هو ما اتفقت عليه الامة، من أن ماء الحيوان مخبوء في الظلمة.
It should be very clear by now that the translations by Nicholson, Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch and the Arabic version of el-Doussouqi have absolutely nothing to do with the theory of evolution in the modern or Darwinian sense.
This leads us to conclude that those, who suggest that in Rumi’s poem one can find the seed for the biological evolution meme, have been citing Mohammad Iqbal blindly or have failed to read the texts in their proper contexts. Rumi is describing the ascendance of the soul to the state of ‘Ihsan’ best described by the prophetic tradition of ‘Hadith Jibril’ in which we have a mathematical like definition of what Islam, Iman and Ihsan are. Rumi, like most Sufis take for granted the first two states of Islam and Iman without which one cannot ascend to the third through a path of purification of the soul, a path described in most if not all of his poems, the path leading to the Perfect Man.
Reading Evolution in Ikhwan el-Safa’s (The Brethren of Purity) Rasa’il (Epistles)
For a thorough study of the epistles by The Brethren of Purity one is directed to the work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and in particular to chapters I and II of his book entitled “Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines”. The Rasa’il according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr are organized in three categories: the primary [propaedeutic] sciences (riyadiyah), the religious sciences (al-shari’at al-wad’iyah), and the philosophical sciences (al-falsafiyat al-haquiqiyah). In this section, we will primarily focus on what Ikhwan al-Safa describe as ‘The Hierarchy of Being’ or the ‘Great Chain of Being’ as presented by Nasr when he writes:
“The creation of the world by God, or the manifestation of existence by Being, is compared by the Ikhwan to the generation of numbers from One. … The creation of the Universe, beginning with the Creator, descending through the multiple states of Being, and ending with the terrestrial creatures whose final link is man, is outlined in the following manner:
- Creator—whose is one, simple, eternal, permanent.
- Intellect (‘aql)—which is of two kinds: innate and acquired.
- Soul (nafs)—which has three species: vegetative, animal, and rational.
- Matter (hayula’)—which is of four kinds: matter of artefacts, physical matter, universal matter, and original matter.
- Nature (tabi’ah)—which is of five kinds: celestial nature and the four elemental natures.
- Body (jism)—which has six directions: above, below, front, back, left and right.
- The sphere—which has its seven planets.
- The elements—which has eight qualities, these being in reality the four qualities combined two by two:
- Earth—cold and dry
- Wat—cold and wet
- Air—warm and wet
- Fire -warm and dry
- Beings of this world—which are the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, each having three parts.”
Note item 3 on the soul, which according to Ikhwan el-Safa possesses three species. Seyyed Hossein Nasr elaborates on the ‘Great Chain of Being’ and explains the position of Ikhwan el-Safa as follows:
“According to the Ikhwan, the qualities and perfections belonging to the various levels of the hierarchy of being are not in any way “subjective” or “anthropomorphic,” but, being a part of their ontological status, are completely independent of the whims and fancies of the “thoughts” of men…Inasmuch as this hierarchy is based on the degree of intelligence and the development of interior faculties rather than on external similarities, we find that the Ikhwan name the elephant rather than the monkey as the animal closest to man. This is a good example of the difference between the traditional idea of gradation which is based on interior qualities and ontological status and the modern theories of evolution which are based on the physical behavior and the external similarities of creatures…From what we have discussed thus far, however, the divergence of the Ikhwan from modern theories of evolution should be clear. First of all, according to the Rasaa’il all changes on earth occur as acts of the Universal Soul and not by an independent agent acting within bodies here on earth. Secondly, according to the Ikhwan this world is a shadow of another world more real than it, and the “idea” of everything of this world actually exists in the other, so that there is no question of a species changing into another, because the “idea” of each species is a form which is beyond change and decay. In the words of the Ikhwan:
“The species and genus are definite and preserved. Their forms are in matter. But the individuals are in perpetual flow: they are neither definite nor preserved. The reason for the conservation of forms, genus and species, in matter is the fixity of their celestial cause because their efficient cause is the Universal Soul of the spheres instead of the change and continuous flux of individuals which is due to the variability of their cause”.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr goes on to explain some similarities:
“There do exist, however, certain similarities between the views of the Ikhwan and modern theories in that both believe that the date of the beginning of the terrestrial existence of plants precedes that of animals, just as minerals precede the plants. Also, the Ikhwan believe in the adaptation of organisms to their environment, much in the manner of the authors of the nineteenth century, but the authors of the Rasaa’il consider it from a different perspective. Their whole conception of Nature is, of course, teleological. Everything exists for a purpose, the final purpose of the cosmos being the return of multiplicity to Unity within the heart of the saints…The Ikhwan imply in their writings, without always stating it clearly, that the coming into being of the sublunary region after the heavens, the mineral after the elements, the plants after the minerals, the animals after the plants, and finally, man after the animals, is temporal as well as in principio…In the section of the Rasaa’il called “Dispute between Man and the Animals” at the end of the treatise on zoology, the members of the animal kingdom complain to the king of the jinn for man’s cruelty against them…At the end, the only point which justifies the domination of man over the animal kingdom is that among men there are few who become angels on earth, that “among men there are few saints and sages who have the natures of cherubim”…”Adaptation to the environment” is not a result of struggles for life or “survival of the fittest,” but comes from the wisdom of the Creator, Who has given to each creature what corresponds to its need.”
There is absolutely no doubt that Ikhwan el-Safa were describing an evolution that allowed man to access the angelic state, and this alone refutes any attempt to cite them to justify an evolutionary agenda in the Darwinian sense.
Reading Biological Evolution in Kitab al-Hayawan by al-Jahiz
We mentioned earlier that it is very likely that Mohammad Iqbal may have been the first one to bring forth the idea that evolutionary Biology was buried deep in ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’ of al-Jahiz (160-256 A.H./776-869 A.D.), a Mu’tazilite, believed to be a member of “The Brethren of Purity” (Ikhwan el-Safa), and disciple of Seyar al-Nazzam. Mohammad Iqbal suggests in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam that the seed of evolutionary Biology is deeply rooted in the Mu’tazilite thought of al-Jahiz. This is not surprising given the fact that Iqbal was a modernist by ideology. However, we believe that the seed was planted by George Sarton in his “Introduction to the History of Science,” where he cites al-Jahiz three times in the first volume, where he deems absurd to call him a chemist, and writes the following entry, an entry that has been used, especially page 597, by all those who have sought to find a seed for the theory of evolution in the traditional Islamic texts, the entry reads:
“Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr al-Jahiz, i.e., the goggle-eyed. Flourished in Basra and died there in 868-69, being more than ninety Muslim years old. One of the Mu’tazilite leaders in Basra, the founder of a sect named after him (al-Jahiziya). Man of letters, with a genuine interest in the natural and anthropological sciences. His most important work is the Book of Animals (Kitab al-Hayawan), a very discursive compilation, the purpose of which is theological and folkloric rather than scientific, but which is nevertheless of great interest to the student of Arabic science and culture. Though partly based on Greek knowledge (chiefly Aristotle), it is intensely Arabic, which explains its great influence upon Arabic literature. Al-Jahiz knew how to obtain ammonia (and salmiac) from animal offals by dry distillation. His work contains the germs of many later theories (evolution, adaptation, animal psychology)”.
First, we believe that Sarton’s qualification of Al-Jahiz as ‘One of the Mu’tazilite leaders in Basra’ is not adequate. Al-Jahiz is believed to have been a disciple of Seyar al-Nazzam, who is considered to have been one of the towering figures of “I’tizal/Mu’tazilism” like Abu-al-Huthail or al-Qadhi Abduldjabbar. The recorded history of the Mu’tazila does not consider Al-Jahiz to have been a leader of the Mu’tazila but rather a student under the supervision of his Kalam Master Seyar al-Nazzam.
For many Muslim modernists the last sentence in the short paragraph above by Sarton on al-Jahiz seems to be justifying a modern Darwinian reading of “Kitab al-Hayawan”. Mehmet Bayrakdar cites two of the three entries on al-Jahiz by Sarton on the History of Science, and writes:
“Although al-Nazzam made the first steps in the field of biological evolutionary thought, in the history of science, the theory of biological evolution was presented for the first time in its complete form by a great early zoologist, al-Jahiz, in the ninth century; with him the theory as such was originated. …”
There is absolutely no evidence given by George Sarton or for that matter by Bayrakdar to justify a theory of evolution in the Darwinian sense in the works of al-Jahiz as we will show explicitly in what follows.
Let us start with a quote from “Kitab al-Hayawan”, often translated as “The Book of Animals,” but we believe a better translation ought to be “The book of Living” as James E. Montgomery points out and suggests that al-Jahiz alluded to this meaning; the text is clearly written by an author who believes in miracles as the short excerpt from the first volume of The Book of Living indicates:
فأما عوامُّ الأمم فضلا عن خواصهم فهم يعلمون مِن ذلك مثل ما نعلم وإنما يُتفاضَل بالبيان والحفظ وبنسق المحفوظ فَأمَّا المعرفة فنحن فيها سواء ولم نعرف العقل وعدَمه ونقصانه وإفادته وأقدارَ معارفِ الحيوان إلاَّ بمَا يظهر منها وبتلك الأدلَّة عرفنا فرقَ ما بين الحيِّ والميت وبين الجماد والحيوان فإن قال الخصم: ما نعرف كلامَ الذِّئب و لا معرفة الغُراب ولا علمَ الهدهد قلنا: نحن ناسٌ نؤمن بأَنَّ عيسى عليه السلام خُلِق من غير ذكر وإنَّما خُلق من أُنثى وأنَّ آدَمَ وَحَوَّاءَ خُلقا من غير ذكر وأنثى وأنَّ عيسى تكلَّم في المهد وأنَّ يحيى بن زكريَّا نطق بالحكمةِ في الصِّبا وأنَّ عقيمًا ألَقحَ وأنَّ عاقرًا ولدت وبأَشياءَ كثيرةٍ خرجت خارجيًة من نَسَق العادة فالسّبب الذي به عرَفنا أنّه قد كان لذلك الهدهد مقدارٌ من المعرفة دون ما توهَّمتم وفوق ما مع الهدهد ومتى سَألتمونا عن الحجَّة فالسبيل واحدة ونحن نقرُّ بأَنّ مَن دخل الجنة من المجانين والأطفال يدخلون عقلاءَ كاملين من غير تجاربَ وتمرين وترتيب فمسَألتكمْ عما ألهم الهدهد هي المسَألة عمَّا ألهم الطفل في الجنة
This part of this paragraph can be translated as follows:
“We say: we are people who believe that Issa (Jesus) peace be upon him was created without a male; he was created from a single female, and that Adam and Hawa’ (Eve) were created without male and female, and that Issa (Jesus) spoke in his cradle, and that Yahiya (John the Baptist) son of Zakariya spoke with wisdom as a child, and that a sterile man planted a seed and that a sterile woman gave birth, and we believe in many other things that do not fit the cycles of habit …”
If what is claimed by the majority of modernists is true, namely that one can read evolutionary Biology in the work of al-Jahiz, then they should be able to reconcile the belief of al-Jahiz in the miracles of Issa (Jesus), Adam and Eve, Yahiya (John the Baptist) and Ibrahim and Sarrah as well as the miracle births of both Ismail and Isaac. This belief in the miracle births is inconsistent with any suggestion that al-Jahiz wrote his book “Kitab al-Hayawan” with the intention to spread a Darwinian evolution-like meme. James E. Montgomery captures the essence of Al-Jahiz magnum opus when he writes:
“Part 6: Appreciating Design. This part reverts to a consideration of al-Jahiz’s dispute with the Addressee. It presents a translation of the debate that rounds of the ‘Introduction’. It unearths one of the fundamental features of disagreement—the tendency of some Kalam Masters to debate the principle topics of theology by means of subjects which seem to have nothing to do with these topics. It transpires that the maligned Debate of the Dog and the Cock that so upset the Addressee was really a debate about human responsibility and capacity for action”.
We should also mention Epistle 22 of Ikhwan el-Safa, which describes the court case brought by the animals before the king of the Jinn, and in which the conclusion that there are among men saints who can be just and can lead. Like in ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’, these debates between animals are used to bring forth human attributes and their divine source.
Montgomery33 goes on and writes:
“The Book of Living and many of al-Jahiz’s other works are informed by, and provide ample insight into, these and other topics. They have frequently been (very clumsily in my view) mined for the sorts of information they might contain on such subjects. It is my contention, however, that we must first pay attention to and understand how and why al-Jahiz says what he does, before we can cherry-pick his writings. To be in a position to do that we must first enter into his world of ideas.”
We believe that the Muslim modernists who have found the theory of evolution in al-Jahiz’s works have indeed cherry-picked his writings, and have either not read al-Jahiz, a difficult task since mastering Arabic is a necessity, or failed to grasp the essence of his work.
In a book review of Montgomery’s “Al-Jahiz: In Praise of Books,” Lara Harb writes:
“Written in an “apocalyptic” age (towards the mid third/ninth century), of which even al-Jahiz’s ugliness seems to have been a sign (!) (p.29), Montgomery argues that there was a particular sense of urgency to save the morally corrupt and riven ‘Abbassid society before the coming of the end of time (ch 1.1). The logic, as Montgomery delineates in Parts 4 and 5, is as follows: in order to bring back cohesion to the fragmented society, al-Jahiz needed to find a common principle on which all would agree. This basic principle is that “life as a product of creation necessitates a Creator Whom we should celebrate out of gratitude for the blessings He has showered upon us” (p. 265). This obligatory celebration and appreciation of God (agreed upon by all except the Eternalists, the Dahriya, the century’s “atheists”, p. 277) takes place in two forms: by writing an account of God’s creations (5.3) and doing so through the proper use of Arabic language (5.2).
God’s creations, from the despicable creatures to the most admired, are all signs of His majesty. The world is thus a “semiotic system” to be read and interpreted, and humans (who are themselves signs) have the unique intellectual capacity to do so (pp. 270-1).”
We will now address some of the most referenced passages in “The Book of Living,” and show that apophenia seems to be the underlying diagnostic.
In his article “Al-Jahiz and the Rise of Biological Evolution,” Mehmet Bayrakdar30 cites ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’ ten times. I will go through the direct passages he quotes from ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’. Bayrakdar suggests that al-Jahiz described three mechanisms that are evolution mechanisms and goes on to cite al-Jahiz to justify 1) the Struggle for Existence, 2) Transformation of species and 3) Environmental factors. Frank N. Egerton in his ‘Roots to Ecology’ writes:
“Mehmet Bayrakdar claims al-Jahiz was an evolutionist because he “recognized the effect of environmental factors on animal life,” described a struggle for existence, and reported that some people said that dogs, wolves, and foxes came from an original form of quadrupeds. However, these thoughts were not synthesized into a theory.”
Egerton writes elsewhere:
“Bayrakdar’s case for al-Jahiz being an evolutionist is unconvincing, but his narrower claim that he “recognized the effect of environmental factors on animal life” (1983:151) seems valid. Apparently, al-Jahiz was the first to discuss food chains, although his details are not always accurate.”
Rebecca Scott in “Darwin’s Ghosts” writes:
“If certain historians have claimed that Jahiz wrote about evolution a thousand years before Darwin and that he discovered natural selection, they have misunderstood. Jahiz was not trying to work out how the world began or how species had come to be. He believed that God had done the making and that he had done it brilliantly. He took divine creation and intelligent design for granted. So did all the people he talked to about animals—the Bedouins and the hunters and the animal trainers in the zoological gardens in Baghdad. There was, for him, no other possible explanation.
What is striking, however, about Jahiz’s portrait of nature in Living Beings is his vision of interconnectedness, his repeated images of nets and webs. He certainly saw ecosystems, as we would call them now, in the natural world. He also understood what we might call the survival of the fittest. He saw adaptation. Like Aristotle, he believed in spontaneous generation—he had seen flies emerge from the flesh of dead animals. None of those things was remarkable or controversial in his time. His aim in writing Living Beings, he told his readers, was to prove to them that the world of animals around them was interconnected, mutually dependent, that everything had its place in the great web and that it was possible to account even for the presence of harm and danger in the world as a sign of God’s generosity and blessing…
Had he pursued his investigation of anomalies like Darwin did later with his barnacles, for instance, he might have reached different conclusions about how species had come to be, explanations that might have centered on the idea of descent with modification. Instead, Jahiz used the collapse of taxonomies to question categories of high and low in creation, to show, again, how the All-Powerful Creator had fashioned a world of endless complexity and sophistication in which every organism had its place and depended on everything else.”
Reading Biological Evolution in Ibn-Miskawayh’s Al-Fawz Al-Asghar
The best introduction to Abu ‘Ali Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Miskawayh (421 H) and his work, especially on wisdom and ethics, can be found in “An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia” edited by S. H. Nasr & M. Aminrazavi. The work of Mohammed Arkoun- on Miskawaih is also recommended. The work that tends to be cited in relation to the theory of evolution, in particular, is “Al-Fawz Al-Asghar” which has not been translated and is only accessible in Arabic to our knowledge. The book in question is a book of ‘Aqida’ (creed) and philosophy not a book on evolutionary biology as some modernists have suggested. Miskawayh’s Al-Fawz Al-Asghar consists of three main parts. In the first part, Miskawayh deals with the proofs of the existence of God, then he moves to the soul and its modes in the second part and wraps up the book with the subject of prophethood in the third and final part.
It becomes very hard for those who have read Miskawayh’s Al-Fawz Al-Asghar to identify anything Darwinian that can be connected with a theory of physical evolution.
Yasien Mohamed writes about the Cosmology of Miskawayh:
“Miskawayh’s concept of the universe is set forth in his al-Fawz al-Asghar. According to Badawi, it is similar to al-Farabi’s Ara’ ahl al-madinah al-Fadhila (opinions of the People of the Virtuous City) in its attempt to reconcile Aristotelian and Neoplatonic elements. Miskaway’s work deals with three main themes: the existence of God, the soul and prophecy. Neoplatonism is clearly evident in his conception of the cosmos, and in chapter 5 he explicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to Porphyry. In chapter 9 he reveals Neoplatonic tendencies in his opinion that the first existent to emanate from God is the intellect. Miskawayh adopted Neoplatonic ideas from the Ikhwan, particularly with respect to the evolution of being from mineral through vegetal and animal to human, and finally to prophets, who are the highest level of being and who complete the cycle of evolution…
Clearly, then, Miskawayh adopted the Neoplatonic view of creation. Creation emanates from God through a series of intermediaries starting from the First Intellect and ending with man, the highest in the chain of being. It is man’s challenge to transcend his corporeality and become godlike in order to return to the source of his being, God. This is man’s process of becoming.”
Ibrahim Abu Bakar in a paper on Ibn Miskawayh’s thought writes:
“Hawi (Sami S. Hawi) finds in the “Tahdhib” different thing. He finds in the book the idea of human evolution of Darwin and Huxley. He says that Ibn Miskawayh (A.D. 936-1030) wrote about evolution of man in the “Tahdhib” and the “Fawz al-Asghar”. In this connection, Hawi says, “This philosopher [Ibn Miskawayh] possessed a profound awareness of the evolution of life that stands on a par with the views of Darwin, Huxley and others.”
The statement by Sami S. Hawi with his own translation of the Arabic text follows:
“Perhaps a fuller and more daring expression about the evolution of man and his ascent from lower forms of life by Muslim philosophers is to be found in Ibn Miskawaih, A.D. 936-1030. This philosopher possessed a profound awareness of the evolution of life that stands on a par with the views of Darwin, Huxley and others. Part of his statement on evolution will show that certain Islamic philosophers were awake to the facts of evolution in a strict and direct manner, and that such facts were present in the corpus of Islamic thought just before Ibn Tufayl by less than a century:
The first step in the ascension of plants, of a higher order, is to free themselves from the ground and from their need to consolidate their veins in it. This is rendered possible by their newly developed power of free motion. This first animal stage is weak because of the weakness of sensitivity in it. This sensitivity develops to one general sense, that of touch, such as in sea shells and snails … Animals in this stage remain weak in locomotion even though they freed themselves from the ground and evolved to a new life. This so because they are still very near to the immediate realm of plant life and still remain some rudiments of it. Then they evolve from this to another stage: here their capacities of movement and sense become stronger; such is the case of worms, many kinds of butterflies and crawling beings. This stage is also surpassed to another. Sensitivity in these new animals becomes stronger and from them emerge animals having four senses such as the mole and the like. From here they[animals] progressively evolve to higher stage in which sight is generated; this is the case with ants and bees … then they approach the last stage of the animal kingdom. Although this rank is superior, nevertheless it remains base and inferior, far from the level of monkeys and the like. These become near to man in structure and human appearance. There is no difference between these types and man except a little, which if surpassed they become humans.”
One cannot miss the tone of Hawi’s translation of Ibn Miskawaih passage from ‘al-Fawz al-asghar’; indeed, Sami Hawi’s tone is that of a converted evolutionary Darwinian. Like Iqbal’s reading of Rumi’s poem, Hawi’s reading of Ibn Miskawaih’s Al-Fawz Al-Asghar has to be deconstructed by showing that Hawi constructs, through a translation of an infinitesimal part of Miskawaih’s work, the illusion that imbedded in the traditional text are the seeds of an evolutionary Darwinian theory. The same construct is claimed by those who see in a small paragraph of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqqadima11 above the seeds of a Darwinian theory of evolution as will be shown below. The texts by Ibn Miskawaih and Ibn Khaldun are completely taken out of context, respectively.
Let us first address the reference to Ibn Miskawaih. The critical part of the text translated by Sami Hawi can be found in the chapter entitled ‘The Third Case: Concerning Prophecies’ of Ibn Miskawaih’s al-Fawz al-Asghar. In this chapter Ibn Miskawaih describes the ‘Great Chain of Being’, a chain very similar to that described by the Brethren of Purity, Ikhwan el-Safa, in the fiftieth Epistle, in the process of purification of the soul leading to the state of prophethood. Miskawaih takes this process of evolution towards the status of prophethood, adopts it and uses it as a basis for his moral theory. Like for the Brethren of Purity, the process is separated by Miskawaih into four stages: the mineral, the vegetative, the animal and the human. The state of prophethood, the viceregency state is reached by imbibing the celestial soul.
The arguments put forth to explain what the Great Chain of Being meant for The Brethren of Purity remain valid for the case of Ibn Miskawaih. This is very well illustrated by Seyyed Hussein Nasr, who in ‘The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia’, writes:
“Basing himself on Aristotle’s De Anima and Alexandrian commentators, but also adding elements not to be found in those sources explicitly, Ibn Sina developed a faculty psychology bases on the relation between the five external and five internal senses. He also classified souls (nafs) into the vegetative, animal, and human or rational, each soul possessing certain faculties that are in fact developed fully only in certain species of a particular kingdom. Only in man are all the faculties belonging to all the three souls, which he possesses within himself, fully developed. Ibn Sina relates the gradual development of each faculty to the great chain of being, which is based on the fundamental notion of hierarchy and an ever-greater degree of perfection as the chain is ascended.”
Reading Biological Evolution in Ibn-Khaldun’s Muqaddimah
The passage from the Muqaddimah that has been used to justify biological evolution in the Darwinian sense has already been cited above when relating a presentation given by Usama Hassan of the Quilliam foundation10. We now elaborate on the fact that the passage of the Muqaddimah referred to by most if not all the Muslim modernist is completely taken out of context and suggests a lack of rigor to be polite and a total absence of scholarship on the citing party.
I will start by using the same reference used by Usama Hassan, namely Franz Rosenthal’s translation of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima11. The passage cited by Usama Hassan and others is part of the ‘Sixth Prefatory Discussion: The various types of human beings who have supernatural perception either through natural disposition or through exercise, preceded by a discussion of inspiration and dream visions’. What Usama Hassan fails to cite is the text preceding and following the passage he cites. So I will take the liberty to cite the text to show that the passage in question is taken completely out of context. On ‘The real meaning of prophecy’ Rosenthal translates the text preceding Ibn Khaldun’s passage of interest as follows:
“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. Beginning with the world of the body and sensual perception, and therein first with the world of visible elements, (one notices) how these elements are arranged gradually and continually in an ascending order, from earth to water, (from water) to air, and (from air) to fire. Each one of the elements is prepared to be transformed into the next higher or lower one, and sometimes is transformed. The higher one is always finer than the one preceding it. Eventually, the world of the spheres is reached. They are finer than anything else. They are in layers which interconnected, in a shape which the senses are able to perceive only through the existence of motions. These motions provide some people with knowledge of the measurements and positions of the spheres, and also with knowledge of the existence of the essences beyond, the influence of which is noticeable in the spheres through the fact (that they have motion).”
The text following Ibn khaldun’s passage of interest is translated by Rosenthal as:
“Now, in the various worlds we find manifold influences. In the world of sensual perception there are certain influences of the motions of the spheres and the elements. In the world of creation there are certain influences of the motions of growth and perception. All this is evidence of the fact that there is something that exercises an influence and is different from the bodily substances). This is something spiritual. It is connected with the created things, because the various worlds must be connected in their existence. This spiritual thing is the soul, which has perception and causes motion. Above the soul there must exist something else that gives the soul the power of perception and motion, and that is also connected with it. Its essence should be pure perception and absolute intellection. This is the world of the angels. The soul, consequently, must be prepared to exchange humanity for angelicality, in order actually to become part of the angelic species at certain times in the flash of a moment. This happens after the spiritual essence of the soul has become perfect in actuality, as we shall mention later on.
(The soul) is connected with the stage next to it, as are all the orders of the existentia, as we have mentioned before. It is connected both upward and downward. Downward, it is connected with the body. Through (the body, the soul) acquires the sense perceptions by which it is prepared for actual intellection.
Upward, it is connected with the stage of the angels. There, it acquires scientific and supernatural perceptions, for knowledge of the things that come into being exists timelessly in the intellections of (the angels). This is in consequence of the well-constructed order of existence mentioned above, which requires that the essences and powers of (the world of existence) be connected with one another.
The human soul cannot be seen, but its influence is evident in the body. It is as if all (the body's) parts, in combination or separately, were organs of the soul and its powers. The powers of action are touching with the hand, walking with the foot, speaking with the tongue, and the total combined motion with the body.”
There remains no doubt that those, like Usama Hassan, who cite the passage from al-Muqaddimah to suggest that Ibn Khaldun was writing about some type of biological evolution, have absolutely taken the passage in question out of context as is clearly evident in the text cited above.
There are yet other passages in the Muqadimmah that are omitted by most of those who read biological evolution in Ibn Khaldun’s writings. In the sections entitled “The sciences (knowledge of human beings and the sciences (knowledge) of angels,” and “The sciences (knowledge) of the prophets,” respectively, the passages are translated by Rosenthal (The original Arabic references) as:
“Of the (three) worlds, the one we can perceive best is the world of human beings, since it is existential and attested by our corporeal and spiritual perceptions. The world of the senses is shared by us with the animals, but the world of the intellect and the spirits is shared by us with the angels, whose essences are of the same kind as the essences of that world. They are essences free from corporeality and matter, and they are pure intellect in which intellect, thinker, and the object of thinking are one. It is, in a way, an essence the reality of which is perception and intellect.
The sciences (knowledge) of the (angels), thus, always agree by nature with the things to be known. They can never have any defect. The knowledge of human beings, on the other hand, is the attainment of the form of the thing to be known in their essences, after it had not been there. It is all acquired. The essence in which the forms of the things to be known are obtained, namely, the soul, is a material substance that gradually takes over the forms of existence with the help of the forms of the things to be known that it obtains. Eventually, it reaches perfection, and, through death, its existence fulfills itself as regards both its matter and its form.
The objects in the soul are subject to constant vacillation between negation and assertion. One of the two is sought by means of some middle (term) to connect the two extremes. When that is achieved and the object has become known, it must be explained that there exists agreement (between knowledge and the thing known). Such agreement may often be clarified by technical logical argumentation, but that is from "behind the veil," and it is not like the direct vision that is found in connection with the sciences (knowledge) of the angels.
The "veil" may be removed, and the agreement may, thus, be effected through direct perceptive vision. It has been explained that human beings are ignorant by nature, because vacillation affects their knowledge. They learn through acquisition (of knowledge) and technique, because they obtain the objects they seek by applying their ability to think according to technical rules. The removal of the veil to which we have referred is achieved only through training in dhikr exercises of which the best is prayer, which forbids sinful and evil actions-through abstinence from all distracting food of consumption—of which the most important part is fasting—and through devoting oneself to God with all one's powers.
"God taught man what he did not know."”
This passage is followed by another focusing on the sciences (knowledge) of prophets and is translated by Rosenthal as:
“We find that this kind of human being is in a divine condition that is different from (ordinary) human ambitions and conditions. In prophets, the trend toward the divine is more powerful than their humanity, as far as the powers of perception, the powers of desire-that is, concupiscence and wrath—and the other conditions of the body are concerned. (Prophets) keep away from things human, except in as much as they are necessary for life. They turn toward divine matters, such as worship and the remembrance (dhikr) of God, as their knowledge of Him requires. They give information about Him and (transmit) the revelation for the guidance of the nation (of believers) which they received in (their divine) condition. They do that according to one particular method and in a manner known to be peculiar to them. It undergoes no change in them and is like a natural disposition which God has given them.
Revelation has already been discussed by us at the beginning of the book, in the chapter dealing with people who possess supernatural perception. We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.
Above the human world, there is a spiritual world. It is known to us by its influence upon us, in that it gives us the powers of perception and volition. The essences of that spiritual world are pure perception and absolute intellection. It is the world of the angels.
It follows from all this that the human soul must be prepared to exchange humanity for angelicality, in order actually to become part of the angelic species at any time, in a single. instant. It will afterwards resume its humanity. But in the world of angelicality, it has meanwhile accepted (ideas) that it is charged to transmit to its fellow human beings. That is the meaning of revelation and being addressed by the angels.
All prophets possess this predisposition. It is like a natural disposition for them. In exchanging (their humanity for angelicality), they experience strain and sensations of choking, as is known in this connection.
Their (supernatural) knowledge is one of direct observation and vision. No mistake or slip attaches itself to it, and it is not affected by errors or unfounded assumptions. The agreement in it is an essential one, because the veil of the supernatural is gone, and clear and direct observation has been attained. When (the prophets) quit that state and reassume their humanity, this clarity does not quit the knowledge they have, for it has become attached to it in the former condition.
And because they possess the virtue that brings them to that condition, their (experience) constantly repeats itself, until their guidance of the nation (of believers), which was the purpose for which they were sent, is accomplished. Thus, it is said in the Qur'an: "I am merely a human being like you, to whom it has been revealed that your God is one God. Thus, be straightforward with Him and ask Him for forgiveness."
This should be understood. One should compare what we said earlier at the beginning of the book, about the different kinds of people possessing supernatural perception. It will constitute clear comment and explanation. There, we have explained the matter at sufficient length.
“God gives success.”
There is no shadow of a doubt that Ibn Khaldun like many Muslim scholars before him was writing about the same ‘Great Chain of Being’, which gives human beings access to the angelical state. It is clear that Ibn Khaldun focuses on the essences and identifies the movement of ascension with the soul not with the body. The rest of the text is self-explicative.
In this paper we have primarily focussed on shedding some light on the abuse that some Muslim writers have inflicted on Rumi’s poetry, Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, Miskawayh’s Al-Fawz Al-Asghar, some of Ikhwan al-Safa’s Epistles and Al-Jahiz’s Kitab Al-Hayawan. We hope to have accomplished the task of convincing the reader that those who claim to read a biological theory of evolution in the traditional texts cited in this paper have either cherry-picked by taking passages out of their contexts or have clearly not read the texts. We will leave it up to the reader to decide.
We should also point out the fact that the Muslim modernists who have suggested a reading of biological evolution in the traditional texts have been condemning the “I’jaz al-‘Ilmi” movement (concordism) vitriolically. It is only fair to remind them that through their seeking a Darwinian seed in the traditional texts they commit the very sin they have accused those who seek to find modern science in the sacred scriptures.
Abdelhaq M. Hamza
University of New Brunswick
1 “ الْعِلْمُ شَيْءٌ لا يُعْطِيكَ بَعْضَهُ حَتَّى تُعْطِيَهُ كُلَّكَ ، وَأَنْتَ إِذَا أَعْطَيْتَهُ كُلَّكَ مِنْ إِعْطَائِهِ الْبَعْضَ عَلَى غَرَرٍ”
2 Dorothy Bishop, 2011, http://deevybee.blogspot.ca/2011/09/how-to-become-celebrity-scientific.html .
3 Gisèle Sapiro, Le Monde, 16 Janvier, 2016.
5 Gisèle Sapiro, Le Monde, 16 Janvier, 2016. http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2016/01/16/la-revolte-des-clercs-contre-les-demunis_4848388_3232.html.
6 Malek Bennabi, Vocation de l’Islam, collections “Esprit Frontière Ouvertes”, Edition du Seuil, 1954. Le Mouvement Réformateur, pp. 57-66.
7 Seyyed Hussein Nasr, The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. XXVIII, The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Edited By Lewis Edwin Hahn, Randale E. Auxier and Lucian W. Stone, JR., 2001, pp. 799-809.
8 Rachael Kohn, in Science, Creationism and the existence of God, 17 October, 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/spiritofthings/science,-creationism-and-the-existence-of-god/5822276.
10 Ines Safi, Dialogue entre Islam et Science, Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), Paris, France, Pensée, science et religion dans le monde arabe : Questions et problématique », le 30 mai 2018. (1 hour 19 minutes and 55 seconds into the lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6W0gU9Tet8 ).
11 Salman Hameed, in Bracing for Islamic Creationism, SCIENCE magazine, Vol 322, 12 December 2008.
12 Rana Dajani, in Why I Teach Evolution to Muslim Students, https://www.nature.com/news/why-i-teach-evolution-to-muslim-students-1.17364.
13 Rana Dajani, Task Force Essay: Evolution and Islam – Is there a contradiction? August 9, 2015. http://muslim-science.com/task-force-essay-evolution-and-islam-is-there-a-contradiction.
14 Usama Hassan, Islam & The Theory/Fact of Evolution, 2015, https://unity1.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/8-islam-and-the-theory-fact-of-evolution-usama-hasan.pdf.
15 The Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun, trans. Franz Rosenthal, Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 75.
16 Al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Hayawan, ed. Muhammad al-Sasi (Cairo: Matba’ al-Sa’ada, 1906-7.
18 R. A. Nicholson, https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.151299.
19 Ibn-Miskawaih, Al-Fawz Al-Asghar.
20 Djalaleddine Rumi, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumi.
21 Rozina Ali, in The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi, The New Yorker, January 5, 2017. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-erasure-of-islam-from-the-poetry-of-rumi .
22 Mohammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, 1930.
23 See Iqbal, page 72
24 See George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, I, 1957, where it is said that the ‘Kitab al-Hayawan’ of al-Jahiz, contains the germs of many later theories: evolution adaptation, animal psychology. Cf. also M. Plessner, ‘Al-Jahiz’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, VII, 63-65.
25 For a statement of the views of the ‘Brethren of Purity’ with regard to the hypothesis of evolution, cf. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in ‘An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, pp.72-74.
26 See Lecture V, p. 107, for Ibn Maskawaih’s very clear conception of biological evolution, which later found expression in the ‘inimitable lines’ of the ‘excellent Rumi’ quoted in the next passage as well as in Lecture VII, pp. 147-148.
27 Cf. E. H. Whinfield (tr), Masnavi, pp. 216-217; this translation of verses 3637-3641 and 3646-3648 of Book iv of Rumi’s Mathnawi – cf. Allama Iqbal’s observation on these verses in his Development of Metaphysics in Persia, p. 91.
28 Reynold A. Nicholson, The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, Volume III & VI, Cambridge, UK, 1925-1940, verses 3890, 3895, 3900, 3905, 3910, 3915.
29 Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch, Mystique et Poésie en Islam, Djalal-ud-Din Rumi et l’Ordre des Derviches tourneurs, Desclee De Brouwer (DDB), 2eme edition, 1972, p. 273.
30 Mathnawi, I, 25 sq. Cf. supra, p. 184 sq.
31 Cf. Mathnawi, I, 2801-2804, 2904-2906, II, 2575-2582, etc.
32 Golshan-e-Raz, v. 262-63.
33 Diwan (SP), XII.
34 C’est-a-dire le Logos auquel s’identifie l’Homme Parfait (note Nicholson ad loc.).
35 Mathnawi, IV, 3637 sq.
36 Qur’an, XXVIII, 88.
37 Mathnawi, III, 3901 sq.
38 Mathnawi, translation and commentary, Dr Ibrahim el-Dousouqi Chata, Cairo, 1996, Vol III, p. 335-336.
40 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, chapter 1, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, Thames and Hudson Ltd., Revised edition published in Great Britain, 1978.
41 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p.40, 1978.
42 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p.51, 1978
43 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, 1970, The Cosmos and the Hierarchy of the Universe, pp. 69-74.
44 Al-Jahidh, Kitab al-Hayawan.
45 Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm Ibn Sayyār Ibn Hāni‘ an-Naẓẓām, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahim_an-Nazzam
46 George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, Volume I, from Homer to Omar Khayyam, Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Huntington, New York, 1975, p. 597.
47 Ibid. p. 586.
48 Mehmet Bayrakdar, “Al-Jahiz and the Rise of Biological Evolution”, “The Islamic Quarterly” 27:3, 1983, pp. 307-315.
49 Montgomery, James E., Al-Jahiz: In Praise of the Books, Edinburgh Studies in Classical Arabic Literature, Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 9-10.
50 Kitab al_Hayawan 5.286.4-7: If someone says, ‘So and so produced a book on the classes of living things (Hayawan) but does not include the angels and the jinn, yet that is how people use language’ – there is another occurrence (mawdi’) of the word ‘living’ (Hayawan) – the words of God (Great and Glorious!) in His Book: ‘The next dwelling – it is living’. The word ‘hayawan’ occurs in the Chapter 29 of the Quran al-‘ankabout, verse 64.
51 Montgomery, James E., Al-Jahiz: In Praise of Books, pp. 7-14, 2013.
52 Ikhwan el-Safa, Epistle 22, The case of the Animals versus Man Before the King of the Jinn, Translated by Lenn Goodman and Richard MacGregor, 2010.
53 Review of James E. Montgomery, Al-Jāḥiẓ: In Praise of Books (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 78/2 (June 2015).
54 Frank N. Egerton, Roots of Ecology: Antiquity to Haeckel, University of California Press, 2012, pp. 45-47.
55 Frank N. Egerton, A history of Ecological Sciences, Part 6: Arabic Language Science – Origins and Zoological Writings, Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, April 2002, p. 143.
56 Rebecca Scott, Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2012, p. 51.
57 An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, Vol 1: From Zoroaster to Umar Khayyam, Edited by S. H. Nasr & M. Aminrazavi, I. B. Tauris Publishers, London.New York, in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, 2008.
58 Mohammed Arkoun, in “Deux Épitres de Miskawayh, ”Miskawaih’s al-Ladhdhat wa al-Alam, édition avec introduction et notes, “Bulletin d’études orientales, 17 (1961-1962) 7-74, esp. 11-9 for the Arabic edition.
59 Mohammed Arkoun, in “Deux Épitres de Miskawayh, “Miskawayh’s Risalat al-Nafs wa al-Aql,” “Bulletin d’études orientales, 17 (1961-1962) 7-74, esp. 10-55 for the Arabic edition.
60 Ibn Miskawayh, Al Fawz Al Asghar, ‘Manchurat Dar Kitabat elhayat’, Beyrouth, Lebanon.
61 Yasien Mohamed, The Cosmology of Ikhwan al-Safa, Miskawayh and al-Isfahani, Islamic Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4, Special Issue: Islam and Science (Winter 2000), pp. 657-679.
62 Abd al-Rahman Badawi, “Miskawayh”, in M.M. Sharif, ed., A History of Muslim Philosophy, 469-479.
63 Ibrahim Abu Bakar, Some Aspects of Ibn Miskawayh’s Thought, ISLAMIYYAT 10 (1989) 115-123.
64 Sami S. Hawi, Islamic Naturalism and Mysticism: A Philosophic Study of Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974) p. 123.
65 Translation by Hawi of Ibn Miskawaih, Al-Fawz al-asghar, Beirut, 1940, pp. 78-83. See also by the same author Tahdhib al-Akhlaq, Cairo, 1950, pp. 55, 58.
66 Ibn Miskawaih, Al-Fawz al-Asghar, Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from University of Toronto, http://www.archive.org/details/kitbalfawzalagh00ibnm , p. 85.
67 Seyyed Hussein Nasr, in ‘The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia’, Curzon Press, Edited by Mehdi Amin Razavi, 1996, pp. 71-72.
68 Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, http://www.saaid.net/book/open.php?cat=7&book=2085, pp. 90-94
69 The Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun, trans. Franz Rosenthal, Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 551-553.
70 Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, http://www.saaid.net/book/open.php?cat=7&book=2085, pp. 460-465.