A friend at Religion News Service recently interviewed Salman Hameed, an assistant professor at Hampshire College who writes the Science and Religion News blog. The focus of their conversation was Islamic creationism, which I’ve discussed before. Here’s an excerpt:
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.