What is Islam’s view on evolution? How do we explain the fossil bones of our ancestors? Does that mean that the prophet Adam also looked like them?
In your question, if ‘evolution’ implies that man is actually an evolved form of a certain other creature, then Islam does not affirm such a standpoint. According to the Qur’an, Adam (pbuh) – the first man – was a direct creation of God, as a man. The Qur’an does not support that Adam evolved from another species.
However, it may be of some interest to note that in Al-Sajadah 32: 7 – 9, the Qur’an has referred to three different stages involved in the creation of man in such words that a slightly varied version of ‘evolution’ may be derived from it. The Qur’an says:
He, Who perfected everything that He created – He started the creation of man from clay then he inculcated in him [i.e. man] the potential to reproduce through a drop of humble fluid then He embellished and fashioned him in due proportion; and breathed into him of His spirit and [thereby] developed in you [the abilities of] listening, vision and feeling.
The above verses clearly tell us that in the beginning man was created from clay. The words ‘creation from clay’, obviously, do not necessitate that God created an effigy of man from clay and then gave life to it. It may, as we know, imply that in the beginning man came into existence out of the earth [the mud or the clay etc. of the earth]. In other words, God inculcated in earth – mixed with water – the potential to produce life. Over centuries or even millennia, the life-bearing potential of the earth materialized and a species quite similar to, yet somewhat different from man was born1. This was the first stage in the creation of man, as is evidenced by the words: “He started the creation of man from clay”.
In the second stage, the potential of reproducing life – of bearing offspring – through sexual contact between the male and the female genders was inculcated in this species. This stage is mentioned in the words: “then he inculcated in him the potential to reproduce through a drop of humble fluid”.
In the third stage, the species was physically fashioned into proportion and with that God also breathed into it of His spirit, which developed in it the abilities of listening, vision and feeling2. The words: “then He embellished and fashioned him in due proportion; and breathed into him of His spirit and [thereby] developed in you [the abilities of] listening, vision and feeling”, point to this final stage in the development of the human species.
It may be interpreted from the above explanation that it was only the first pair of near-humans – i.e. Adam and Eve – who went through the three stages explained above. That is Adam’s (and Eve’s) creation was initiated from clay – that is they were produced through the life-generation potential inculcated in the earth. Later on, the potential of reproduction through sexual contact was inculcated in Adam (and Eve). In the third stage, Adam (as well as Eve) was physically fashioned into due proportion and God breathed into them of His spirit and thereby developed the higher sapiential abilities in them.
However, contrary to the above interpretation, another theory that may be developed on the basis of the information given in the referred verses may be as follows3:
Man’s creation, in the first stage, was initiated by the production of a like species from the earth. In this stage, a number of near-human pairs – male and female – were produced directly from the earth.
In the second stage, the near-human pairs were inculcated with the ability of reproducing life through sexual interaction between the male and the female gender of the species.
In the third stage, one of the directly produced pairs (as in the first stage)4 – i.e. Adam and Eve – were physically fashioned into due proportion and were inculcated with the advanced human abilities. It was at this stage that Adam and Eve became complete humans.
Over subsequent centuries, the other directly produced pairs (in the first stage) and their offspring became extinct. The only pair that survived, through its offspring was that of Adam and Eve.
The whole human race that populates the planet is the offspring of the one directly produced pair, which was physically fashioned into due proportion and inculcated with the advanced human faculties.
In view of the information provided by the Qur’an and the human knowledge that has developed over time, one may ascribe to any explanation that seems correct to him. However, if the latter theory is accepted to be correct, it also helps explain the existence of the slightly different fossil bones. It seems that these bones are of the near-humans that, in contrast to Adam and Eve and their subsequent generations, were not physically fashioned into proportion or inculcated with the advanced human faculties and which became extinct over time.
It should be stressed here that the above is a development of a somewhat detailed scenario, on the basis of some vague indications of the Qur’an and the general knowledge that has become available to man. The scenario may or may not be completely accurate.
26th March 2000
- The last part of the referred verses clearly informs us that it was at a later stage that the species was physically fashioned into proportion and inculcated with advanced human abilities. [↩]
- It may be noted that it was not merely the faculties of ‘hearing’ and ‘sight’, which, like other living things, the species seems to have possessed before this stage as well. On the contrary, at this stage the abilities inculcated in man were that of ‘listening’, ‘vision’ and ‘feelings’, which is a stage ahead of mere ‘hearing’ and ‘sight’ and is probably possessed, at such an advanced level, only by man. [↩]
- The theory is primarily developed by my teacher Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. [↩]
- As the Qur’an at another place (Aal Imraan 3: 59) tells us that Adam was directly produced from clay (earth) and was not born to a father and a mother. [↩]