Freedom of Expression

‘Have Muslims misunderstood evolution’ – and have people misunderstood the nature of the (pre)debate?

Muslims clearly hold a range of views on evolution.  Most obviously, there is the split between those who find evolution compatible with their religion, and those who instead adhere to Islamic creationism.  And, within the latter camp, there are those who favour calm debate and those who want to shut down opposing views, sometimes through threats and violence.

It was a Muslim organisation, the Deen Institute, which initiated the idea of a debate about this topic – ‘Have Muslims misunderstood evolution?’ – and the project has apparently met with vehement opposition from some Muslims, as reported in the Independent, and also by Rosie Bell.

“We eventually had to give up [hope?] of getting any support from student societies because it was seen as simply too controversial,” Adam Deen, co-founder of the institute, told The Independent … “It’s symptomatic of a bigger problem in the Muslim world where people representing practical Muslims have to be seen to be more literalist,” he said. “It’s almost like there’s an intellectual mafia movement who won’t allow any freedom of thought.”

Usman Siddiqui, president of Imperial’s Islamic student society, insisted that they were unable to co-host the event for “logistical reasons” rather than ideological ones.

The Independent quotes one objection raised by the founder of the Islam Channel, Mohammad Ali Harrath.

“This debate is a big mistake. It is shifting debate to make it a Muslim issue rather than an issue between atheists and creationists.”

This seems an odd statement.  This is not a debate between atheists and creationists – many religious people accept the theory of evolution – and it seems legitimate and interesting (particularly for Muslims) to hold a debate on the topic within a specifically Islamic context.

It looks set to be a lively event, featuring Muslims with a range of (conflicting) views and scientific expertise.  They include Usama Hasan, who was forced out of his post and threatened with death because of his views on evolution.

I may be quite wrong, but my sense is that this event is perhaps not so very controversial within the UK’s Muslim community – which is not to belittle the terrible experiences of those who have been hounded by their communities such as Dr Hasan.  A notice of the conference has been posted on MPACUK, for example. Mo Ansar has just announced that he is going.  In fact, I suspect many Muslims will see this as a good opportunity to represent the religion in a more West-friendly way, as Da’wah, if you like.  (A commenter posting on the Council of ex-Muslims’ forum expresses exasperation here at the way in which tortuous logic must be used to reconcile the Qur’an and scientific findings.)

Perhaps I was missing something, but a quick scan revealed no marked aggression towards the conference on Adam Deen’s FB page – although I did notice some extreme aggression towards Israel. This comment wasn’t untypical:

Salaams! Any chance this could be broadcast to those of us who can’t attend please? I am very interested to learn what perspectives will be presented, insha-AlLaah.

The Independent article implies that Muslim student societies have a big problem with Adam Deen’s evolution debate, but that doesn’t seem fully consistent with FOSIS’s support for the Deen Institute, admittedly posted (I believe) before the debate was announced.

I don’t make these points from any particular wish to defend FOSIS, or indeed the Deen institute.  But I am interested to know whether the problems surrounding this conference have possibly been exaggerated, and whether the exaggeration stems from the organisers (trying to garner publicity) or from those hostile to Islam.  I don’t want to conceal or gloss over any evidence of strong opposition from Muslim student societies or anyone else, so will be interested in any further information.

Update point It has been pointed out that FOSIS linked groups are likely to disapprove of the debate because they are Salafi dominated.  If it is therefore the case that I can find little evidence of opposition because it is below the radar – it is, as always, imperative to insist that everyone – Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims – is able to discuss these ideas freely, both in public and in private.

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