Note: This post compiles segments from the full Reviewing Yaqeen Institute report and it responds to some critiques claiming we misrepresented the original Yaqeen paper: “Tawaqquf and Acceptance of Human Evolution”
Why Would Yaqeen Promote Evolution?
Yaqeen as an institute often “muddies the waters” on issues that are clear cut in Islam, issues where there is no actual legitimate scholarly disagreement.
For example, on the issue of human evolution and the origins of mankind, this is a clear cut issue that all Muslim scholars have agreed on past and present. There is no scholar who has ever said it is permissible to believe that our father Adam had parents or that it is possible for humans not to have descended from Adam.
So what does Yaqeen do? They publish one paper in line with the orthodox position on evolution and then publish a second paper, brazenly titled “Tawaqquf and Acceptance of Human Evolution,” that contradicts the orthodox position based on nothing but the personal opinion of some academic.
Yaqeen Threatens the Iman of Their Followers
Yaqeen dedicated a whole series of essays, videos, and infographics to the topic of evolution. Is evolution compatible with Islam? Can Muslims accept evolution? How can Muslims reconcile Islamic theology with science when scientific consensus contradicts that theology?
Rather than using their resources to fund an in depth study bringing together Muslim scholars and other experts to analyze the issue and provide an Islamically sound, intellectually compelling position on the issue, Yaqeen opted to just publish a paper for every possible position, regardless of its soundness.
Again, this is on par with their overall methodology of “muddying the water” and plausible deniability.
What all the orthodox scholars of our time have determined is that humans did not evolve from a prior species contrary to what evolutionary science claims. Furthermore, to believe that humans evolved from a prior species is disbelief. On this point, Sh Nuh Keller has written:
“As for the claim that man has evolved from a non-human species, this is unbelief (kufr) no matter if we ascribe the process to Allah or to ‘nature,’ because it negates the truth of Adam’s special creation that Allah has revealed in the Qur’an.”
Sh Bin Baz confirms this:
“The origin of Adam is the form that he is currently in and his origin is not an ape or anything else. Rather he is a complete, sound human being upon his [current] form. Saying that his origin is an ape is munkar and batil. But rather it is appropriate to say this is kufr from the speaker of such a claim. What is apparent, and Allah knows best, is that whoever says this while knowing what the Sharia says, he is a kafir because he is saying that Allah and His Messenger are lying and saying the Book of Allah is lying about the creation of Adam.”
Despite the unanimity of the scholars on this, nowhere does Yaqeen convey that accepting the evolution of human beings from another species is Islamically unacceptable and kufr. The most that is said in one essay in the series is, “Islamic scripture and Muslim theologians have held a consensus on humankind’s descent from Adam and Eve, who had no parents.” This says nothing, however, about whether it is acceptable for Muslims to ignore the consensus and accept the evolution of human beings from other species.
This glaring omission would be less destructive if Yaqeen had not published an essay in their Evolution series that argued for Muslims accepting the evolution of human beings. But, sadly, Yaqeen has published exactly such an essay.
What Does Yaqeen’s Pro-Evolution Paper Say?
To cut to the chase, in his paper, “Tawaqquf and Acceptance of Human Evolution,” Dr. David Solomon Jalajel writes:
“We should bear in mind, however, that the term “myth” merely refers to the idea that some person or event is known to us only by way of a passed-down narrative and not by way empirical evidence….” [See Update below]
“The notion of Adam and Eve as “mythical” beings, though maybe not an excellent choice of words due to some negative connotations, is literally reminiscent of the way Sunni theologians have always looked at them […]”
“If it could be argued that Adam and Eve are “mythical” in the sense that belief in them rests solely upon a person’s acceptance of the divine origins of the texts that speak about them […]”
Mythical? This is how we should understand our father Adam and mother Hawwa? As myths? It is unbelievable that a Muslim would speak like this and even more unbelievable that a Muslim institute would publish and promote it. This is the kind of speech one expects from those Jews and Christians who have conceded that their religious books are nothing but allegorical stories of old. Now Jalajel and Yaqeen are trying to introduce these same concepts to describe Adam.
What possible justification could there be to speak about the prophet Adam as mythical?
Jalajel tries to argue that Muslims can accept evolution and even the evolution of human beings without compromising Islamic creed or the Quran. This is possible because, according to him, the origin of human beings is an empirical matter and the creation of Adam described in the Quran is part of the Unseen, and therefore akin to myth. Science is concerned with the empirical and does not care about myth. As he puts it:
“Biologists are not concerned with mythical beings. It would be ludicrous for a biologist to argue the merits or demerits of various theories regarding the mythical origins of mythical people or to talk about the evidence for their existence.”
The sheer confusion of Jalajel is even more apparent when we consider those today who claim that none of the prophets mentioned in the Bible or the Quran actually existed. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and even the Prophet Muhammad were all mythical figures, not historical ones. What would Jalajel say to this? According to his definition, all the prophets would also be considered “mythical” since “belief in them rests solely upon a person’s acceptance of the divine origins of the texts that speak about them.” What other reason do Muslims, Christians, and Jews have for believing in ancient prophets like Idris, Nuh, Ibrahim other than the fact they are mentioned in the Bible and the Quran? Even the historicity of prophets who lived more recently, like Isa and Muhammad, is questioned by some modern academics, who claim there is no “hard” empirical evidence for their existence.
Indeed, Jalajel’s framework renders all of the historical claims of the Quran as myth, since most of those claims are not validated by scientific or historical research. He seems to be blissfully unaware of the far reaching implications of his own words. For example he says:
“The notion of Adam and Eve as ‘mythical’ beings, though maybe not an excellent choice of words due to some negative connotations, is literally reminiscent of the way Sunni theologians have always looked at them, as a matter of the Unseen which comes under the category of the samʿiyyat, something that is known to us exclusively through scriptural sources without any empirical evidence.”
What he fails to mention is that the scholars did not include Adam and other prophets in the category of sam`iyyat. They were not Unseen. How could they be when they came to humanity in flesh and blood? Jalajel’s argument is based on nothing more than a creative distortion of these basic theological categories.
Beyond claiming that our father Adam and his spouse were myths, Jalajel makes further shocking claims about Bani Adam:
“It is possible for traditionally-minded Muslims to accept human evolution without reservation and without having to reinterpret the texts about the creation of Adam and Eve to mean anything other than what classical Muslim theologians have taken them to mean. In other words, they can accept the idea that biological organisms classified as Homo sapiens might have evolved from earlier hominids while still upholding the belief that Adam and Eve were created without parents and that all human beings on earth today are Adam and Eve’s descendants.”
This amounts to sheer sophistry, which becomes apparent when we list out the claims Jalajel makes in his last sentence.
- Biological organisms classified as Homo sapiens evolved from earlier hominids.
- Adam and Eve were created without parents.
- All human beings on earth today are Adam and Eve’s descendents.
How could all three of these statements be true? Are not all human beings also Homo sapiens? Logically, the only way that all three statements could be true is if all human beings evolved from earlier hominids and are descendents of Adam and Eve. If human beings evolved from earlier hominids that means human beings are descendents of those hominids. This would mean that humanity is not only Bani Adam, i.e., descendents of Adam but also descendents of some ape-like creatures in the distant evolutionary past! We would have to consider not only Adam as the father of humanity but also these ape-like creatures.
Jalajel confirms this interpretation of his argument when he says:
“What matters is that a belief in the Adam’s [sic] direct creation does not prevent Muslims who hold that belief from accepting the possibility that beings who were biologically human could have evolved on Earth from other species, beings identical in every way to the descendants of Adam.”
According to Jalajel, there could be some species roaming the earth that is identical to the descendants of Adam in every single way, but are not really descended from him. Even you, dear reader, might have thought of yourself as a descendant of Adam, but in reality you descended from pre hominid apes and ultimately, amoeba, bacteria, etc. Jalajel assures us:
“Adam’s descendants can be seen as full members of the broader human family.”
In other words, Adam’s descendants are a subset of humanity as whole. This means that you may be a member of the broader human family, but you may not actually be a descendant of Adam!
This is pure, undiluted deviance. Just because Jalajel acknowledges the Adam was created by Allah without being born does not make his view any less deviant. The entire significance of Adam being the father of ALL humanity is that we are also his spiritual and biological descendant. Jalajel’s thesis completely undermines this Islamic ontology.
In this way, Jalajel lays waste to numerous parts of Islamic creed to accommodate human evolution.
He also accuses Muslims of not understanding the Quranic account of Adam’s creation:
“The conflicts we see in Muslim communities today have arisen because the scriptural texts have been over-interpreted by contemporary Muslims who, having been confronted with the question of human biological origins, took the Adam and Eve story to be an account of those biological origins. This is just an assumption they make that overreaches what is found in the texts and which violates the principle of theological non-commitment (tawaqquf) required when dealing with matters of the Unseen.”
It is not just “contemporary Muslims” who understood the creation of Adam as a biological origin of humanity. All scholars understood the Quran this way. The Prophet and the Companions and Salaf, et al., all understood the Quran in this way, as a biological account of human origins, since, lest we be confused, the entire notion of genealogy is inexorably biological. It is only Jalajel who has read the Quran and sees it as compatible with this bizarre story about humans being hybrid offspring descended from Adam as well as ape-like pre hominids.
But he insists that everyone else is mistaken:
“This assumption is widely held by people today, and it clouds many discussions on the theological implications of human evolution, where we find the account of Adam’s origins being presented as if it is synonymous with an account of human biological origins. This is incorrect from the methodological approach of classical theology, since it over-extends what the texts are actually saying about a matter of the Unseen.”
Again, pure sophistry. How can descent from ancestors occur genealogically without biological reproduction? To say that Adam is the progenitor of all human beings — as the Quran and Sunna do — is to make an inherently biological claim about human origins. Unless Jalajel means something completely different by the word “biology”! These ludicrous word games are reminiscent of US President Bill Clinton’s infamous questioning of what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.
Finally, Jalajel pretends to be an aqida specialist:
“It is possible for a person to believe in human evolution, based on scientific evidence, and dismiss the story of Adam being created without parents, as some Muslims do who choose not to follow the classical interpretive strategies I am exploring.”
On what basis can Jalajel make such a claim about what does or does not take someone out of Islam? According to him, a person can outright “dismiss” the Quranic account of Adam’s creation and still be Muslim. As we saw above, numerous scholars judged this as manifest kufr because it is a rejection of numerous clear-cut ayat of the Quran. Who is Jalajel to contest their scholarly determination?
Overall, Jalajel reveals himself in this sentence from his trainwreck of an essay:
“Science makes claims about human biological origins. What needs to be done, then, is assess to what extent classical Islamic theology requires understanding the story of Adam and Eve to be an explanation for those origins.”
In other words, Jalajel wants to know what is the minimum requirement that he can get away with. What is the absolute lowest bar, the lowest common denominator that will allow him to accept the dominant status quo. The danger with tip-toeing the line is that you inevitably cross the line. Indeed, this is precisely Yaqeen’s approach to Islam.
The earlier version of this article partially quoted one of several statements from Jalajel that Adam and Eve could be considered “mythical beings.” In the original version of the article, we quoted Jalajel saying: “It could be argued that Adam and Eve are “mythical” in the sense that belief in them rests solely upon a person’s acceptance of the divine origins of the texts that speak about them.” Yaqeen Institute protested that this partial quote was “academically dishonest” and misrepresented Jalajel because it didn’t include one word: “If” and presented the quote in the form of a complete sentence rather than as a dependent clause not ending in a period. We explain how this was not a lie or misrepresentation here. We have also updated the article to include “If” and added two more quotes from the article proving how no misrepresentation and the partial quote was perfectly representative of Jalajel’s descriptions and designations of Adam and Eve being “mythical” or “mythical beings,” in the sense that they are not empirical. We regret any genuine confusion we caused to any of our readers due to our original editorial decision. Our intention is to highlight and clarify the actual ideas we are critiquing, never to confuse. The ideas in this case are bad enough by themselves and don’t need our help to make them appear worse.