Shabir - Welcome to another addition of Let the Quran Speak. Peace be with you and the mercy and blessings of God. I’m your host, Shabir Ally. In this episode, we have a special guest to deal with a number of very interesting and deep issues regarding science and philosophy and religion all bound up together. First the Quran’s approach to reason, second the Quran and its relation to science, and finally we’ll be looking at the question of evolution and the development and the diversity of life. And of course as usual we’ll deal with some of the most common questions we received from you, our viewers. Our special guest is Dr. Nadeem Haque, he’s the author of a two volume book, entitled from From Microbits to Everything and he is a civil engineer by profession but he is also a researcher and author on history and philosophy of science and on philosophy of religion and on environmentalism. We’re lucky to have him at the studio with us, he hails from Oakville Ontario. Brother Nadeem, welcome to the show.
Nadeem – Assalamu ‘alaikum!
Shabir – Wa ‘alaikum asalaam wabarakatuhu! OK, you have written a lot about these issues, but I want to break them down into simple terms and deal with them one section at a time. Let’s talk about the Quran’s approach to reason. When people think about the role of reason in religion, they think of reason as being somehow contrary to the faith. How does the Quran approach the subject?
Nadeem - Yes, actually we should define reason: The definition of reason is what everybody knows of as reason, but they probably don’t think about it much.It is that [for instance]… it’s not too wise to stand in the middle of a road because if a car’s coming you better get out of the way because you’re going to be killed. So, in that sense, your goal is not to be killed, [and therefore] you get out of the way when the car comes. So that is,..the basic definition of reason: [it’s] where you see the connections between things, between cause and effect. The car’s coming, [the cause, and] I’m going to get killed, that’s the effect; I’m going to die… maybe. So that is the idea of reason. But —
Shabir - So you're saying that in a sense, reason is very basic to all individuals, we cannot escape the use of reason somehow.
Nadeem – Yes, and if we see the connectivities of things in a proper way, then that can lead to something that is beneficial. And the idea of reason is captured by the words used — [particularly one ] word used in — the Quran: ‘Imaan.’ The root of Imaan is amana which means—
Shabir - And Iman we take [to be] a simple term meaning faith.
Nadeem - Yeah, faith. But this is deeper. …[T]he root is amana, which means to confirm things, [or] to verify [things] and it also means security and peace. And the way these are related, is as follows: Let’s say that you are in a dangerous neighbourhood, and you don’t know whether the door is locked or not and so you may be feeling very edgy and you don’t feel secure. The way you’re going to find out [is if] you’re going to use … our mind and your eyes. You’re going to go to the door, you’re going to check it [and] you’re going to verify it. And from that you’ve confirmed it’s secure, that it’s locked. Then you feel secure, and therefore because you feel secure you feel at peace. Now the word Islam means peace and submission. So how is the word Islam connected to Imaan? Well, it is a peace that you arrive at by submitting to the evidence. And that is the basic meaning of Islam. It means submit to the evidence, to the facts, and the fact — when you look at the universe — is that there is indeed only One Creator. So in other words, you submit to that Creator. And once you submit to that Creator, you are at peace
Shabir - So, just to make sure, we don’t lose any of our possible non-Muslim viewers, who might not be so familiar with these terms, Islam and Imaan, Islam is the name of the religion, of Islam. And Imaan isa simple word for faith. So you’re saying that that word for faith also implies a certain sense of peace and security and that same sense is also included in the word Islam?
Nadeem - Yes, what I’m trying to show is rationality or reasoning is embedded in the word Islam itself and indeed when you do embrace Islam you say: “You… bear witness that there is no God, with a small g, but the God!” In other words, you’ve verified, using the process of elimination, that there is only one God. So you can see that that is the basis of belief and indeed when Ibrahim [Prophet Abraham] was trying to figure out how the universe was structured, [that is] whether there was a God or not, he used the process of elimination. It says in the Quran that: “We [God] showed Ibrahim the signs [kingdom of the heavens and the earth] so that he would become one of those who is certain.” He looked at the sun, the moon and the stars and he used the process of elimination and he realized that these cannot be a Creator because they’re not permanent — they set. And if they’re not permanent, they set — they don’t have power over us. So that which must have power, must be that which is always present, which is always there. And therefore, he concludes from that, that that… entity is also the originator. Because there is only one which can give power, and that must have originated everything — it must always be there. It [the universe] could not have self-originated ... So yeah, he’s using logic, he’s using reasoning to arrive at that. And so the Quran is full of [advice to use reason]: it says to use your logic, use your mind, [it asks:] “What is wrong with you, do you not use your reason”?! So —
Shabir - So why has the use of reason then, become not so commonplace among Muslim scholarship and in common definitions and approaches to Islam.
Nadeem – Yeah, there are psychological, socio-political factors that have transpired over the years and I think that generally, if some group wants to control another group, then they will tend to say that you have to just listen to us, we are the authorities and you cannot use your reason and you should come to us…these things are too difficult and you cannot even use your reason in some cases… or in many cases. So what happens is that we tend to go away from the Quran, in the Quran it says: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah and do not separate from it.” Now if I’m right in what I’m saying the Quran emphasizes reasoning and indeed reasoning is the basis of salvation — by the way, there’s a verse in the Quran which says that:“If only we had listened or used our reasoning, we would not be in hellfire!” [then] [t]hat’s a Salvation Verse, [and] what it’s saying is: if you listen and reason, you use your information properly, then you would not end up in hellfire. So, when it says “hold fast to the rope of Allah”, it’s saying hold fast to this idea of rationality and don’t separate from it, that is the book. It’s not saying don’t separate from among each other. And one last thing is that the [one] word for reason is…. aqal from iqaal which means to bind things together, to tie something valuable. So, it means interconnectivity.
Shabir - OK, so I’m going to close at that point [and] we’re going to take a break. When we come back folks, we will be looking at the Quran —
Part 2: The Quran and Science
Shabir – [Now we shall discuss] [t]he Quran and its harmony with science and nature; it’s unusual to find a book written hundreds or years ago describing scientific phenomenon and turning out to be very accurate in its descriptions. How does the Quran measure up in this regard? I’m going to talk to my guest, Nadeem Haque, who is a civil engineer by profession, author of many books, From Facts to Values for example, and most recently From Microbits to Everything, a two volume work. Let me turn to our guest. Brother Nadeem, science changes all the time, but we continually make new discoveries. The Quran was written some 14 hundred years ago; is there a harmony between the Quranic description of natural phenomena and our modern discoveries of that phenemona?
Nadeem - Yes ,there is and indeed the Quran asks us to challenge the Quran itself. It says that: “If this book were from other than God, then surely, you would find in it many inconsistencies.”
[Quran Ch. 4: Verse 82]So, we’re actually challenged to find whether there are any inconsistencies, for example —
Shabir - Has anyone tried to live up to this challenge, or to pursue this challenge?
Nadeem – Uh, yes. I think there are people who have. For example: Among the Muslims [there are those who] are, in a healthy way, trying to challenge the Quran. There are [indeed those like them]. And then there are others who are not so friendly with Islam, who have a very cheap way of attacking the Quran. For example…they will say that, “In the Quran it says that the birds are held up in the air by God; well, we don’t see the hand of God, for example, holding it up!” But what God is trying to convey there, is the power of God, because He is the source of everything. So, there’s nothing that goes against the theory of aerodynamics there. For example if I say, “I hold my family together!”, that doesn’t mean that I actually hold them together like that, right?
Shabir - But I’m sure you do hug them on occasions!
Nadeem – Ha-ha! Yeah! So indeed there are many verses in the Quran that deal with, [or]correspond with science. If you want I can mention a few.
Shabir – Sure!
Nadeem - So, in this century, George Lemaitre, who was actually a Christian priest and he hypothesized that the universe came from a big bang. So everything was compressed together, [including] all the galaxies and it [then] exploded.Now in the Quran, it says that: “Do those who cover the truth do not see that the universe and the earth were one piece and We [God] ripped them apart and We make every living thing from water? Will they even then not believe?” [21:30] And now we know that the universe is expanding and in the Quran it says that: “We have indeed created this universe with a force; We are most certainly expanding it….” And the word used [for expanding, in Arabic]is ‘musiuna’; it means expanding literally… It’s not … something metaphorical. And we have evidences in embryology and many other areas. So indeed, the Quran does correspond with science and it’s open to challenge!
Shabir - Tell us a little bit about embryology, what is that?
Nadeem – Embryology? There are verses [in the Quran about that]. What happened was that some Muslim scholars like Sheikh Zindani and others -- they couldn’t understand some verses in the Quran pertaining to embryology. For example, there’s a verse in the Quran which says that there’s a stage where you are like chewed flesh — ‘mudghaa’. What does that mean: chewed flesh? So what happened is that Keith Moore, at the University of Toronto [the Dean of Basic Sciences at the time], he was asked about this because he is an expert. And what he found out was that when you’re the size of a pinhead there are some marks —
Shabir - You’re speaking here of the developing embryo —
Nadeem - The developing embryo, exactly! So there are some [things].. the size of pinheads that you can’t see … unless you have a microscope, which they didn’t have in that time when Prophet Muhammad was on the scene. Microscopes were invented about a thousand years later, right? So there are some marks there, which are called somites, which become your backbone, but they resemble teeth marks. They resemble flesh which has been bitten into. That’s what the word ‘mudghaa’ is. So yes, the Quran describes all the stages of the human embryo, in a visual way.And I remember that we —
Shabir - So someone might say, look: babies must have been aborted and from time immemorial so someone observing an aborted fetus would know that this is how it looks like.
Nadeem - Yes, but you need microscopes to know that!
Shabir – OK!
Nadeem - It’s impossible, unless you have extremely good eyesight which is impossible, microscopic vision, [or] x-ray vision. A lot of things like that. So I think one has to question -- seriously question -- how this could have come about. Was it aliens? Did aliens come down to earth and tell Prophet Mohammad about that? Was it some guy who had this knowledge, who was in a cave: he suddenly came out and said to Prophet Muhammad: “Listen! You know when there’s a stage where you’re like that — tell the people that that’s chewed flesh?” When you think of all these [explanations], by the process of elimination, it’s just impossible to explain them using all these other hypotheses and you come to this conclusion that maybe that indeed it has to have been revealed by God other ideas don’t make sense!
Shabir - You mention the statement in the Quran that the universe is expanding, is this a well known scientific theory and is it reliable that this theory may soon be changed?
Nadeem - No it’s not a theory, it’s a fact! And it’s a fact because Edwin Hubble discovered that galaxies are receding from each other and it’s called redshift. So we know for a fact that the universe is expanding. Now there’s a slight problem here, in terms of fact, because what happened is that … some philosophers … are saying that you cannot arrive at fact…[and]… knowledge — Hume and others… [a]nd then [there's] Karl Popper …who says that you cannot actually end up with a fact: everything is provisional, everything is indeterminate. So a lot of these scientists are in that mode that [believes]: “Well we cannot really come and know that as a fact.” But that doesn’t make sense because we know for example that the earth is a spheroid. Maybe for some very smart stone-age guy, he may have said to people that it’s actually a spheroid — it’s not flat; if you walk very far, you’re not going to fall of the edge! Other people might say, “Well how do we know that?” And he might give his ideas. But now we know that the earth is a spheroid. So yes, indeed, things can indeed become fact.
Shabir - Is there anything in the Quran that will indicate that the earth is a spheroid?
Nadeem - I think there’s a verse there that talks of earth being like an egg shape[79:30], so yeah, there is that. And you have a Muslim scientist in the eleventh century, Al-Biruni, who talked about, for example, the rotation of the earth – an advanced concept like that.
Shabir - Do you think he got that idea from the Quran itself or some other sources of knowledge?
Nadeem - It’s hard to say how he got that idea. It’s possible that he got it from the Quran because there’s a verse in the Quran which says that the earth moves [mountains move] like the clouds move. So there’s a verse like that. But the main thing is that the Quran made people think about experimenting [and] testing things. It’s connected to the idea of confirmation, because from Greek philosophy you had the ideas of deduction. Aristotle was sitting on his armchair and made many comments, some were right, some were wrong. They were like hits and misses. But with the Muslims, they actually went and did experimentation; they did something and then they generalized it. They said: “Well if this works here, then it’ll work there! Then they established certain laws, they said: “This is a law!”, so —
Shabir - It’s a very interesting discussion, but I must cut it short for the time being.
Part 3: Quran and Evolution
Shabir - The theory of evolution has posed problems for believers who would have thought that God created us. So how does evolution fit in with the idea that God created us? Well, let’s talk to our guest and get the answer. Brother Nadeem, how do you reconcile the theory of evolution with belief in the Creator God.
Nadeem - Yes, this is a very touchy subject for a lot of people. But actually the interesting thing is that it was al- Jahiz in the 8th century —
Shabir - Who was al-Jahiz?
Nadeem - He was a Muslim writer and you could say a scientist too — someone who observed nature. And he was the first person to really talk about macroevolution, in terms of species changing from one to the other. But he talked of it in terms of a Law of God. So it wasn’t something that was based on chance or natural selection —
Shabir - How did he come to this idea that this happened?
Nadeem - This is a very interesting question! How could they think of that 1,400 years ago, because the Greeks didn’t even have those ideas. So I think that it’s just the nature of the Quran, in terms of maybe it’s the way it makes you think, that things transform, things change. There are verses that are definitely talking about evolution. We know that for sure, for example, the evolution of the stellar systems. It says: “God turned to the heaven when it was smoke, or gaseous particles…dust particles, and said to it come willingly or unwillingly? And they said we come willingly!” [41:11] Now we know that when there’s a supernova explosion — once a star goes supernova — it compresses other gases around it and they rotate, and these become the star in the center and the planets around. So yes, there is evolution there. Then the issue is: what about biological evolution. Could that have occurred? And I think these people —
Shabir - And most troubling in the area of biological evolution is that many champions of the theory of evolution seem to be presenting this as an alternative to the belief that God created us, so it’s a dichotomy as the way that it is presented: Either you believe that God created you, or believe that you evolved, through a long history of microscopic changes.
Nadeem – Yeah…because I think that the idea [to be understood is that] evolution is just a process: where’s the mind which directs?
Shabir - So you don’t see that there’s a dichotomy there between the two; it’s not an either/or, you can have both and.
Nadeem – Yes indeed, and the word [used] in the Quran, for example, that “We [God] created this universe in six stages and the earth in four stages” … [is] yaum; it doesn’t mean 24 hours, it’s translated as “day”, for example, but actually it’s [a] period – [that’s] what it means in Arabic. [It] could be billions of years, or it could be a picosecond.
Shabir - So is there room for Muslims believing in the Quran to say yes, it’s possible that God used the process called evolution, by which He created biological life.
Nadeem – Yes, indeed, but from my research — I’ve written a book which will be published soon, inshallah. I have eventually shown that the Quran does talk of even macroevolution and its through the idea of clay. So for example, when it says “We [God] created you from clay, it’s not the clay but the constituents of the chemicals in the clay. For example, it says that we created you from min nutfah, the seminal fluid. It’s not the seminal fluid, it’s the germ cell in the seminal fluid. So the word min means that which is in and recently James P. Ferris has discovered that montmorillonite clay is a clay that can combine nucleotides to produce RNA, and RNA, when it becomes complicated, then it can lead to DNA and whole of life because … how are you going to produce RNA, it’s very complicated? And the probability of doing that is astronomically [small]… impossible almost!
Shabir - But when scientists are experimenting like this they obviously work with the idea that God is irrelevant to the whole process and they try to discover natural causes and their affects. But doing it that way, aren’t they excluding God from all of our thought process?
Nadeem – Yeah! They’re excluding God but what we have to do is, we have to … [point to] the truth of the matter [which is] that God initially created the universe the way it talks about it in the Quran, through the Big Bang and [then] He set about devising the particles in such a way that they would form a developmental path. And indeed the Quran talks about [the fact that] “We have created a heaven full of paths…”, so it’s these pathways. And these pathways, the reason why they develop is through the idea of balance, ‘miizaan.’So for example, if I’m pushing two things together they won’t move if they have an equal force, but if this force is greater then it’s going to move. So the way development and indeed even evolution happens, which I have shown in my book, has to do with the idea of miizaan. I call it quasi-equilibrium. For example, if I’m seated like this, I’m not going to fall but if I sit further back at a certain angle there’s going to be enough force downward that I’m going to fall. So I have to reach a ‘critical mass’ to fall. So I believe that that’s how evolution occurs. This is the theoretical part of my work, that there is a mechanism, that has to do with balance, changing of the balance in the genome, when it reaches a critical mass, then a cascade occurs, then the genotype, that’s the gene, change and then the phenotype [body] changes. That’s why you have…periods where there’s no change and suddenly you have a change, because it has to reach a ‘critical mass’ to occur, but it can’t happen by natural selection, because with natural selection the problem is you have this mutation. You say it happens due to mutation but mutations are deleterious, they’re harmful, most of them. [Refer to the new book on Evolution by Nadeem Haque, as noted below].
Shabir - You seem to be saying that without God this whole thing cannot work.
Nadeem - No, it can’t.
Part 4: Questions
Shabir - And now some of the most common questions we received from you our viewers. Brother Nadeem, looking at the questions we have been receiving most recently, there are several that tend to re-occur and of course we have to be selective and I’m going to deal with some questions that you seem to have the expertise to handle best. One of the questions...actually comes right out of what we discussed, in fact, in belief and beyond seeing. The Quran, right from the very start of the second chapter describes believers as those who believe in the unseen things. So, some think tha this means putting blind faith or trust in things that we don’t see. How does that gel with what you have said in this program?
Nadeem – Ah, yes! When it says believe in the unseen, this is the book for those who believe in the unseen, Al-Ghaib, the word for belief/believe as I mentioned is Iman — which is amana. So, what the book is saying is: this is the book for those who confirm, who verify in the existence of so that which is unseen. But then may say how can you verify that which is unseen? We have oxygen for example, we don’t see oxygen, we don’t have to visually see something to know it exists. We know it exists because of its effects. We don’t see gravity, but we know that it exists because of its effects. So there are many things that we know of —
Shabir - So you are saying that believing in things that we do not see does not go contrary to the idea of science and verification?
Nadeem - No, because it’s actually very rational, because you know that it exists because of its effects. There are some effects, you don’t see it —
Shabir - And there may be some things that we believe in as Muslims, though we do not see the effects of them. Let’s say our belief in angels for example. Is there any kind of scientific proof or anything that will lead us to the belief in angels?
Nadeem - Yes. As far as angels go, it’s connected to the idea that the Quran is a revelation. And we know it’s a revelation because if this were from other than God, you’d find many inconsistencies in it. So you prove that the Quran is the truth because how could all that information be in the Quran? So, now when the Quran talks of the fact that there are angels, you will believe in it because it has proven itself, in other areas. And then there are things that have to do with personal experiences. But those are personal so they may —
Shabir - It’s not proof for others.
Nadeem - Yeah, just for yourself. So, when the Quran says that there’s Jibreel [Angel Gabriel] who brings down revelation, we know it to be true, because the Quran mentions it and we accept the Quran because it has been proven beyond the shadow of doubt that the Quran is the truth, using reason. So it’s not blind faith or something like that.
Shabir - Okay, seeing the time we have remaining, there is one pressing question that people keep asking about. If we accept the theory of evolution, how does that affect our belief, as the Quran states that God created Adam?
Nadeem - Well this is my personal experience from my own research, and this can of course be refuted by Muslims if they want to, but I’ve come to this conclusion that: The word ‘Adam’ has been used in two ways in the Quran. One is the actual person Adam, he did exist and he was the first one to whom God communicated. And the other sense of Adam is [of] that Adam as man in general, because in the Quran it’s interesting: it says that: ”We created you from dust and We told angels to bow down to Adam. Why is it saying that? What it’s saying there is you are Adam in the sense of man, like for example Son of Man. So when it says children of Adam, it’s talking about humanity, in that case. So, even with that kind of verse, it doesn’t contradict this possibility that Adam was not … the first man, but indeed he was the first person who to God communicated. And the story Adam and Eve —
Shabir – OK, so, one last question. I hope we have time; we’ll have to be brief with the answer. But it’s about the limitations with trying to find correlations between Quranic statements on the one hand and modern scientific discoveries on the other hand? The question especially becomes important because sometimes we have people trying to do all kinds of strange things with Quranic verses. Somebody tries to calculate the speed of light and things like that. Are there some limitations and is there a method that gives us some assurance that we’re on solid ground in finding correlation between these two?
Nadeem - Yeah, there’s nothing better than reason. Just try and figure out if something is a fact or not first of all and then look at the Quran and look at the language of the Quran, look at the context of the verse. Connect the verses up and come to a solid understanding of what the Quran is saying. Now there may be cases where you don’t know what the Quran is saying, because the Quran is like the universe, so you’re not clear. Therefore you cannot do a comparison.
Shabir – Unfortunately, we’ll have to leave it at that...
Nadeem Haque is the author of the following books: