Search magazine has just posted “Evolving Allah,” an article of mine on how people think about evolution in the Middle East. More in-depth than my earlier piece for Seed, it revolves around my interview with Harun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar), the leader of a Turkish religious community known for his passion for creationism.
When Oktar arrived, he was wearing a variation of his usual outfit: black slacks, black blazer, and black Versace T-shirt. He greeted me kindly, but had no interest in small talk either before or after the interview. We sat in elegant white upholstered chairs and drank peach juice. He answered my questions in long paragraphs, making clear to me what he sees as the cosmic urgency of his struggle. The translator raced to keep up on his notepad.
“God created Darwinism to test human beings,” he explained. “Thousands were caught in this godly test, and they failed in this test. Even a child would not believe in the dictates of Darwinism.”
That said, the emphasis of the article is not on Yahya’s polished polemic. I instead try to focus on the many Muslims I met who had quite sensible views about evolution, and who are eager to learn more about it. In this way, I echo Salman Hameed’s argument that the matter of evolution in the Muslim world is right now very much an open question.
One encounter that was particularly striking, which I don’t have the chance to discuss in the article, was at Dana Nature Preserve in Jordan, a beautiful canyon that has been protected as an animal habitat and a place to enjoy nature. Abu Ahmed, the manager, was an older man who described himself as “nearly illiterate.” When I first asked him about evolution, he said, Islam doesn’t allow it. Nature was created for the purpose of man—whenever nature turns against us it is because we have interfered with it. All is a balance, and man was created at the end by God, not from monkeys.
But I had gotten him thinking. The next day at breakfast he came to me and asked why, if evolution is true, monkeys don’t turn into people. I explained the principle of common ancestry. He was interested when I suggested how God might have worked through the evolutionary process. At the end, as we left, he approached me again to apologize if he seemed to be saying that others are wrong. He had only offered his opinion and was eager to know more.
Ibrahim, a young ecologist at the park, said that evolution was taught to him in school, in biology class. As he understands it, evolution is compatible with the Qur’an. But his teacher told them they didn’t have to believe evolution is true.
We cannot let Harun Yahya represent the Muslim world’s views—on anything, really. Let the conversation continue, and let it go more smoothly there than it did in the West.