An imam of an east London mosque, Usama Hasan, received a death threat for arguing in support of human evolution two years ago. On Saturday, London played host to a riveting intrafaith dialogue on Islam's stance on the theory of evolution. The east London imam was one of the speakers – but this time there were others who shared his viewpoint.
The event, organised by the Deen Institute, was titled Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution? The speakers included an evolutionary biologist, a biological anthropologist, two theologians and a bona fide creationist.
It lasted seven hours, yet almost everyone stayed till the end. There were more than 850 people in the audience and even though the topic was sensitive and controversial, there was no heckling or disruption. At least from my limited interactions, it seemed that the audience was comprised mostly of young professionals. Most had no strong opinion, but their interest was evident as they were willing to spend their entire Saturday hearing about Muslim positions on evolution.
They were not disappointed.
Conversations at events such as these are often derailed by the unscientific rhetoric and common misconceptions of creationists. The success of this event related to the fact that all panellists, with the exception of a creationist, more or less accepted the scientific consensus on evolution. This allowed the discussion to centre on the question: can Muslims reconcile human evolution with their faith?
I think it is important for Muslims (and non-Muslims) to know that there are Muslim scientists who not only understand evolution, but have also thought about its implications for their own personal religious beliefs. Ehab Abouheif is an evolutionary biologist who holds the Canada research chair at McGill University and works on ant evolution. He laid out the scientific case for biological evolution and spoke about the need for Muslims to understand this bedrock principle of modern biology. He used the example of his own personal faith to counter the misconception that one cannot reconcile evolution with Islam.