In England, it is a killing offence for Muslims to teach Evolution, and deny the Koran that claims that Allah created Adam from clay and breathed life into him.
Usama Hasan is a senior lecturer in the department of business information systems at Middlesex University, UK, and an imam at al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton, east London. Three years ago, he wore an article supporting the science of evolution
One problem is that many Muslims retain the simple picture that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into the lifeless statue and lo! it became a living human. This is a children’s madrasa-level understanding and Muslims really have to move on as adults and intellectuals, especially given the very serious scientific heritage of the medieval Islamic civilisation.
Another objection that is sometimes posed is the following: doesn’t evolution denigrate and insult all humans, but especially the prophets of God, by insisting that we all originate from apes? I reply that the theory doesn’t insult anyone, but does remind us of the humble origins of our created form. This is nothing new or blasphemous, since numerous Qur’anic verses remind us that we are all created from “dust” via sexual discharges: “despised drops of water”. Those verses clearly do not insult the prophets. Meanwhile, our spiritual form remains the most exalted, since it is from the spirit of God breathed into Adam: we exist for the most noble purpose of knowing and loving God, freely and after having been given a choice.
Since blasphemy is a capital offence to fundamentalists, he has received death threats as he explains in an interview in New Scientist.
What happened recently to stir things up?
Things escalated in December when a visiting influential Saudi scholar, Salir al-Sadlan, was asked whether someone who believed in evolution was fit to lead prayers, and he said no. An online petition against me was set up, saying I should be removed from al-Tawhid mosque, where I have been a prayer leader for 25 years. So in January I held a lecture at the mosque to clarify my position on why evolution does not undermine the scriptures. The lecture was disrupted by a small gang of fanatics and I had to abandon it.
How has this affected your everyday life?
It has been quite serious. At the lecture a leaflet was handed out saying that anybody believing in evolution or who propagates it must be killed. Knowing some of the people behind this, in the small fanatical fringe of the British Muslim community, I know they believe that literally. They are pro-violence. So it was very worrying, especially as I have young children. I have had to take out extra security at home, which I guess will stay for the rest of my life.
This has forced him to back down from his position.
Recently you retracted your views because of the outrage they caused. Could you explain?
My retraction was saying that I misjudged how to go about explaining these things. Sooner or later someone will have to address the issue of evolution – it’s a no-go area, especially with the clerics – but I’m abandoning my attempt to reconcile it with the Koran until things settle down. I am not willing to risk my life over this issue.
With hindsight I probably went too far in stating a position so explicitly; a better option may have been to simply open up the debate. I have been heartened by the support I have had. Many people have said that while they didn’t actually agree with me, I should have the right to discuss the matter.
Evolution is as well established as a scientific theory can possibly be, and most Western Muslims have no problem accepting that simple fact. However, the radial segment is serious enough about their beliefs that they have driven a number of writers underground–Salman Rushdie being the most famous example. They have killed others such as Theo van Gogh who had the temerity to produce a film exposing domestic violence in Islamic families. His killer expressed no remorse or empathy and claimed he would gladly repeat his actions. By their actions, the radical Muslims managed to suppress the further publication of cartoons originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Honour killings are not uncommon even here in Canada, and it is not difficult to find numerous other examples of Fundamentalist Islamic violence.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has been dealing with proposals condemning blasphemy for a number of years, always driven by Islamic countries. In fact for several years, non-binding resolutions have passed; however, following campaigns by other nations, it has been recognized that blasphemy and free speech are diametrically opposed concepts.
It has been proven time and again that theocracies, of any stripe, and personal freedoms cannot co-exist. The United States has a large proportion of it’s population who support a state based upon Christian religious principles. While not as violent in our western culture as their Muslim brethren, at least in Western culture, they still support a removal of many freedoms that have been taken for granted over the past 200 years.
Here in Canada, we are so-far free from such religious challenges, but we are not immune to influences from the rest of the world, particularly our neighbours to the south. Creeping religiosity is something we ignore at our peril.