The debate between science and religion on the evolutionary theory has been contested among a wide range of religions and scientists for years, but Islamic student initiative Project Nur program manager Shakir Mohammed said people could still study science and believe in the Muslim faith.
“We are hoping people get an idea and are interested in how religion has affected they way they [scientists] understand science,” he said. “[People] can see how religion and science are separate, but how they can study both.”
A panel of scholars weighed in on the agreements and divergences of Muslim tradition and the theory of evolution at Project Nur and the American Islamic Congress’ second session of the series Wednesday night at Boston University’s Photonics Center.
College of Arts and Sciences senior Nicole Bhatia, who studies Islam and the Middle East as an international relations major, said there is a question of whether or not a clash between Islam and evolution exists.
“Some extremists believe everything in the Koran,” she said. “That is the world, that’s it. But there are things that we have now that it [the Koran] can’t explain.”
Bhatia said the clash depends on how someone defines Islam or evolution and if it then raises the question of whether people of the Islamic culture will more forward with science.
“During the Islam revival, many people thought they had to cling to religion,” she said. “I feel like we’re biased because of where we live, but in other parts of the world, they’re stagnant.”
Salman Hameed, associate professor of integrated sciences and humanities at Hampshire College and director of the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies, said to a crowd of about 120 people that over the past couple decades, creationism has spread around the world, including the Muslim world.
“This conversation is not about thermodynamics or chemical bonds,” he said. “We’re talking about evolution because it is in an area that is uncomfortable and has tension in these parts of the world.”
Hameed said the clash between evolutionary theory and Islam stems from those who project set opinions, one way or another, about the subject.
“If a person believes in the descent of species, then yes, there is a clash,” he said. “If a person believes that humans were specifically made as is on Earth, then there is a clash.”
Other panelists included research chair in evolutionary developmental biology and principal investigator at the Abouheif Lab at McGill University, Ehab Abouheif, who is assistant professor of molecular biology and director of the Centre for Studies at Hashemite University, Rana Dajani and postdoctoral fellow of psychology at Harvard University and psychiatry and law at Harvard Medical School, Omar Sultan Haque.
CAS senior Mohammad Zaidi said the question of if he believes in evolution and science as a Muslim has come up many times, although it is a controversial subject.
“I liked how they talked about things I was interested in, especially between the balance between religion and science,” he said. “I liked how Hameed talk about Pakistani physicians and how many of them supported evolution.”
Sami Hamdan, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences senior, said he had his own opinions, but wanted to hear what other people who also study science with Muslim religious backgrounds thought.
“Some of our basic ideas are similar, but I [had] never heard them discussed in such a structured way before,” he said. “I really liked that they said religion is a way of living and science is understanding life. People don’t always think about that.”
Bhatia said the panelists represented unique standpoints with different backgrounds well.
“I thought about what Dajani talked about freedom and ways Islamic countries are suppressing science and new-thinking,” she said. “The other guys did a good job on the compatibility of science and religion. Most people accept that or just don’t care.”