By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Science tells us that living beings passed through a long process of evolution from non-living geo-chemical state to living biochemical state. As a Muslim, I am guided by Quran and from a very young age my Islamiat teacher taught me that Quran is against science. For example, I was told that the first human was created by Kun Fia Kun (Be and it is) and that Quran doesn’t believe in evolution.
The unimpressive religious primary school teacher expected me to learn like a parrot than a thinking youngster. At that tender age, I was made to flow in two streams; a sentimental stream pushing me to believe in Quranic version; a thinking stream telling me to follow things scientifically. The first stream bombarded me with fear and guilt through wrong translations and interpretations of Quran which were totally against what I read in science books. It was like a competition between blind faith and logical assessment and blind faith seemed to be winning. With that mind set, I grew up before I joined medical college.
It was working at Royal Marsden Hospital in London which opened my mind. That hospital admitted only cancer patients. There was a ward where we admitted un treatable terminally ill patients to make their final days of life painless. They knew they were going to die and they accepted their death. I used to see them chatting and laughing as if nothing was wrong in their lives. They took active part in activities such as requesting for their favourite songs in hospital radio station etc. As a young trainee doctor, I couldn’t understand it. I thought if it was me dying from a killer disease, I would be feeling sorry for myself and living miserably in depression. They were not. Some of them were the members of spiritual society of London and used to talk about the life beyond. One day, during the round, I noted this young Christian patient full of life chatting and laughing as if she found a new life. On questioning she told me she met Jesus in her dream. He told her she shouldn’t be afraid of dying as he would be there to receive her. That dream made her cheerful, happy and even bubbly. That night she died in her sleep. When I saw her the next day to confirm her death, there was serene smile on her face as if she sleeping peacefully.
Her death shook me and I started looking at life differently. I started reading about life after death which later dragged me towards spirituality. The subject was a new leaf in my life and I started studying Quran to see what Quran was saying about life after death and whether it was against science as taught earlier in my school days. At that time, there was no internet to get such information and moreover I was preparing for FRCS exams. It was exasperating looking for scientific answers in Quran which needed in-depth religious study.
Time rolled on. My quest continued and Information Technology (IT) surfaced and flourished rapidly making theological, spiritual and scientific knowledge easily accessible.
On theology, I read about how the concept of religion came into the mind-set of primitive human in the budding societies. And how they were organised on the platform of theology, philosophy and spirituality. I also came to know that theology talked about the world of the unknown. Philosophy discussed the world of the known and spirituality became a link between the world of the known and world of the unknown.
On spirituality, I found it was based on human values. One could only become a spiritualist if he/she was kind, tolerant, and loving human being.
On science, I came to know that the universe was created 13.7 billion years ago and the earth was 4.8 billion years old. Before life appeared on earth, the non-living atoms such as hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus interacted with each other by chance to make the first protein. This was followed by formation of sugars and lipids. These three played essential role in converting geochemical world into biochemical. The recent computerised calculation revealed that it would have taken 15 billion years for one self-assembled functioning protein to appear as a result of chance combination of various atoms while the life of universe is 13.7 billion years. And there are 300 different proteins in a living cell each going independently through the processes. Moreover, every cell needs sugars, lipids and a few other elements for its survival. Like protein they were also formed individually in their own time scales. According to computerised calculations the whole process would have taken multibillion years if chance combination was the only process. The problem didn’t stop there. After gathering of these components, they were folded by an impermeable membrane to become a cell. How long that process had taken was beyond computerised calculation.
To top it up, the science doesn’t know how life appeared in the cell. All it tells us that most probably life appeared at once because if left for the natural process of chance, its ingredients would have developed differently and gone in different directions making appearance of life impossible. It was after appearance of living cell that the process of life went through evolutionary stages from Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryotes making a tree of life.
What caught my attention was that life appeared at once after proteins, sugars and lipids were folded in an impermeable cell membrane. This sounded familiar as Quran also spoke of initiation of life with Kun Fia Kun (Be and it is). I went back to the holy book and found the word appeared 8 times in the context of creation of life. (6:73, 3:47, 3:59, 19:35, 2:117, 6:73, 36:82, 40:60,). I also noted that before appearance of life, Quran talked about an impermeable partition or membrane (25:53, 55:19) which was similar in description to the one science talked about.
Did it mean Quran was a book of science? The answer was not at all. It was then, I realised it’s a book of signs which talks in language of signs for thinking mind. Then, the final question started bugging me. What about evolution? I got the answer when I read Sura 59:24 in which Allah calls Himself ‘Baari’ meaning the Evolver who, in the process of perfection, shapes and fashions existing matter.
It took me many years to clear my mind that Quran was not against science, only if we read it judiciously without prejudice to science.