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Early Muslim Encounters with Darwinian Theory of Evolution in South Asia: A Study of Shibli Nomani’s Response

Muhammad Younus and Ayesha Qurrat ul Ain

Published: 2024/06/01


Since the introduction of Darwin’s theory of evolution to the Muslim world, a multitude of responses have appeared ranging from outright rejection to attempts to reconcile the theory with Islamic beliefs. This essay introduces and critically analyzes one of the earliest Muslim reconciliatory responses to Darwin in colonial India. This response holds significant historical value and intrigues scholars and students alike. It offers a unique perspective on how early modern Indian Muslim scholars deliberated the issues it raised about faith, reason, and knowledge while re-orienting the classical disciplines of Kalam and Islamic philosophy. Shibli Nomani’s engagement with the Darwinian theory of evolution, stemming from his approach toward the revival of Ilm-e-Kalam in the age of science and empiricism, is a vital part of this historical narrative. Therefore, it is significant to evaluate his contribution to understanding how the conflict between religion and science triggered debates in Muslim epistemology and hermeneutics in early modern India and how Shibli tried to revitalize the Islamic theological approach accommodating the empirical foundations of science with the classical metaphysical foundations of Islamic knowledge. This paper argues that Shibli’s encounter with Darwin can be taken as a classic example showing how the reformist Muslim mind of colonial India perceived itself as a continuation of the historical process of safeguarding religion from external threats of disbelief and skepticism. Overall, this paper contributes to the ongoing conversation about the intersection of religion and science, highlighting the importance of considering diverse perspectives and fostering greater understanding. Keywords: Darwinian Theory, Evolution, Islam & Science, Shibli Nomani, Charles Darwin, Darwin in Urdu

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