Ibn Khaldun on ‘Evolution’

It should be known that we – May God guide you and us – notice that this world with all the created things in it has a certain order and solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless.

One should then look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch. The word “connection” with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group.

The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and to reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of the monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man after (the world of monkeys). This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.

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Abdassamad Clarke is from Ulster and was formally educated at Edinburgh University in Mathematics and Physics, and in Cairo in Arabic and tajwid and other Islamic sciences. He accepted Islam at the hands of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in 1973. In the 80s he was secretary to the imam of the Dublin Mosque, and in the early 90s imam khatib of the Norwich Mosque, where he is currently an imam and teacher. He has translated the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad by Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani (jointly with Muhammad Abdarrahman), which was published by Turath Publishing at the end of July 2004 and a number of other works from Arabic: al-Qawl al-mu'tamad fi mashru'iyyat adh-dhikr bi'l-ism al-mufrad by Shaykh al-Alawi on the standing in Shari’ah of using the divine name in dhikr, which was published by Diwan Press as first part of The Two Invocations and since republished by Madinah Press, The History of the Khalifahs (the chapters on the Khulafa ar-Rashidun from as-Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa), the Complete Forty Hadith (translation of Imam an-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith along with the Imam’s explanation of their fiqh and linquistic usages) and Kitab al-Jami’ by Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (published as A Madinan View), Rijal – narrators of the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad, all published by Ta-Ha Publishers of London, Kitab al-athar by Imam Abu Hanifah and transmitted by Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybani (Turath Publishing 2006), The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom (a translation of Jami' al-'ulum wa'l-hikam by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, published by Turath Publishing 2007). In addition he has edited Aisha Bewley's translation of Ibn Hajar's abridgement of at-Targhib wa't-Tarhib, Ibn Taymiyyah's al-Kalim at-Tayyib both published by the UK Islamic Academy, Dr Asadullah Yate's translation of al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, published by Ta-Ha Publishing and a number of other works. He is currently engaged with Suád Østergaard on a translation of the Qur’an into Danish, the first volume of which translated in collaboration with Jakob Werdelin, comprising Surat al-Fatihah, Surat al-Baqarah and Surah Ali ‘Imran, was recently published as Den gavmilde Qur’an: en fremlægning of de tre første suraer by Havens Forlag of Copenhagen. Translations yet to be published include Traditions of the Sunnah (Athar as-sunan) by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Ali an-Nimawi (jointly with Mawlana In'amuddin), to be published by Turath Publishing Ltd. Among his unpublished translations are the Sciences of Tafsir comprising portions of Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi’s Qur’anic commentary at-Tashil li ‘ulum at-tanzil, in particular his introductory sections on the essential elements of the sciences necessary for tafsir. He is author of a number of children’s books, The Year of the Elephant, The Great Victory and The Last Battle all of which are on the sirah of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as well as The Story of Stories about the Prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, in which he drew a great deal on the commentary of Ibn Juzayy, may Allah be merciful to him. He has also a poem God is Dead published in the Minaret journal of Stockholm, Sweden, and an as-yet unpublished collection of short stories called Tales Are Like That, and a novel called The Wings of the Butterfly. Abdassamad is a teacher of both adults and children in Qur’an recitation (tajwid) and meanings, Arabic language and the deen in general, most recently having organised and taken part in a conference under the auspices of Islamic Events of London on the History of the Islamic Khalifate, and having given discourses in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Jena, Weimar, Copenhagen and the Midlands. 18 April, 2007 0:03

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  1. SO in the understanding of Ibn Khaldun, does eveolution stand in the way of believing in the creation and genesis in the aqeedah of a muslim. So if I believe evolution to have been the cause of mans creation (and ofcourse with the will of Allah) will it nullify my iman or even make me doubtable?

    Would kindly appreciate your response


  2. You must understand that there are many different thoughts that look superficially like each other, each of which has been called ‘evolutionary’ which upon deeper examination have different foundations and different consequences.

    I am certainly not saying that a thinker like Ibn Khaldun endorses what we call ‘Darwinian evolution’.

    What I am saying is that Muslims have mistakenly taken up Christian creationists’ arguments against Darwin. Although we do not stand with Darwin, neither can we stand with Christian creationists since their tawhid is seriously flawed.

    In other words, there is a need for some real thought on this issue by those Muslims who have the requisite grounding both in Ash’ari kalam and scientific thought.

  3. I believe it to be of importance not to consider the Qadi’s writings a taboo and thus meet it with silence and closed ears. So can you then please sum up in points your own perspective on what we are to extract from this passage? We have some already things given, Allah created Adam and we are from him. But we also know domesticated animals like dogs, cows and horses have phycically changed dramatically. In the case with the dog this is most obvious as we now have multiple races with huge differences, all new to the scene, 200 years or so.

  4. @ ADMIN, There is no question of Ibn Khaldun endorsing Darwin, in fact it could be the other way round, Muqqadimah was written circa 1377, the Origin of Species was written circa 1850, Darwin on the other hand could have read Ibn Khaldun and started to investigate further.

  5. Of course you are right. The point in posting this was to show that Ibn Khaldun could calmly consider such a process in Allah’s creation without feeling threatened.

  6. Have a look that, what Ibn Khaldun says as “progress” does not mean a process of evolutionary cause and effect. It does not mean that from some beings, in time, other beings evolved: were produced and changed starting from the previous beings. For example, if in a goods store I organize the items from the most simple (nuts and bolts) to the most complex (machines and appliances) passing through pliers and screwdivers, certainly there is a “progress”: a constitutionary ascent from the most simple to the most complex. On the other hand, that particular order does not mean that screwdivers “came” from nuts and bolts, and that machines are the result of the transformation of pliers and lesser items.

    Also, Darwin didn’t read the Muqaddima in the translated version, for it was known in Europe after he was well deep in his research. And certainly he lacked the knowledge of Arabic enough to read it in its original text, even if it would have been available to general public before the 1860s (when the Standard Quatremere edition was published, the editon in French by Baron de Slane was in the late 1860s).

    Many writers, even in ancient Greece or in China (cfr. Chuang-Tzu) were “evolutionary” before Darwin, stating the evident fact of how men proceeded from monkeys and other animals, but this is “evolution” only if we consider it in a very lax and innacurate meaning. To understand correctly evolution means to understand an interpretation of the conditions in which things happen in nature through time. It is not so simple.

  7. @luis Vivanco Saavedra: the theory of evolution did not start with darwin, nor with Ibn Khaldoun, it started very early with the greeks and went to the Islamic scientists at a very early age read this link: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia_of_the_Brethren_of_Purity#Evolution)
    as for the part where Ibn Khaldoun talked about progress, not evolution that comes to the facts that, first; the text is translated, second; there was no unified scientific terminology at the time, which is why he explained it in many other words, “The word “connection” with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group.” (quote from the text above).
    but that does not take anything from the importance of the Charles Darwin, as he was one of the first who took it from merely a hypothesis based simply on observation, to being a whole theory supported scientific evidence!

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