To me and probably to others, a university is not just a place where an individual is crammed with knowledge, although that is important, it should also be a place where people can have their received opinions challenged and learn more about the world in general.
However there are some groups in the Islamic community who not only don’t want to have received opinions challenged but want to shut down debates that they do not approve of.
The Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that a proposed debate about evolution and Islam at Imperial College (one of the foremost British establishment for teaching scientific and technical subjects),
The Independent writes:
“Organisers behind a British conference on Islam and evolution say they nearly had to cancel the event after receiving a torrent of opposition from Muslim students at one of the country’s top scientific universities, The Independent has learned.
The Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum which promotes critical thinking, had hoped to hold a conference entitled “Have Muslims misunderstood evolution?” early next year. Among the speakers invited to attend included Muslim scientists, imams who have promoted the compatibility of Islam and evolution as well as those who preach a form of Islamic creationism.
The initial plan was to hold the event next month at Imperial College London, one of the country’s foremost universities for scientific exploration and debate, in cooperation with the local Islamic student society. But the Deen Institute said it was forced to pull out when it became clear that opposition to the event from supporters of creationism began mounting. It is now being held without input from any Muslim student society at Logan Hall, a conference centre owned by the University of London.
“We eventually had to give up of getting any support from student societies because it was seen as simply too controversial,” Adam Deen, co-founder of the institute, told The Independent. Deen, who describes himself as a “conservative Muslim” who encourages critical thinking, said he was surprised to receive such opposition at a place of scientific study, particularly as he had made sure to invite all sides of the debate including those who preach creationism.
“It’s symptomatic of a bigger problem in the Muslim world where people representing practical Muslims have to be seen to be more literalist,” he said. “It’s almost like there’s an intellectual mafia movement who won’t allow any freedom of thought.”
What! It’s not as if it is ‘almost like’, it IS ‘exactly like’ an intellectual Mafia.
The Independent continued about the conference:
“Two Muslim scientists, American biologists Ehab Abouheif and Fatimah Jackson, will also speak alongside Usama Hasan, a British imam who preaches the commonly held scientific view that man is descended from ape-like forebears.
Hasan’s inclusion is particularly controversial because he enraged Muslim literalists in his own mosque in Leyton, east London, when he began preaching about evolution and criticised literalists for having a “children’s madrasa-level understanding” of science compared to their Islamic forebears who once used to lead the world in such fields. The arguments eventually became so intense he was eventually forced out by hardliners.” “
Here we have an Imam who questions a belief in creationism and is hounded out of his pulpit. This tells me that the koranic literalists must have a pretty large following in Leyton, East London if they felt confident enough to hound this guy out.
This is the big difference between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. Most Christians and Jews of a mainstream flavour accept that there is a scientific basis for evolution, they may explain it in different ways e.g.g., each ‘day’ in Genesis (or Bereshit, if you are a reader of Ivrit) could represent a period of millions upon millions of years, or this description of creation could be just how the ancients made sense of the world and doesn’t need to be taken literally, but can be taken as symbolism.
Sadly, this ability to interpret and disregard the literal doesn’t seem to be the flavour of the month in Islam at the moment. I don’t concur with the Independent newspaper’s assessment of the problem which is that Islam has learned a lot of this creationist thinking from right wing Christians. Koranic literalism has existed in Islam for centuries and in my view this growing acceptance of Islamic creationism has more to do with Salafist and similar doctrines within Islam, than any influence from outside the Ummah of Islam.
I’m appalled, and many others will be as well, that at one of Britain’s premier scientific institutions Islamic intellectual bullying is taking place. I cannot think of any other group, not Christian, not Jewish, not Buddhist, not Hindu, not Sikh or anybody else who would have the sheer arrogance to try to shut down or curtail a debate on evolution at a prestigious institution like this.
Incidents like this one at Imperial College point out sharply the incompatibility between the culture of Islam and the culture of free thought and enquiry that has been created over many centuries by the Judeao-Christian-humanist world.