Theory of Evolution and Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin benefited from the Books of Islamic Scientists and Scholars such as Ibn Tufail (Abu-Bucer), Ibn Badja (Avenpace), Abu Nasr Farabi and Ibn Miskawayh who supported the idea of evolution and gradual development of man. Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, expert in hadith, Islamic law and author of over 200 books suggested that Charles Darwin benefited from the books of these scientists when he joined Cambridge University to study Christianity and Comparative Religions. Charles Darwin knew Arabic and read directly from their books. According to Dr. Hamidullah, Darwin learned Arabic in order to understand Islam. He was initiated into Islamic culture in the Faculty of Religion at the University of Cambridge under an orientalist Samuel Lee (1783 - 1852), who was a professor of Arabic and Hebrew. Since Charles knew Arabic, had access to Arabic literature and enjoyed company of Orientals, who also knew Arabic, there is no doubt that he must have read plenty of medieval Islamic scientific works including those on evolution. John William Draper, a contemporary of Charles Darwin mentions “Mohammadan Theory of Evolution” in reference to the prevalence of this theory in the Islamic world and highly commended how the civilization was teaching doctrines of evolution and development in their Madressahs (universities) long before Europe.
Siddeeq Ahmad Nagrah writes that Charles Darwin conducted independent research and developed further on the existing evolution theory. He undertook a five year long voyage and studied large number of plants and animals before he published his famous Theory of Natural Selection (1859). Through this theory he pointed the world in the right direction to explain the evolutionary process. But his theory was defective because it could not explain creation of new organisms (individual life form) and why evolution from one species to another did not take place anymore. With Mendel’s law of inheritance and knowledge gained from experimental (selective) breeding much more was learned and added to Darwins theory and Natural selection was revised. Today our understanding of Natural Selection has improved with knowledge gained about mutation, chromosomes reconstruction, mixing and transfer of genetic code by inheritance through sex. The fusion of living cells and genes produce new types of cells with new characteristics through successive generations. Evolution is screened by natural selection but it acts through inheritable variations which decide those better suited for survival in an environment and eliminate others. However, even modern theory is incomplete because at times there were inexplicable extinctions despite favorable environments for a species, replacements after long intervals, appearance of new species and sudden jumps in the process of creation. Besides, it does not explain the present stable state of a species.
Evolutions Theory According to Islamic Scientists
Dr. Sultan Shah lists all Islamic scientists that supported the evolutions theory before Charles Darwin. He states that Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr commonly known as al-Jahiz was the originator of idea of evolution through his famous work "Kitab al Hayawan" (The Book of Animals). For al-Jahiz, the will of Allah ﷻ served as the antecedent for all mutation or transformations. It was his ideas on evolution that permeated the works of later scholars ad-Damiri, al- Biruni, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Khaldun etc. All Islamic evolutionists supported the idea that the creation of human beings initiated from water evolving into inorganic minerals which then evolved in to plants, then into animals then animals evolved in to instinctive humans (homo sapiens) and then in to modern human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) gifted with a conscious soul and intelligence. Dr. Hamidullah states that it was Ibn Miskawayh (932 - 1030 CE) who stated evolution of humans from apes and it must’ve been his theory that influenced Darwin. Dr. Hamidullah comments on Ibn Maskaway’s theory from his work al-Fawz al-Asghar, also found copied in Encyclopedia of Ikhwan Al Safa (Brethren of Purity) that:
“[These books] state that God first created matter and invested it with energy for development. Matter, therefore, adopted the form of vapour which assumed the shape of water in due time. The next stage of development was mineral life. Different kinds of stones developed in course of time. Their highest form being mirjan (coral). It is a stone which has in it branches like those of a tree. After mineral life evolves vegetation. The evolution of vegetation culminates with a tree which bears the qualities of an animal. This is the date-palm. It has male and female genders. It does not wither if all its branches are chopped but it dies when the head is cut off. The date-palm is therefore considered the highest among the trees and resembles the lowest among animals. Then is born the lowest of animals. It evolves into an ape. This is not the statement of Darwin. This is what Ibn Maskawayh states and this is precisely what is written in the Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa. The Muslim thinkers state that ape then evolved into a lower kind of a barbarian man. He then became a superior human being. Man becomes a saint, a prophet. He evolves into a higher stage and becomes an angel. The one higher to angels is indeed none but God. Everything begins from Him and everything returns to Him.”
What's most important to note is whether Al Jahiz, Ibn Miskawayh or Maulana Rumi - the great Sufi, all mentioned Allah ﷻ, as the source of evolutionary process from its inception to modern human beings. One does not find atheistic tendencies in their approach towards creation as commonly found in the arrogant secular scientists of today. Maulana Rumi (1207 - 1273 CE) in his famous Mathnawi attributes the human evolution process to Allah ﷻ:“It came first into the realm of the minerals…and from there it fell in among the plants. When it left the plants and fell in among the animals, it remembered nothing of the state of plants, Then that Creator whom you know kept on pulling it from animality toward humanity.”
One should not forget that scientists and Sufis like Rumi were also Islamic scholars and carried deep knowledge of the Quran and Prophetic hadith. They took these sources as guiding lenses to study creation. They never studied various branches of knowledge as separate compartments as done by secular scientists of today (e.g. reductionism). They considered all branches of knowledge as originating from a single tree of Tawhid - oneness of Allah ﷻ, His Divine Lordship, the primary source of all creation. Studying God’s creation was a way not only to gain knowledge of various sciences but also come closer to Him, His divine wisdom and knowledge, which is purpose of humankinds existence. That is why we notice Rumi indicates special development or divine intervention by mentioning the Creator, Allah ﷻ as primary reason for evolution of animals into developed humans. And Ibn Miskawayh goes even further in his understanding of the process by not stopping at human being to be last stage of evolution rather our ability to continue spiritually evolving in to saints, (reaching status of) prophets and then angels with the aim to get closer and closer to Allah ﷻ, our Creator.
Evolution Theory in the Quran
As mentioned that several Muslim scientists were also Islamic scholars whose inspiration of studying the creation came from Islamic teachings, we can find much support for evolution in the Quran. Yasir Qadhi, world renown Islamic scholar with a scientific study background was inquired “Is it possible to reconcile the theory of evolution and faith in the Quran?” to which he responded "By and large, yes." adding “the theory of evolution is good science”. Qadhi says literal Quran has no problem with most of the theory of evolution, criticizing the way many Muslims around the world dismiss and remain ignorant of the theory. We even find endorsement of this theory among recent Islamic scholars who carried expertise in the Quranic sciences. 20th century Islamic scholars like Maulana Amin Ahmad Islahi & Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Wiess) and others. According to Maulana Islahi, author of famous Tadabbur-i-Qur’an (Pondering on the Quran), mankind has passed through uncouth animal like stages before God fashioned man to the present state and blessed him with Divine Spark, soul and faculties of head and heart. It transformed a predominantly instinctive being into human being - a distinguished and honored creation (Al quran 23:14, 17:70). The breathing in of the Divine spirit and soul at the embryonic stage is repeated before the birth of every human child. It turns the infant Homo Sapiens into the infant Homo Sapiens Sapiens (humans beings):
“…He began the creation of man from clay (earth, including organic, inorganic substances); then spread his progeny from the best part of the despised fluid (semen) then He fashioned him (in accordance with what he was meant to be) and breathed in to him (something) of His spirit; and He gave you (the faculties of) hearing, and sight and heart( feelings & understanding)…” (Al Quran 32:7–9)
Muhammad Asad in his Message of the Quran refers to the evolutions theory in his comments to verses 17–19 of Surah 71: “And God has caused you to grow out of the earth in [gradual] growth (like a plant, tree); and thereafter He will return you to it [in death]: and [then] He will bring you forth [from it] in resurrection.” (Al Quran 71:17–19) - Asad gives 2 explanations of this verse. He says it either refers to the evolution of human body in stages from embryonic stage to full developed adult being. Secondly, it alludes to the evolution of the human species, which, starting from the most primitive organisms living on earth, has gradually ascended to ever higher stages of development until it has finally reached that complexity of body, mind and soul evident in the human being.
There are several verses in the Quran that clearly refer to the evolution of all creation in 6 days where “days” called ayyam in Arabic refers to long periods of times in astronomical terms. A heavenly or astronomical day in the Quran is equal to 1000 or 50,000 years (Al Quran 32:05, 70:04). The universe was created in 6 phases and the creation of life, its evolution and provisions for its sustenance on earth was done in 4 phases out of those 6: “SAY: "Would you indeed deny Him who has created the earth in two aeons? And do you claim that there is any power that could rival Him, the Sustainer of all the worlds?" For He [it is who, after creating the earth,] placed firm mountains on it, [towering] above its surface, and bestowed [so many] blessings on it, and equitably apportioned its means of subsistence to all who would seek it: [and all this He created] in four aeons.” (Al Quran 41:9–10) - Asad Translation.
Hence the Islamic scholars of the old and the modern ones agree on the evolution’s theory for creation and its support in the Quran: that humans evolved from a single cell in to vegetation and animals to instinctive beings that carried similar physical features like modern humans but were devoid of intellect and intelligence. They lived just like animals. They lived in this state till Allah ﷻ willed and then His divine decree decided to create a more reformed being, whose animal side was more reined and balanced with potential for advanced faculties of speech, intelligence, understanding and conceptual thinking. The question however remains is whether the latest refined human being is an improvement of now extinct Homo Sapiens or was it a special act of creation, an independent parallel evolution from earthly substances. In either case the Quran hints towards gradual evolution with special developments at various stages.
“Allah effaces what He wills and establishes (what He will); With Him if the Mother of the Book (the Master Plan).” (Al Quran 13:39)
 Pre-Darwinian Muslim Scholars’ Views on Evolution, Dr. Muhammad Sultan Shah, Islamic Studies, G.C. University, Lahore - http://pu.edu.pk/images/journal/uoc/PDF-FILES/%2811%29%20Dr.%20Sultan%20Shah_86_2.pdf
HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN RELIGION AND SCIENCE, By John William Draper - History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, by John William Draper, M. D., LL. D.
 The Truth, Siddeeq Ahmad Nagrah, National Book Foundation Islamabad, Chapter 5, The Guided Evolution, pgs 44–51
 Dr. Sultan, Pre-Darwinian
 Historical Dictionary of Islam, By Ludwig W. Adamec, pg 290–291 - Historical Dictionary of Islam
 Rumi’s Doctrine of Evolution, William C. Chittick, Iqbal Academy Pakistan - Rumi’s Doctrine of Evolution
 The Perception on the Theory of Evolution, Man from Ape: A Cross Ethnic, Education and Religious Backgrounds Study, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy, Vol 6 No 1 S1 January 2015 - https://www.richtmann.org/journal/index.php/mjss/article/view/5545/5348
 Muslim scholar explains relationship between evolution and the Quran, The Daily Pennsylvanian, By Eunice Lim, 9/13/2014 - Muslim scholar explains relationship between evolution and the Quran
 Siddeeq, Truth
 Message of the Quran, Translated And Explained by Muhammad Asad, The Seventy-First Surah Nuh (Noah), Pg 1213 Note 8 -
Islamic Foreshadowing of Evolution - Muslim Heritage