Creation of the Universe and Evolution in Islam
The descriptions of creation in the Qur’an are not intended as dry historical accounts but rather to engage the reader in contemplating the lessons to be learned from it. The act of creation, therefore, is frequently described as a way of drawing the reader into thinking about the order of all things and the All-Knowing Creator Who is behind it all. For example:
“Verily in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves, and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are signs for those of assured faith. And in the alternation of night and day, and that fact that Allah sends down sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the change of the winds, are signs for those who are wise” (45:3-5).
When describing the creation of the “heavens and the earth,” the Quran does not discount the theory of a “Big Bang” explosion at the start of it all. In fact, the Quran says that
“. . . the heavens and the earth were joined together as one unit, before We clove them asunder” (21:30).
Following this big explosion, Allah
“. . . turned to the sky, and it had been (as) smoke. He said to it and to the earth: ‘Come together, willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We come (together) in willing obedience'” (41:11).
Thus the elements and the matter destined to become the planets and stars began to cool, come together, and form into shape, following the natural laws that Allah established in the universe.
The Qur’an further states that Allah created the sun, the moon, and the planets, each with their own individual courses or orbits.
“It is He Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon; all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course” (21:33).
Expansion of Universe
Neither does the Qur’an rule out the possibility that the universe is continuing to expand.
“The heavens, We have built them with power. And verily, We are expanding it” (51:47).
There has been some historical debate among Muslim scholars about the precise meaning of this verse since knowledge of the universe’s expansion was only recently discovered.
Six Days of Creation?
The Qur’an states that
“Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in six days” (7:54).
While on the surface this might seem similar to the account related in the Bible, there are some important distinctions. The verses that mention “six days” use the Arabic word yawm (day). This word appears several other times in the Qur’an, each denoting a different measurement of time. In one case, the measure of a day is equated with 50,000 years (70:4), whereas another verse states that “a day in the sight of your Lord is like 1,000 years of your reckoning” (22:47).
The word yawm is thus understood to be a long period of time–an era or eon. Therefore, Muslims interpret the description of a “six-day” creation as six distinct periods or eons. The length of these periods is not precisely defined, nor are the specific developments that took place during each period.
After completing the Creation, the Qur’an describes how Allah “settled Himself upon the Throne” (57:4) to oversee His work. A distinct point is made that counters the Biblical idea of a day of rest:
“We created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six days, nor did any sense of weariness touch Us” (50:38).
Allah is never “done” with His work because the process of creation is ongoing. Each new child who is born, every seed that sprouts into a sapling, every new species that appears on earth, is part of the ongoing process of Allah’s creation.
“He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then established Himself on the Throne. He knows what enters within the heart of the earth, and what comes forth out of it, what comes down from heaven, and what mounts up to it. And He is with you wherever you may be. And Allah sees well all that you do” (57:4).
The Quranic account of creation is in line with modern scientific thought about the development of the universe and life on earth. Muslims acknowledge that life developed over a long period of time, but see Allah’s power behind it all. Descriptions of creation in the Quran are set in context to remind the readers of Allah’s majesty and wisdom.
“What is the matter with you, that you are not conscious of Allah’s majesty, seeing that it is He Who has created you in diverse stages? See you not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (glorious) lamp? And Allah has produced you from the earth, growing (gradually)” (71:13-17).
Life Came From Water
The Quran describes that Allah “made from water every living thing” (21:30). Another verse describes how “Allah has created every animal from water. Of them are some that creep on their bellies, some that walk on two legs, and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills, for truly Allah has power over all things” (24:45). These verses support the scientific theory that life began in the Earth’s oceans.