Here’s a happy, sad and messy story about the imam of a London mosque who preached – or at least opened for discussion the idea – that Islam and the theory of evolution are compatible – and that Muslim women should be allowed to uncover their hair in public.
The (part-time I think) imam, Dr Usama Hasan,
is was a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. So he’s a man of science and learning.
So far so good. Except that some other people, other Muslims, have taken exception to his suggestion that evolution is worth considering. Dr Hasan has been on the receiving end of protests at his university (he’s since stepped down from the job). The police have warned him to stay away from the Masjid al-Twahid mosque in Leyton, east London after leaflets were distributed saying he should face death for his views. (And apparently fake messages saying he’s been suspended from the mosque have been published on the web.)
He’s worried about his family. He says he’s stepped up security at his home. He fears he could be attacked like Labour MP Stephen Timms, who was stabbed by radicalised student Roshonara Choudhry, apparently in revenge for the invasion of Iraq.
Unwavering steadfastness is attractive in films and stories. But when your real life children are involved, is it perhaps more honourable to sideline high-minded principle – at least for a while?
I should mention that Dr Hasan has been attracting support from other Muslim figures – like Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation (which challenges Muslim extremism) and Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK (which promotes Muslim engagement in British society).
Inayat Bunglawala is quoted as saying that there is “widespread ignorance” about evolution among the Muslim community:
Many traditional imams are grounded in ancient books in Arabic but have very little grounding in science. I find it staggering how they can be so strongly opposed to evolution without reading about it. That seems to be opposite of the very first commandment of the Qur’an, which is to read.
Muslim religious leaders don’t have a monopoly on science -phobia. I was once taken aback to witness a vicar “correct” a child who identified the sun as a star. But I digress…
You find other discussion about this on the Pickled Politics blog and a Guardian piece here. Dr Hasan’s own site is here – where you can read his painful/pained retractions. He dedicates his blog to the Unity of God, the unity of knowledge & the unity of the peoples of the world.
So…. it’s all a bit messy. And who dares to stumble into in-house rows in someone else’s place of worship or religion? Well, my conclusion is this – he’s welcome to come round to ours for a cup of tea – the universal panacea. And that’s what I’ve told him. (Assuming he still gets his work emails.)