How Shall we Understand Creation of Man from Clay? | Prof. Caner Taslaman


I ask people “Why do you think that a Muslim
should reject the theory of evolution?” The most common response concerns the creation
of man from clay as revealed in the Quran. It is widely believed that creation from clay
is incompatible with the idea of evolution. Even though some of the subjects described
in the Quran are related to scientific domains, the Quran itself is not a book of science. It does not provide all the details about
the creation of the first man, or about the development of a fetus inside the womb. Indeed, a detailed description of embryonic
development itself would take a volume much larger than that of the Quran. In order to properly understand Quranic viewpoint
on a given topic, one must investigate all of the related verses. One verse of the Quran on the issue is as
follows: Suret ul-enAm, 6:2: He, it is who has created
you out of clay, and then has decreed a term for you – a term known only to Him. And yet you doubt. Different verses of the Quran describe the
creation of man from “water” (ma) , from “dust” (turab) , as well as from a certain “essence”
(sulala) of “clay” (Teen) that is a mixture of water and dust. In Suretu Ya Seen, the creation of man is
from a “drop” (nutfa), and in Suretu Alaq from a “hanging” (alaq). The word “nutfa” literally means “drop”
and can be interpreted as sperm or zygote. The word “alaq” also means “clinging’’
and recalls the embryo’s attachment to the womb in the early stages of pregnancy. While different stages of creation are individually
described in different chapters of the Quran, confusion is avoided by putting them in order
in suret ul-muminuun verse 12: Now, indeed, We create man out of the essence
of clay, and then We cause him to remain as a drop
in the womb’s firm keeping, Then We developed the drop into a hanging,
then developed the hanging into a chewed lump of flesh. Then created the chewed lump of flesh (muDğa)
into bones, then covered the bones with flesh (lahm)
discussion of a certain stage of the creation of man in one chapter of the Quran does not
mean that no other stage has taken place, just as no one would think that there is no
other stage in between creation from a “drop” (nutfa), there is no reason to think that
creation from clay precludes any other process. When someone produces something out of a certain
material, he could describe the process by making reference to the material. A sculptor would say “I made the statue from
marble”; a carpenter would say “I made the table from wood”; a cook would say “I made
kabobs from meat”. When we hear such commonly used language,
we do not assume that the statue has not gone through shaping and polishing procedures;
the table has not gone through cutting and nailing and the food has not gone through
slaughtering the animal, preparing the meat, marinating and cooking it. Why, then, assume that “I created men from
clay” implies a lack of other processes? This statement does not imply a processless
occurrence. Furthermore, all processes occur via the matter
and time created by God. If we do not see any problem with the sculptor,
carpenter and the cook processing the raw materials into products, we should see no
problem with God not mentioning all of the intermediary processes involved in His creation. The statement, “creation from clay,” should
not be understood as lacking any process between the clay and the human being, but as a shorthand
specification of the raw materials of every human being. Careful reading of the Quran reveals that
while the creation of Adam (with his name explicitly mentioned) from dust is mentioned
only once (in Suretu Al-i Imran, verse 59), many other verses mention the creation of
all man from dust and water, hence clay. For example: Suret ul-Hac, verse 5: We have
created you out of dust; suret ul-muminuun, verse 12: Now, indeed,
We create man out of the essence of clay; Suret ur-Room, verse 20: He creates you out
of dust; All these reveal that all humans are created
from clay. In order to properly interpret these verses,
instead of limiting the creation from clay to the first man, it would be more appropriate
(epropriıt) to understand how all humans are created. A more appropriate approach would be to interpret
such verses as pointing out the raw materials from which all humans are created. Hereby, I emphasize again that when the direct
and open meanings of the verses of the Quran are accepted, instead of allegorical ones,
no conflict arises with the theory of evolution. Understanding “creation of all humans from
clay” is straightforward, and this creation is repeated every day in front of us. We are often misled by searching for far out
interpretations instead of preferring the simplest and clearest explanation that stands
before us. Our food comes either from animals or from
plants. When a seed is planted in the soil, it develops
into a full plant by mixing together water and soil (clay, mud); when animals eat these
plants, they digest and re-generate them into their body parts. For example, a corn seed is thrown into the
soil, the seed takes water and minerals from the soil and becomes a mature plant, the corn
is then fed to a chicken that modifies the corn and distributes its constituents over
its body. As a result, both plants and animals are formed
via modifications of raw materials present in the mud. When we eat them, their body parts become
ours. In our bodies, millions of cells die and millions
of new ones are created every minute. These new cells become part of the being that
we call “I”. Raw materials of these cells are the plants
and animals that we eat, which are in essence a processed version of mud. That means, we ourselves are formed by the
processing of clay. The body of every single human being is formed
at every moment from body parts of plants and animals; the corn or chicken that we eat
progressively become parts of “us”. In short, creation from clay is not a completed
process; it continues unceasingly, we constantly witness it and it is not at all about the
first man only. In the Quran, Suretu Hud, verse 61, Prophet
Salih tells his people “He brought you into being out of the earth”; yet, nobody takes
this verse to mean that people emerge from the earth without the involvement of parents
or biological processes. If creation from something implies lack of
processes between the material and the end product, then should we understand this verse
as meaning the immediate creation of the people from earth. Which is ludicrous. In fact, there is no element which exists
in our bodies but not in soil. All elements in our bodies; carbon, iron,
oxygen, calcium, zinc, etc. are present in the soil. The verses we discussed above can be understood
so easily and without the slightest allegorical or strained interpretation. Such an understanding is also more coherent
with the fact that those verses describe the creation of all humans from clay. This is a sufficient response to those who
think that evolution should be opposed because the Quran affirms “creation from clay.”

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