Why I Teach Evolution to Muslim Students
By Rana Dajani, who is associate professor of molecular biology at Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan, and a visiting scholar at the Faraday Institute, University of Cambridge, UK.
22 April 2015
Certain problematic attitudes towards science have been imported into Muslim societies as a part of rapid globalization and modernization — the rejection of the theory of evolution, for example. But this also offers an opportunity.
I teach evolution to university students in Jordan. Almost all of them are hostile to the idea at first. Their schoolteachers are likely to have ignored or glossed over it. Still, most students are willing to discuss evolution, and by the end of the course, the majority accept the idea. If Muslim students can challenge ideas on such a controversial academic topic, then they can also approach other aspects of their lives by questioning — and not just blindly accepting — the status quo. These tools and attitudes are crucial to the development of their personalities and to becoming responsible citizens.
Students in my classes often get a shock. I wear a Hijab, so they know that I am a practising Muslim, yet they hear me endorsing evolution as a mechanism to explain diversity and the development of species, and citing Charles Darwin as a scientist who contributed to our understanding of the emergence and diversification of life on Earth. I am almost always the first Muslim they have met who says such things.
Some students complained to the university that I was preaching against Islam, but university officials were satisfied when I showed them that evolution featured in the university’s approved textbooks and that what I teach in my lecture comes straight from these texts. I commended the students who complained for their courage in supporting what they believed, and offered to sit down and discuss their concerns with them.