Evolution of the Self: The Qur’anic Viewpoint

by Navid Zaidi

Darwin’s theory of evolution explains how life progressed through stages leading to the development of humans.

But what about the future of individual human life?

Has life reached its climax in the humans or are we going to evolve further into some other kind of species?

If the present is the climax, then it makes us wonder if this is the end of our individuality.

If it is the end, why would life take so much time and struggle to develop something and then discard it like a waste product?

Moreover, if life is going to evolve further in the future, how does that help me as an individual. My personality will be gone when I die and turn into dust? A total waste?

The Qur’anic view of evolution is dynamic. It presents an individual view of personality that has a definite beginning but a continuous career in the future.

The recurrent theme in the Qur’an is that every individual self is unique and will move forward in the future through various stages of development in various environments.

By the sunset redness and by the night and its gatherings and by the moon when at her full, that from state to state shall ye be surely carried onward (84: 16-19)

This career of a person is perhaps destined to become a permanent element in the constitution of being.

The Qur’an puts forth the view that man’s personality should not go to waste after going through such a lengthy and complicated process of evolution.

Thinks man that he shall be thrown away as an object of no use? (75:36-40)

The final fate of man does not mean the loss of individuality. The ‘unceasing reward’ (ajrun ghair e mamnun) of man means his gradual growth in self-possession, in uniqueness and intensity of his activity as a unique self.

Dr Allama Iqbal (Indian Poet-philosopher, 1877-1938) has the following to say to summarize this concept:

موت کو سمجهے هیں غافل اختِتام زندگی
هے یه شاِم زندگی صُبح دوامِ زندگی

The imprudent ones consider death is the end of life,
This apparent evening of life is the morning of perpetual life!

Life is one and continuous. Man marches always onward to receive ever fresh illuminations and continues to shape his personality, better or worse, in the future.

But it is only as an ever-growing self that man can belong to the meaning of the Universe.

Consider the soul and He who has balanced it and has shown to it ways of wickedness and piety, blessed is he who has made it grow and undone is he who has corrupted it (91: 7-10).

And how do you make the soul grow and save it from corruption? By action.

Blessed be He in Whose Hand is the Kingdom! And over all things is He potent, who has created death and life to test which of you is the best in point of deed; and He is the Mighty and Forgiving. (67:1-2)

The deed is the built-in mechanism in each self that disciplines it for a future career. Good deeds grow the self towards perfection whereas the bad deeds drag it towards dissolution.

This built-in mechanism in each self is the conscience which, like a software, continuously records the deeds.

Nay O men, but you are lured away from God whenever you are tempted to give the lie to God’s judgment. And yet, verily, there are ever-watchful forces over you, noble, recording, aware of what you do. (82:9-10)

The watchful force set over every human being is his own conscience, which ‘records’ all his motives and actions in his subconscious mind. Since this is the most precious element in man’s personality it is described as ‘noble’.

Now, the big question? Can we make scientific sense of the Qur’anic view of evolution? I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer that question. Renowned astrophysicist and mathematician Paul Davies writes in his book God and the New Physics:

“Though some of these ideas may seem fearsome, they do hold out the hope that we can make scientific sense of immortality, for they emphasize that the essential ingredient of mind is information. It is the pattern inside the brain, not the brain itself, that makes us what we are. Just as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony does not cease to exist when the orchestra has finished playing, so the mind may endure by transfer of information elsewhere………in principle, the mind can be put on a computer, but if the mind is basically ‘organized information’ then the medium of expression of that information could be anything at all; it need not be a particular brain or indeed any brain……This conclusion leaves open the question of whether the ‘program’ is re-run in another body at a later date (reincarnation), or in a system which we do not perceive as part of the physical universe (in Heaven?), or whether it is merely ‘stored’ in some sense (limbo?).”

At the present state of our knowledge we do not know how this ‘software program’ is run in the next phase of life. According to the Qur’an the existence of this program, once created, is timeless. The following verses throw some light on the point:

What! when dead and turned to dust, shall we rise again? Remote is such a return. Now know We what the earth consumes of them and with Us is a book in which account is kept (50:3-4)

These verses clearly suggest that the nature of the universe is such that it is open to it to maintain in some other way the kind of individuality necessary for the final working out of human action, even after death of the body in its present environment.

What that other way is we do not know. Nor do we gain any further insight from the Qur’an into the nature of this ‘second creation’ (Khalaqan Jadeeda, 29:20). The analogies of the Qur’an only suggest it as a fact; they are not meant to reveal its nature and character.

Philosophically speaking, therefore, we cannot go farther than this – that in view of the past history of man it is highly improbable that his career should come to an end with the dissolution of the body.

This entry was posted in Classic Poetry, Classic Teaching, Navid Zaidi, Original Essays and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Evolution of the Self: The Qur’anic Viewpoint

  1. sv says:

    Reblogged this on E'n'M.

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