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Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), the Father of Evolution

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Abu Bakr Muhammed ibn-Arabi (1165-1240), one of foremost interpreters of the Quran, was born in Spain. By the time he was twenty five years old, he was famous throughout the land as a brilliant scholar, a great writer of elegant poetry, and a Sufi of the first order. Between 1193 and 1198, he wrote Uqlatu’l-Mustawfiz [Controller of The Wanderer]. When his opinions were severely attacked in the West, he felt his life was becoming intolerable, so in the year 1200 he left spain for Mecca, after which he travelled extensively until he settled in Damascus. His description of the gradual evolution of species from one origin is similar to that of the other Muslim scholars mentioned in this chapter.

On they rolled to perfection: Thus the meaner world was born. Mineral passed to vegetable life, out of which animal life was born.22

Then creation continued on earth, minerals, then vegetations, then animals, and then man. God made the last of every onw of these kinds. The last of the minerals and the first of the vegetations is the truffle. The last of the vegetations and the first of the animals is the date-palm. The last of the animals and the first of mankind is the monkey. 23

Since the perfect man is in the perfect form, he deserves the vicegerentship and deputyship of God in the Universe. Here we shall explain the evolution of this vicegerent, his position and form as they are. We do not mean Man only as animal, but, on the other hand, as Man and vicegerent. On account of his human quality and vicegerentship man deserves his perfect form. Every man is not a vicegerent…. This is the intended Perfect Man. The others are animal men. The relation to the animal man to the Perfect Man is that of the ape to the animal man.23 As for the animal man, he is not a man essentially. His case is like that of animals. But he is distinguished from another through differentiae peculiar to every one of the animals.25

The goal of all this was man coming in perfect form. When the field was thus prepared, Man came in the nicest form. 26

When God desired the perfection of human evolution, He collected and bestowed on Man all realities of the Universe and illuminated him with all His names. 27

When this comprehensive name became capable of two aspects by itself, it became fit for vicegerentship and organization and gradation of the Universe. If Man does not reach the stage of perfection, he is an animal whose appearance resembles the external appearance of man. Here we are concerned with Perfect Man. The first of human species whom God made was the Perfect Man. He was Adam (peace be upon him). Thus God demonstrated the stages of perfection for the species. He who attains to it is the one who attains perfection, and he who goes down from that stage is one who possesses the human quality in proportion to where he is. 28

Ibn Arabi explains the concept of the “perfect man” as being God’s intended vicegerent on earth. In order for a human being to become God’s deputy on earth, he had to evolve into a perfect form. Ibn Arabi makes a distinction between a “perfect man” and an inferior form, which he calls “animal man.” The latter in “not a man” because he exhibits qualities peculiar to animals. His relationship to a human being is like “that of the ape to the animal man.” In Ibn Arabi’s view, if man does not reach the stage of perfection, he is an animal whose appearance resembles the external appearance of man. Thus, it was God’s intention for human beings to evolve into their perfect form[s] so they would be suitable vicegerents of the Universe.

The above ideas from Ibn Arabi demonstrate that the Muslims knew about the existence of hominoid species after the advent of the ape and before the emergence of modern Homo sapiens. Not only did Ibn Arabi classify the hominid as an “animal man” but made the distinction between that species and the human being he called “perfect man.”

Gould asked “why the Lord saw fit to make so many kinds of hominids, and why some of his later productions, Homo-erectus in particular, look so much more human than the earlier models?”29 Ibn Arabi anticipated these questions long before Gould or Darwin. Fossils of the animal man to which Ibn Arabi referred were only recently unearthed and classified as Australopithecus, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, Neanderthal man, and Cro-Magnon man. An artist’s reconstruction of human evolution based on modern fossil findings fits well with Ibn Arabi’s description of the origin of humans from earlier species.

It is possible that Ibn Arabi and his contemporaries arrived at the conclusion that man evolved from “animal man” to human not by pure speculation, but by scientific methods. For example, Al-Biruini came to the conclusion that there were hominids of different statures by studying the size of their bones, which were buries in the caves of the mountains of Median where they lived. Al-Biruni describes these bones as those large races of men “with bones as large as camel-bones and even larger.”30


Shanavas, T.O.. Creation And/Or Evolution: an Islamic Perspective: An Islamic View of Creation . Xlibris US. Kindle Edition.

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