In a casual conversation with Badar on our recent visit to Las Vegas, the
question of evolution and the surprising support that it got from Allama Iqbal
came up. I again read aloud and with great pleasure Rumi's words from
the Mathnavi which Allama had quoted and which I had reproduced in
July's edition of the family web pages last year. Not only is Rumi's
vision in keeping with Darwin's theory of evolution, it goes one step
further and postulates the next stages in this evolutionary process.
It is remarkable stuff,
made even more remarkable, as Badar pointed out, because Rumi's comments were
made eight hundred years before Darwin thought up his theory of evolution.
So Badar rightly asked: How did Rumi know? "His Mathnavi is not known as
'The Quran in Persian language' for nothing" - was my lame reply. It had
simply not occurred to me that Rumi had upstaged Darwin on evolution.
Perhaps I was not alone in making this mistake. No one to my knowledge,
seems to have cottoned on to it. So is it
true? Did Rumi describe the idea of evolution long before Darwin did?
Verifying a few dates might help: here are some from the excellent
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi
(1207 - 1273 CE) wrote these beautiful lines in his Mathnavi which is a
six volume poem comprising thousands of couplets. Darwin (1809 -1882 CE)
was born about eight hundred years later and conceived his theory of
natural selection in 1838. His 1859 book 'On the Origin of Species'
established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific
explanation of diversification in nature.
Following is the relevant
extract from my previous article for those who wish to ponder further on
Allama introduces with
passion the following passage by Rumi in 'Is Religion Possible?' by saying
formulation of the theory of evolution in the world of Islam brought into
being Rumi's tremendous enthusiasm for the biological future of man. No
cultured Muslim can read such passages as the following without a thrill
' Low in the earth I lived in realms of ore and stone;
And then I smiled in many-tinted flowers;
Then roving with the wild and wandering hours,
O'er earth and air and ocean's zone,
In a new birth,
I dived and flew,
And crept and ran,
And all the secret of my essence drew
Within a form that brought them all to view -
And lo, a Man!
And then my goal,
Beyond the clouds, beyond the sky,
In realms where none may change or die -
In angel form; and then away
Beyond the bounds of night and day,
And Life and Death, unseen or seen,
Where all that is hath ever been,
As One and Whole.' (Rumi: Thadani's Translation)
Without laying a claim to
being a 'cultured Muslim', I must admit that I was thrilled to read these
beautiful lines. M Saeed Shaikh, the editor
and annotator of my volume of 'Reconstruction' explains in a detailed note
that Nanikram Vasanmal Thadani has included Rumi's inimitable lines
from Mathnawi, iii, 3901-06, 3912-14 in The Garden of the East, pp
63-64 and has made it clear in the preface to his book that 'The poems ...
are not translations or renderings ... ; they are rather intended to
recreate the spirit and idea of each master ....' . I was able to find
Rumi's original lines in my edition of the Mathnawi (with some difficulty,
I must say, as it does not have line numbers and even omits page
numbers from list of contents!) and to me Thadani's wonderful translation
seems to do full justice to the original.
Iqbal adds a historical
note to the above in 'The Human Ego' by asking and answering the question:
How did man first emerge?. He quotes verses 19: 66-67 and 56: 60-62 from
the Qur'an which, he says, opened a new vista to Muslim
philosophers and prompted Jahiz (d. 255 A.H.) to hint at the changes in
animal life caused by migrations and environment generally and Ibn
Maskawaih (d. 421 A.H.) to give 'a clear and in many respects thoroughly
modern theory of the origin of man.'
I must admit that I was
pleasantly surprised to read all this. Even the idea of the theory of
evolution was (and perhaps still is) regarded by majority of Muslims as
ridiculous and totally unacceptable. However, it is remarkable that early Muslim
philosophers, taking a cue from the Quran and Rumi,
not only traced evolution to their own time but even managed to peep
into the future.