THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
CREATIONISM, MINUS A YOUNG EARTH,
EMERGES IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD
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Issue: World views on human evolution – “never possible” to bridge?
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Creationism, Minus a Young Earth,
Emerges in the Islamic World, by Kenneth Chang, New York Times:
Excerpt: “Pervez A. Hoodbhoy, a prominent atomic
physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan, said that when he gave
lectures covering the sweep of cosmological history from the Big Bang to the
evolution of life on Earth, the audience listened without objection to most of
it. ‘Everything is O.K. until the apes stand up,’ Dr. Hoodbhoy said. Mentioning
human evolution led to near riots, and he had to be escorted out. ‘That’s the
one thing that will never be possible to bridge,’ he said. ‘Your lineage is
what determines your worth. Biology education, even in places likes
In 2006 the Netherlands Ambassador-at-large for Human Rights speaking on education curricula at the 25 year Commemoration of the 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief said we must “teach children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.” This is true, but almost never beginning with early childhood education.
Article 18: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practices and teaching.
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
1. “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (which includes the freedom to hold beliefs) in article 18.1 is far-reaching and profound; it encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief, whether manifested individually or in community with others. The Committee draws attention of States parties to the fact that freedom of thought and the freedom of conscience are protected equally with the freedom of religion or belief. The fundamental character of these freedoms is also reflected in the fact that this provision cannot be derogated from, even in time of public emergency, as stated in article 4.2 of the Covenant.”
2. “Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions or beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions. The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.”
AMHERST, Mass. — Creationism is growing in the Muslim world, from Turkey to Pakistan to Indonesia, international academics said last month as they gathered here to discuss the topic.
But, they said, young-Earth creationists, who believe God created the universe, Earth and life just a few thousand years ago, are rare, if not nonexistent.
One reason is that although the Koran, the holy text of Islam, says the universe was created in six days, the next line adds that a day, in this instance, is metaphorical: “a thousand years of your reckoning.”
By contrast, some Christian creationists find in the Bible a strict chronology that requires a 6,000-year-old Earth and thus object not only to evolution but also too much of modern geology and cosmology, which say the Earth and the universe are billions of years old.
“Views of scientific
evolution are clearly influenced by underlying religious beliefs,” said Salman
Hameed, who convened the two-day
conference here at
But that does not mean that all of evolution fits Islam or that all Muslims happily accept the findings of modern biology. More and more seem to be joining the ranks of the so-called old-Earth creationists. They do not quarrel with astronomers and geologists, just biologists, insisting that life is the creation of God, not the happenstance consequence of random occurrences.
The debate over evolution is only now gaining prominence in many Islamic countries as education improves and more students are exposed to the ideas of modern biology.
The degree of acceptance of evolution varies among Islamic countries.
Research led by the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, in Montreal, found that high school biology textbooks in Pakistan covered the theory of evolution. Quotations from the Koran at the beginning of the chapters are chosen to suggest that the religion and the theory coexist harmoniously.
In a survey of 2,527 Pakistani high school students conducted by the McGill researchers and their international collaborators, 28 percent of the students agreed with the creationist sentiment, “Evolution is not a well-accepted scientific fact.” More than 60 percent disagreed, and the rest were not sure.
Eighty-six percent agreed with this statement: “Millions of fossils show that life has existed for billions of years and changed over time.”
The situation in
Some years later, while browsing
a bookstore on a visit to
In Turkey, officially a secular government but now ruled by an Islamic party, the teaching of evolution has largely disappeared, at least below the university level, and the science curriculum in public schools is written in deference to religious beliefs, Dr. Edis said.
Harun Yahya, a Turkish creationist
of the old-Earth variety, has gained prominence in
In the McGill research, fewer students in Indonesia than in Pakistan thought evolution a well-accepted scientific fact, yet 85 percent agreed that fossils showed that life had existed for billions of years and changed over time.
The quality of biology education “varies highly depending on what country you’re in and what school you’re in,” said Jason R. Wiles, a professor of biology at Syracuse University and associate director of the McGill center.
In addition, the situation
Even finding out how different countries teach evolution can be difficult, Dr. Hameed said. Saudi Arabia, for example, does not let foreigners see the biology textbooks. “We don’t have much information,” he said.
For many Muslims, even evolution and the notion that life flourished without the intervening hand of Allah is largely compatible with their religion. What many find unacceptable is human evolution, the idea that humans evolved from primitive primates. The Koran states that Allah created Adam, the first man, separately out of clay.
Pervez A. Hoodbhoy, a prominent atomic physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan, said that when he gave lectures covering the sweep of cosmological history from the Big Bang to the evolution of life on Earth, the audience listened without objection to most of it. “Everything is O.K. until the apes stand up,” Dr. Hoodbhoy said.
Mentioning human evolution led to near riots, and he had to be escorted out. “That’s the one thing that will never be possible to bridge,” he said. “Your lineage is what determines your worth.”
Biology education, even in
Some academics at the conference worried that the rejection of some aspects of evolution might leave Islamic countries at a disadvantage in scientific education. Dr. Hameed said a negative reaction to evolutionary theory could reflect a struggle to retain cultural traditions and values against Western influences, even though Islamic creationists readily borrowed many of the arguments from Western creationists, just removing the young-Earth aspects.
There is some indication
that in the West, where non-Islamic influences are strongest, Islamic
creationism may be stronger in reaction to the outside pressure. For example,
high school students at Islamic schools in and near
At the same time, many of
the Canadian Muslims even acquired young-Earth creationist beliefs, which are
thoroughly Western in origin. Only half the students surveyed at the Islamic
schools in the
In a study financed by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Hameed and his colleagues will survey the beliefs of Muslim doctors in five Muslim countries — Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey — and compare them with Muslim doctors in non-Muslim countries — Turkish doctors in Germany, Pakistani doctors in Britain, and Turkish and Pakistani doctors in the United States.
“We actually expect, especially in Europe, where they have a harder time merging in the culture,” Dr. Hameed said, “harsher rejection of evolution in England and Germany” than in Muslim countries.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”
Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.
In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. In forty years violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief has dramatically increased. It is time for a UN Working Group to draft what they deferred in 1968, a comprehensive core international human rights treaty- a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief
The challenge to religions or beliefs at all levels is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers and followers of all religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to test the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.
The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4). The General Comment on Article 18 is a guide to international human rights law for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts:
Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations