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March 21st, 2011
01:16 PM ET

UK cleric leaves mosque over evolution

By Andrew Carey, CNN

London (CNN) - Usama Hasan has led Friday prayers at Leyton mosque in East London for 20 years.

Back in the early 1990s, his sympathies lay with what became known as the global jihad and he was an active supporter of extremist causes.

Over time, however, he warmed to Britain and started questioning the idea that the West was always acting against Muslim interests.

Now, his message is different. In recent years he has used his position as an imam to tackle issues like terrorism head-on.

But it’s his views on Darwinian evolution that have landed him in trouble with some fellow Muslims. It’s been two months now since he says criticism over his support for the theory of evolution provoked him to stop leading Friday prayers at his congregation.

Besides being a religious scholar, Hasan is a scientist who has studied theoretical physics at Cambridge and who is a senior lecturer in engineering at Middlesex University.

Two and a half years ago he wrote an online article decrying what he called the "appalling state of science in the Muslim consciousness."

He described the belief that Adam was made from clay, as the Quran suggests, and then made a living human after God breathed life into him, as a "children's madrassa-level understanding" of the origins of man.

The remarks prompted some in the community to turn against him.

“People weren't reasoning with me,” he says, “rather, they would say, ‘you're no longer a Muslim, you're an apostate, you're an infidel.’”

According to Hasan, his opponents started seeking fatwas, or religious rulings, from clerics overseas to denounce his support for evolution and, he says, to declare a death sentence.

Hasan says that clerics in Pakistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia issued such decrees.

Leaflets started appearing at the mosque calling for Hasan’s removal and making thinly veiled suggestions that his "apostasy" might ultimately sanction his execution.

A public meeting aimed at calming the situation only increased tensions. Recently, Hasan says he started fearing for his life.

“Given the fact we have many young Muslims in this country who have taken law into their own hands, with terrorist plots, with a plot to murder an MP last year, I do feel that somebody young and impressionable may feel it their religious duty to kill me,” he told CNN.

Last November, London student Roshanara Choudry was found guilty of trying to kill Stephen Timms, a member of parliament, by stabbing him with a knife. It emerged during her trial that she had been influenced by extremist Muslim clerics online, including the U.S.-born preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

Police confirmed to CNN they are investigating alleged threats against Hasan.

But recent weeks have seen campaigns launched by fellow Muslims to support Hasan.

Tehmina Kazi of the group British Muslims for Secular Democracy started a Facebook group that garnered eight hundred members in its first 24 hours.

And a senior group of Muslim clerics and activists signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper decrying Hasan’s treatment.

One of the signatories, Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, told CNN he was very worried at how the practice of "takfir" - declaring individual Muslims to be apostates - had taken hold in some elements of the British Muslim community.

“There have been volumes and volumes written to regulate this kind of behavior,” Mogra said. “It's not for any Muslim to go about and declare (an apostate) ... judgment is for God.”

Earlier this month, Hasan issued a statement on his website dialing back some of his statements on evolution.

"I regret and retract some of my statements in the past about the theory of evolution, especially the inflammatory ones … I do not believe that Adam, peace be upon him, had parents," he wrote.

"Some of the things I said in public went too far, and without meaning to, had been quite inflammatory,” he told CNN.

“What I would like to point out now is that religious scholars, in the main, are opposed to evolution, they believe it is blasphemy, it is against the Quran," he said. "Whereas scientists say that evolution is a scientific fact, or a scientific theory with overwhelming evidence."

"There exists this gulf, this impasse," Hasan continued. "And at some point people may have to address that issue, but only when the community and the religious scholars are ready.”

Mogra, who does not share Hasan’s previous position on evolution but supports his right to discuss it, is worried about the debate.

“This is a critical issue for us - if we fall at this hurdle then who's next tomorrow?" Mogra said. "If we are going to allow ourselves to be intimidated like this and publicly retract and say things we don't actually believe in, then that would be a great disaster for Muslim scholarship and for the freedom that we enjoy in this country.”

Hasan says that he hopes the current tensions dissipate and that he can return to what he calls his favorite mosque in London to join in prayers.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Britain • Culture & Science • Culture wars • Europe • Islam • Muslim

soundoff (288 Responses)
  1. Azoooooooo

    Theres no room for logic in religion. This man clearly became to smart for the bullSh** and then got ousted by the gulable fools. good for him, he can start living a productive life now instead of playing make beleive with the other kids.

    June 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  2. RightturnClyde

    What a homely bunch in that picture .. whoa man .. no wonder the camels cower before them. Clock stopping ugly .;. UG-A-lee.. no wonder they need to wear veils. That's a years work for 3 or 4 plastic surgeons.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Unnamed

      The words of an ignorant person who is behaving worse than the animals.

      July 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  3. peter

    Let all those believers who want to die in the name of God come together and give them the weapons they need to dissolve them beyond extinction. That's what I would call evolution at its best.

    April 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  4. Shah

    Why is it necessary to compare the religious beliefs and scientific theories? Are n't the two serving different purposes and work within different parameters? Both have benefitted mankind in some way or the other and both have immensely harmed humanity when their adherents used them for achieving their selfish ulterior motives. Threatening scientific minds is as bad as killing religious scholars. Burning holy scriptures is as bad as destroying scientific works and caricaturing personalities held in esteem by millions as detestable as silencing voices of reason. The muslims need to follow the Quranic diction of " For you is your thinking , for me my thinking" and the followers of biblical traditions have to adhere to" Love thy neighbour (who so ever)". Indulging in senseless debates with no deeper knowledge of either religious beliefs or scientific truths is leading us no where.

    March 26, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Unnamed

      I certainly praise what you wrote here. It speaks the truth, and not everyone likes the truth..but we all have to understand that we must stop being small-minded and start assuming things when one does not know of the situation or of other religions.
      I also approve of Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra's statement; no man should be allowed to state who is not a muslim. It is for God to decide.
      I hope we can all learn from all this, to be better towards each other no matter what religion.

      July 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  5. avi42

    Darwin himself struggled with this question. He did not want to publish anything that went against G-d. He eventually concluded that there was no conflict, and I think he's right. I can't believe that G-d is a magic genie who blinks his eyes and then people appear. G-d would be patient, letting life form slowly over time. WE seek instant gratification, I don't like to think that he does too.

    http://punditsquares.blogspot.com/

    March 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  6. doubtful

    Why do we claim that Islam does not have any compulsion and is a religion of peace when in reality we are unable to tolerate an individuals opinions and views, may I mention being supported by scientific facts, the moment we see them colliding with our baseless, super natural, and insane beliefs. And that goes for all the other religious fanatics as well, the world would not have seen this much blood and hatred, had it not been in the name of God.
    If there is that GOD as organized religions would have us believe, is he so powerless and clueless that would depend on us defending him through such aggression and intolerance.
    I dream for the day, when humans could rid themselves of their most primitive and dangerous attribute, i.e. Faith, belief in something without reasoning and evidence. Ah yeah, I am that kind of Muslim, sorry to fellow nut-cases if I have offended you... NOT.

    March 24, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  7. Loulou

    Those speaking out against Islam, let me refresh you with a fact. Islam is a PEACEFUL religion. But like EVERYTHING else, like Athiests people do make mistakes and do get angry, but doesn't mean people should be quick to judge a whole religion. We don't do that to you, so stop doing this to us.

    March 23, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      LouLou.. We are told endlessly that Islam is peaceful, and we would love to believe it we really would. Here is a story that a religious leader has had to leave amid death threats by his own religion.. very nice. This is not a mistake but plain intimidation. And please point us to the news sites that show the outrage by other Muslims to this action. Most religions are happy and peaceful provided you go along with the rhetoric. Do you think that it is correct for Islam to threaten this man because of his statements..

      March 23, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • LAdddie

      oh yes, Islam is very peaceful, just watch how peaceful these Albanian Muslims are

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2EFFBpoOu4&w=640&h=360]

      June 24, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  8. bob wallace

    a difference of opinion warrants ostracism and a death sentence? what an absurd religion!

    March 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • dodo

      Just because people who adhere to a religion do stupid things (think KKK and abortion activism extremists who say they are basing their actions on Christian belief), it doesn't make the religion bad or state that it is the religion that dictates it. If these people read their qurans they would realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. There's nothing in the quran that tells them to ostracize or declare infidels, that's ignorant culture which shouldn't be confused with religion. IF you decide to judge a religion, base it on the teachings IN the religion, not the cultural practices of the people. Those 2 things ARE mutually exclusive.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  9. David

    A religion of peace? Kill anyone you disagree with does not qualify them as such. When will the left wake up and realize you can NOT tolerate intolerance. To show tolerance to this type is no different than showing tolerance to the KKK or to Nazis.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  10. Hussain

    Going by the Koran, Muslins believe that Allah created the universe. When both atheists and non-Muslims ask the most sensible question as to who created Allah, they just take a blind leap of faith and accept that he is self-existent without a beginning or end. It may appeal to their hearts but not heads – and the debate comes to an abrupt end. So, the question lingers on to be answered by intellectuals. Why even bother. The true-believer syndrome merits study by science. What is it that compels a reasonable person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable. How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, a creator Allah, an imposture, that even after it's exposed in the bright light of day he still clings to it–indeed, clings to it all the harder?

    March 23, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • doubtful

      Good to see a fellow muslim with some sanity left. Could not agree with you more, on this specific topic 🙂 Yeah, not sure if you do have some "belief/faith" based virus on other areas of religious and by other I mean all areas 🙂

      March 24, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  11. simplicity

    religion is a man made concept folks. be it islam, christianity, etc. the one true god, almighty, allah or what ever being brought us to self awareness (regardless if it was instantly or over a millon years) taught us there is a higher power. that power is love. does it really matter if we evolved from apes or whatever? no. what matters is we stop bickering, killing and taking advantage of each other for the sake of greed or power. we should love one another and work to better all of our lives collectivly. this is the path to enlightment and paradise. no "merciful god" would condone the atrocities that all religions have comitted in history and continue to this day in the name of a god. any person of any religion that thinks they are justified in killing in the name of their god may find out how wrong they are...once it is too late. may the supreme being...whomever it is....have true mercy on us all.

    March 23, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  12. tsusiat

    Muslim scholarship? What in the world is that?

    March 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  13. Kathryn

    @Q: I tried to post this already, but it looks like it didn't go through, so here it is again. This link is to a review of two meta-analyses of double-blind studies of ESP. It was original published in Psychological Bulletin, which is a highly respected, peer-reviewed journal published by the American Psychological Association. Yes, it is older (from 1994), but as no one has done a more recent meta-analysis that I have seen, I am left to use an older source.

    March 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Q

      Thanks for the reference. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10414223

      March 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Q

      I would also add that Shermer's response and the studies he describes in his debate with Chopra (featured in Skeptic magazine) do strongly indicate biological mechanisms underlying NDE/OBE. Various manipulations, chemical and physical, can produce replicable results mimicking the classic reported phenomena.

      All of this said, I may have come off a little too hostile for which I apologize. But again, as soon as an investigator posits a mechanism which is clearly outside a physical process, they are no longer practicing science.

      March 23, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Kathryn

      @Q: Actually, I have read the article that Shermer cited as evidence. I have also read the reply to Shermer posted by the author of the "evidence" in question, and the author of the study (Pim Van Lommel) was most irate that Shermer had entirely misquoted his conclusions, which DID support a nonbiological basis for NDE's. Here is a copy of Van Lommel's reply to Shermer's Scientific American article: http://www.nderf.org/vonlommel_skeptic_response.htm

      June 14, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  14. fritz

    The Muslims are ultimately doomed by the very evolutionary process they don't believe in. Why? For centuries they have removed the power of women, the primary gender and givers of life, to choose which genes they will pass to the future and placed that choice in the hands of men, the support gender. Only mothers have the instinctual knowledge to decide which genes to pass on based on her sense of the current and future environment. Men aren't evolved to have this kind of sense. Their instinct is to impregnate as many women as they possibly can while women carefully select which genes to pass on apart from male egoism. Men are supposed to compete with each other to vie for the woman's attentions to convince her that HIS genes are the right ones to pass on leaving with the woman the final choice. But in the
    Muslim world, men generally make that decision. The result? Islamic cultures filled with genetic defectives. The other religions are also guilty of such typically masculine practices but to a lesser degree. All one has to do is compare the physical and mental attributes of a typical muslim male against a typical western male and note the differences. Any religion or culture that engages in this practice fosters inbreeding and will ultimately wither away or be overun by interbred (melting pot) cultures where men compete and women choose their mates. To go against this notion is to engage in a fight with Nature humans can't possibly win. The bottom line is this. WOMEN DO NOT BELONG TO MEN. Women are the FIRST gender are not to be treated like birthing machines to sate the egos or satisfy the insecuriities of men. Like Bullworth said. The best thing humans could do is **** each other until we're all one color.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      you idiot, your ilk is going to be extinct in 200 years. your women are not having children, and are instead working jobs as glorified har lots.

      muslim women are the ones having babies with muslim men providing for the family. they work as a team, something your men and women are incapable of doing.

      todays muslim children will inherit the earth tomorrow, while your corpses rot in your graves. Good bye and good riddance. Islam wins.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Nonimus

      While I don't agree with fritz that, "only mothers have the instinctual knowledge to decide which genes to pass on based on her sense of the current and future environment," which I suspect is complete bunk and seems almost like social darwinism which is complete bunk. I do however agree that "WOMEN DO NOT BELONG TO MEN."

      March 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • The One True Steve

      @B(Iraq). ... Which version of Islam wins? Which version of Islam is true?

      March 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      BHO Muslims will fight amongst them selves and counter any progress they make. We see it already with in the sects. religionists are all the same, they are very jealous of the gods they have invented and will not only attack non believers of said god, but those who will inevitably publicly speak of the errors the religion has made. This is evident within this story.. this cleric has mentioned that iIslam is wrong, and the religion is too weak to converse but has to dish out violence . No, I see Islam on the same heap of failed ideas as all the rest of the religions.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • JonathanL

      The last time I went to church I was called a Communist during an after service reception for stating that I believed in the theory of Evolution. I also am a scientist. If you want to de-convert people from religion this is how to do it "Alienate them when they think intelligently". I entered on the path of Atheism but before you condemn me for it consider this: After much research I have found that Atheists are the smartest and most knowledgeable about religion of all the organized theistic and non-theist groups (though Atheists tend not to organize in groups but they identify themselves as Atheists when asked and by that are classified, but after all who would actively organize around something they do not believe in?). It is probably for that reason they become Atheists. But who is right? And if faith allows you to believe anything, does it matter who is right? Faith based systems allow and encourage people to dismiss logical questions, facts, and other evidence as 'the work of the devil'. I experienced this whenever I asked a question that would stump the Sunday School teacher. After all, as evidenced by many religionist arguments, you can say something is true when it isn't, and believe it (common in faith based reasoning). But how do we find out what is really true about God, if he exists? To complicate things, I found out there are many gods (even in the Bible) and most of them think they are special. But the Judeo-Christian God (Yahweh..Jehovah.."The" God) thinks he is the most special. According to his scribiner interpreters, "He" claims to be the God above all the other Gods. Did he say that to usurp Jupiter who around that time allegedly claimed that post as well? I wasn't there so I can only guess. According to the Bible, originally Yahweh was one of the sons of El, the chief god. He was various things to the people who
      followed that religion; at one point he was the war god of the Israelites (Jehovah translates as "great Warrior"). There are many early versions of the Biblical creation story (predating Genesis. Some take place in 7 days (the earliest story from about 1200 B.C. and sometimes the creator is female such as Euronyme (the genesis story from ancient Greece). There are
      passages in the Pentateuch which still reflect the old polytheism of the area in the Old Testament. Yahweh was first one of many gods, then the chief god of a particular tribe, then the one true god out of many, then the creator of the entire universe. I guess that sounds better. It commands more respect and certainly puts the other Gods in a lower status. All you have to remember is that God is a jealous God and will not exactly be happy if you go back and worship one of the other Gods for example, Molech, Resheph, Melqart or Tanit. So if you want to believe in the Judeo Christio Islamo God, be happy, but don't try to con me. Still not sure where he is though, or even if he is a he, but I hope someday, somehow, we find out the truth and can put these open questions to rest. I also took a close look at Islam. Not to completely dismiss all religion. I believe there have been enlightened members of most religions, and they can serve as sources of wisdom to some extent but not always of true knowledge. Meanwhile I will take the philosophical and scientific path to enlightenment, and let religion rust in the field behind the old barn.

      March 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.