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. Joe

    I agree with this guy to a point. I mean evolution and support for it are mentioned in the Quran. And I have long had the view that Adam being formed from clay is an analogy to Allah molding people along the evolutionary path. But no matter his ideas these people who declare him an apostate and a kafir are misguided. According to the Prophet (SAWS) "The person who declares someone a kafir and it is not true the kufr comes back to the accuser." So if its not true that the person is a kafir than you are the kafir for declaring it.

    March 22, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  2. Jecky

    Got chased away for believing the dam TRUTH, what . an . IDIOTS!!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  3. s.wadlington

    Knowing God is a matter of faith. Knowing science is a matter of belief. Books are not Gods and God has never written one. God made us all different, so he must have wanted us to be that way. The objective of organized religions is to make us all the same. There is much to be learned about God from science, but because organized religion has always tried to obliterate science, scientists won’t investigate anything to do with God. As long as religion and science refuse to recognize each other we will continue to exist in a schizoid reality.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Colin

      You make them sound of equal validity, science and religion. This is not so. Science delivers. It gives us everything we have today, from better health, a greater understanding of the natural world, telecommunications, transportation, weather forcastine, etc., etc.

      Religion delivers nothing but unverifiable promises of life after death. Childish nonsense. Comparing science to religion is like comparing Albert Einstein's equations to your grandmother's bedtime stories.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • barcie

      Nope, knowing science is matter of hypothesis testing.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • The Bobinator

      > There is much to be learned about God from science, but because organized religion has always tried to obliterate science, scientists won’t investigate anything to do with God. As long as religion and science refuse to recognize each other we will continue to exist in a schizoid reality.

      God by defintion is supernatural, that is outside the bounds of our phyiscal laws. Therefore, science cannot test for God.

      March 22, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Nonimus

      "Knowing science is a matter of belief."
      Science is a matter of observation, testability, and repeatability.

      Science doesn't "refuse" to look at the supernatural, it is incapable of looking at it. However, if the supernatural ever affects the natural, then science can and will look at it. Examples, intercessory prayer efficacy, placebo effect, homeopathy efficacy (none), fMRIs during meditation/prayer/etc., etc.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  4. JennyTX

    Religion - a great way to control people and keep them ignorant and judgmental.

    March 22, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  5. Reality

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslim souls and their imams who still live in the dark ages:

    There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam !!!!

    Added details are available.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  6. Jim Weix, Palm City FL

    Religion and education do not mix. To be a “true believer” in most religions means that you must be uneducated and ignorant.

    Fortunately, you do not have to be ignorant to be spiritual. Whatever Higher Power you believe in did not create religion. Man created religion in order to gain control over others. That is why dictators and kings often claim to be appointed by God.

    Fortunately we can be devout and spiritual, without being ignorant or belonging to a religion. God, or whatever you choose to call Him, gave us a magnificent brain. I believe that He expects us to use it.

    Usama Hasan is an example of what happens when you use your brain. It threatens the religious morons. These morons then seek fatwas, or religious rulings, from clerics overseas to denounce his support for evolution and to demand a death sentence. Many of the major Christian religions have done the same type of things.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • big tuna

      how is AA working for you?

      March 22, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  7. Slash

    Seeing as evolution is a fact as absolute as the existence of the sun, anyone who denies it is insane. If their cult has led them to become that insane, then their cult is a dangerous force which must be destroyed regardless of which invisible man they worship and how their worship him. Such idiots should not be coddled with lies saying their stupidity is equal to all the works of science. They should not be told that their cult is special or important. Most of all, they should not be allowed to attempt to spread their ignorant filth in public.

    The era of the brainless, archaic rule of religion is slowly but surely coming to its end. We live in reality, not fantasy. Anyone incapable of dealing with that reality is free to buy a length of rope and use reality's express check-out system.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Colin

      Well said. Love your passion.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Chuck E Cheese

      "Seeing as evolution is a fact as absolute as the existence of the sun" – I can see the sun, could you please show me evolution? I have not seen it. I thought evolution was a process, whereby the best traits of a species are passed on and the species evolves into a higher order? Am, I mistaken? If I evolved from a monkey/ape, why do we still have monkey's/apes? What is their purpose? Shouldn't they have died out long ago once we evolved?

      March 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Chuck E Cheese: Honestly, I don't think you've evolved at all; but, to answer your question: yes, you are mistaken.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Evolution is not a defined process with an end goal of creating a perfect bring in mind.
      It isn't like humans are "Ape Version 4.0" and we somehow render all other primates obsolete.
      The evolutionary process is full of redundancies and dead ends – yet the traits persist.
      Very quickly, the laws encompassed by the Theory of Evolutinio are that the world is changing, as are the enti.ties that live on it, that these enti.ties all descended from a common ancestor, that species split off into other species (often through geographical isolation of a founder species), that changes are gradual through a given population and that individuals in every generation are different from one another an dtha tin each generation, some individuals survive and reproduce better than others (thus their genes are passed down more prolifically).

      Evolution does not have a "purpose" as such. It is merely a description of the processes by which life on this planet has come to its present diversity and complexity.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  8. Tallheadd

    See- the few who are not radical are then not wanted by the masses. where are all the moderates we hear so much about? has anyone evere seen one?

    March 22, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • barcie

      Yes, there are many. Just about every Muslim I've met in academia in the life sciences has absolutely no problem with evolution. I do agree with you on one point, though. It's high time that moderate Muslims and moderate Christians take their religions back from the authoritarian nut jobs.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  9. RquiTect

    Those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. The rigid interpretation of divine inspired writings (the specific inspired texts electively determined by mere mortals) led to many decades of horrors during the Inquisition when scientific fact conflicted with "divine" texts.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  10. Ahria

    It is too bad that religion can't be dispensed with and spirituality and enlightenment on the highest level encouraged. We know how we should treat each other; it is the dogma that gets in the way. So what if there were prophets. If what is true on the next level is true, if there is a next level, it is true regardless of prophets' comments. A devout heart is one thing, a hardened heart and closed mind another, violent followers who want to Lord it over others while blindly playing follow the leader is another matter still. Does God care if a man eats fish on Friday or wears a kirpan and turban or a woman wears a head scarf (to fend off men's desires they should deal with themselves). Does God care about a skull cap or hairstyles or beards or long dresses or any of it? Does it matter if the earth was made in seven days or millions of years? No. Enlightenment is beyond all of that..Everything should be questioned and not blindly followed. We have minds for a reason. Leaders can't speak out about evolution, against blasphemy laws, no one can question the validity of Mohammed's words or thoughts – state oh well regarding what he said, maybe he wasn't infallible or all knowing or men rewrote some words. If he was all knowing and on the highest level, would so much violence be occurring because of his words? People are dying for freedom, wanting to rid themselves of dictators, but then many still have to deal with a centuries old controller with too often brainwashed, cruel followers making people's lives as hellish as they were under a dictator if they think for themselves or want to assess teachings. That is madness. People need to evolve and use their minds, hearts, and souls, not just blindly follow words that don't even make sense regarding spirituality in so many places. Are certain teachings in the Koran so problematic that they alter people's brains like an addict's – a gambling addict, for instance? People go to the mosques, get all fired up, like the high of anger and hostility, so go back for more, etc., and eventually they can't stomach the concept of peace and love and won't even use their brains to think for themselves? Many should go to a strict Moslem country to live – see how much they enjoy it there, be like babies blindly following religious leader/dictators until they get to the end of their lives, die, and realize oh oh. Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses are right about the numbers going to reach the highest level – very few. People need to learn and evolve, but are they? Nope, too many seemingly are not.

    March 22, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • big tuna

      your first 10 words pass muster ~ then you slide into the abyss of spirituality et. al. from where the religions crawled.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      Interesting Post... I do think that any/all organized "religion" has displayed and fostered ugly behavior. None the least of them Christians. I think that is the reason not to follow ANY "Religion."

      Life is a prayer (for outcome).
      Each action we take, each thought we make "goes in the Book of life." How we live our lives, in spite of, or because of those outside influences (religion, science, fiction, etc.) determines our fate in "the next life."

      Faith, in the final analysis, should be in ourselves. When we sit quietly and reflect, we can FEEL the points in time where we have acted "in sin*." As we act, if we pay attention, we feel that same warning and have the opportunity to listen to and follow that tiny but powerful inner voice. All this presumes that one is not a sociopath (having no true soul, in my opinion, not necessarily being "evil").

      * to "sin" means to miss the mark, to come up short, to fail to meet the standards under which one lives.

      March 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Tabris

      Congratulations Ahria,

      You are one of the few souls that transcends the masses. Google for "Letters from Christ" to help you on your way. Not may people are ready for this but you are.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Magic

      Christ did not write even one single "letter"... nor even a single word... Not. Even. One.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Po

    You worship your bible and what is written therein by mere men. You deserve no trust or confidence when you are a religious extremist. There are no loopholes in evolution. This isn't the IRS Tax Code. Science is a collaborative effort using objective and non-biased scientific methods subject to rigorous review by third parties.
    Your bible will never be on par with science in this regard.
    Loopholes, huh. You've got loopholes in your brain....

    March 22, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  12. richunix

    I wish CNN would word it correctly when refering to Evolution and Religion: It's the Science of Evolution and correctly the Theories of Religion.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • barcie

      Actually, the word, "theory," in science refers to the conceptual framework within which a branch of science works, such as the the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics. Theory does NOT mean guess.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  13. Joe Schmoe

    Organized religion, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam or what have you, is at the root of all evil in this world. With any social movement, be it woman's rights, slavery, racism, or whatever, society has evolved first and then those of religion had to be dragged kicking and screaming afterward. People talked about Manifest Destiny to justify slavery and decimation of non-believers, yet you don't hear about that now, because society, not religion, evolved and it's not societally correct to talk about those things now, despite the Bible being riddled with passages in support of Manifest Destiny.

    I compare those that are deeply religious as people who have a pond which is their belief system along with a big honking rock in the middle of that pond called "Religion" which doesn't follow any of the physical laws of the water in the pond and leads to all sorts of paradoxes and inconsistencies in one's belief system. And any illogical system naturally engenders atrocities. They go hand in hand – you can't have one without the other.

    Case in point: I find it pathetic how Muslim scholars try to defend their religion, which clearly has jihad and this notion of apostasy, by trying to sweep these under the carpet and yammering that Islam is the religion of tolerance and love. Another example of people desperately trying to explain away that Rock, like it doesn't exist.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:56 am |
  14. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    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.”
    Apostle Eric says; The answers of the revelation of God in creation are evidenced by His living Witness in Christ; whereas false faith does not carry this witness and so to believe in God requires the building or philosophic construction of ones logic which can be challenged by the logic of any other persuasion or so called science. (to many loop holes in evolution). http://apostlestoday.net/

    March 22, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • miko

      You misspelled Pustule.

      March 22, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • Beeker

      You sound delusional. No, wait...you ARE delusional. Happy Fun Time!

      March 22, 2011 at 6:49 am |
    • Teo

      Too many loopholes in the bible.

      March 22, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  15. Carl

    To evolve, one must have something to evolve from, that is dangerous thinking when most religions assume that modern humans are as good as their going to get – and no one wants to look too closely at how their religion works.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  16. Brent

    Without violence, they would not worship.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:35 am |
    • Laura


      March 22, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  17. Daws

    Actually it's not that simple, there are passages in the bible specifically telling you to kill those who "worship other gods", even whole towns if it has just one trying to convert others to other gods. Read over the pages of Deuteronomy 13:6-16 and more. Point being, the material is there to make either religions bad as you can imagine. So obviously it's not the religions themselves, it's the people in them and what they choose to go along with.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  18. Doug

    Bible Reader, are you suggesting that Muslims should be as tolerant, scientifically-literate and benign as Christians have been through the centuries?

    March 22, 2011 at 6:26 am |
    • Richard

      Meanwhile, bring you back to the 21st century...

      March 22, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • william

      Good point. Christians have nothing to say... it was they who were going to set afire Gallilleo for the heresy of saying the Earth revolved around the Sun. As if God was so stupid he didn't understand this when he "wrote" the Bible.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  19. Bible Reader

    Islam the religion of love and peace. Unless you believe exactly as I understand, you deserve to be killed. The Bible tells us not to associated with them.
    Big difference.

    March 22, 2011 at 6:06 am |
    • Mr Man

      Uh, Islam begin in the 600s AD. That is long, long, long after any part of the Bible was written. Maybe your Bible was written more recently? So how is it that the "normal" Bible tells "us" to avoid Muslims??

      March 22, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • big tuna

      read a book mrman ~ then you won't post stupidity

      March 22, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • Better Reader

      The Bible does not say Christians shouldn't associate with Muslims. In fact, if you believe what the various religious texts say, in Genesis the Bibles speaks of Abraham's son by Hagar, Ishmael, who God promises to make "a great nation." Mohammad traced his own lineage to Ishmael (again, if you believe that sort of thing).
      You might read and believe the Bible, but apparently it takes an atheist to explain it to you. Why do Christians in the United States persist in being so blinkardly ignorant of their holy texts?

      March 22, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Fred Flintstone

      Yep, and it's the exact same reason Christians have thousands of different denominations which all seem to think they're the only ones on the one true path to God.

      March 22, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  20. Dutch Shultz

    Hey obama you make no sense.

    March 22, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • tiredofit10

      That is why democracy will never survive in an Arab country. Freedom of thought is against Islam.

      March 22, 2011 at 6:16 am |
    • big tuna

      hey dutch – you are a tard

      March 22, 2011 at 7:30 am |
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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.