Saturday, 26 November 2011

Muslim biology students are boycotting lectures about evolution because they conflict with their creationist beliefs, one of Britain’s leading scientists has revealed.

Steve Jones, emeritus professor of human genetics at University College London (UCL), said increasing numbers of his undergraduates were refusing to attend his lectures on evolution and complaining that the subject should not be taught on their course.

“It is a minority of students ... but [the problem] is definitely there and it is definitely growing,” said Jones, who teaches introductory genetics to about 300 first-year students, about a fifth of whom are Muslim.

“I had one or two slightly frisky discussions years ago with kids who belonged to fundamentalist Christian churches ... now it is Islamic, overwhelmingly.”

Jones said he was also aware of trainee doctors on UCL’s medical course, one of the most highly ranked in Britain, who refused to learn about evolution.

He added that refusal to discuss evolutionary science for religious reasons was growing among schoolchildren and a pupil had recently walked out of a talk he was giving on the subject.

Jones’s comments add to a growing row over creationism within British Islam. Increasing numbers of British Muslims believe Darwinism is incompatible with their conviction that Allah created mankind and all the other species in a single act of will after bringing the world into existence.

Earlier this year Usama Hasan, imam of the Masjid al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton, east London, and a senior engineering lecturer at Middlesex University, received death threats after suggesting that Islam and Darwinism could be compatible.

Tensions had risen last December when a Saudi cleric told a congregation in Birmingham that those who believed in evolution were unfit to lead Friday prayers.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and former Oxford professor, first raised the Muslim boycott of lectures in an interview with the Times Educational Supplement last month.

“Occasionally, my colleagues lecturing in universities lament having undergraduate students walk out of their classes when they talk about evolution — this is almost entirely Muslims,” he said. “I think there’s a very, very pernicious influence that is lasting up to the university years.”

Jones, who is also a founding professor at AC Grayling’s New College of the Humanities, said: “They don’t come [to lectures] or they complain about it or they send notes or emails saying they shouldn’t have to learn this stuff.”

He said that the students’ reasons for studying biology were “a mystery to me ... I think if you are a creationist you are basically wrong and self-deluding, but you are perfectly at liberty to go and study chemistry or English literature, but why study biology? It makes no sense.

“What they object to — and I don’t really understand it, I am not religious myself — they object to the idea that there is a random process out there which is not directed by God, who knows everything. But anyone who spins a coin knows there are random processes.”

Jones said that a biology or medical student who did not wish to learn about evolution could “probably muddle through, although I hope you would realise you were deluding yourself”.

Inayat Bunglawala, founder of Muslims4UK and formerly a senior figure at the Muslim Council of Britain, blamed the growth of creationist belief among Muslims partly on the campaign of Adnan Oktar, a Turkish author who writes under the name Harun Yahya.

He began his work after studying the success of Christian creationists in America. He links Darwinism to Nazism and his books include The Skulls that Demolish Darwin, which proclaims “the burial of Darwinism as Europe awakens”. Speakers sent by Yahya regularly tour Britain and earlier this year spoke in London, Manchester, Leeds, Dundee and Glasgow. They spoke at UCL in 2008.

Bunglawala said: “He has glossy books and videos, which are heavily promoted by Islamic bookshops and on Islamic TV channels where they are aired many hours a day.”

He added: “It is unfortunate that some Muslim students, when it comes to the opportunity to learn about evolution, boycott them [sic] without even listening or walk out of classes. This goes against the express words of the Koran which are to read, open your mind and use your critical faculties.

“Many Christian thinkers have ... learnt to interpret the Bible in a way which does not in any way negate the teaching of science ... it is important Muslim thinkers perform the same service.”

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