Home

Ahmed bin Muhammad Ali Maskawaih (d. 421 A. H.):
His Theory of Life as an Evolutionary Movement

 by Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haque

BRIEF HISTORY

Different theories about the origin of existing species including man came into vogue during the last few centuries. As they could not be supported by scientific evidence, they ultimately became obsolete one after the other. The actual forces that brought about evolution were gradually discovered and are now thoroughly understood.(1) 

Primitive human races had various myths to explain the origin of man and animals by the creative acts of supernatural powers. Until the last century most of the people including such scientists as Linnaeus, Cuvier, Agassiz and Owen believed that species had been created separately. Cuvier thought that the disappearance of fossil species had resulted from a series of catastrophes, the last being the Noah’s flood; and after each of these the earth had been repopulated by new creation of higher type. The belief in catastrophes was dispelled by the Scottish geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875) who showed that the geological processes of sedimentation, uplift and erosion are essentially continuous. Some early Greek philosophers had vague notions of an evolutionary process. Anaximander, Empedocles, and Aristotle (6th to 4th century B. C.) independently came to the conclusion that living creatures possibly did not come into existence at random and independent of one another; they rather appeared in succession.(1) 

In the Middle Ages when the whole of Europe was averse to scientific pursuit, the Arabian Muslim scholars, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Badja, Abu-Nasar-Farabi, Ibn Miskawah, etc., in North Africa and Spain preserved the old branches of learning and also made some useful observations to strengthen the idea of evolution. Muslim thinkers were the pioneers.(1) 

IBN MASKAWAIH: An Isagogic Infrastructure(2)

Ahmed bin Muhammad Ali Maskawaih is known as Ibn Maskawaih. Syed Abdul Wadud in his book Phenomenon of Nature and the Quran has spelled him as Miskawah. He is the scientist for discussing and researching the academic and scientific pursuits of knowledge for the things in the universe. He is a peculiar expert with special knacks in the domain of Biology; he is the first scientist discovering life in plant in general, probing and prompting the mysteries of life, explaining and categorizing the evolution of mind. He is the discoverer of the sense of touch in the animals. He is the sociologist, the expert in demystifying the delicacies of culture and civilization with specific reference to the discipline of Psychology as an in-depth expert. He is an investigator, researcher and thinker of ethics and spirituality; he is the formulator of principles pertaining to be successful citizen; and last but not the least he is the first great writer of the book on morality.

Country:                      Rey

Birth:                          322 A.H. approximately

Death:                         421 A.H./1032A.C.

Age:                             About 99 years (3)

Book on Evolution:    Al-Fauz al-Asghar; also refer Development of Metaphysics in Persia where an account of Ibn Maskawaih’s theory of evolution is given as summed up by Shibli Nu’maani in his Ilm al-Kalam (4)

IBN MASKAWAIH’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION

Since thousands of years from now, Ibn Maskawaih pondered deeply over life, its mores in sociological backdrop, explained the philosophy of life on academic and scientific pursuits and emerged as the first to establish the theory of evolution. 

The stark fact is that he, on the basis of intellectual horizon, wanted to establish mutual inter-relatedness found among the various stages of life in the things. With observations and experimentations, he manifested the evolution of life and as the final analysis of the things he classified into categorized the various living beings of this universe. Summing up the results of his observation and experimentation he writes ‘the first impact of life in the living beings of the universe emerged in the form of plants. It was because the plants have movement in them and stand in need of food. These are the two very peculiar traits, which make them singularly distinct from the rest of the things in the universe’. 

Now the searching question was that the movement phenomenon of life he discovered came to take its effect in too many stages. So Ibn Maskawaih classified plants into numerous categories. He says there was gradual evolution in the plants. He explains this gradual evolution distinctly with reasons and arguments. This led him to conclude, “there is life in plants.” And became the first to put forth the theory of plant-life. 

GRADUAL EVOLUTION IN PLANT-LIFE

Ibn Maskawaih established three stages of gradual evolution in plants. 

FIRST STAGE: This stage has further two sub-stages:

1.      This is the lowest stage of evolution in plant-life where the plant does not need any seed for its birth and growth. Nor does it perpetuate its species by means of the seeds. This kind of plant-life differs from minerals only in some little power of movement.

2.      After this entirely the lowest stage of evolution in plant-life, there comes to play further growth as the impact of life. It grows in higher forms and reveals itself further in that the plant spreads out its branches and perpetuates its species by means of the seeds. This sub-stage of plant-life is more representative of Allah’s rational phenomenon than that of the first lowest stage of evolution. This gradual evolution of plant-life as the result of power of movement gradually furthers until we reach the second stage.  

SECOND STAGE: This second stage has also two sub-stages.

1.      At this stage, we reach trees, which possess a trunk, leaves and fruit. With this fruit they perpetuate their species. But they differ from what they were in their first stage; though they perpetuate their species by means of seeds but they are not planted; they grow in the forests, mountains and plains and complete their growth in a much longer period of time. The initial stage of these trees is comprehensively integrated with the first stage.

2.      At the second sub-stage, these trees gradually grow further. Now these trees can also be planted, but nature alone nourishes them. After this comes the third stage. 

THIRD STAGE: This third stage has also two sub-stages.

1.      This is a higher stage of evolution and comes to bring forms of plant-life, which need better soil and climate for their growth. In other words it means clean water, air, light, pleasant and moderate season.  The examples of plant-life at this stage include olive, pomegranate, apple, fig etc.

2.      The development at this sub-stage reaches the maximum. This, the last stage of development, is reached in vine and date palm and stands on the threshold of animal life. Now take the example of date palm. Pondering from various dimensional aspects, the following characteristics are found in the date palm:

a)      A clear sex-distinction appears in the date palm. It needs the procreation process, the combination of the pair, the male and the female, for bringing its fruit.

b)      Besides roots and fibres, it develops something new which functions like the animal brain, on the integrity of which depends the life of the date palm. As the cutting of the animal brain annihilates the animal so is the plant-life at its last stage of development. This is the highest stage in the development of plant-life, and a prelude to animal life. It means the last and the highest stage of development of plant-life is the initial stage of the animals. 

Besides these two peculiarities, there are many other similarities in both the date palm and the animals. The last stage of plant-life is that they need not to be planted in the soil. They can exercise, they can enjoy their freedom in the form of volunteer movement without the soil and get their feed to grow. This is the highest stage of development of the plant-life. Ibn Maskawaih says these observations in the light of evolution theory prove that the highest stage in the development of plant-life is the prelude to animal life because both exercise freedom as a common denominator.(3) 

EVOLUTIONARY LIFE IN ANIMALS

After proving plant-life  -the life that is dynamic and progressive in its nature, that plant-life whose highest stage of development is the prelude to animal life  -and incorporating adequately an appropriate degree of similarity as a common denominator in both, the plants and the animals, Ibn Maskawaih leaps a forward step and discusses animal life. In his book, Al-Fauz al-Asghar (4), Ibn Maskawaih writes: ‘the first forward step towards animal life is freedom from earth-rootedness, which is the germ of conscious movement. This is the initial stage of animality in which the sense of touch is the first to appear, i.e. a weak sort of “sense of touch” along with “movement”. Both these powers initiate their development’. 

Based on his observations Ibn Maskawaih expounds the results of his investigations with examples. He says this is the initial stage of animal life at which the animals lack other senses. He takes the example of oyster and snail found abundantly on the seashores and riverbeds. They have both the sense of touch and the movement but these are at the lowest ebb at this stage. They have very slow and weak movement. Their sense of touch can be perceived: if they are abruptly taken up, they leave their position and come to your hand. The reason is that they have weak sense of touch and that it takes them long to sense that someone else is touching them upon. And if they are touched upon slowly but gradually and then are taken up, they stick to their position in lieu of leaving their abode in a rather quick mode. It is because they start perceiving by means of sense of touch that some one wants to take them up – And then they readily defend themselves and stick to their position. Ibn Maskawaih is also the proponent of the theory that the life first appeared in water. 

EVOLUTIONARY STAGES IN ANIMAL LIFE  

Ibn Maskawaih says the animal life burgeoned with the initial evolutionary stages. In its proof he gives the examples of sea worms and establishes three stages: 

FIRST STAGE: This stage incorporates three sub-stages.

1.      At this first sub-stage the “freedom of movement” and “ sense of touch” are very weak and are of an ordinary nature.

2.      At the second sub-stage, the freedom of movement and the sense of touch increase in magnitude as compared to its previous stage. Worm, reptile etc is its example.

3.      At the third sub-stage the animals that acquire four senses come up just. at the lowest level. The muskrat is its example. 

SECOND STAGE: At this stage the development of senses augments further and the animals acquire the fifth sense, the sense of sight at the lowest level. The examples of this stage are the ants and the bees. At this stage eyelids are not found on their eyes. 

THIRD STAGE: At this stage, animality reaches its perfection and acquires all the five senses though of varying nature. After entering this animality stage, the evolution picks up a new mode and gradually continues its perfection. The last stage of animality is the man. 

During these evolutionary stages some animals are acute in senses, comparatively sharp in comprehension and acquire the obeying or disobeying capability. That is why they can be tamed and trained as desired. This is the lowest stage of animality and incorporates the following animals:

1.      Dull and insensitive animals. They are also of varying degrees.

2.      Sensitive and sharp animals, e. g. deer, white-footed antelope etc.

3.      Sensitive, sharp plus obeying or disobeying capability animals e. g. horse, falcon etc. 

The next forward step in the evolutionary stages in animal life gradually leaps up and culminates to perfection of animality as its last stage in the scale of evolution. It is the place where this last stage coincides to the lowest stage of man. Ibn Maskawaih includes the following trait-manifesting animals in this higher stage of animality:

1.      Sensitive, sharp animals manifesting the lowest degree sense of imitating things e. g. parrot starling etc.

2.      More sensitive,  sharp animals manifesting the trait of living in the form of herds e. g. monkey, chimp. Pondering over the animals of this stage brings forth the feeling that their posture is straight and the formation of their body is similar to that of the man, they have a little bit of discrimination power; but all these energies, powers and potentialities are at the lowest ebb. It is because of these traits that these animals concede to the impact of training and teaching comparatively in a better and quick mode of action.

3.      This is the highest stage in animality where animal potentialities and powers reach perfection. The sex changes and the nature’s wonder emerge. From this highest degree of animality as its last stage emerges the lowest stage of humanity. At this very stage there is similarity in the temperamental dispositions, faculties, potentialities, characteristics and modes of operation of the man and the animal. The examples of this phenomenon are the tribes, the wild inhabitants and the negroes of the distant areas. General potentialities and capabilities among men and animals end here at this stage.(3) 

HUMAN EVOLUTION

Criterion of Human Evolution: Allah has endowed man with a multitude of possibilities and potentialities. Movement of life has touched its culmination reached in him and so is the evolution in its perfection. But it is of a changed criterion and imbibes to the highest stage of humanity in terms of head and heart capabilities, moderate temperament, civilization and culture, habits, and the mores and cores of society, all integrated in the humans(3). In the words of Allama Muhammad Iqbal(5): “Ibn Maskawaih (d. 421, A. H.) was the first Muslim thinker to give a clear and in many respects thoroughly modern theory of the origin of man (Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 96) and especially the man in terms of biological evolution. Allama Muhammad Iqbal has also given the substance of his evolutionary hypothesis in these words: According to Ibn Maskawaih plant-life at the lowest stage of evolution does not need any seed for its birth and growth. Nor does it perpetuate its species by means of the seed. This kind of plant-life differs from minerals only in some little power of movement which grows in higher forms, and reveals itself further in that the plant spreads out its branches, and perpetuates its species by means of the seed. The power of movement gradually grows farther until we reach trees which possess a trunk, leaves, and fruit. At a higher stage of evolution stand forms of plant-life which need better soil and climate for their growth. The last stage of development is reached in vine and date-palm which stand, as it were, on the threshold of animal life. In the date-palm a clear sex-distinction appears. Besides roots and fibres it develops something which functions like the animal brain, on the integrity of which depends the life of the date-palm. This is the highest stage in the development of plant-life, and a prelude to animal life. The first forward step towards animal life is freedom from earth-rootedness which is the germ of conscious movement. This is the initial stage of animality in which the sense of touch is the first, and the sense of sight is the last to appear. With the development of the senses the animal acquires freedom of movement, as in the case of worms, reptiles, ants, and bees. Animality reaches its perfection in the horse among quadrupeds and the falcon among birds, and finally arrives at the frontier of humanity in the ape which is just a degree below man in the scale of evolution. Further evolution brings physiological changes with a growing power of discrimination and spirituality until humanity passes from barbarism to civilization. 

AN OBSESSION

“The theory of evolution”, in the words of Allama Iqbal, “has brought despair and anxiety, instead of hope and enthusiasm for life, to the modern world. The reason is to be found in the unwarranted modern assumption that man’s present structure, mental as well as physiological, is the last word in biological evolution, and that death, regarded as a biological event, has no constructive meaning. The world of today needs a Rumi to create an attitude of hope and to kindle the fire of enthusiasm for life. His inimitable lines may be quoted here: 

First man appeared in the class of inorganic things,
            Next he passed therefrom into that of plants.
For years he lived as one of the plants,
            Remembering naught of his inorganic state so different;
And when he passed from the vegetive to the animal state
            He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except the inclination he felt to the world of plants,
            Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers.
Like the inclination of infants towards their mothers,
            Which know not the cause of their inclination to the breast. . .
Again the great Creator, as you know,
            Drew man out of the animal into the human state.
Thus man passed from one order of nature to another,
            Till he became wise and knowing and strong as he is now.
Of his first souls he has now no remembrance.
            And he will be again changed from his present soul.”

According to Allama Iqbal, “the point which has caused much difference of opinion among Muslim philosophers and theologians is whether the re-emergence of man involves the re-emergence of his former physical medium. Most of them . . . are inclined to think that it does involve at least some kind of physical medium suitable to the ego’s new environment.” Allama Iqbal further says “the nature of the universe is such that it is open to it to maintain in some other way the kind of individuality necessary for the final working out of human action, even after the disintegration of what appears to specify his individuality in his present environment. What that other way is we do not know.” Here at this juncture of cross-roads come the teachings of the Quraan  and provide solution to the man where at the scale of evolution he stands today. This is the end-product of evolutionary movement Ibn Maskawaih had put forth. 

REFERENCES

1.      Wadud, Syed Abdul: Phenomena of Nature and The Quran (1st Edition), Syed Khalid Wadud, 32-Nisbet Road, Lahore(W. Pakistan) 1971.
2.      Mughal, Abdul Rahman N. and Manzoor-ul-Haque: Science Education: An Isagogic Infrastructure, The Sind University Journal of Education, Vol. XXIII, 1988, 1-14.
3.      Ibn Misk    http://www.aboutquran.com/ibn_misk.pdf
4.      Parwez, G.A.: Iblees-o-Adam (4th Edition), Idara Tolu-e-Islam, Gulberg, Lahore, 1983.
5.      Allama Muhammad Iqbal: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (2nd Edition), Iqbal Academy Pakistan, Institute of Islamic Culture, 2-Club Road, Lahore, 1989.
Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haque
Pakistan