Differentiating between the spheres of science and religion


8 Apr 2013


Mohamed Abutaleb

Dr. Mohamed AbuTaleb discusses differentiating between the spheres of science and religion in the beginning of an answer about how Muslims might explain evolution.  He suggests that if you mapped Islam and science in a Venn diagram, the overlapping part would be “the journey to seek God”, which can be done through science, art, or religion.  He suggests that for the most part, evolution is not a religiously relevant question, except insofar as the question of the creation of Adam versus the evolution of homonids is concerned.  How that conflict is resolved for him, he does not address.  He specifies that every other part of the theory of evolution — which he emphasizes is a theory — does not conflict with Islamic scripture.

He suggests that religious leaders who “are writing books as if evolution is the invention of the devil and is wholesale evil” are wrong, and doing “a disservice to religion”.  He also suggests that there is “unnecessary antagonism from scientists against Islam”.

Mohamed AbuTaleb has a PhD in electrical engineering from MIT, and is the Imam at a mosque in Raleigh, North Carolina.  He maintains an affiliation with the Oaktree Institute, but it seems to have been some time since he has spoken for them.

This clip seems to have been taken from a talk as a part of Islamic Awareness Month 2013 at the Islamic Society of Northeastern University.  The talk’s title was “UNCENSORED!:  American Islam in a Scientific Age” with Suhab Webb and Mohamed AbuTaleb on 14 February 2013.


The material on Islam is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable.  There are a range of religious opinions about evolution among Muslims today.

The discussion of evolution as a theory suggests that it is weaker than most evolutionary biologists consider it.  The evolution of humans, among other species, is accepted as established science by most biologists working today.

The historical material that Abutaleb is not very clear about is the coupling of religious ideas of orthodoxy — notably correct belief as opposed to correct action — with the political or military power to enforce it on those who understand the material differently.  Abutaleb is hinting at an idea of tolerance for those who interpret scriptural — in this case Qurʾānic — material differently than those who through their positions may seek to enforce an orthodox view.  There are both supporters and opponents to this understanding of Islam, today and historically.