Where did humans come from? How did human civilisation emerge? Were there ancient civilisations far more advanced than ours? Could aliens have kicked off our society, like in Ridley Scott’s Alien movies?
…Is the History Channel guy right?
And what do the Bible and Quran have to say about this?
Let’s find out.
The Bible vs. Quran on Adam
As we discussed at length in this article, the Bible and Quran have very different takes on Adam. In the Bible, Adam is literally the first human ever, produced directly from dust and the breath of God, with no evolution.
According to the Quran, Adam was the first Prophet, but not the first man. He was the first in our era to receive divine revelation, and implement human governments with social and moral laws.
Adam was himself part of a pre-existing human community. Humans ultimately did evolve, as we covered here.
Of great interest is the famous vision of Ibn Arabirh, one of the greatest saints of Islam. This is his account, as narrated by the First Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:
“Hadhrat Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi (Allah have mercy on him) states in Al-Futuhat al-Makkiya in the chapter on Traditions concerning the world that ‘Once I was circuiting the Kaaba. I found some others circuiting it. Their features seemed to suggest that they were some spiritual party. So I asked the first among them ‘Who are you?’ And he said ‘We are of your ancient ancestors’ so I said ‘How long ago was your time and age?’ And he said ‘Merely 40000 years’ and I said ‘But this period is much more than what separates us from Adam.’ ‘Then he said ‘Of which Adam are you speaking, the one nearest to you or other?’ And I recollected the narration of a Tradition of the Prophet of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم that before Allah created the Adam that we know he created a hundred thousand Adams.’
The Sheikh states he met Prophet Enoch (peace and blessings be upon him) in a state of vision and questioned him regarding the authenticity of that vision ‘And Enoch said ‘You report truthfully and your vision is true and true is that which you observed in it…’”
The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community also narrated the same incident, as did the Fourth Caliph. Indeed this is a well-known and much discussed incident in Islamic literature, and one original translation can be found at the bottom of this page.
The account tells us that prior to our Adams there were a large number of Adams. As Adam was not literally the first man, but the first Prophet, it indicates that there were whole cycles of prophethood preceding ours in human history. These, according to Islamic theology, each lasted 7000 years.
Naturally, there is no settled evidence of how humans in previous cycles lived, how advanced they were, or anything else about them. All we have is speculation about their civilisations, and the understanding that the community into whom Adam was born were the remnants of those who came before them.
As we discussed in the Adam article, this is indicated by how he is described as a Successor from the get-go, and how he gives these primitive people basic spiritual, moral and social laws to follow.
The Nephilim — the Lost Progeny?
One curiosity to mention in this regard is the case of the Nephilim — a mysterious people mentioned in the Bible:
“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with[a] humans forever, for they are mortal[b]; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”Genesis 6:1-4 (NIV)
Let us ignore the clear mythologising here: God did not cut down human lives from 1000 years to 120 years as the Bible tells us, because He feared they would catch up with his eternal life. This is a whimsical and capricious view of God that does not befit divine majesty.
Let us instead focus on the Nephilim, described as ‘heroes of old, men of renown’, and with whom the progeny of Adam intermingled.
These Nephilim are also mentioned later in the Bible as being men before whom the Jews were ‘as grasshoppers’ (Numbers 13). For this reason, and due to inaccurate Latin translations, they were taken for a long time as being literal giants. Answers in Genesis has a great summary of the topic.
The more ‘sensible’ approach of many Christian scholars tells us that they are fallen angels. This is because the Hebrew root, Naphal, means to fall.
However, we suggest an alternative view from an Islamic perspective. The Quran claims that Arabic is the original language known to man, and that other languages were derivations of them — Hebrew being a particularly close one.
If so, then the Nephilim may simply be a Hebrew version of an original Arabic epithet. If that is the case, then the correct etymology of Nephilim does not trace back to the Hebrew root Naphal, but probably to the Arabic root N-F-L (نفل). This root has as its meaning that which is surplus to requirements, extra, left over (Lane’s Lexicon).
Thus the Nephilim may have been recognised by the people of Adam as being ‘left over’ people from a previous era. It may indicate that they were those to whom Adam’s message was not applicable, creating a separation between them and the others. While Adam’s followers and their progeny understood themselves as being the dawn of a new people, they saw others as being the Remnants of previous peoples, who may have once had divine prophecy in their midst, lost in the sands of time. It is possible that these are the people who were promised to interact with the progeny of Noah in the Quran, 11:49, and the Bible seems to support this view in the Genesis verse quoted above.
In fact, if such people had a different genetic heritage, this would explain why they were of a different size to the people of Adam, making them look like ‘grasshoppers.’ However, the reality may have simply been that they were a sub-type of human that were much larger than that of the people of Adam. If the people of Adam were on average in mid-five feet, while these people were routinely well over six-feet, as are many Dutch and Scandinavian people today, then such a difference may be enough for them to be called ‘giants.’ In fact, what else could the original idea of a giant been other than a very big man?
This is significant because the prominence of ‘giants’ in the history of many cultures has so far been puzzling to scholars. But it may be explained by the meeting of different human groups from different spiritual eras. This seems necessarily true, as human biomechanics do not allow for men of very great stature. As humans get bigger, they would need different bones, muscles, hearts, and ultimately, an entirely different anatomy.
It is important to note that the foregoing Nephilim interpretation given above, based on a linguistic inference, is no more than informed speculation. It may be right, but it may be very wrong too, and the Nephilim mention in the Bible may be a quirk of history without traceable history.
Ancient Alien Astronauts
Unfortunately, caveats such as the above do not abound in some corners. There is one particularly weird and wonderful idea about human origins that overlaps with a few of the ideas given above. This is the theory of Ancient Astronauts given in recent decades by writers such as Erich von Däniken, Zecharia Sitchin.
They proposed that the Sumerian gods are the real ones, and that there is a hidden planet in the solar system that was home to an technologically advanced civilisation, the Anunnaki. The story goes that they came to Earth to raid our precious metals hundreds of thousands of years ago. Becaming tired of their poor working conditions, they revolted, and the Sumerian gods made a new race of slave workers — Homo Sapiens, made from the hydridization of Homo Erectus and the Anunnaki.
It was the Anunnaki were the Nephilim mentioned in the Bible, so the story tells us. Eventually the Anunnaki left Earth, because of the melting glaciers causing a giant flood and destroyed their agricultural base. We were left to fend for ourselves, having learnt agriculture from them, though they may yet return…
This Anunnaki idea is rather outlandish, and has been condemned by historians, archaeologists, cosmologists alike as a work of fiction spun from a highly selective, and often inaccurate, reading of Sumerian mythology. The idea was in fact spurred by advances in our knowledge of Sumerian religion, that of one of the very oldest civilisations on Earth. Their pantheon of ‘sky gods’ were indeed called the Anunnaki, and their legends of human origins have parallels to those found in the Abrahamic traditions.
While the ‘Ancient Astronauts’ theory is unevidenced, it speaks to our need for a rational explanation of the appearance of man, human culture, and religious mythologies that are shared across the globe. Standard atheism simply does not cut it, thus people rightly look for alternative explanations.
Islam is the only religion that gives us a plausible and somewhat detailed account of these areas. It instructs us that man is the result of divinely-directed evolution and that humans owe their spiritual lineage to Adam.
It tells us that the people who followed Adam, and then Noah, would have spread their experiences around the world through communication and migration, producing similar tales of humanity’s early period.
Islam also teaches that every people had Prophets born among them, all with essentially identical messages. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, famously said that there were 124,000 Prophets before him.
Thus, it is no surprise if we see similar themes of Divine forces fighting Satanic ones emerging from different corners of the globe.
Alien Contact is Yet to Come
But this is not all. The Quran does talk about aliens, but it puts our contact with them in our future, not our past. It tells us that there are other Earth-like planets, with sentient beings who also receive revelation from God. We discussed this topic in-depth here, but will recapitulate one key verse:
وَمِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖ خَلۡقُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالۡاَرۡضِ وَمَا بَثَّ فِیۡہِمَا مِنۡ دَآبَّۃٍ ؕ وَہُوَ عَلٰی جَمۡعِہِمۡ اِذَا یَشَآءُ قَدِیۡرٌ
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of whatever living creatures He has spread forth in both. And He has the power to gather them together when He pleases.” (42:30)
This verse, as explicated by the 4th Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, is striking. It tells us that living terrestrial creatures are spread throughout the universe, and that we will be gathered together in some way in the future. We all hope we are alive in that age! Such contact is promised to be in humanity’s future, rather than its past.
Islam once again is startling in its discussion of such issues. This speaks to its Divine Author, for only God could have discussed such things that were fantastical in the 7th Century Arabia when the Quran was revealed. Meanwhile, the Holy Bible does not say anything about the existence of aliens. This is not its fault per se — it was never meant to be final book applicable to our age.
The Future of Humanity
But enough of aliens. What does the Quran say about the future of humanity itself?
There are two ways of thinking about this. One is to consider what happens to our souls when we die, and the other to think about what happens to Homo Sapiens itself.
When it comes to the afterlife, again, the Bible has little on this. It does not have a very well-formed conception of heaven and hell, with many interpretations holding that our physical world will be transformed into heaven and hell after Armageddon.
As opposed to this, Quranic theology is replete with detail. It tells us that our bodies will die but our souls will live on. These will enter into a new realm, separate from this Earthly existence. They will undergo a process akin to development in the womb. Our current soul will grow into a type of spiritual body, its capacities and disabilities reflecting our spiritual state on Earth.
Within this soul-become-body, a new soul will emerge, far more refined than that which we currently possess. Our new persons will be born again into a new reality, one that is blessed by the direct presence of God, this itself being heaven or hell depending on our affinities with God in this life.
Apart from our spiritual legacies in the next life, the Quran even sheds light on the future of Homo Sapiens here on Earth. In his Magnus Opus, the 4th Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh discussed the future of humanity according to the Quran:
“Having discussed the possibility of an evolved form of existence after death, some verses of the Quran clearly depict the appearance of a new form of life here on earth, replacing humans and distinctly different from them.
اَلَمۡ تَرَ اَنَّ اللّٰہَ خَلَقَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالۡاَرۡضَ بِالۡحَقِّ ؕ اِنۡ یَّشَاۡ یُذۡہِبۡکُمۡ وَیَاۡتِ بِخَلۡقٍ جَدِیۡدٍ
وَّمَا ذٰلِکَ عَلَی اللّٰہِ بِعَزِیۡزٍ
“Seest thou not that Allah created the heavens and the earth in accordance with the requirements of truth (Haq)? If He so pleases, He can remove you and put in your place a new creation.
And that is not at all hard for Allah.” (14:20-21)
These verses simply cannot be applied to the case of life after death. The use of the conditional preposition in (اَنَّ) which means if, clearly implies that life after death is not intended otherwise this condition would put to doubt the definite existence of the hereafter—while the entire Quran speaks of it as an absolute unconditional reality. The verse under discussion does not speak of replacing man with others like him. It clearly mentions the bringing into being of a new creation, khalq (بِخَلۡقٍ ) and speaks of the whole of mankind to be changed into a different entity.
The whole universe is built with The Truth, so also is the creation of man—the very summit of creation. Quite distinct from the subject of life after death, the Holy Quran also speaks of a different form here on earth which will supersede humans:
نَحۡنُ خَلَقۡنٰہُمۡ وَشَدَدۡنَاۤ اَسۡرَہُمۡ ۚ وَاِذَا شِئۡنَا بَدَّلۡنَاۤ اَمۡثَالَہُمۡ تَبۡدِیۡلًا
“We created them and strengthened their make; and when We will so decide, We will change their form to something completely different.” (76:29)
لَاۤ اُقۡسِمُ بِرَبِّ الۡمَشٰرِقِ وَالۡمَغٰرِبِ اِنَّا لَقٰدِرُوۡنَ
عَلٰۤی اَنۡ نُّبَدِّلَ خَیۡرًا مِّنۡہُمۡ ۙ وَمَا نَحۡنُ بِمَسۡبُوۡقِیۡ
“But nay! I swear by the Lord of the easts and of the wests, that We have the powerTo substitute in their place others better than they, and We cannot be frustrated in Our plans.” (70:41-42)
The substitute creation is not mentioned as another nation qaum (قوم) nor as another generation of humans. The conditional use of if implies that if man reforms himself and begins to behave properly, he may not necessarily be wiped out as a species to make room for another better one.
Thus, the Quran raises the possibility of more advanced forms of creation developing, with superior sensory faculties or even new senses in addition to our five. Although the Quran does not state that this will definitely happen, yet it affirms God’s power to produce such changes as are within His plan. It does not present an idea of blind evolution based on accidental events. This possibility of continuous evolution, as mentioned here, is one of the greatest tributes to the Wisdom and Knowledge of the Quran’s Author. It further proves that all that has been attributed to the Quran in the previous chapters concerning the evolution of life must have been true. Otherwise, it could not have mentioned the possibility of man evolving into another species—a subject not discussed in any other secular or religious literature. Such statements could only be made from a platform of absolute knowledge and certainty.”Mirza Tahir Ahmad, “Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth,” ‘The Future of Life on Earth’
One cannot help but be amazed at the level of detail and guidance the Holy Quran has given us. It far outstrips that given to us in the Bible, which is a confused scripture, clearly the work of man polluting the Word of God.