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Published: Saturday, 11/14/2009

Adrian doctor to lecture on evolution

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Shanavas Shanavas
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Dr. T.O. Shanavas likes to compare the origin of the universe with a game of billiards.

"Who's the better pool player, someone who knocks all the balls in the pocket on the first shot or someone who knocks them in one at a time?" he asked.

A pediatrician who lives in Adrian and attends the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Dr. Shanavas said he is more impressed by player who strategically sinks each pool ball in order, rather than someone who gets lucky on the opening break.

The metaphor illustrates how he believes Allah created the universe - in a series of evolutionary steps rather than one big action - and he is convinced the Qur'an supports Darwin's theory of evolution.

"To me, there is no conflict between science and religion," he said in an interview this week. "The Qur'an says in Sura 8, verse 122, that God considers the worst ones to be those who are deaf and dumb and do not use their reason. God told me to use my brain."

Dr. Shanavas will give a lecture on evolution, creation, and Islam tomorrow at the Islamic Center in Perrysburg, titled "God said, 'Let there be evolution?'•"

The lecture title is the same as that of a book Dr. Shanavas co-wrote, along with a Christian professor and Jewish rabbi, that will soon be published.

Dr. Shanavas also wrote a book, Creation and/or Evolution: An Islamic Perspective, published in 2006.

He said his views on this topic are not those of most Muslims today, and he does not get invited to speak at many mosques.

"No way," he said with a laugh. "Most of my invitations come from universities. This is only the third one I will be giving in a Muslim community. The majority of them would not accept it at all."

The prevailing view among Muslims today aligns with the Christian concept of Creationism as described in the book of Genesis, he said.

Dr. Shanavas, 69, was raised in Muslim family in India but lost interest in religion when he was a youth. He started to drift away around age 10 when he was attending a Catholic grade school. The teacher, a Catholic priest, taught the class about the solar system and showed how the Earth rotated on its axis and revolved around the sun.

Excited about the scientific explanation for night and day, he went to his village imam, or Muslim cleric, to share his new understanding of the universe.

"When I went to the imam in my village and told him about what I learned, the imam beat me up," Dr. Shanavas said.

The young student went back to the priest at school, who again showed him models of the planets and explained the way day and night are results of the Earth's rotation on its axis.

"I went back to the imam - and he beat me up again," Dr. Shanavas said. "This time he physically beat me up and even put me underneath his coffee table and for two or three hours and did not let me come out of there."

Dr. Shanavas was afraid to tell his devout Muslim parents about his disillusionment with Islam, he said. But in his heart and mind, "I gradually went away from Islam."

After immigrating to the United States in 1971, he met a Christian pastor who rekindled his interest in the religion of his upbringing.

It was after Muslims in Iran took a group of Americans hostage in 1983, and a United Methodist minister in Adrian asked Dr. Shanavas to give a talk about Islam.

He declined, saying he was not a practicing Muslim and felt unqualified to give a lecture on the topic. The minister then asked him to speak about growing up in an Islamic family.

"I could not reject that," he said with a laugh. "So I bought a Qur'an" and began studying Islam anew.

His interest in evolution and creation was triggered about 25 years ago when his son was in high school and asked him about those topics.

Dr. Shanavas admitted he didn't have the answers, but would look into the subject.

He went to Imam A.M. Khattab, the late spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

"He said, 'You know, Dr. Shanavas, I am an imam. I don't know science much. I know a little. But you are a doctor. You are a man of science. You can find out and we can study together.'•"

Dr. Shanavas said that as a medical doctor and a Muslim, he sees God's hand in the way the human body is made and the way that it functions. On the other hand, he said, he cannot disregard his scientific training and thinking.

"I have to be consistent. I cannot be saying one thing in my practice and another thing at the mosque," he said.

Reconciling science and religion gives "makes more sense," he said. "I would say God is a more positive God than when there is no science."

Dr. T.O. Shanavas will speak on "God Said, 'Let There Be Evolution?'•" at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, 25877 Scheider Rd., Perrysburg. Admission is free and open to the public. Information: 419-874-3509.

- David Yonke



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