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Lesson 20

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Lesson - 20


"And when thy Lord said (qaa-la) to the angels, I am going to place a ruler in the earth, they said : Wilt Thou place in it such as make mischief in it and shed blood? And we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness. He said : Surely I know what you know not.

And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; He said : Tell Me the names of those if you are right. They said : Glory be to Thee! We have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us. Surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise." Ch. 2:30-32

The incident of Adam and Eve

In its apparent meaning, these verses appear to narrate an incident, however, they contain an important and fundamental theme. Due to their inability to understand the real significance of these words, people have propagated a very wrong interpretation of their meaning. This interpretation has become firmly established, and when an idea becomes firmly rooted, it becomes very difficult to dislodge it from the minds of people. Since this wrong interpretation is not about a basic principle of Islam, I would have preferred not to discuss it. It does, however involve certain basic subjects which I will be referring to repeatedly in my subsequent lessons, and in any case, it behooves a person to clarify wrong impressions. I, therefore beseech Allah for His assistance, and embark on the discussion of this section, so that with His blessing, I may be able to understand the issues myself, and also explain them to others. Ameen (be it so). Due to time the limitation of fifteen minutes for each lesson, I have not written down, or translated the section in full. Our listeners are perhaps familiar with the incident narrated in this section. If this is not the case I advise them to read verses 30-39 of Al-Baqarah, with their translation.

Translators Note: Translation of the verses 33-39 is given here for the facility of the reader: "He said: O Adam, inform them of their names. So when he informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I know what is unseen in the heavens and the earth? And I know what you manifest and what you hide. And when We said to the angels, Be submissive to Adam, they submitted, but Iblis (did not). He refused and was proud, and he was one of the disbelievers.And We said: O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in the garden, and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish, and approach not this tree, lest you be of the unjust. But the devil made them slip from it, and caused them to depart from the state in which they were. And We said: Go forth, some of you are the enemies of others. And there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time. Then Adam received (revealed) words from his Lord, and He turned to him (mercifully). Surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. We said: Go forth from this state all. Surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then who-ever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. And (as to) those who disbelieve in and reject Our messages, they are the companions of the Fire; in it they will abide."

Erroneous interpretation of these verses

The ordinary understanding is that this was perhaps a gathering in which Allah, the angels, Prophet Adam and Eve, Iblis or the shaitan (devil) were all present. Direct conversation took place first between Allah and the angels, then between Allah and Prophet Adam, and eventually between the devil and Allah. All of this is narrated in this section. In this mutual conversation the angels objected to the Divine intent of making Adam as His Vicegerent on earth (we seek the refuge of Allah from saying so). The basis of this objection was their knowledge that Adam was going to create mischief in the land and spill blood. According to some commentators, the angels felt that they were better qualified to be the vicegerents of Allah, because they glorified, praised and extolled His Holiness. Another misconception is that when the angels were commanded to prostrate before Adam, the devil was also addressed as an angel because, according to these commentators, the devil was the master angel. The devil then verbally refused to obey the Divine command. The angels showed disrespect to the Divine command by their objection, and the devil was disrespectful by his refusal.

In fact, all these wrong impressions are created by not thoroughly understanding the use of the word qaa-la, in the Arabic language. The second erroneous presumption is that all these events occurred either simultaneously, or one after the other. It is, however, the style of the Holy Quran that it gathers together the essential elements of a subject matter together in one place. This does not indicate that all those elements occurred one after the other in a sequential manner. For example, in the first section of chapter 19, Al-Maryam, Prophet Zacharias is given the good news of the birth of a son Yahya (John). This is immediately followed by the Divine command:

"O John, take hold of the Book with strength."
Now between these two events there was at least a time lapse of forty years. This example clearly illustrates that in the Holy Quran the essential elements related to the same topic are narrated together, and this should not lead one to presume incorrectly that they occurred sequentially. The incidents related to Prophet Adam which, are described in these verses, have been misunderstood not only because they were thought to have occurred in sequence, but also because the meaning of the Arabic word qaa-la, which is frequently repeated in this section, is not fully comprehended.

Qaa-la which is derived from the root qa-ul means ‘saying something verbally.’ However, it is also used for ‘saying something in one’s mind,’ or ‘feeling it within oneself.’ An example of this usage from the Holy Quran itself is, "And say within themselves (na-qoo-lo): Why does not Allah punish us" (58:8). The word qaa-la is also used for expressing something with one’s state of existence. For example, the submission of the earth and the heaven to their Lord is described as:

They both said (qaa-la-ta): We come willingly (41:11).

Sometimes to describe a matter which has been brought about by the power of Allah, and the servitude of things to His command, the word qaa-la is used, as in the verse:

"We said (qul-naa): O fire, be coolness and peace for Abraham" (21:69).

Ibn Athir writes that with the word qaul the Arabs were able to express all actions although nothing may have been said with the tongue. For example, qaa-la bi yadh-i-he (he said with his hands), which actually means he held on to something with his hands. In this case, the act of holding on, is referred to by the word qaa-la. Similarly in qaa-la bi raju-li-he (he said with his feet) actually means he went on foot. In this case, for the act of walking, the word qaa-la has been used. Again it is said qaa-la bil maa-i alaa ya-di-he (he said with water on his hand) which actually means he poured water on his hand. In this case the word qaa-la has been used for the act of pouring water. In short it is worthwhile to remember that the Arabic word qaa-la which has been used repeatedly in the Quranic verses being discussed in this lesson, does not mean that this was a face to face direct conversation with the tongue. In fact, this word is used to express a thought in one’s mind, or to express something with ones condition or reaction.

Adam and Eve in Heaven on Earth

Another misconception is that Allah created Adam and Eve in the heaven of the Hereafter which He has prepared for His righteous servants. It is quite apparent, however, from the first verse of this section:

"And when thy Lord said to the angels, I am going to place a ruler in the earth,"
that it is the earth which is specified as their abode. About the life in the Heaven of the Hereafter, the Holy Quran states:

"Nor will they be ejected therefrom" (15:48).
Therefore, the Heaven mentioned in this section, in which Prophet Adam and Eve were residing and from which they were temporarily evicted, was actually a heaven in this world. In another place in the Holy Quran it is clearly mentioned:

"And for him who fears to stand before his Lord are two Gardens" (55:46).
There is a consensus of opinion on this that by the two Gardens (ja-na-taan) means the heaven of this world, and the Hereafter. These arguments clearly point out the erroneous nature of the opinion that Prophet Adam and Eve were in the heaven of the Hereafter, and were afterwards evicted from it. What is the heaven of this life? I will discuss this in my commentary on the section in its proper setting.

Origin of the human race

After discussing two more points, I will end my preliminary discussion. One of these is that there is no doubt that the human race evolved from one husband and wife who were named Adam and Eve. Prophet Adam is mentioned in the Holy Quran itself, while mention of Mother Eve occurs in the books of Hadith. Both of them were involved in the incident mentioned in this Quranic section. Further on, while addressing the whole human race, the Holy Quran calls them:

"Your parents (aba-wai kum)" (7: 27).
Today, many intelligent scientific minds believe that the human race evolved from a single set of parents. The best proof for this is that besides variations in external features such as height, color, facial appearance etc., all human beings have the same internal constitution. This would have been impossible, had the human race not evolved from a single set of parents. As far as external features go, they can differ significantly even in the offspring of the same parents brought up under similar conditions. For example, my parents had eight children, six daughters and two sons. Some of us are tall, some of medium height, and some are short. Our complexion also varies. Some are fair, some are dark, and others are light brown. The features of some are sharp, and some are rounded. In the case of the human race, therefore, which was spread over far flung areas, and subjected to different diets, climatic conditions and means of subsistence, it is not unexpected to find over thousands of years, a variation in their height, complexion and facial features. Our earth was in the beginning a single land mass, but due to earthquakes, and drift of land masses it was eventually broken into continents. This is supported by modern scientific discovery, therefore it is not surprising to find that the human race is spread out over all continents.

Incident of Adam and Eve applicable to all of humanity

It is true that Prophet Adam and Mother Eve were the progenitors of the whole human species and were involved in the incident related in this section. However, the incident itself is representative of the whole human race. The Holy Quran has clarified this matter in the verse:

"O children of Adam, let not the devil seduce you, as he expelled your parents from the garden" (7:27).

Similarly if in this section, Prophet Adam has been appointed as the vicegerent of Allah, in the following verses the whole of humanity is addressed:

"And He it is Who has made you successors in the land" (6:165)

"And will make you successors in the earth" (27:62).

If we look at the verses preceding, and following the section being discussed today, we find that in both instances, the whole of humanity is addressed collectively. In the preceding verse, it is said:

"He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth" (2:29),
and this has been frequently repeated elsewhere in the Holy Quran. Thus it is not any single person, but the whole human race which is the vicegerent of Allah on this earth. This section also ends with the words:

"And He is Knower of all things" (2:29).
He possesses knowledge of all things, and has dispensed His knowledge not to just one individual, but to the whole human race. In the next lesson, I will also show that the verse which mentions that Adam was taught all the names, includes imparting of knowledge to the children of Adam i.e., the whole human race. I will also explain that the prostration of angels before Adam because of his knowledge, means submission to his will. It conveys the meaning that man, when he progresses in his knowledge of worldly sciences is capable of gaining the submission of the forces of nature, over which the angels have charge, and it is thus that the angels submit to him. We can observe this phenomenon distinctly today in the way man has subdued the forces of nature through the strength of his knowledge. Similarly, further on in this section, it is mentioned:

"Go forth from this state all" (2:38).
The word ‘all,’ clearly implies the whole mankind. The verse which speaks of Adam spilling blood and causing mischief in the land, obviously does not refer to a single individual on the whole planet. Where would Adam, the first man, have gone to commit such misdeeds? The logical inference is that this applies to the whole human race. In concluding this discussion I would like to lay stress on the fact that where ever Adam and Eve are mentioned, the words collectively refer to the whole human race. Unless we fully grasp this point, we cannot benefit from the important knowledge of the external physical world, and the inner spiritual realm conveyed to us by this section of the Holy Quran.

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