History of the Prophets
by Maulana Muhammad Ali
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The story of Adam as narrated in the Holy Quran, is really the story of man as also the story of the superman, the prophet. It is really a picture of human nature. The Holy Quran does not state when Adam was born or how he was born; it does not even state that he was the first man. The great Muslim divine, Muhammad ibn Ali al-Baqir, one of the twelve Shia Imams, is reported to have said that
“millions of Adams passed away before our father Adam.”
Ibn Arabi, the head of the Sufis, writes in his great work The futuhat, that forty thousand years before our Adam there was another Adam.
Again, the Holy Quran does not say how Adam was made. It does not accept the Bible theory of his creation. It does say, indeed, that he was made from dust, but then it speaks of every son of man being created from dust as well:
“O people! if you are in doubt about the Resurrection, then surely We created you from dust, then from a small life-germ, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh….” (The Holy Quran, 22:5)
“He it is Who created you from dust, then from a small life-germ, then from a clot, then He brings you forth as a child.” (The Holy Quran, 40:67)
Dust is the first stage of man’s existence, and every man is made from it. How? The Holy Quran explains itself:
“And certainly We created man of an extract of clay, then We made him a small life-germ in a firm resting-place.” (The Holy Quran, 23:12, 13)
“And He began the creation of man from dust. Then He made his progeny of an extract, or worthless water. Then He made him complete and breathed into him of His spirit, and gave you ears and eyes and hearts.” (The Holy Quran, 32:7–9)
Thus man’s creation from dust means his creation from an extract of dust, an extract which eventually appears as a life-germ, because from the earth comes the food which through several processes assumes the form of the life-germ. It is noteworthy that the Holy Quran here speaks of the spirit of God being breathed into every man, and the spirit in this case in not the animal soul but the soul that enables a man to distinguish between right and wrong, or the human soul or reason, and hence it is that the statement is immediately followed by the words:
“And made for you ears and eyes and hearts.”
Nor does the Quran accept the Bible statement that Eve was made from a rib of Adam.1 It is no doubt stated in the Holy Book that God created people
“from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind)” (The Holy Quran, 4:1);
but the meaning is evidently, of the same kind or same essence, for elsewhere we are told that mates or wives are created for all men from themselves—Arabic anfus, meaning selves or kind.
“And Allah has made wives for you among yourselves.” (The Holy Quran, 16:72)
“And of His signs is this, that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion.” (The Holy Quran, 30:21)
The devil’s opposition to Adam, which is the chief characteristic of Adam’s story as given in the Holy Quran, is mentioned in seven different places, i.e., four times in early Makka [Makkah] revelations (The Holy Quran, 38:71–85; 17:61–65; 18:50; 20:116–124); twice in the later Makka [Makkah] revelations (The Holy Quran, 15:26–44; 7:11–25); and once in early Madina revelation (The Holy Quran, 2:30–39). To realize the true significance of the story, it is necessary to compare the various statements on the same or similar points. The first point is God’s declaration of His will to create Adam or man:
“When thy Lord said to the angels: Surely I am going to create a mortal from dust.” (The Holy Quran, 38:71)
“And when thy Lord said to the angels: I am going to create a mortal of sounding clay, of black mud fashioned into shape.” (The Holy Quran, 15:28)
“And when thy Lord said to the angels, I am going to place a ruler in the earth.” (The Holy Quran, 2:30)
Now on the first two occasions, it is simply a mortal whose creation is spoken of, while on the third occasion it is one who rules in the earth. The first two descriptions in their generality, and the third in particular, apply to all men and not to Adam alone, and hence the story of every man. Man’s being a ruler refers to the high place he was intended to occupy on earth, ruling not only the animal creation, but the forces of nature, as the Quran repeatedly states:
“Allah is He Who made subservient to you the sea that the ships may glide therein by His command…. And He has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all, from Himself.” (The Holy Quran, 45:12, 13)
It is only on one occasion that attention is drawn to the darker side of the picture of humanity:
“Wilt thou place in it such as make mischief in it and shed blood?” (The Holy Quran, 2:30)
But the brighter side of that picture is presented in varying colours. In the earlier revelation, we have:
“So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit” (The Holy Quran, 38:72; 15:29),
a description expressly applied to every human being in 32:8, 9.2 Later, man’s vast capability to rule is pointed out in the words:
“And He taught Adam all the names” (The Holy Quran, 2:31),
a knowledge which is not given even to the angels (The Holy Quran, 2:32).
In knowledge really lies the power of man and hence it is that the command to the angels to make obeisance to Adam follows immediately the mention of his completion on the first two occasions and the giving of knowledge to him on the third. The command to angels to make obeisance to Adam, shows that man is placed above even the angels, and below God occupies the highest place on earth. But it is the capacity of acquiring knowledge that is given to him, and he acquires knowledge by slow degrees through his efforts; the light of the Divine spirit is within him, and by the use of that light he can rise to higher eminences. And just as in the physical world the acquirement of knowledge opens out new fields of advancement before him, so in the spiritual world the knowledge of things Divine opens out before him a higher life, a full manifestation of which begins with what is called the Resurrection day.
With the angels making obeisance to Adam on all seven occasions is mentioned the refusal of Iblis to submit. Iblis is the proper name of the devil, and in 18:50 [The Holy Quran] he is plainly spoken of as being of the jinn or invisible beings of a lower order, in contrast with the angels or invisible beings of a higher order.3 These invisible beings are connected with the spiritual life of man, the angel urging him to good, and the devil stirring up the baser passions in him and thus retarding his advancement to the higher life; see 50:21, where the impeller to evil or the devil is called a driver and the caller to good, or the angel, is called witness. Hence when it is stated that the devil refused to submit to Adam or man, it is meant that man’s baser passions which the devil excites are really a hindrance in his progress, and that to attain to a higher life it is necessary that the devil should be made to submit or that the baser passions in man must be subdued. That such is the real significance was explained by the Holy Prophet himself when on being questioned if he too had a devil as every other human being had, replied in the affirmative and added:
“But Allah has helped me against him so that he is submissive.”
The devil and his progeny are, therefore, called a man’s enemy (The Holy Quran, 18:50), with whom he is required to carry on a struggle until the enemy submits to him.
The next point mentioned is that Adam and his wife are at first placed in a garden (The Holy Quran, 20:117; 7:19; 2:35), a description of which is thus given in one place:
“Thou art not hungry therein nor naked, and that thou art not thirsty therein nor exposed to the sun’s heat” (The Holy Quran, 20:118, 119).
On another occasion, we are told that Adam and his wife were told,
“and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish,”
but a warning was added:
“And approach not this tree, lest you be of the unjust” (The Holy Quran, 2:35; 7:19).
In order to tempt Adam,
“the devil made an evil suggestion to them.” (The Holy Quran, 7:20; 20:120)
It is noteworthy that in all the details of this story the Holy Quran does not accept the Bible statements. It is not the serpent
“more subtil [subtle] than any beast of the field,” [Genesis 3:1]
which comes and speaks to Eve and leads her astray, she in her turn leading astray man. The serpent finds no mention at all. It is the devil who makes an evil suggestion to Adam or to both Adam and Eve, as he makes only evil suggestions to every son and daughter of Adam. By the devil’s evil suggestion man is made to think that the forbidden tree
“is the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not” (The Holy Quran, 20:120).
And the suggestion is that,
“your Lord has forbidden you this tree, lest you become angels or become of the immortals” (The Holy Quran, 7:20).
“he caused them to fall by deceit” (The Holy Quran, 7:22),
and they both ate of the tree. And what were the consequences?
“So they both ate of it, then their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they began to cover themselves with leaves of the garden.” (The Holy Quran, 20:121; 7:22)
All this clearly shows that the garden is not an earthly garden, but stands for a state of contentment and rest in which there is no struggle. The tree which is not to be approached is always called
as if it had been just mentioned or as if it were a tree too well-known to need any description. This in itself gives an indication that it is the well-known tree of evil, for both good and evil are compared to two trees in 14:24–25 and elsewhere. This is further corroborated by the devil’s description of it as
“the tree of immortality” (The Holy Quran, 20:120),
by which he deceived man (The Holy Quran, 7:22), showing that it is really the tree which brings death, i.e., the tree of evil.
Another clue to the nature of this tree is afforded by 7:22 and 20:121 [The Holy Quran], where the result of the eating of this tree is pointed out— their evil inclinations became manifest to them. It is clearly the consciousness that man has done something wrong, something unworthy of himself. The attempt
“to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden” (The Holy Quran, 7:22; 20:121)
is the desire to make up by human effort the evil consequences of the fault committed. In fact, all this is placed beyond all doubt when the Quran goes on to speak immediately afterwards of two kinds of clothing, the external clothing
“to cover your shame and clothing for beauty,”
and the spiritual clothing,
“clothing that guards against evil—that is the best” (The Holy Quran, 7:26);
and in the same strain it goes on to generalize:
“O children of Adam, Let not the devil seduce you, as he expelled your parents from the garden, pulling off from them their clothing that he might show them their shame. He surely sees you, he as well as his host, from whence you see them not. Surely, We have made the devils to be the friends of those who believe not.” (The Holy Quran, 7:27)
The very next verse then speaks of the indecencies committed by the unbelievers, and thus it becomes too clear to need further comment that it is the tree of evil that the Holy Quran speaks of as this tree. And when this is established, the conclusion is evident that the garden spoken of is a spiritual garden, garden of contentment, as already pointed out. Its description as a garden where man feels no hunger (The Holy Quran, 20:118), and at the same time eats from it a plenteous food (The Holy Quran, 2:35), leads to the same conclusion. That the Quran is here speaking allegorically of spiritual truths is also clear from 20:124 [The Holy Quran]:
“And whoever turns away from My Reminder, for him is surely a straitened life, and We shall raise him up blind on the day of Resurrection.”
The straitened life here clearly indicates the life spiritual. As a result of prompting man to evil, the devil, the inciter of the lower passions in man, is expelled from the garden for ever:
“Go forth from hence! Surely thou art driven away: and surely My curse is on thee to the day of Judgement.” (The Holy Quran, 38:77, 78; 15:34, 35)
Adam, who disobeys the Divine commandment through forgetfulness and not intentionally (The Holy Quran, 20:115),4 is also expelled from the garden, but only for a while, to carry on a struggle with the devil, that is his enemy:
“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.” (The Holy Quran, 2:36)
“Go forth herefrom both—all (of you)—one of you (is) enemy to another.” (The Holy Quran, 20:123)
The state of struggle with the devil was destined to set man on the way to regain the garden. Man who is gifted with the power even to rule the angels and who could, therefore, make the devil to submit to himself, is expelled from the garden to make the necessary struggle, and through that struggle, helped by the Divine light of revelation, to regain the garden permanently, never more to be expelled from it. He turns to God and, finding help from that source of strength, conquers the devil:
“They said: Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves; and if Thou forgive us not, and have (not) mercy on us, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (The Holy Quran, 7:23)
“Then Adam received (revealed) words from his Lord, and He turned to him (mercifully).” (The Holy Quran, 2:37)
“Then his Lord chose him, so He turned to him (mercifully) and guided (him).” (The Holy Quran, 20:122)
And if this is true of Adam in particular, it is also true of man generally. Communion with the Divine Being obtained through His revelation brings man to a state in which the devil is forever subdued, the state in which he has no more fear of the devil, nor does he commit evil so that he should grieve over it:
“Surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.” (The Holy Quran, 2:38)
“So there will surely come to you guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, he will not go astray nor be unhappy.” (The Holy Quran, 20:123)
Anyone who considers carefully the details of this story, its manifestly allegorical nature, and the great purpose underlying it— that every man must carry on a struggle with his passions until he acquires the mastery over them—cannot for an instant entertain the idea that the Holy Quran is in any way indebted to the Bible for the story of Adam. It unfolds a lesson which finds no place in the Bible, the greatest of all spiritual lessons—How to conquer evil, how to subdue the animal passions to be able to rise to the great spiritual heights for which man is created.
- “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman and brought her unto the man” (Genesis, 2:21, 22). ↩
- “Then He made his progeny of an extract, of worthless water. Then He made him complete and breathed into him of His spirit”. ↩
- “And when We said to the angels: Make submission to Adam, they submitted except Iblis. He was of the jinn, so he transgressed the commandment of his Lord”. ↩
- “And certainly We gave a commandment to Adam before, but he forgot; and We found in him no resolve (to disobey)”. ↩