Many stories are told throughout the Quran to address certain events. The events dictated within each story determine how the details of the story will be shared and developed. Often times the same story will be narrated at different points throughout the Quran; however, each time a story is shared, a new element is added in order to present the appropriate spiritual, intellectual, and artistic context for the event and to underscore the moral takeaway of the story. A superficial examination, has led many to believe that the Quran is repetitive, because aspects of the same story are mentioned in different places of the Quran. However, a careful examination shows that not a single story is repeated in the same way or with the same level of detail. Whenever a story is retold a new element of the narrative is being explored.
The Creation of Adam and His Spouse
The Quran does not mention the first woman whom God created by name instead she is simply referred to as Adam’s spouse. Adam spouse is known as Eve (in the non-Islamic literature) and as Hawa’ (in the Arabic literature). For simplicity, we are going to refer to her as Eve in this article. The stories of the creation of the first male and female are intertwined and thus it is difficult to discuss them separately. The stories surrounding the creation of the first couple has been mentioned in several Suras in the Qur’an.
The story of the creation of Adam and his spouse is mainly mentioned in three Suras: Al-Baqara (2), Al-A’raf (7), and Ta Ha (20).
The Story of Adam and Eve in Surat Al-Baqara (Chapter 2)
These verses do not only explore the progression of life on earth but they also examine the development of the whole universe. Earth, one of the signs of God, has been created with all its contents, for the benefit of humankind. God created Adam and struck a covenant with him to undertake the responsibility of being a vicegerent on earth. God gave Adam the knowledge he needed to fulfill this awesome responsibility.
“And when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth.’ They said, ‘Will You place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? While we do celebrate Your praise and glorify Your Holy (name)?’ He said, ‘I know what you know not.’” (2: 30)
It was God’s plan to make this new creation a vicegerent on earth. The plan gave humankind the freedom, ability, and creativity to manage the earth according to the will of God. Individuals were given the responsibility to discover, analyze, form, change, and develop the treasures of this earth. God gave people the permission and authorization to use the world’s resources available to them responsibly in fulfilling the enormous undertaking that was entrusted to them from God. God also endowed us with the ability, knowledge, and aptitude needed to fulfill such a remarkable undertaking. These are some of the ideas which the hallowed statement “I will create a vicegerent on earth,” embodies.
“They said, ‘Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? While we do celebrate Your praise and glorify Your Holy (name)?’” This question suggests that the angels may have had a previous experience or some sort of insight that made them suspect that this new species would make mischief and shed blood. The angels with their innocent minds, which accept nothing but absolute goodness and comprehensive peace, thought that celebrating God’s praises and glorifying Him were the ultimate goal and the only purpose for creation; and since, they were already performing these functions there was no need for another form of creation. They were not privy to the rationale behind the will of God to place a vicegerent on earth. God willed a civilization to be established on earth and it was His will to entrust that responsibility for growing, developing, and improving this civilization, to one of His creations. We have all been appointed by God as a vicegerent. This creature may make mischief and he/she may shed blood in the process of achieving a higher good, the good of continuous growth, development, and improvement. This good involves constant trial and effort that will continuously push the envelope. God’s answer to the angels’ question was, “I know what you know not.” The new species was different from the angels in the fact that God bestowed on its members the ability to make decisions freely.
“And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said, ‘Tell me the names of these if you are truthful.’ They said, ‘Glory is to You. We have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. Verily, You are the Omniscient, the Wise.’ He said, ‘Adam, tell them their names.’ When he had told them the names, God said, ‘Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and earth, and I know what you reveal and what you conceal?’” (2: 31-33) Through these conversations, certain insight is given to the reader and we experience what the angels experienced in their high place. We see aspects of God’s mystery being bestowed on humankind when Adam was asked to undertake the responsibility of being a vicegerent on earth, the mystery of the ability to use vocal symbols to identify physical things and beings.
“When, We said to the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam’ and they bowed down.” (2: 34) This is the highest honour to be given to a species. Humankind was given the aptitude to attain knowledge and the free will which enables one to make his or her own choices. The rationale for receiving this high honour lies in the duality of the nature of humankind. The duality that allows humans to use their will to make and follow through on the decisions needed for human life to continue on earth, and to act as a beacon which will guide towards God’s path. The angels bowed in obedience, “all save Iblis: he refused and was haughty. He was one of those who rejected faith.” (2: 34) Evil is manifested in disobeying God’s commands, behaving arrogantly, and being stubborn and narrow minded. The way the story is told shows that Iblis was not an angel, because if he was, he would not have disobeyed God. An angel’s first and basic attribute is, “they do not disobey God in what He commands them, and they do as they are commanded.” (66:6) Iblis was simply present with the angels when the command was issued. The use of the exception style “all save Iblis” should not be taken as an evidence to support the conclusion that Iblis was an angel. Linguistically it is valid to use the exception style to single out an individual who is not part of a group but happened to be present when a command was issued to the group. The Qur’an states unequivocally that Iblis belongs to a different kind of creation called jinn.
With this story, the field for the eternal battle has been established. It is the battle between Iblis, the embodiment of evil, and God’s vicegerent on earth. This is the eternal battle for the human conscience. It is a battle in which the victory of goodness is contingent on observing the pledge with God. Disobedience to God and succumbing to the temptation of carnal desires will help evil to prevail.
“We said, ‘Adam, dwell you and your spouse in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as you will; but approach not this tree lest you become wrongdoers.’” (2: 35) While in heaven, Adam and his spouse were given permission to eat from all the trees in heaven except for one. Why? Perhaps, this one tree was a symbol of all prohibited things which would exist on earth, to give meaning to the concept of free will. What would be the point of free will if everything was allowable and nothing was prohibited? There would be no meaning for the concept of free will if everything was allowable and nothing was prohibited. Without the temptation to commit the forbidden, what then would be the criterion to differentiate between a free-willed person and a forcibly-led animal? People with free-will have the choice either to honour the pledge with God by following His commands or to succumb to the temptations that satisfy their desires.
“But Satan made them slip from the (garden), and got them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been.” (2: 36) What an image that is formed by the use of the phrase “made them slip.” One can almost see them fall as Satan was pushing them over the edge away from the garden. This verse indicates that both Adam and his spouse disobeyed God’s command and succumbed to the temptation of Satan; and with this, they failed the trial. The verdict was issued swiftly, “We said, ‘Get out, all of you, with enmity between yourselves. On earth you will have a dwelling-place and means of livelihood – for a time.’” (2: 36) The eternal battle between humankind and Satan had begun; however, Adam’s nature and God’s mercy brought him and his spouse up from their fall. From this we see that God’s mercy is there for whosoever seeks it. “Then Adam received from his Lord’s words of inspiration, and his Lord relented towards him; for He is the Ever-Relenting, the Giver of Mercy.” (2: 37)
The final word of God has been decreed. The contract with humankind has been declared and this includes the means which guarantee success in life. “We said, ‘Get out all of you; but when guidance comes from Me, as it certainly will, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those who reject faith and deny Our revelations, they shall be companions of the fire; they shall abide therein.’” 2; 38) This eternal battle will continue till the end of time. Humans can find their way to victory if they so choose, but they can also end up losing their way if they so choose, and so is the delicate balance of free will.
Let us go back to the story of the beginning of humanity. God said to the angels, “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” and so Adam and his spouse were created to live on earth. Why then were Adam and his spouse put to the test and why was that specific tree prohibited for them? One could argue that this was intended as a training program to sharpen their wits so that they could recognize their enemy and prepare themselves for resisting temptation. It was the objective of this training period to show them both the consequences of succumbing to temptation and how to seek refuge with God when one surely fails. The story of the forbidden tree, the temptation of Satan, forgetting the pledge and consequently disobeying God, the realization of wrongdoing, the remorse, and seeking forgiveness: all these stages reflect the ever-repeating human experience. It is a mercy from God that humankind was trained for its intended role before placing it in the position of responsibility.
Let us outline briefly some of the thoughts and important messages that may be generated by this story. Among these are, the high stature that Islam confers on humankind, the importance of our role on earth, the relationship between us and our Creator, the responsibility of humankind in this universe, the standards that can be used to evaluate our success and failure, and the promise between God and humankind. Not only did God declare Adam to be a vicegerent on earth but He also commanded the angels to bow to him. When Iblis refused in arrogance to bow, he was expelled from Heaven. This presents to the reader the rank of the master and guardian of the earth. Humankind is valued highly above any other material value and it is the most honored creature on earth. This high status of humankind is inextricably linked to the high morals and supreme ethical values that should be upheld and promoted by humankind. Upholding these ethical values and promoting these morals makes up an integral part of the covenant with God. Although, the vicegerency is usually concerned with the achievement of materialistic and administrative goals, ethical values are of paramount importance in relation to those goals. Administrative and materialistic objectives should always be guided by the high moral code detailed within Islam.
The human will is highly valued in Islam because it is at the centre of the covenant with God and the system of reward and punishment. Humankind can elevate itself to a rank higher than that of the angels by honoring its covenant with God using self-discipline to rise above temptation. This Islamic view bestows honour on humankind. It also acts as a constant reminder of the point of demarcation between happiness and misery; between honour and shame; and between the ranks of the free-willed human and an animal controlled by brute force.
The story is also a constant reminder of the ever continuing battle between humankind and Satan. It is the battle between keeping God’s covenant and succumbing to the temptation of Satan. It is the battle between faith and rejection, between right and wrong, and between guidance and loss. The battle field is the human psyche. The human being can either win or lose this battle.
Finally, the Islamic perspective regarding the concepts of sin and repentance is explored. Islam refuses the concept of original sin. An individual is not responsible for a sin committed before he or she was born.
The Story of Adam and Eve in Surat Al- A’raf (Chapter 7)
These verses start by describing how God empowered humans to be able to fulfill their duties as vicegerents on earth. The narrative sets the stage for the beginning of life for the human race on earth, “And We have given you (humankind) power on earth, and appointed for you therein livelihoods. Little you give thanks.” (7: 10) God the Creator, of the earth and the creatures that reside therein, fashioned the earth to make it suitable for the survival of humans and gave people the characteristics and skills needed to use the earth’s resources to make it inhabitable. It is God who created the earth with its atmosphere, composition, size, distance from the sun and the moon, its rotation around the sun, its tilted axis of rotation, its rotational speed, and all the necessary characteristics which make it a suitable residence for humans. God created the resources necessary to start and sustain human life on earth and appointed humankind as the master of all creatures living on earth. He gave humankind the talents, skills, and the characteristics which enable him to dominate and domesticate these creatures. God gave humankind the ability to discover and understand the rules and laws that govern the universe; and use them to advance life on earth.
Humankind would not have been able to “conquer nature” – a term that people, who do not understand God’s role, like to use – without the power that God bestowed upon them. The old Greek and Roman postulates – which form the basis of modern material western thought – imply an existing confrontation between humankind and the universe. They depict life on earth as a battle between humankind and nature. The process which humankind uses to discover, understand, and use the rules that govern the universe is called “conquering nature.” These postulates are not correct. Had nature been an enemy to humankind, humankind would not have been able to exist without God’s empowerment.
Islam provides a holistic perspective on the creation. God created the universe, humankind, and nature. He controls all of them and it was His will to make the universe in such a way to allow human life to start and to flourish. This perspective allows humankind to live in harmony with the universe under the guidance of God; and enables humankind to lead secure and peaceful life and to fulfill the duties of God’s vicegerent on earth for which he was created. But few people are grateful.
“And certainly We created you, then fashioned you, then told the angels, ‘Fall you prostrate before Adam.’ And they fell prostrate, all save Iblis who was not of those who prostrated. He (God) said, ‘What prevented you to prostrate when I commanded you?’ (Iblis) said, ‘I am better than him. You created me of fire while You created him of mud.’ He (God) said, ‘Then go down from here. It is not for you to show pride here, so go forth. You are of the abject ones.’ He said, ‘Give me respite till the day they are raised up.’ He (God) said, ‘You are among those who are given respite.’ He said, ‘Now, because You sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Your straight path. Then I shall come upon them from before them and from behind them and from their right sides and from their left sides. And You will not find most of them thankful.’ He (God) said, ‘Get out of here, despised, banished. I will fill Hell with all of those who follow you.’” These verses describe the first scene of the story. It is an exciting and volatile scene. However, we will delay the commentary on the story until we have finished the review of all the details of the story. In these verses the creation may mean formation of the body while fashioning may mean completion of the shape and characteristics. These are two levels in the process of creation and not two stages of development. From the linguistic point of view, the adverb “then” may indicate two concurrent events. So, these two events, the creation and fashioning, may have been two concurrent and not consecutive stages. This is similar to the verse, “Our Lord is He who gave to each (created) thing its form and nature, then gave it guidance,” (20:50) which indicates that God gave guidance to each created thing at the time of its creation in order that each creature would conduct the duties that he/she was created to perform. So, there is no time difference between the two levels. This is the view that we adopt in view of all the verses which deal with the creation of humankind. The conclusion that one can make from these verses is that humankind was created as a human being from the outset. We do not accept that humankind was the result of the evolution of a low level creation according to Darwin’s theory. The unique biological, physiological, spiritual, and intellectual characteristics of the human being are a proof that humankind was created in a separate process and it did not evolve from another species.
The birth of the humankind was announced by God in a big celebration attended by God’s high host. God commanded the angels to prostrate themselves to Adam (PBUH). The angels are a creation of God. They have their own characteristics and duties, but we only know of their characteristics that which has been mentioned earlier in the Quran. Iblis is another creation of God, different from the angels, “Iblis. He was of the jinn, so he rebelled against his Lord’s command.” (18:50) Jinn were created from fire therefore, they are different from angels. However, Iblis was included in the command to the angels to prostrate themselves to Adam (PBUH). The angels, who were created to do what God commands them to do, prostrated themselves to Adam (PBUH). The command illustrates the honor that God bestowed on humankind and the compliance by the angels reflects their obedient nature. However, Iblis disobeyed God and refused to prostrate himself to Adam (PBUH).
The scene depicts three types of God’s creation, each has a different nature: the angels, the jinn, and humankind. The angels are a model of absolute and total obedience. Iblis is a model of stark disobedience and hateful arrogance. The characteristics of humankind will be discussed later. Iblis did not comply with the command and was disobedient to his Lord. We will know later the thoughts that he entertained and caused him to disobey, knowing well that God is his Lord and his Creator. God asked Iblis about his reasons for disobeying God’s command, Iblis’s response was, “I am better than him. You created me of fire while You created him of mud.” He chose to disobey in spite of God’s clear command. When the Creator issues an unequivocal command, the created has no choice but to comply. God’s punishment was pronounced immediately, “Then go down from here. It is not for you to show pride here, so go forth. You are of the abject ones.” Iblis did not benefit of his knowledge of God’s existence and characteristics and chose to adopt a decision different from that which was decreed by God. Thus, he came under the general rule: whoever refuses to accept any of God’s commands is considered a disbeliever. It is a premeditated rejection of faith because Iblis had full knowledge that God is the only true God. It was neither the lack of knowledge of the existence of God, nor the lack of belief in God as the Creator that made Iblis a disbeliever. It was the disobedience that made him a disbeliever. For that, he was expelled from paradise, deprived of the mercy of God, and was cursed.
Iblis did not forget that it was Adam (PBUH) who was the cause of his doom. He did not give up. He asked God to give him respite till the Day of Judgment. When he was granted the respite, he announced his plan. He will seduce humankind and sway them away from the straight path. This was an expression of the premeditated evil and deliberate intention to sway humankind off the straight path. He vowed that he will approach humankind from all directions and ways and will cause them to be ungrateful.
God granted Iblis’s request so that it would be a source of trial for humankind. God created humankind with a initial natural disposition that has equal propensity to goodness and evil. Humankind was given the intellect to be able to choose and make decisions, and the divine message to guide him in making these decisions. The ways for guidance and misguidance were delineated and humankind was given the tools for making the decision to choose which one to follow. Iblis was expelled from paradise and was deprived of God’s mercy. This is the destiny of those who follow him. God gave Iblis the power to seduce and gave humankind the power to choose.
“Adam, dwell you and your wife in the Garden and eat from wherever you desire, but come not near this tree lest you become wrongdoers.” (7: 19) The Quran does not specify which tree they were forbidden to eat from. This indicates that the prohibition was not related to the specific type of tree but it was a test in obedience. God gave Adam (PBUH) and his spouse the right to enjoy the fruits of the Garden and commanded them to observe His command which prohibited them to eat the fruits of a single specific tree. This was part of a training program to train humankind to respect the limits that God has set. It is a training to improve self-control and self-restraint. This training was required because humankind is endowed with carnal desires. The ability to control these desires is the criterion which separates humans from animals. Humankind are the masters of their desires while animals are controlled by their desires.
Iblis was looking for a way to seduce this new creature: humankind – the creature which has been honoured by God, whose creation was celebrated by the higher host, to whom the angels prostrated themselves, and who was the cause of the expulsion of Iblis from paradise. This new creature has propensity for both good and evil. The carnal desires of humankind, if not controlled, are their weakness. This is the door, which if left unchecked, can be accessed by Iblis. Iblis realized this, “Then Satan whispered to them that he might manifest to them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said, ‘Your Lord forbade you from this tree lest you should become angels or become of the immortals.’ And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser.” (7: 20-21) We do not know exactly how does Satan whisper to people, but we know from the authentic source – which is the only source that we can rely upon – that Satan is able to tempt people to sin. The strength of Satan lies in the innate natural weakness of humankind. This weakness can be remedied by enhancing one’s faith and the remembrance of God. Satan has no authority on the believer who often remembers God. Satan’s scheming is weak.
Satan’s objective was to reveal to them their private parts. However, he chose to appeal to the two deeply hidden desires that are part of the initial natural disposition of all humans. Humankind want to become immortal and to have an everlasting kingdom. He swore to them that he is their sincere advisor. Adam and his spouse forgot God’s warning that Satan is their avowed enemy and fell under his spell. They forgot the prohibition and ate from the tree, “Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to heap on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called them, (saying), ‘Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is your open enemy?’” (7: 22) Satan tightened his noose and they fell in the trap. They discovered that they were naked and they were able to see each other’s private parts for the first time. They heard words of rebuke from their Lord. How did God talk to them? How did He talk to the angels and to Iblis? These are all matters of the unseen. We believe that it happened but we do not know how it happened.
One of the characteristics of humankind becomes apparent, humankind tend to forget and make mistakes. Humankind have a weakness that can be used by Satan to tempt them. Humankind may not be able to stay continuously committed to the straight path but they have the virtue that they realize quickly their mistakes and they seek God’s forgiveness. They do not persist in their disobedience like Satan. “They said, ‘Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves. If You do not forgive us and have mercy on us, we will certainly be lost.’” (7:23) This is the unique characteristic of humankind which connects them to their Lord. Human beings are able to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. They are able to recognize their weaknesses and they know that salvation can only be achieved through God’s power and mercy. This completes the first experience that Adam and his spouse went through in preparation for their mission on earth as vicegerents of God. This was also the beginning of the never ending battle with their enemy, “He (God) said, ‘Go down (from hence), one of you is a foe to the other. There will be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a while. There you shall live, and there you shall die, and thence shall you be brought forth.’” (7: 24-25)
It is interesting to note that these verses were written in the dual form. This shows that both Adam and Eve were given the command not to eat from the tree, both of them were forewarned about the enmity of Satan, both of them disobeyed God, both of them prayed for God’s forgiveness, and both of them were forgiven by God. This shows clearly that both male and female members of the human race share the responsibility of building a civilization on earth; both of them are vicegerents.
The Story of Adam and Eve in Surat Ta Ha (Chapter 20)
“We had already, beforehand, taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot, and We found him lacking in firm resolve.” (20: 115) This was the covenant that Adam (PBUH) pledged to God to obey His command not to eat the fruits of the forbidden tree. Adam (PBUH) was allowed to eat the fruits of all trees in paradise except for this single tree. The covenant exemplified the concept of the lawful and forbidden. This was a necessary training course to build up the determination and the discipline which free humankind from the control of the carnal instincts and human desires. Self-discipline is a true measure of the ability of the soul to be free of the control of material desires. It is a valid measure for the progress of human civilisation. Animals have no self-discipline; their behavior is totally controlled by their instincts and desires. The divine wisdom willed that Adam (PBUH) and his spouse should be trained for his role on earth. Their determination was tested to awaken their ability to resist Satan’s temptation and to alert them to the never ending battle between them and Satan.
“And when We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate yourselves to Adam,’ they prostrated themselves except Iblis; he refused.” (20: 116) The details of the scene have been omitted here and are mentioned in details in other Suras because the focus of the present verses is on God’s blessings on Adam (PBUH) and his spouse, “Therefor we said, ‘Adam, this is an enemy to you and to your wife, so let him not drive you both out of the Garden so that you come to toil. Surely it is (promised) for you that you shall neither be hungry therein nor unclothed; you will neither suffer thirst, nor will you be exposed to the sun’s heat.’” (20: 117-119) God warned Adam (PBUH) to beware of Satan. When God commanded Satan to prostrate to Adam (PBUH) and he refused to obey, he vowed to be the eternal enemy for humankind. God told Adam (PBUH) and his spouse that Satan will do whatever he can to drive them out from the Paradise, “So, let him not drive you both out of the Garden so that you come to toil.” (20: 117) God told Adam (PBUH) and his spouse that they will enjoy a life in Paradise that is free of toil, stress, uncertainty, pain, and loss. But Satan discovered the areas of human weakness in Adam (PBUH) and approached him, “But Satan whispered evil to him, he said, ‘Adam, shall I show you the tree of immortality and a kingdom that never decays?’” (20: 120) Two vulnerabilities that humankind have: love of immortality and power. Satan promised him that he will get both when he eats the fruits of the forbidden tree. Adam (PBUH) forgot God’s warning and succumbed to the temptation. Their nakedness became apparent to them, “They both ate of the tree, and so their nakedness became apparent to them. They began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the Garden. And Adam disobeyed his Lord and erred.” (20: 121) It may be understood that when they ate of the tree they suddenly became aware of their nakedness. Their private parts became apparent to them, so they became ashamed of their nakedness and started using the tree leaves to cover their private parts. Entertaining sexual desires and thoughts may have made them feel ashamed. The message that one gets from the verse is that there was a connection between eating the fruits of the tree and the awareness of being naked. The verse stated that, “their nakedness became apparent to them,” which implies that they were naked before but they were not aware of their nakedness. The awareness may have resulted from inner feelings that they entertained. There are other versions of the same verses, “But Satan whispered to them to make apparent to them that which was concealed from them of their private parts.” (7: 20) and “Children of Adam, let not Satan tempt you as he removed your parents from Paradise, stripping them of their clothing to show them their private parts.” (7: 27) The word clothing in this verse may not be a reference to physical clothing but rather to a psychological cover. It may be a reference to innocence, purity, and being connected to God. However, these are all conjectures.
God then bestowed His mercy on Adam and his wife and forgave them, “Then his Lord chose him, and relented toward him, and guided him.” (20: 122) The details of them seeking forgiveness are not mentioned to leave the ambience for the mercy of God. The command was issued to the two enemies to go down to the earth, the field of the long battle between the two, “He (God) said, ‘Go down hence, both of you, one of you a foe to the other.’” (20: 123) The Children of Adam were thus forewarned of the enmity of Satan. God willed to bestow His mercy on the Children of Adam, so He sent His messengers to guide people to the straight path, “But when there comes to you from Me a guidance, then whoso follows My guidance, he will not go astray nor come to grief. But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him life will be hard, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Judgment.” (20: 124) Those who follow God’s guidance will be protected from going astray and they will never grieve. Grief is the fruit of going astray. Going astray may be accompanied with pleasure but it is a pleasure that will promote grief; grief in this life and in the Hereafter. Forbidden pleasure is always followed by pain and leads to bad consequences. Those who turn away from guidance will endure a life of hardship and will be raised blind in the Hereafter.
The Fundamentals of Human Society
Surat Al- Nisa’ (Chapter 4)
“People, be conscious of your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created, of like nature, its mate and spread from these two, many men and women; and be conscious of God, in Whose name you demand your mutual rights, Beware of severing the ties of the wombs; certainly God is ever watching over you.” (4: 1)
This is an address to the whole humanity to remind them of the concept of the oneness of the Creator and the common root of their race. People need to reflect on these statements. How did humankind come to this world? Who brought them? Before being created they were nothing, they came to life by God’s will. They were given unique characteristics and talents to cope with life on earth. The power that brought them to existence knows everything about them. This power has the right to organize their lives and to determine the norms and principles which should govern their societies.
Human life started with a single decision from God and the whole humanity sprung from one common root. This makes the whole humanity a one family, and all people are related to each other. Understanding this fact should help diminish the differences that divide people and break up the ties between them. The evils of race discrimination and genocide would have been avoided had the human race recognized and understood this fact. All traditions that discriminate between people on the basis of skin color, gender, or class have no real justification. The long history of discrimination practices on the basis of gender should have been avoided. Souls of males and females are the same. Males and females share the same nature and the same human characteristics. They were created to complement each other. Each has a mission to fulfill and each has been created with the appropriate aptitude to fulfill this mission.
The verse also underscores the importance of the family as the building block of the human society. Humanity started with a single soul and it was complemented with its mate, both formed a single family from which sprang the whole human race. If God had willed He would have created many men and women in the first instance. The idea of starting the creation with a single family highlights the important role that the family plays in enhancing the human ties between the members of the human society. The social system in Islam paid great attention to developing and strengthening the means which support and protect the family structure. This is one of the major themes dealt with in this Sura as well as in many others. The family consists of two partners. A strong family structure cannot be established while one of the partners is being ill treated, abused or wronged in any way. Islam paid great attention to establishing women’s rights as human beings and giving them their due respect.
When we reflect further on this verse, we cannot but wonder of how many different men and women sprang from one single family. People born over the centuries, since the beginning of the creation, are all different. They are different in form and shape. They are different in their aptitudes and abilities. They are different in their dispositions and feelings. Who else is able to do this except God, the Creator?
The verse urges people to remain conscious of their Lord in whose name they conduct their transactions and request their rights from each other. It urges them to remain conscious of God when they deal with each other. The meaning of the expression “God consciousness” is understood and it is oft repeated in the Quran. However, the expression “conscious of the wombs” is a different one, it is an amazing expression and difficult to explain. It enlivens the feelings of the human being. The expression exhorts the believer to be sensitive to the needs and rights of family relationships. It exhorts the believers to avoid hurting, or committing injustice against those with whom we share a relationship through the wombs. Remember that God is ever watching over us. He is the Creator who knows His creation. There is nothing we can hide from Him. He is fully aware of our deeds and our thoughts.
Male – Female Relationship
“It is He who created you from a single soul, and from it made its mate, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When he covered her, she bears a light burden and carries it about. When she grows heavy, they both pray God their Lord, (saying), ‘If You give us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful.’” (7: 189) The verse displays the role of the initial natural disposition which God created in each human being, in shaping the behavior of the human being. The first reaction of the human being in times of need and fear is to seek God’s help. The verse refers to the first couple of the human race. The male and the female were created from the same soul. However, their functions were different. The difference is intentional so that the spouses can find comfort and tranquility in the company of each other. This is Islam’s perspective of the relationship between human males and females. This is the original perspective that Islam introduced more than fourteen hundred years ago, at a time when distorted religions held that women were responsible for the misery of the human race and the idolaters treated women as chattel or at least as servants to men of no value or consequence.
Then the story starts, “When he covers her, she bears a light burden and carries it about.” The Quran uses a decorous expression, “he covers her,” to describe the intimate physical relationship between the spouses which is congruent with the atmosphere of tranquility referred to earlier. It is as if the verse describes the meeting of two apparitions rather than the meeting of two physical bodies. This alludes to the difference that should exist in the way the intimate physical relationship between the spouses is conducted in the human and animal domains. The humans’ way is characterised by decency while the animals’ way is characterised by pure physical lust.
Similarly, the early stage of pregnancy is described as, “a light burden,” it is carried unnoticed. Then the second stage is reached, “When she grows heavy, they both pray God their Lord, (saying), ‘If You give us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful.’” When the pregnancy became a reality and the love of the baby started to grow in the hearts of its parents, they started to worry about their baby. Is the baby going to be of sound body and mind? They sought God’s help and support. They asked God to give them a goodly child, but, “But when He gave them a goodly child, they ascribed to others a share in the gift they have received; but God is Exalted high above the partners they ascribe to Him.” (7: 190)
A brief description of the origin of humankind is mentioned, “And among His signs is that He created you from dust; and then you are human beings scattered (far and wide).” (30: 20) The dust from which human beings were created is a dead material. This is a miracle. It also points to the close relationship between humans and the earth they live on and are affected by the laws that control it. One should ponder the miracle of creation, appreciate the process of creation and glorify and praise God for His favors. Not only humans were created from dust but they were also created in pairs, “And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He planted affection and mercy between you. Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (30: 21) God created humans in pairs and instilled in them the natural attraction to each other and the ability to harbor and express emotions towards each other. Each one of the spouses finds a safe haven with the other. Affection and compassion necessary for the development of new lives are instilled in the hearts of the spouses.
Significance of the Story of Adam and Eve
The several points that can be gleaned from these verses.
- Humankind are composed of two partners, a male and a female, who have the same nature and similar rights and responsibilities.
- Humankind were created to live on earth. The first couple were created originally in Paradise to train them for the task they were destined to undertake on earth.
- God bestowed on humankind the qualities that enables them to discharge their responsibilities on earth. Humankind are able to learn, to teach, to discern right from wrong, and to choose freely.
- Humankind are entrusted with the guardianship of earth, its resources, and its creatures.
- Satan is the avowed enemy for the human being. Satan mission is to tempt human beings. However, he has no power over them.
- It is human to err. Human beings live in paradise, as long as they are obedient to God, when they sin they no longer live in paradise. They way to go back is to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.