Adam, peace be upon him

Muzaffar Iqbal and Naseer Ahmad

Ādam, the father of humanity (Abū al-bashar), is mentioned by name twenty-five times in nine suras, six of which are Makkan. 

Usage and Etymology

His name appears fourteen times in creation accounts heralding the beginning of the human race (Q 2:31, 33, 34, 35, 37; 7:11, 19; 17:61; 18:50; 20:115, 116, 117, 120, 121); once in relation to Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace, whose creation is likened to his in Q 3:59 (Indeed, in the sight of Allah, the similitude of ʿIsā is like that of Ādam, whom He created out of dust and then said: “Be!” and he was); and once in the list of Prophets whom Allah has favored (Q 3:33: Indeed, Allah chose Ādam and Nūḥ and the descendants of Ibrāhīm and the descendants of ʿImrān over all mankind). In addition, the word Ādam appears nine times in construct form, always referring to his progeny (see Humans): once in the phrase “the two sons of Ādam” (ibnay Ādam) (Q 5:27); once in the phrase “progeny of Ādam” (dhurriyyat Ādam) (Q 19:58); and seven times in the phrase “children of Ādam” (banī Ādam) (Q 7:26, 27, 31, 35, 172; 17:70; 36:60). He is also indirectly referred to in the context of verses related to the creation of the first human being, often called bashar or insān (human) (cf. Q 7:11, 12; 15:26, 28, 33; 32:9; 37:11; 38:71, 72; 55:14); the creation of all human beings from one being (nafsin wāḥida, i.e., him) (cf. Q 4:1; 7:189; 39:6); and in verses mentioning creation from dust (turāb) (cf. Q 18:37; 22:5; 30:20; 40:67), clay (cf. Q 6:2; 7:12; 17:61; 23:12; 32:7; 38:71, 76), sticky clay (ṭīn lāzib) (Q 37:11), and resounding clay (cf. Q 15:26, 28, 33; 55:14). Furthermore, he is mentioned in verses stating Satan’s refusal to prostrate to the first human being, where he is the referent of the pronoun “him” (cf. Q 15:31; 38:74). The most detailed accounts of Ādam, upon him peace, are to be found in six passages: Q 2:30-39; 7:11-25; 15:28-42; 17:61-65; 20:115-124; and 38:71-85.

Al-Fayrūzābādī (d. 817/1414) relates that Ādam is known by five names: al-Insān, al-Bashar, Ādam, al-Khalīfa, and Abū al-Bashar (Baṣāʾir, fī dhikr Ādam ʿalayh al-salām); the last name does not appear in the Qurʾān but in Prophetic traditions (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā innā arsalnā Nūḥan ilā qawmih; Bukhārī, Tafsīr, dhurriyyat man ḥamalnā maʿa Nūḥ; Bukhārī, Raqāʾiq, ṣifat al-Janna wal-Nār; Muslim, Īmān, adnā ahl al-Janna manzilatan fī-hā). Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) also adds another agnomen, Abū Muḥammad (“father of Muḥammad”), and states that according to al-Suhaylī this is his appellation in Paradise, whereas on Earth he is called Abū al-Bashar (“father of humanity”) (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:31).


Philologists and exegetes offer various opinions with regard to the etymology of “Ādam”: some consider it a non-Arabic (aʿjamī) word that follows the phonetic pattern of Āzar, ʿĀzar, ʿĀbar, and Shālakh (cf. Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; the Tafsīrs of Nasafī and Bayḍāwī; and Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 2:31); others maintain that it is an Arabic word (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Jawālīqī, al-Muʿarrab, al-hamza allatī tusammā al-alif; Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 2:31). These various opinions can be summarized as follows:

It is derived from udma, meaning a pigmentation likened to that of wheat, a skin complexion between white and black (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, sub ʾ-d-m; Fayrūzabādī, Baṣāʾir, fī dhikr Ādam ʿalayh al-salām), being a morphological variant of aʾdam on the pattern of afʿal, where the first hamza is additional and the second is original (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, bāb līm; Ibn al-Anbārī, al-Bayān, gharīb iʿrāb Sūrat al-Baqara, sub Q 2:34);

It is derived from adm, meaning conformance, compatibility, and partnership (al-muwāfaqa wal-mulāʾama) (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub ʾ-d-m);

It is derived from the phrase adīm al-arḍ (“the surface of the earth”), that is, of which Ādam was created (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ʾ-d-m; Jawharī, Ṣiḥaḥ; al-Khāzin, Lubāb, sub Q 2:31).

Al-Rāghib provides a synthetic summary:

Ādam, the Father of Mankind, was so named because his body was made from the surface of the earth (adīm al-arḍ). It is said that it is because of this brownish tone of his skin, as one says rajul ādam asmar (“a man of brown skin tone”). It is [also] said that he was so called because his composition was of a variety of elements and characteristics, as the Most High has said, [Verily, We have created man out of a drop of sperm] intermingled, so that We may test him (Q 76:2); and [a proverb states] “I have made so-and-so the udma of my family,” that is, “I blended him with them.” It is also said that he is so named because he was made agreeable and pleasant (ṭuyyiba bih) with the spirit that was breathed into him, as mentioned in the saying of the Most High, [And when I have formed him fully] and breathed into him My spirit (Q 15:29); and by this He gave him intellect (al-ʿaql), understanding (al-fahm), and the ability to deliberate (al-rawiyya), by all of which he was favored above the rest of creation, as the Most High said, And We favored them (i.e., the children of Ādam) far above most of Our creation (Q 17:70). A further opinion is that [the word Ādam] is derived from al-idām, meaning a condiment by which food is made delicious, pleasant, and agreeable. In a hadith it is said, “if you have a look at her (meaning a potential wife), it may be that affection will grow between the two of you (yuʾdama baynakumā)” (Tirmidhī, Nikāḥ, mā jāʾa fī-l-naẓar ilā al-makhṭūba; Nasāʾī, Nikāḥ, ibāḥat al-naẓar qabl al-tazwīj; Ibn Mājah, Nikāḥ, al-naẓar ilā al-marʾa idhā arāda an yatazawwajahā).

Mufradāt, sub ʾ-d-m

According to Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (773-852/ 1371-1449):

Ādam is a Syriac (suryānī) name; the People of the Book call him Ādām, lengthening the fatḥa that follows the consonant “dāl”, like Khānām, on the pattern of fāʿāl; and it is an unnonated and undeclinable noun (imtināʿ ṣarfih) because it is a non-Arabic word (ʿujma) and a proper noun (ʿalamiyya). According to al-Thaʿlabī (d. 425/1035), dust (al-turāb) is called ādām in Hebrew, so he was called Ādam, the second alif being dropped. It is also said that it is an Arabic word, as al-Jawharī and al-Jawālīqī assert. Again, it is said that it comes from udma, on the pattern of afʿal; that it is from adīm, because he was created from the surface of the earth, and this is transmitted by Ibn ʿAbbās (…); and that it is from the mixing of two things (adamt bayn al-shayʾayn). because he was [created from] a mixture of water and dust.

Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, khalq Ādam ṣalawāt Allāh ʿalayh wa dhurriyyatih

Creation and Merits

The most detailed narrative regarding Ādam’s creation is found in Sūrat al-Baqara:

And [recall] when your Sustainer said to the angels: “I am about to create a deputy (khalīfa) on earth,” they said, “Will You place on it one who will spread mischief and shed blood while we celebrate Your glory and extol Your holiness?” He said: “Surely I know what you do not know.”

Then Allah taught Ādam the names (asmāʾ) of all things and presented them to the angels and said: “Tell Me the names of these things, if you are truthful.”

They said: “Glory be to You! No knowledge have we save what You have taught us. You, only You, are All-Knowing, All-Wise.”

He said: “O Ādam, tell them the names of these [things].” And when he had told them their names, He said: “Did I not say to you that I know the hidden [realities] of the heavens and the earth, and know all that you disclose and all that you conceal?”

And when We commanded the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Ādam” they all prostrated themselves, except Iblīs; he refused, and gloried in his arrogance, and became one of the defiers.

And We said: “O Ādam, dwell you and your wife in Paradise, and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish; but approach not this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers.”

But Satan caused them both to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state, and so We said: “Down with you, [and be henceforth] enemies unto one another; and on earth you shall have your abode and your livelihood for a while.”

Thereupon Ādam learned from his Lord some words, and repented, and his Lord accepted his repentance, for He is Much-Relenting, Most Compassionate.

We said: “Get you down from here, all of you; and when guidance shall come to you from Me then, whoever will follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.

“But those who refuse to accept this [guidance] and reject Our Signs as false are destined for Hell-Fire, where they shall abide forever.”

Q 2:30-39

Elsewhere, the Qurʾān mentions three physical substances from which Ādam, upon him peace, was created: (i) dust (turāb) (Q 3:59); (ii) sticky clay (ṭīn lāzib) (Q 37:11); and (iii) resounding clay (ṣalṣālin min ḥamāʾin masnūn) (Q 15:26, 28, 33), that is, clay which resounds like pottery (ṣalṣālin kal-fakhkhār) (Q 55:14) (cf. Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub ṣ-l-l). Abū Isḥāq al-Zajjāj (d. 311/923), however, held that all three words refer to one basic substance—dust (turāb)—which is the origin of sticky clay (ṭīn): Allah created ṭīn from turāb, and then transformed it into dry resounding clay (ḥamāʾ masnūn) (Maʿānī, sub Q 55:14). Abū al-Muẓaffar al-Samʿānī (d. 489/1015) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) offer similar explanations in their commentaries on Q 55:14.

Further elucidations are found in hadiths. Anas b. Mālik (d. 93/712), may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “When Allah fashioned Ādam, He left him for a duration that He willed, [in which] Iblīs circled him, looking searchingly at him; and when he saw that Ādam’s body was hollow, he knew that he would be unable to exercise complete restraint over himself” (Aḥmad, Musnad Anas b. Mālik §12539). Other Prophetic traditions add that Ādam was created from dust taken from all parts of the earth, which accounts for the varying colors, qualities, and inclinations of his children (Tirmidhī, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, wa min Sūrat al-Baqara; Abū Dāwūd, Qadar) and that Ādam was created, entered Paradise, was expelled from Paradise, repented, and died on a Friday (the “best day on which the sun has risen”) (Muslim, Jumuʿa, faḍl yawm al-jumuʿa; cf. Mālik, Jumuʿa, mā jāʾ fī-l-sāʿa allatī fī yawm al-Jumuʿa).

Q 2:30 provides the angels’ first response to the creation of Ādam in dialogue form. The angels said: “Will You place therein one who will spread corruption and shed blood, while we extol Thy limitless glory and praise Thee, and sanctify Thee?” He said: “Surely I know that which you know not.” Exegetical literature describes the angels’ inquiry as not an objection but rather an attempt at understanding the Divine wisdom behind this new creation (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, and Ibn Kathīr). The following explanations are offered as to how the angels knew that human beings would work corruption and spill blood (see Bloodshed): either (i) they were specifically told so by Allah Most High; (ii) they deduced it because of a special insight given them; (iii) they inferred it from the substances of human creation; or (iv) they inferred it from the term “successor” (khalīfa), meaning that they would replace the jinn, the creation which had lived on earth before and who had also shed blood and wrought corruption (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, and Ibn Kathīr).

The Divine response, “I know what you know not,” is understood by exegetes as referring to Allah’s inexhaustible knowledge, which cannot be comprehended by any creature. He knew, they explain, that while among the angels was Iblīs, who was to disobey His command, among the new creation were the Prophets, the Messengers, the Truthful (al-ṣiddīqūn), the martyrs, the righteous, His devoted servants, ascetics (al-zuhhād), His friends, the Foremost (al-sābiqūn), the righteous scholars conscious of Allah, those who love Allah Most Glorified and Exalted, and those who follow the commands of His Messengers, upon them all blessings and peace (see the Tafsirs of Ṭabarī, Samʿānī, Rāzī, and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 2:30). Both Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) and Ibn Ḥajar state that the angels are shown the meaning of the Divine statement I know what you do not know when they witness Allah’s slaves in prayer. A Prophetic tradition states: “Angels come to you in succession by night and day, and all of them gather at the time of the Fajr and ʿAṣr prayers. Those who have passed the night amongst you ascend [to the Heavens] and Allah asks them—although He knows all things—‘In what state did you leave my slaves?’ The angels reply: ‘When we left them they were praying, and when we reached them they were praying’” (Bukhārī, Mawāqīt al-ṣalāt, faḍl ṣalāt al-ʿaṣr and Badʾ al-khalq, dhikr al-malāʾika; Muslim, Masājid wa mawāḍiʿ al-ṣalāt, faḍl ṣalāt al-ṣubḥ wal-ʿaṣr wal-muḥāfaẓat ʿalayhimā; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, faḍl ṣalāt al-ʿaṣr).

“Allah Created Ādam in His/his Image”

A Prophetic hadith states: “Allah created Ādam upon His/his image/form (ʿalā ṣūratih)” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā wa idh qāla Rabbuka lil-malāʾika Innī jāʿilun fī-l-arḍi khalīfatan; Muslim, Janna wa ṣifa naʿīmihā wa ahlihā). In another narration, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “If one of you hits another, let him avoid the face and not utter [the curse] ‘may Allah deform your face and the face of whoever looks like you,’ because Allah created Ādam upon His/his image” (Aḥmad Musnad Abū Hurayra §7420; ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Muṣannaf 9:44 §17952; Ibn Khuzayma, Tawḥīd 1:81; cf. Muslim, Birr wal-ṣila wal-ādāb, al-nahy ʿan ḍarb al-wajh).

Exegetes and hadith commentators discuss three ways in which the phrase ʿalā ṣūratih (in His/his image/form) can be interpreted, the differences arising from the interpretation of the pronoun in the text as it may refer to (i) neither Allah nor Ādam, but generically to any human being; (ii) to Ādam, upon him peace; or (iii) to Allah Most High. Al-Rāzī examines each possibility and prefers the second of these possibilities: Allah created Ādam upon Ādam’s own form right from the beginning and, unlike his progeny, he did not go through any steps or stages in his creation (al-Rāzī, Asās al-taqdīs p. 110-120).

The first of these possibilities, where the pronoun is taken to refer to the generic human form, yields two consequences:

(i) Whoever says to a human being, “may Allah deform your face and the face of the one whose face resembles yours,” has insulted Ādam, upon him peace, because the form (ṣūra) of that man was like the form of Ādam; thus what he says…is an offence (shatm) against Ādam, upon him peace, as well as against all Prophets, upon them peace. (…) [The Prophet] specifically mentioned Ādam because his creation and his face were the first in this image (…);

(ii) It is the refutation of one who says that Ādam was [made] in another form—for instance, the claim that he was of giant proportions and extremely tall, that his head almost touched the sky—as the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, pointed to a certain man and said: “Verily, Allah created Ādam on his form,” meaning that the form of Ādam was just like [the form of] that man, without any difference at all.

al-Rāzī, Asās p. 111-113

However, al-Rāzī then argues that a pronoun generally refers to the nearest possible referent in a sentence, which in the case of this hadith is Ādam, upon him peace. If understood in this way, the hadith has five different aspects: (i) it demonstrates the honoring of Ādam, for he was not deformed when he and his spouse were expelled from Paradise; (ii) it undermines the claims of those materialists (al-dahriyya) who deny creation ex nihilo, that is, creation except through material causes; (iii) it undermines the claims of those philosophers who say that man comes into existence over a very long period of time through the interplay between spheres and elements; (iv) it undermines the claims of those physicians and philosophers who take imaginal and creative forces as the final causes of creation; and (v) it demonstrates the exceptional creation of Ādam, for being created “in his image” or “upon his form” here means that Allah Most High created Ādam with all his characteristics and states of ability at once (jumlat ṣifātih wa aḥwālih), whereas other human beings are born dependent and without knowledge (al-Rāzī, Asās p. 113-115).

As for the third possibility, that Allah Most High created Ādam in His own image, al-Rāzī writes that “image” (ṣūra) would here then mean “attributes”, meaning that Allah created him possessing some of His own attributes, even though there is no real comparison between the two (al-Rāzī, Asās p. 116). Ibn Ḥajar’s explanation echoes al-Rāzī’s, but he adds a variant of the hadith narrated by Ibn Abī ʿĀṣim (d. 287/900) to the discussion: “The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: ‘Do not say ‘May Allah deform your face,’ for the son of Ādam was created in the image of the Most Merciful (ʿalā ṣūrat al-Raḥmān).’” Ibn Ḥajar comments that those who support the interpretation that Allah Most High created Ādam in His image understand it to mean that “Allah created Ādam with attributes such as knowledge, life, hearing, sight, and so forth; these are also Attributes of Allah, even though nothing is similar to the Attributes of Allah Most High” (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, qawluhu bāb idhā ḍarab al-ʿabd fal-yajtanib al-wajh).

Ibn Taymiyya (661-728/1263-1328) rejects all interpretations other than that which takes Allah Most High as the referent of the pronoun. He composed a scathing rejoinder to al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs, reproducing the entire chapter from Rāzī’s work and refuting his arguments. He concluded by saying that the word ṣūra (image/form), like all other Names and Attributes of Allah, may only be applied to created beings in a limited sense:

There was no dispute among the pious predecessors of the first three generations that the pronoun in the hadith refers to Allah…; but when the Jahmiyya (a heterodox school founded by Jahm b. Ṣafwān that emphasized the createdness of the Qurʾān, predestination, and the radical transcendence of Allah) became widespread in the third century, a faction started to claim that the pronoun refers to something other than Allah; and this was transmitted from a group of scholars who otherwise were renowned scholars of religious knowledge and the Sunna in most of their affairs (such as Abū Thawr, Ibn Khuzayma, Abū al-Shaykh al-Aṣbahānī, and others). Hence they were blamed, censured, rebuked by the imams of the Religion and others from among the Sunni scholars.

Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-Jahmiyya 6:355-362

Allah Grants His Mercy to Ādam

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “When Allah created Ādam and breathed the spirit into him, he sneezed and said, ‘Praise be to Allah (al-Ḥamd li-Llāh)!’” According to al-Ḥākim (321-405/933-1014), Ādam praised Allah by His leave, and his Lord said to him, “Allah have mercy on you (Yarḥamuk Allāh), O Ādam!” (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, al-adab; Tirmidhī, Tafsīr; Bukhārī, Adab al-mufrad, ʿaṭas). This is understood as the origin of the Muslim etiquette by which one who has sneezed exclaims: “al-Ḥamd li-Llāh!” and those in the vicinity respond: “Yarḥamuk Allāh!”

Ādam is taught the greetings of the people of Paradise

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “Allah created Ādam in His/his image, making him sixty cubits tall. When He had created him He told him, ‘Go and greet that group of angels, and listen to their reply, for it will be your greeting and that of your descendants.’ Ādam said [to the angels], ‘peace be upon you’ (as-salām ʿalaykum). The angels replied, ‘peace be upon you, and the mercy of Allah’ (as-salām ʿalayka wa raḥmat Allāh), adding to Ādam’s salutation the expression wa raḥmat Allāh. Everyone who enters Paradise will be in the form of Ādam, but people have been decreasing in stature since Ādam’s creation” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh Taʿālā wa-idh qāla Rabbuka lil-malāʾikat innī jāʿilun fī-l-arḍ khalīfatan; Muslim, Janna wa ṣifat naʿīmihā wa ahlihā; Tirmidhī, Tafsīr). Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) comments that this is the greeting of angels to the people of Paradise (Tafsīr, sub Q 56:26).

Presentation to the Angels

Ādam, upon him peace, was presented to the angels (q.v.) as someone to be set on earth as vicegerent (khalīfa) (Q 2:30), and they were commanded to prostrate to him (Q 2:34; 7:11-12; 15:29, 33; 17:61; 18:50; 20:116; 38:72, 75). 

He taught Ādam the names, all of them

There is some divergence in the exegetical tradition regarding what exactly Ādam, upon him peace, was taught as is succinctly related in the Qurʾānic account: And He taught Ādam the names, all of them; then He presented them to the angels, and said: “Tell me the names of these, if you are truthful” (Q 2:31). Al-Ṭabarī collected reports from Companions, Successors, and eminent scholars of the first two centuries, classified them into three opinions, and then gave his own preferred view based on linguistic grounds:

In the first category are those who take the verse to mean ‘names of every thing’—an opinion held by, among others, Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), Saʿīd b. Jubayr (d. 95/714), Mujāhid (d. ca.99/718), and Qatāda (d. 117/735). Ibn ʿAbbās said that these are [generic] names well known to people: ‘man’, ‘animal’, ‘earth’, ‘plateau’, ‘sea’, ‘mountain’, ‘donkey’, and [all] the nations [of creatures], and so forth, like this. (…) Mujāhid said, “He taught him the name of every thing, for example ‘raven’ and ‘pigeon’.” Saʿīd b. Jubayr held the same opinion and gave the examples of ‘camel’, ‘cow’, and ‘sheep’. (…) Qatāda said, “He taught him the name of every thing: This is a ‘mountain’, this is a ‘sea’, and so forth, for every thing. Then He presented these things to the angels and said: ‘Now tell Me the names of these, if you are truthful.’” (…) The second opinion, held by al-Rabīʿ, is that it means the names of the angels, while the third opinion, held by Ibn Zayd, is that Allah Most High taught Ādam the names of all of his offspring.


Al-Ṭabarī then gives his own preferred opinion:

The most correct of views, the closest to what the apparent meaning of the text indicates to be true, is the view of one who holds that…[it means] the names of his offspring and/or the names of the angels, and not the names of other kinds of creatures. That is to say, Allah, resplendent be His praise, said, Then He presented (ʿaraḍa-) them (-hum) to the angels, meaning thereby that the actual beings called (al-musammayn) by the names He taught Ādam [and not merely the names] were presented. [This is a grammatical argument drawing on the fact that] the Arabs hardly ever refer to anything with “hāʾ and mīm” (i.e., the masculine plural pronoun -hum) other than the names of humans or angels. They refer to animals and all other created things with “hāʾ and alif (i.e., the feminine singular pronoun -), or “hāʾ and nūn” (i.e., the feminine plural pronoun -hunna); thus they would say “ʿaraḍahunna” or “ʿaraḍahā”. This is the usual way of referring to other creatures, such as animals, birds, and other types of created things.


Anticipating objections to this argument, given that in Q 24:45 the masculine plural pronoun hum in fa-minhum refers to both intelligent (ʿāqil) and non-intelligent beings (ghayr ʿāqil)—an objection which Ibn Kathīr would actually raise four centuries later—al-Ṭabarī recognized that it is

used in Q 24:45 for a group containing both man and other things; this, although allowed, is rare. The customary and well-known usage in the language of the Arabs is what we have already described, that is, - and -hunna are used for mixed categories of creatures, which is why I have said that the preferred interpretation of this verse is that what was taught to Ādam were the names of the children of Ādam and the angels. And although the interpretation of Ibn ʿAbbās (i.e., that he was taught the names of every thing) is permissible on the basis of what is present in the Book of Allah (Q 24:45), yet, it has been said that he was perhaps interpreting on the basis of the recitation and reading (fī ḥarf) (see Canonical Readings) of ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd, which has thumma ʿaraḍahunna, or that of Ubayy [b. Kʿab], which has thumma ʿaraḍahā (by which Ibn ʿAbbās is known to have recited and according to which his interpretation would not be grammatically incorrect).


Ibn Kathīr rejects this linguistic argument, as al-Ṭabarī suspected some might, citing Q 24:45 where the grammatical rule is overridden in a plural construction referring both to intelligent and non-intelligent beings. Ibn Kathīr also offers a more textually-based argument in favor of the interpretation that Ādam was taught names of all things, drawing on the first part of a hadith which states that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “The believers will gather on the Day of Resurrection and will say, ‘We should seek a means of intercession with our Lord.’ They will go to Ādam and say, ‘Ādam, you are the father of all humanity; Allah created you with His Own Hand, ordered the angels to prostrate before you, and taught you names of everything (asmāʾ kull shayʾ). Will you not intercede for us with your Lord, so that we may gain relief from this gathering-place?’” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, wa qawl Allāh wa ʿallama Ādam al-asmāʾa kullahā). “This is the proof,” Ibn Kathīr says, “that he was taught the names of all created beings” (Tafsīr).

All things were then presented to the angels, who were asked to tell their names but could not, acknowledging that they only knew what they had been taught by Allah. Then Ādam, upon him peace, was asked to tell them the names (Q 2:31-33), and he “called out each thing by its name, as they were presented to him, nation [of creatures] after nation [of creatures] (ummatan ummatan)” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:31). The angels were then addressed by Allah Most High: “Did I not tell you? Verily, I alone know the unseen of the heavens and the earth and know what you reveal and what you conceal” (Q 2:33). Ibn Kathīr summarizes various opinions about these verses as follows:

Allah Most High meant that what they disclosed (that is, their statement that this new creation will spread corruption on earth and spill blood), and what was still hidden, namely, the arrogance (kibr) of Iblīs. And this is the view of Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn Masʿūd, and other Companions as well as that of Saʿīd b. Jubayr, Mujāhid, al-Suddī, al-Daḥḥāk, and al-Thawrī; this is also the preferred opinion of Ibn Jarīr [al-Ṭabarī]. According to Abū al-ʿĀliyya, al-Rabīʿ b. Anas, al-Ḥasan, and Qatāda, [what you conceal] refers to their (i.e., the angels’) view that whatever Allah, the Most Exalted, may create, we [angels] will be more knowledgeable and honored than that—and thus they discovered that Allah favored [the new creation,] Ādam, over them in knowledge and honor. In this matter of the angels and Ādam, Ibn Jarīr [al-Ṭabarī] also reported, on the authority of (…) ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Zayd b. Aslam, that Allah told the angels: “As you do not know the names of these things, likewise, you have no knowledge (…) that I have willed that among them shall be some who disobey Me and some who will obey; and I have already decreed that ‘Verily I will fill Hell with jinn and humans, all together’ (Q 11:119).” He had not given knowledge of this to the angels and they did not understand it; but now that they saw what Allah had granted to Ādam by way of knowledge, they accepted that he had a rank superior to them. Ibn Jarīr [al-Ṭabarī] said that the most preferred opinion is that of Ibn ʿAbbās [referred to above]: that is, the meaning of “I know what you conceal” is ‘I know, by My knowledge of the unseen of the heavens and the earth, what you disclose with your tongues (…) and what you conceal, and nothing is hidden from Me; for Me, your disclosure and concealment are the same.’ ‘What they disclosed’ was [their wondering] will You create one who will work corruption therein? And ‘what they concealed’ was that among them was Iblīs, who was going to transgress against the command of Allah [to prostrate to Ādam] and who disobeyed due to his arrogance. (…) And this is a great blessing and favor upon Ādam that Allah Most High created him with His own Hands, breathed of His spirit into him, taught him the names of all things, and commanded the angels to prostrate to him.

Tafsīr, sub Q 2:33-34

Iblīs refuses to prostrate to Ādam, upon him peace

The refusal of Iblīs to prostrate to Ādam is mentioned in six passages (Q 2:34; 7:11-12; 15:29, 33; 17:61-65; 20:115-124; and 38:71-85). Ibn Kathīr collected most of these explanations and other details in his al-Bidāya wal-nihāya and Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ as well as in his Tafsīr; in brief, and as synthesized from these and other accounts, Iblīs refused to prostrate because of his arrogance (kibr; see Pride, Arrogance, and Boastfulness). He said, “I am better than he; You created me from fire and him from clay” (Q 7:12). Elsewhere, he said, “I am not one to prostrate myself to a man whom You created from resounding clay, out of dark transmuted clay” (Q 15:33). Ibn Kathīr says that the reason given by Iblīs for his insubordination is worse than the sin itself, for he conjectured that a superior being cannot be asked to prostrate to an inferior, and, presuming that his constituent nature (fire) was superior to that of Ādam (clay), the cursed one (i.e., Iblīs) only saw the elements and overlooked the distinction of the one who, though created from clay, was created by the Hands of Allah Most High, Who breathed His Spirit into him (Q 15:29; 32:9; 38:72). His arrogance, moreover, led Iblīs to a faulty hermeneutic, for he drew an invalid analogy (qāsā qiyāsan fāsidan) against an explicit expression, based on textual evidence (naṣṣ). Even in this, however, he erred in his analogy and his claim. For it is well-known, the exegetes continue, that the properties of clay are softness, forbearance, and receptivity; it is a bearer of burdens, a place of vegetal growth, and it corrects and makes things better—whereas the properties of fire are quickness, anger, and burning. That is why Iblīs remained in his error, whereas Ādam benefited from the properties of his constituent nature and recognized his sin, repented, and sought forgiveness from his Lord. Al-Ṭabarī reports that al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728) said that the first to draw such an analogy was Iblīs; Ibn Sīrīn (33-110/653-728) added that humans were only misled to worship the sun and moon due to such faulty analogies (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 7:11-12).

The command to prostrate was given to the angels, which poses an apparent difficulty since elsewhere the Qurʾān explicitly states that Iblīs was from the Jinn (Q 18:50). The exegetical tradition presents various explanations. Ibn Kathīr narrates four relevant statements of Ibn ʿAbbās through four different chains of transmission; in one of these, he says, “Iblīs was an angel before his disobedience; his name was ʿAzāzīl; he lived on earth; he was more knowledgeable than any other angel, and because of this he became arrogant; and he was attached to the jinn.” Another narration states that Ibn ʿAbbās said, “his name was ʿAzāzīl, he was from among the nobility of the angels, and he had four wings; thereafter he was made to despair.” In the third account, he is reported to have said, “among the angels, there is a tribe called al-Jinn; and Iblīs was from them.” Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī held that Iblīs was never an angel—a report Ibn Kathīr considered sound. Ibn Kathīr further said that the command to prostrate was given to all angels (as clearly stated in the Qurʾān), of both the earth and the heavens, even though some scholars limit it to the angels of the earth. Qatāda held that the first sin ever committed was arrogance (kibr), which was committed by Iblīs (see Satan) (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Abī Ḥāṭim, Bayḍāwī, Ibn Kathīr, and Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 2:34).

All scholars agree that the angels did not prostrate to Ādam to worship him (see Bowing and Prostrating). Ibn Kathīr favors the view that the prostration of the angels was to greet and honor Ādam, upon him peace, even as he presents other views, among them one also given by al-Qurṭubī and al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480): the angels actually prostrated to Allah, at which time Ādam was merely located before them (see Qibla) (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:34). Some of the interpretations in the exegetical literature regarding this event are based upon Israelite accounts (q.v.) and are not included here.

Creation of His Spouse

Unlike the detailed account of the creation of Ādam from dust, clay, and resounding clay, the creation of his spouse (zawj) (Eve, see Ḥawwāʾ) is not recounted at length: O Mankind, be conscious of your Sustainer Who has created you out of a single being, and from it He created its partner (zawj) (Q 4:1). She is present with Ādam in Q 2:35: We said, “O Ādam, dwell thou and thy spouse (zawj) in Paradise and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish, but do not approach this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers.” She is also included in the verses in which Ādam, upon him peace, is forewarned about the enmity of Iblīs toward him and his wife (Q 20:116-117), but not in the verse where Satan’s whispering incitement is mentioned (Q 20:120)—though the verse immediately following it mentions her complicity with Ādam in eating from the forbidden tree (Q 20:121), and both of them are expelled from Paradise for the sin (Q 20:123).

Based on the context of these verses, al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Kathīr, and Ibn Ḥajar all hold that Ḥawwā was created before Ādam entered Paradise, as it was said “O Ādam, dwell thou and thy spouse in Paradise” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35; Ibn Kathīr, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, qiṣṣat Ādam ʿalayh al-salām; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Aḥādīṭh al-anbiyāʾ, qawluh khalq Ādam wa dhurriyyatih). Al-Ṭabarī provides a more detailed tradition from al-Suddī, who reported it from Ibn ʿAbbās, Ibn Masʿūd, and a number of other Companions (and resonating with midrashic accounts): Iblīs was expelled from Paradise and then Ādam was admitted to it. He walked alone there, without a wife with whom to find tranquility. He slept, and when he awoke, found sitting by his head a woman whom Allah had created from his rib. He asked her, “Who are you?” She said, “A woman.” He asked, “Why have you been created?” She said, “So you may find repose in me.” The angels then asked—and they were testing his knowledge—“What is her name, Ādam?” He said, “Ḥawwāʾ” (“the living one”). “Why did you name her so?” they asked. He said, “Because she has been created from a living (ḥayy) being” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35; similar accounts are given in Samarqandī, Baḥr; Thaʿlabī, Kashf; and the Tafsīrs of Samʿānī and Baghawī, all sub Q 2:35, and Ibn Abī Ḥāṭim, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:1).

Heavenly Life

Ādam and his wife were admitted to Paradise with permission to eat from wherever they wished except from a single tree (Q 2:35) which is not further specified in the Qurʾān or in the Prophetic traditions. For more on the question of which tree was prohibited, see below.

Location of Paradise

The classical exegetical tradition discusses the following questions regarding the Garden (janna) where Ādam and his wife dwelt: Was it in the heavens or on earth? If in the heavens, then is it the same as the abode of eternity (dār al-khuld; see Abode) which the righteous will enter after Judgment, or is it another? If it was on earth, then where? Ibn Kathīr states that the majority of exegetes favor the opinion that it was a heavenly Paradise, and that only the Muʿtazila and the Qadariyya sects believed it to have been on earth (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35). Al-Qurṭubī ruled that it was an innovation and commented that this Muʿtazilite and Qadarite belief has no validity because their arguments for their innovation are that had it been the Garden of Eternity, Iblīs could not have been in it because Allah has said, Therein there shall be neither lies nor incitement to sin (Q 52:23); No empty talk will they hear in that [Paradise] nor any lie (Q 78:35); and, No empty talk will they hear therein, nor any incitement to sin, but only the saying, ‘peace, peace’ (Q 56:25, 26). And [they argue] that its dwellers cannot be expelled from it, because of His saying never shall they be caused to depart from it (Q 15:48); likewise, [they say that] the Garden of Eternity is a sanctified abode (dār al-quds), which has been protected and purified from sins and different kinds of disobedience, while Iblīs lied therein and caused Ādam and Ḥawwaʾ to depart from it because of their sin. And they ask, how was it possible that Ādam, who had such a high station in the sight of Allah, and who had perfect intellect, would seek the tree of eternity (shajarat al-khuld) while he was already in the abode of eternity, in a kingdom that never perishes?

The answer is that Allah Most High has made janna a proper and definite noun by [adding] alif and lām [to it] (i.e., al-janna); so whenever anyone says, “I ask Allah for Janna,” no one understands from this anything but what is generally understood, that is, seeking the Paradise of Eternity (jannat al-khuld). It is not impossible for the intellect to conceive that Iblīs entered Janna to mislead Ādam. When Mūsā and Ādam, upon them peace, met, Mūsā said to him: “You caused your progeny to become wretched and caused them to depart from Paradise;” and he [i.e., Mūsā] added alif and lām [to the word janna], because [he referred to] the well-known Paradise of Eternity—and Ādam did not deny [his claim]; had it been another [Paradise], he would have countered Mūsā. Since Ādam accepted what Mūsā said, it therefore proves that the abode from which Allah Mighty and Majestic caused them to depart was none other than the abode to which they were sent.

Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35

Hadith commentators explain that this Prophetic tradition may refer to an encounter that took place between the spirits of Ādam and Mūsā in the heavens or that perhaps they met in person, Allah Most High having again granted them life—much like how He brought all the Prophets to meet the Prophet Muḥammad both at Jerusalem as well as in the heavens during his Night Journey and Ascension, peace and blessings upon them all (Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim 16:200).

Al-Qurṭubī continues:

As for their [other] arguments…it is not impossible that the Abode of Eternity become [an abiding residence] for one for whom Allah desires such, and, for whomever Allah desires to depart from it, it become such [a temporary abode]. The commentators agree that the angels will enter Paradise to [greet] the dwellers of Paradise and they will depart from it (i.e., that they shall not abide therein); and [that] the keys of Paradise were in the hands of Iblīs and they were taken from him after his sin (i.e., Iblīs’ tenure in Paradise was also temporary); and [that] the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, entered it on the night of his Night Journey (Isrāʾ), then departed from it, and gave news of what was therein (and so he too, peace and blessings upon him, left Paradise after having entered it). So indeed, [the garden referred to as “the Garden”] was [none other than] the Garden of Eternity.

As for their claim that Paradise is a sanctified abode which Allah has purified of all error, this is sheer ignorance. Allah Most High commanded the Children of Isrāʾīl to enter the sanctified land (al-arḍ al-muqaddasa), that is, Syro-Palestine (al-Shām)—regarding which it is the unanimous opinion of all believers of all revealed religions (ahl al-sharāʾiʿ) that it is sanctified by Allah Most High—yet even then we see sins, disbelief (kufr), and lies perpetrated there; [if] its sanctification did not prevent these kinds of sins and disobedience, likewise [it need not in] the Abode of Sanctity (Paradise).

Abū al-Ḥasan b. Baṭṭāl said that it is reported by some scholars that the consensus of the orthodox community (ahl al-Sunna) is that the Garden of Eternity is the Garden from where Ādam was sent down; hence there is no value to what [the Muʿtazila and Qadarriya] hold. As for their asking how was it possible for Ādam, given the perfection of his intellect, to seek the Tree of Eternity while he was [already] in the Abode of Eternity, [the answer is that] this [argument] can be inverted on them to ask how it was it possible for Ādam, given the perfection of his intellect, to seek the Tree of Eternity in the Perishable Abode (dār al-fanāʾ). Anyone with an iota of intellect would not do so; how, then, could Ādam, who was created with such great intelligence?

Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35

Ibn Kathīr presents similar arguments in his Bidāya wal-nihāya, adding a Prophetic hadith to support his argument that the Garden from which Ādam was expelled was the same one the believers are promised: “Ādam and Mūsā argued with each other. Mūsā told Ādam, ‘Ādam, you are our father, [yet] you harmed us and caused us to be expelled from Paradise.’ Ādam said to him, ‘You are Mūsā, whom Allah chose [to speak to directly] and for whom He wrote the Book with His own Hand. Despite this, do you blame me for an act which Allah had ordained for me forty years before He created me?’ So Ādam proved [his point] better than Mūsā, Ādam proved [his point] better than Mūsā” (Bukhārī, Qadar, taḥājj Ādam wa Mūsā ʿind Allāh; Muslim, Qadar, ḥijāj Ādam wa Mūsā ʿalayhimā al-salām) (Bidāya p. 175-177). (See below for more on the Islamic understanding that the expulsion from Paradise was Divinely ordained; also see Divine Decree.)

“Am I not your Lord?”

The most fundamental relationship between the Creator and humanity is mentioned in Sūrat al-Aʿrāf: And recall when thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Ādam—from their loins—their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, [asking] “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Indeed! We do testify.” [This] lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never aware” (Q 7:172). Taken literally, the verse is understood to mean that every child in the posterity of Ādam had an actual existence right from the time of Ādam; that the Covenant was established with each of them; and that they are later born in this world at their appointed time. This interpretation is supported by numerous Prophetic traditions, including the “agreed upon” (that is, a hadith found in the Saḥīḥs of both al-Bukhārī and Muslim) hadith of Anas b. Mālik (d. 91/709), Allah be pleased with him, which states: “Allah Most High and Glorified will ask the person with the lowest degree of punishment in Hell, ‘If you were to have everything in the earth, would you ransom yourself with it?’ He will answer, ‘Indeed.’ He will say, ‘I asked you for far less than this when you were in the loins of Ādam: not to associate [other divinities] with Me. But you refused to do anything but associate’” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, khalq Ādam ṣalawāt Allāh ʿalayh wa dhurriyyatih; Muslim, Ṣifat al-qiyāma wal-Janna wal-Nār, ṭalab al-kāfir al-fidāʾ bi-milʾ al-arḍ dhahaban).

Another, more explicit, report, found in the Muwaṭṭaʾ of Mālik (93-179/712-795), the Sunans of Tirmidhī, Abū Dāwūd, and Nasāʾī, Aḥmad’s Musnad, Bukhārī’s Tārīkh, and cited by al-Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr in their Tafsīrs, states:

ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb was asked about the verse and when thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Ādam—from their loins—their descendants. ʿUmar replied, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s blessings and peace be on him, being asked about it. He said: ‘Allah, the Blessed, the Exalted, created Ādam. Then He stroked his back with His right hand, and his progeny issued forth from it. He said, “I have created these for Paradise and they will act like the people of Paradise.” Then He stroked his back again and brought forth progeny from him. He said, “I have created these for Hell and they will act like the people of Hell.”’ A man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, of what value are deeds, then?’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, answered, ‘When Allah creates a slave for Paradise, He makes him with the behavior of the people of the Paradise, so that he dies doing one of the actions of the people of Paradise, and by it He brings him into Paradise. When He creates a slave for Hell, He makes him with the behavior of the people of Hell, so that he dies doing one of the actions of the people of Hell, and by it, He brings him into Hell.’”

Mālik, Qadar, al-nahy ʿan al-qawl bil-qadar

“This is the opinion of the great Imams and the majority of ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamāʿa,” concludes Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī (al-Rawḍ al-azhar p. 148; for more on the question of predestination, see Divine Decree). Several other Prophetic hadiths are cited in favor of this interpretation by exegetes and hadith scholars. Al-Ḥakīm al-Tirmidhī (d. 320/932), for instance, mentions a hadith of Abū Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him, who reported: “The Messenger of Allah said, ‘When Allah created Ādam, He stroked his back and every one of his progeny who was to be created until the Day of Resurrection came out’” (Tirmidhī, Abwāb al-tafsīr, wa min Sūrat al-Aʿrāf; also Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Tafsīr, tafsīr Sūrat al-Aʿrāf). Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be pleased with him and his father, stated that Allah took out the progeny of Ādam from his loins and “they were like ants (ka-hayʾat al-dharr) on wet earth” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:172).

The figurative interpretation of this verse (see Interpretation), on the other hand, which according to al-Rāzī is “the consensus opinion of the Muʿtazila, who do not consider any other interpretation to be valid” (Tafsīr), was summarized by al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) in his Kashshāf (and reproduced in al-Nasafī’s Tafsīr, all sub Q 7:172). It takes the verse to mean that “Allah Most High creates Ādam’s progeny generation after generation from the loins of their fathers. He grants them intellect, discernment, and knowledge so that they may distinguish between misguidance and guidance (bayn al-ḍalāla wal-hudā). He has placed in the universe proofs of His Lordship and Oneness (rubūbiyya wa waḥdāniyya) which can be understood by anyone possessing intellect. This is as if He made them witness against themselves and as if He has covenanted with them, and so He asks: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ to which everyone possessing intellect responds: ‘Indeed, You are our Lord; we bear witness upon ourselves.’” Ibn Kathīr also understood the verse to mean that Allah took the progeny of Ādam from the loins of the children of Ādam—and not from the loins of Ādam himself, as the literal meaning suggests. He presents some of the arguments used by the Muʿtazila in favor of this interpretation, scrutinizes Prophetic traditions and points out weaknesses in some of them, and then concludes that the verse means that Allah Most High creates the children of Ādam upon a primordial imprint (fiṭra) of tawḥīd, the Oneness of Allah (see Innate Nature); it is this that is referred to in the verse, as in you will not be able to say on the Day of Resurrection that we were unaware of this [tawḥīd] (Tafsīr, sub Q 7:172).

Al-Rāzī lists twelve arguments used by the Muʿtazila, refutes some of them, and then states his own opinion (see below). Five of the more substantial arguments in support of the figurative interpretation are:

The verse uses the phrase children of Ādam (banī Ādam) whereas the Prophetic traditions simply use the word Ādam, suggesting that the second cannot be used to interpret the first.

The grammatical construction of the verse disallows the literal rendering because the verse says min ẓuhūrihim (from their loins) and not min ẓuhūrihi (from his loins).

Given that (as expressly stated in the verse) the Covenant will be held as weight against those who associate other divinities with Allah—and this is also stated elsewhere (Q 6:13; 9:17; 100:7)—it seems to require a conscious memory of the Covenant embedded within each morally responsible person, which is not the case.

It is rationally inconceivable that the progeny of Ādam could have existed as fully developed human beings all at once, with intellect, discernment, and knowledge, but without these conditions a Covenant is nonsensical.

Logically, to accept that the children of Ādam existed such that they could contract the primordial Covenant, that they then sank into nonexistence, and that they are then reborn in this world at their appointed time would mean that they live four lives: 1) at the time of Covenant; 2) in this world; 3) in the grave; 4) and upon Resurrection. This also means they die three deaths: 1) after the Covenant; 2) after their life in this world; 3) after their life in the grave, in their passage to the everlasting abode. These numbers contravene the Qurʾānic verse They will say, O our Lord, twice have You caused us to die and twice have You brought us to life (Q 40:11).


Al-Rāzī writes that all these arguments can be satisfactorily refuted. In particular, he holds that the first two objections can be dispensed with since the literal interpretation is attested as coming from the Prophet himself and so is immune to such objections (Tafsīr). Al-Samarqandī (d. 373/983) and al-Ālūsī (d. 1270/1854) advance intertextual and logical arguments, respectively, for considering Ādam among the referents of the phrase Banī Ādam (children of Ādam). The phrase Banī Ādam should be read in this way, writes the former, “just as even though Firʿawn (Pharaoh) is not mentioned in [the verse] enter Firʿawn’s folk into the most awful doom (Q 40:46), he is [nonetheless] included among those who will be cast into the severest punishment” (Baḥr). Al-Ālūsī writes, “The phrase Banī Ādam refers to both Ādam and his progeny as it is used here as a genus (nawʿ) meaning humankind, much as ‘Ādam’ and ‘Bashar’ are used for all of humankind” (Ruḥ). Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. 546/ca.1151) and al-Shawkānī (d. 1250/1834) adduced various narrations from the Prophet in reference to and supporting the literal interpretation of this verse, engaging hadith criticism to argue for the narrations’ soundness against objections raised by other exegetes (Muḥarrar and Fatḥ al-qadīr). Al-Taḥāwī (d. 321/933) declared belief in the Covenant that Allah Most High contracted with Ādam and his progeny an integral part of the Islamic creed (al-ʿAqīda p. 16). Al-Qurṭubī responded to the first objection above by reference to the recognized principle of Qurʾānic interpretation by which “it is granted to [the Prophet] to make clear what is in the Book, make general what is specific in it, and add to it by way of interpretation” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, mā jāʾa min al-waʿīd fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān). Mullā ʿAlī Qārī (d. 1014/1605) responded to the third Muʿtazilī objection above by suggesting that “Allah Most High has made us forget it in order to test us, because this world is the abode of trials. We must have faith in the Unseen (al-ghayb) from the beginning: had we remembered that [primordial moment], our test would have ended and there would have been no need for the Prophets, upon them blessings, to remind us. Whatever one forgets does not invalidate its binding nature. [Forgetfulness] is not an excuse, for Allah Most High has said about our deeds that Allah has reckoned though they may have forgotten (Q 58:6), and He has told that He will recompense and reward us [according to our deeds]” (Minaḥ al-Rawḍ al-Azhar p. 150).

Shāh Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī (1114-1176/1702-1763) says, “There is no contradiction between the verse (Q 7:172) and the hadith (“Then He stroked his back with His right hand, and his progeny issued forth from it…”) because the progeny of Ādam, upon him peace, were taken from Ādam, and from his progeny come their progeny, until the day of Resurrection and according to the order in which they are born. Hence the Qurʾān mentions only part of the narrative and the hadith elucidates it and concludes it (bayyana tatimmatahā)” (Walī Allāh, Ḥujjat 1:287).

Iblīs Tricks Ādam and his Wife

A Qurʾānic passage in dialogue form details how Iblīs refused to prostrate to Ādam, vowed to lie in wait for him and his progeny, and succeeded in tricking Ādam and his wife:

Indeed, We created [you], gave you form, and then said unto the angels, “Prostrate yourselves before Ādam!” whereupon they [all] prostrated, save Iblīs; he was not among those who prostrated.

[Allah] said: “What has kept you from prostrating yourself when I commanded you?”

He said:I am better than he; You created me from fire whereas You created him from clay.

[Allah] said: “Down with thee, then, from this; it is not for thee to be arrogant here: begone, for thou art of the meanest [of creatures].”

He said: “Grant me respite till the Day when all shall be raised from the dead.

[Allah] said: “Be thou amongst those who have respite.”

[Whereupon Iblīs] said: “Now that You have allowed me to fall into error, I shall most certainly lie in wait for them on Thy Straight Path; and shall most certainly fall upon them from before them and from behind them, and from their right and from their left; and most of them Thou will find ungrateful.”

[Allah] said: “Begone from here, disgraced and disowned! [And] as for such of them as follow thee—I shall most certainly fill Hell with you all. And O Ādam, dwell thou and thy wife in this Paradise, and eat, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become evildoers.”

Then Satan whispered to them, to make manifest unto them that which was hidden from them of their nakedness, and he said: “Your Lord has only forbidden you this tree lest you become angels or lest you live forever.” And he swore to them, “Verily, I am of those who wish well for you.” Thus did he lead them on with guile. And when they tasted of the tree, their nakedness became apparent to them, and they began to hide [by taking] upon themselves some of the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called them, saying: “Did I not forbid you that tree, and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?”

They said, “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves; if Thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost.”

[Allah] said: “Get down [from hence], one of you a foe (ʿaduww) unto the other. On earth shall be your dwelling and your provision for a while.” He said: “There shall you live, and there shall ye die; and thence shall you be brought forth.”

Q 7:11-25                              

Elsewhere, Iblīs’ refusal to prostrate and his vow to mislead Ādam and his progeny are mentioned with additional details (Q 17:61-65; 18:50; 20:120-23; 38:81-85). In Q 38:82-83, Shayṭān swears, “By Thy might, I shall most certainly beguile them all into grievous error, [all] save those who are truly Your servants”; in Q 20:120, his incitement is called “whispering” (waswasa): Satan whispered,O Ādam, Shall I lead thee to the tree of eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?” The Qurʾānic narrative is explicated in exegetical literature with reflection on questions of abiding interest:

Since Satan had already been expelled from Paradise for his refusal to prostrate, how could he entice Ādam and his wife when they were in Paradise?

Since Ādam, upon him peace, was a Prophet, and given the presumption of prophetic infallibility, how could he disobey Allah?

Which tree was forbidden?

For how long did Ādam and his wife live in Paradise before they were expelled?

Where did they arrive on earth?

These questions have no answers based solely on the text of the Qurʾān or authentic Prophetic hadiths. Various views provided in the exegetical literature are either based on Israelite accounts (q.v.), weakly authenticated hadiths, or the sayings of the Companions and Successors. Some exegetes also offer their own opinions.

Ibn Kathīr sums up answers to the first question as follows: “Paradise was forbidden to Shayṭān as a place of honor, but with regard to stealing and affront and humiliation the possibility of his entrance cannot be excluded; this is why some scholars have said—and it is also said in the Torah—that he entered Paradise sitting on the mouth of a serpent. Others say: It is possible that he cast his whispering into the hearts of Ādam and his wife while he was outside the gate of Paradise” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:35-36).

Regarding the second question, al-Rāzī provides a summary of various positions with reference to this event and the creedal belief of infallibility of the Prophets (ʿiṣma), and then states his own opinion: “Our view is that Ādam, upon him peace, ate from the forbidden tree before prophethood was bestowed upon him” (Tafsīr, sub Q 20:120). With regard to the Qurʾānic description of the deed itself, And so Ādam disobeyed his Lord and lost his way (Q 20:121), al-Rāzī disagrees on linguistic grounds with those who limit the applicability of the word disobeyed (ʿaṣā) to grave sins (kabāʾir, see Enormities). He concludes as follows:

Know that, in my opinion, the more appropriate, best [interpretation], the one that settles everything, is to understand that this event took place before the prophethood [of Ādam], as we have already explained in [the commentary on] Sūrat al-Baqara. There is another matter related to this: although the literal meaning of the Qurʾān clearly states that Ādam disobeyed and lost his way (ʿaṣā wa ghawā), it is not for anyone to say that Ādam was a sinner (ʿāṣin/ʿāṣī) and lost (ghāwin/ghāwī): (…) (i) linguistically, one who cuts and sews a scrap of cloth is not called a tailor until he does so on a regular basis and becomes known as such. It is known that this slip (zalla, i.e., Ādam’s disobedience) was committed by Ādam but only once, and therefore this title does not apply to him; (ii) assuming that this event took place before [his] prophethood, it would not be appropriate to apply this [appellation] to him after Allah accepted his repentance and honored him with a Divine message (al-risāla) and prophethood (al-nubuwwa), as we do not call a person ‘disbeliever’ after he has accepted Islam, even in the past tense; and if it is said that this event took place after the prophethood, it is still not appropriate to apply [this appellation] to him because he, peace be upon him, had repented, just as we do not call a Muslim who drinks wine or fornicates but who then repents—and repents in the best manner—a ‘drinker’ or a ‘fornicator’; (iii) if we would call him a sinner and lost, we would do so in an absolute sense, that is, someone who is habitually so, who had gone astray from the path of Allah Most High, whereas these two words do not appear [describing him so] in the Qurʾān at all; rather, they are connected with this event [alone], such that the Qurʾān states that this slip happened only in this one matter and does not create the wrong impression that we just mentioned; (iv) only Allah Most High can say these things and no one else, for what a master can say to his servant or to his son when they commit a mistake cannot be said by others. (Tafsīr, sub Q 20:120-122)

Regarding the forbidden tree from which Ādam and his wife ate, al-Ṭabarī, al-Rāzī, al-Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, and other exegetes indicate various possibilities, including a grape, a fig, or a head of grain, but al-Ṭabarī closes his discussion of the question by saying: “Allah informed His servants that Ādam and his wife ate from the tree which was forbidden to them. By eating what they ate, they committed a sin. (…) But Allah has not provided to His servants, to whom the Qurʾān is addressed, any indication of which tree in Paradise Ādam was forbidden to approach…. The exegetes differ about its name and there is neither any real benefit in knowing nor any harm in not knowing it, so what is the point in searching for it? And Allah knows best.” Both al-Rāzī and Ibn Kathīr concur (see their Tafsīrs, sub Q 2:35).

Ibn ʿAbbās narrates that when they ate from the tree and their hidden parts became apparent to them, they started to cover them with the leaves of Paradise, putting one upon another. Ādam ran hither and thither until he was caught in a tree and was asked by Allah Most High, “Ādam, are you running from Me?” He said: “No, my Lord; rather, I feel ashamed.” Allah said: “Was what I had granted you from Paradise and made permissible for you not enough?” Ādam said: “Indeed, my Lord, but I did not know that anyone can falsely swear by Your might.” This is in reference to the verse, and he (i.e., Iblīs) swore to both of them that he is their well-wisher (Q 7:21). Allah said: “By My Might, I shall send you down to earth” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:22).

Neither the duration of Ādam and his wife’s stay in Paradise nor the place of their descent are mentioned in the Qurʾān, but the exegetical tradition discusses both. Ibn ʿAbbās said, “Ādam did not live in Paradise save what [duration] is between [the time of] ʿAṣr [prayer] and sunset.” Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said he lived an hour of a paradiasical day, which is like one hundred and thirty years according to the reckoning of worldly time. Al-Rabīʿ b. Anas said that Ādam came out of Paradise at the ninth or the tenth hour; he had a branch from a tree of Paradise, and he had a crown of a tree of Paradise on his head, and he was wrapped in leaves from Paradise (cf. Tafsīrs of Rāzī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 2:36). Al-Suddī said that Ādam arrived in India (al-Hind), he had the Black Stone with him, and leaves from the tree of Paradise—which were spread in India and from which fragrant trees blossomed. According to Ibn ʿAbbās, Ādam arrived in the Indian subcontinent at a place called Daḥnā. In Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s narration, Daḥnā is said to be between Makkah and al-Ṭāʾif. Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said that Ādam arrived in India, Ḥawwāʾ in Jeddah, Iblīs at Dastumīsān, a place few miles from Baṣra, and the serpent in Iṣfahān. Ibn ʿUmar (d. 74/693) said Ādam arrived at Ṣafā and Ḥawwāʾ at Marwa (Tafsīrs of Rāzī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ibn Kathīr, Shawkānī, sub Q 2:36).

The Promise of Paradise

Two descriptive passages (Q 7:22; 20:121) provide details of Ādam and his wife’s state after they ate from the forbidden tree: As soon as they tasted [the fruit] of the tree, they became aware of their nakedness; and they began to cover themselves with pieced-together leaves from the garden; and their Lord said to them: “Did I not forbid that tree unto you and tell you, ‘verily Satan is your declared foe?’” (Q 7:22). Unlike Iblīs who, when commanded to depart from Paradise, did not repent, instead seeking respite in order to misguide Ādam, the immediate response of Ādam and his wife was to seek forgiveness for their act of disobedience by invoking Allah’s mercy, as an account by Ibn ʿAbbās—reported by al-Ḥākim in his Mustadrak and graded sound by al-Dhahabī—narrates:

Ādam said: “O my Lord, did You not create me with Thy own hands?”

He said: “Indeed.”

[Ādam] said: “O my Lord, did You not breath into me Your spirit (…)?”

He said: “Indeed.”

[Ādam] said: “O my Lord, did You not grant me to live in Your Paradise?”

He said: “Indeed.”

[Ādam] said: “O my Lord, does not Your mercy precede Your wrath?”

He said: “Indeed.”

[Ādam] said: “(…) If I repent…will You send me back to Paradise?”

He said: “Indeed.”

And this refers to His words: Then Ādam received from his Lord words (that is, He turned to him in forgiveness).

Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Tawārīkh al-mutaqad-dimīn min al-anbiyāʾ wal-mursalīn, dhikr Ādam ʿalayh al-salām, graded sound by al-Dhahabī; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:37

The words learned by Ādam, upon him peace, are variously reported as Q 7:23 (Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves; unless Thou grant us forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy upon us, we shall most certainly be among the lost) and, according to Mujāhid (d. ca.104/722), a composite supplication: “O our Lord, there is no deity but You; glory be to You and all praise; Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, forgive me; indeed Thou art the best of forgivers. Our Lord, there is no deity but You; glory be to You and all praise; Our Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, show mercy to me; indeed You are the best of those who show mercy; Our Lord, there is no deity but You; glory be to You and all praise; indeed I have wronged myself; relent unto me; indeed Thou art the Oft-Relenting, the Most Merciful” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:37).

As already mentioned, sound Prophetic narrations also establish that in Allah’s foreknowledge, Ādam, upon him peace, was destined to commit this mistake and, consequently to be sent to earth as vicegerent (khalīfa) (see section below).

Hubūṭ (Descent)

The commands “Go down, all of you” in plural form (Q 2:36, 38; 7:24) and in dual form “Go down, both of you” (Q 20:123) have been understood by most exegetes to refer to Ādam, his wife, and Iblīs, while some also include the serpent by which Iblīs was said to have entered Paradise. Exegetes reconcile the grammatical difference in number between the two commands by suggesting that the command is directed at Ādam and Iblīs, while Ādam’s wife is implicitly included in the command to Ādam—and if reports about the serpent are sound, then the serpent is included in the command to Iblīs (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 2:36, 38; 7:24; 20:123). There are no details of Ādam’s life on earth in the Qurʾān. A report from Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, narrates that when Ādam and his wife were sent down from Paradise they were taught to work the land and to use iron (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:22). Classical histories and narrative accounts relate that Ādam and Ḥawwāʾ were separated when they arrived on earth and they later met at Mount ʿArafāt—hence one etiology of its name (see ʿArafāt). Every time Ādam and Ḥawwāʾ had children, it is said, they had twins who could not marry each other, but who could marry other children of their parents and thus the earth was populated (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ; Yāqūt, Buldān, sub “Ādam”). The Qurʾān refers to the story of the two sons of Ādam , one of whom killed the other (Q 5:27-31). Additional details about Ādam’s life on earth are also found in the histories and anthologies of tales of the Prophets, but these are often taken from unreliable folklore or Israelite accounts. Thus it is said that he coined currency; that by the time he died, he had 40,000 children; and that he spoke 700 languages including Arabic, which was foremost among them (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, fī khalq Ādam ʿalayh al-salām; al-Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ, ḥadīth khalq Ādam; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ, fī khalq Ādam ʿalayh al-salām).

Khalīfa (Vicegerent) on Earth

The various meanings of khalīfa (root kh-l-f; pl. khalāʾif, khulafāʾ) (see Caliph), include successor, heir, deputy, and representative (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub kh-l-f). The exegetical tradition explains that the word is also used for someone who can deliberate in judgment, prevent oppression, and forbid sins and unlawful acts. Ādam, upon him peace, was called khalīfa because he performed all these functions. In particular, Ādam was described as Allah’s deputy on earth (khalīfat Allāh fī-l-arḍ) because he established His commands there; this name applies by extension to all Prophets (cf. Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf and Tafsīrs of Baghawī, Bayḍāwī, Nasafī, and Khāzin, sub Q 2:30). In its valence as “successor,” it either refers generally to the children of Ādam, who replace each other, one generation after the next, or specifically to Ādam himself who, according to Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, replaced the jinn who lived on earth before him (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Rāzī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Abī Ḥāṭim, and Ibn Kathīr).

His Prophethood

Although there is no verse that categorically states that Ādam, upon him peace, was sent as a Prophet (nabī) or a Messenger (rasūl) (see Prophethood), as is the case for several other Prophets—such as Ibrāhīm (Q 19:41), Isḥāq and Yaʿqūb (Q 19:49), Idrīs (Q 19:56), Mūsā (Q 19:51), and Hārūn (Q 19:53), upon them all peace—he is included in the list of Prophets in Q 3:33; he directly received revelation (Q 2:37); and the Prophetic narrations firmly establish that he was a Prophet (nabī) (Aḥmad, Tatimmat musnad al-Anṣār, hadīth Abī al-Umāma al-Bāhilī; Abū Dāwūd, Aḥādīth Abī Dharr al-Ghifārī; Haythamī, Majmaʿ, kitāb fīh dhikr al-anbiyāʾ). The Prophet Muḥammad, upon him peace, met him along with other prophets during his night journey (Bukhārī, Manāqib, miʿrāj; Muslim, Īmān, al-isrāʾ). Classical literature discusses the question of whether he was also a Messenger (rasūl), taking into consideration the Hadith of Intercession , in which the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “On the Day of Resurrection , people will go to Nūḥ and say, ‘O Nūḥ, you were the first of the Messengers of Allah to the people of the earth, and Allah called you a thankful slave (cf. Q 17:3). Do you not see in what state we are and what condition we have reached? Will you not intercede for us with your Lord?’” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿāla Innā arsalnā Nūḥan ilā qawmih; Muslim, Īmān, adnā ahl al-Janna manzilatan fīhā).

According to other sound hadiths, the Prophet, upon him blessing and peace, said that Ādam was the first Prophet (nabī) (Haythamī, Majmaʿ, kitāb fīh dhikr al-anbiyāʾ; Aḥmad, ḥadīth Abī Dharr). Commentaries on these hadiths offer various explanations, which were summed up by Ibn Ḥajar and Mullā ʿAlī Qārī in their respective works. Ibn Ḥajar held that, given that worship is incumbent on prophets, and that Ādam was a Prophet (nabī), it follows that he had a Law (sharīʿā) for his acts of worship that his children followed after him; therefore he was a Messenger (rasūl) as well. He then cites a hadith in which Nūḥ, upon him peace, is said to be the first messenger and states that this narration must thus be understood as meaning he was the first messenger “to the people of earth (ilā ahl al-arḍ)”, because of course there were no other people on earth at the time of Ādam’s descent. In other words, the messengership (risālat) of Ādam was to his progeny and his role was to educate and nurture (tarbiya) them (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Qawl Allāh taʿālā wa-laqad arsalnā Nūḥan ilā qawmih). Mullā ʿAlī Qārī adds that even if Nūḥ is understood to be the first messenger generally (and not just to the denizens of the earth), questions still remain, as it is said that Shīth (Seth) and Idrīs were messengers before Nūḥ. In addition, since the “ḥadīth of Jābir” in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Bukhārī, Tayyamum) specifically states that all prophets before the Prophet Muḥammad were sent to specific communities, how could Nūḥ be said to have been a messenger to all people? Mullā ʿAlī Qārī resolves this apparent conflict by stating that the generality of Nūḥ’s mission is simply due to the fact that everyone but the believers of his community perished in the flood, and thus he was a messenger to the remaining folk of the earth. He draws on al-Qāḍī ʿĪyāḍ’s understanding that Idrīs was simply another name for Ilyās, who was a prophet to the Children of Isrāʾīl and hence came after Nūḥ. Only Ādam and Shīth then remain to be accounted for, both of whom it can be argued, were Messengers and Prophets: Ādam in the sense that he was sent to teach his children (who were all believers) and instruct them in worship, and Shīth is his successor, while Nūḥ was the first messenger sent to the disbelievers of the earth. If it is said that Nūḥ was the first Prophet after Ādam, this primacy is relative, not absolute; alternately, he was the first amongst prophets characterized as “those of great firmness of their will” (ūlī-l-ʿazm, cf. Q 46:35), in which case his primacy can be absolute (fal-awwaliyya ḥaqīqiyya) (ʿAlī Qārī, Mirqāt al-mafātīḥ, Ṣifat al-qiyāma wal-janna wal-nār, al-ḥawḍ wal-shafāʿa). 

Ādam’s Death

It is said that when the progeny of Ādam were presented to him, the luminous forehead of one of them especially attracted him and he asked:

“Who is this, O my Lord?”

Allah Most High replied: “One of your children, who will be born a long time hence; his name will be Dāwūd.”

He asked: “O my Lord, what will be his lifespan?”

[Allah] said, “Sixty years.”

[Ādam] said, “O my Lord, increase his life by forty years of my life.”

Thus when the angel of death came to Ādam, he said: “I still have forty years of my life.”

He said, “Did you not give them to your son Dāwūd?”

Ādam thus lived forty years less than the thousand years which were written for him in the Guarded Tablet.

Tirmidhī, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, min Sūrat al-Aʿrāf; Aḥmad, Musnad ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās, §2270; Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Īmān, wa ammā ḥadīth Samura b. Jundab

Ibn Kathīr relates that the location of Ādam’s burial, upon him peace, is variously given as (i) India; (ii) the same mountain where he descended from Paradise; and (iii) Mount Abū Qubays in Makka. It is also said that Nūḥ, upon him peace, took the remnants of Ādam and his wife in a box and buried them in Jerusalem; and Allah knows best (Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya, dhikr wafāt Ādam wa waṣiyyatih ilā ibnih Shīth).

Heterodox Views

The Qurʾānic accounts related to Ādam, upon him peace, and his spouse, were subjected to varying allegorical interpretations by nineteenth-century modernists to achieve a concordance with rationalistic or pseudo-scientific ideologies then in vogue in certain parts of the colonized Muslim world. Later heirs to such heterodoxy added more complexity to these interpretations in an attempt to show that their quasi-Darwinian conjectures had basis in the Qurʾān.

Chronologically, one of the first such projects was that of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) of India, who considered the British occupation of India a divine decree (Khan, Maqālāt 2:199-200); he began his commentary in 1879 and left it unfinished at Sūrat Maryam (Q 19) when he died. It was hastily published while still being written, and was immediately rejected not only by the religious scholars of the Indian subcontinent but also by some of the author’s staunch admirers and friends. One such patron, Nawab Muḥsin al-Mulk (1837-1907), wrote him two letters expressing anguish at his radical interpretations (on which more below). In response, Khan composed a short treatise in 1892 to explain the principles of his exegesis. In this treatise, entitled Taḥrīr fī uṣūl al-tafsīr (“Treatise on the Principles of Exegesis”), he declared that the Qurʾān contains no conclusive proof for literal interpretations of the miraculous events that it recounts (Khan, Tafsīrī maẓāmīn 2:252-253). This he supports with decontextualized and selective quotations from Rāzī, Bayḍāwī, and a few other exegetes. With regard to Ādam, upon him peace, he expressed his views in his commentary on Q 2:30-39. The angels mentioned in the Qurʾān, he writes, have no external reality but are the forces which Allah has created inhering in creatures; man is thus a permutation of angelic and animal powers that engender—“whose dhurriyyāt (progeny) are”—one’s good and evil deeds. Those, in turn, are a man’s angels and his devils. Khan continues:

In these verses God the Exalted has described human nature, its feelings and powers and abilities, which are inside man; He informs him of the evil and enmity of these powers and abilities; but this is a profound secret, which was far beyond the understanding of commoners and camel grazers; therefore God has narrated it in the form of a story in the language of human nature; [that is], in the story of Ādam and Satan and the arguments of God and angels, so that no one should be denied the attainment of its real purpose—whether they understand it as the secret of nature, or arguments between God and angels, or dispute between God and Satan—and the attainment of the real purpose by the commoners and the elect, by those who have understanding and those who do not have understanding, is a great miracle of the Qurʾān. It is written in the Torah that God said to the angels, “come let us make man on Our image”: this was in the heart of Muslim exegetes, and thus they understood it as one man talks to another, just like the Jews, and therefore understood, Recall when your Lord said to the angels, as if it were a real event. They made it into a story of Ādam and Satan; the reality is that it is only the narration of human nature in the language of its own state.

Tafsīr, sub Q 2:30

Khan claimed that his opinions about Ādam, upon him peace, had precedent among earlier “learned Muslims,” including Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-ʿArabī (560-638/1165-1240). For Khan, the real meaning of the Qurʾānic phrase And He taught him (Ādam) the names is the creation of certain powers and abilities by which humans generally know things and by which they think, imagine, deduce, and derive results. He then, in a seeming contradiction, interprets the angels in the phrase and presented them to the angels not as inner capacities and powers but as actual beings who are powerless before the human ability to learn the realities of what is in them (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:30-33). Khan rejected interpretations of Paradise, the Tree forbidden Ādam, and the “fall” from heaven as referring to real places, objects, or events. Rather, the Qurʾān presents

a narrative about human nature, in the language of that nature. Thus, a man’s living in Paradise is the description of one state of his nature, a time when he was not bounded by commands and prohibitions…his going to the prohibited tree or eating from it is the description of the state of his nature when it became bounded by commands and prohibitions; and hubūṭ (Fall) describes the change of the state of his nature from unbounded to bounded.

Tafsīr, sub Q 2:36

Khan presents similar interpretations on the “prostration” the angels were commanded to perform and on the various materials from which Ādam is said to have been created (turāb, ṭīn, ṣalṣāl min ḥamāʾin masnūn, māʾ—see above and Body).

This allegorizing approach was a forerunner of other pseudo-Darwinian interpretations, most of which originated in parts of the Muslim world that were under direct colonial occupation, including the Indian subcontinent and Egypt. Another who followed suit in the Indian subcontinent is Ghulām Aḥmad Pervez (1903-1985), who, like Khan, held that

Ādam, who was [said to have been] expelled from Paradise, was not a specific person, but an allegorical representative of humanity (insāniyat kā tamthīlī namāʾinda); in other words, the story of Ādam is not the story of a particular person (or couple), but that of ‘Man’, which the Qurʾān has narrated allegorically. It begins with the state of Man when he had first evolved out of his primitive state and started social life; the word adma itself is pointing toward that social life. ‘Ādamiyyat’ is therefore that state of humanity when it had just started to live a social life.

Pervez, Lughāt al-Qurʾān, sub a-d-m

Pervez embraced Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolutionary theories and considered human beings to have evolved, rather than to have been created (Pervez, Insān wa Iblīs). When confronted with Q 3:33, where Ādam, upon him peace, is mentioned along with other prophets (Allah chose Ādam and Nūḥ and the descendants of Ibrāhīm and of ʿImrān above all humanity), he acknowledges that “here it seems that Ādam was a specific person, who was a prophet like Nūḥ…but this Ādam was different from the Ādam who was expelled from Paradise” (Pervez, Lughāt al-Qurʾān, sub a-d-m). Like Khan, he denied any external, substantial reality to angels, jinn, and Iblīs, and considered all Qurʾānic references to them allegorical descriptions of human “states,” “emotions,” and “cosmic forces.” He also considered paradise (janna) merely the state of life which is the outcome of good deeds. Collectively, it is a “human society which is endowed with abundant luxuries and provisions for life—which include not only food, but also clothing and housing, that is, all necessities of life, but their use is within the boundaries of Allah (His Laws); and if these are followed, then such a society will never wither. This is why it is said that rivers flow under it…. As for those consequences of good deeds which will manifest after one’s death, although they too are called paradise (jannat), at the same time it has been said in Q 32:17 that what God has concealed as rewards for good deeds, no human being can conceive. Therefore, we cannot fathom the state of that life; and that is why, despite giving such detailed descriptions of janna, the Qurʾān has said in Q 13:35 that these are all allegorical descriptions” (Pervez, Lughāt al-Qurʾān, sub a-l-k; b-l-s; and j-n-n). It is unclear how Pervez read Q 13:35 to describe its descriptions as “allegorical”: And such will be the Paradise promised to the God-fearing; rivers will flow beneath it; its fruits will be eternal, and so will be its blissful shade. This is the ultimate destiny of those who fear Allah, and Hell-Fire is the destiny of disbelievers.

Others who similarly saw Ādam, upon him peace, through an evolutionary lens include Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), who calls the Qurʾānic account of the descent from Paradise “a legend” that has “nothing to do with the first appearance of man on this planet. Its purpose is rather to indicate man’s rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience. The Fall does not mean any moral depravity; it is man’s transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness, a kind of waking from the dream of nature with a throb of personal causality in one’s own being.” Similarly, “the eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of eternity is life’s resort to sex-differentiation by which it multiplies itself with a view to circumvent total extinction. It is as if life says to death: ‘If you sweep away one generation of living things, I will produce another’” (Iqbal, Reconstruction p. 68-69). Muhammad Hamidullah (1908-2002) also advanced an evolutionary understanding of human origins, making the astonishing claim that “Darwin learned Arabic in order to understand Islam, and he derived his theory from the works of Muslim scholars of the third and fourth century” (Emergence of Islam p. 143-144).

Khan’s influential position in the Indian subcontinent produced only short-lived controversies and his commentary did not leave a lasting impact on the commentary tradition. However, the incomplete Tafsīr al-Manār, the work of the Egyptian Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1265-1323/1849-1905) and his Syrian student Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (1282-1354/1865-1935), was to leave a much deeper impact on modern Muslim thought. Their ideas about Ādam, upon him peace, as well as about angels, mirror those of Khan; in certain places, they even use similar phrases, although it is unclear how Khan’s texts, which were written in Urdu, might have reached them. Like him, they consider the Qurʾānic accounts of Ādam’s creation and his status as a khalīfa to be parables (tamthīl). They understand the passage from Sūrat al-Baqara describing his creation and presentation to the angels to be among the ambiguous verses (mutashābihāt) which need interpretation (taʾwīl) (see Muḥkam and Mutashābih Verses) or simply relegation of their meaning to God (tafwīḍ) (Riḍā, Manār, sub Q 2:30). The angels to whom Ādam was presented, they write, are merely metaphorical representations of “spirits”, “forces”, and “powers” which manifest in the human heart, having no external embodiment demonstratively described by the Qurʾān and Sunna (Riḍā, Manār, sub Q 2:30 and 4:1). They understood the verse And recall when your Sustainer said to the angels: “I am about to place a khalīfa on earth” to mean that Allah “informs the angels that He is placing on earth a khalīfa, which they (the angels) understood to mean that Allah has implanted within the nature (fiṭra) of this species…the capacity of absolute volition (irāda muṭlaqa) and unlimited choice in his [deliberative] action (ikhtiyār fī ʿamalihi ghayr maḥdūd)” (Riḍā, Manār, sub Q 2:30).

ʿAbduh and Riḍā acknowledge that exegetes generally understand khalīfa to either mean a “successor”, who replaced a previous species living on earth—the jinn—or Allah’s deputy and vicegerent, but they dismiss the first as nonsensical, superstitious lore which crept into Muslim thought from non-Muslim sources and for which there are no Islamic proof-texts. These tales of yore, however, demonstrate at least that Ādam was not the first intelligent living species to live on earth (Riḍā, Manār, sub Q 2:30). The second interpretation, by which khalīfa means vicegerent, is the better of the two opinions, they write. According to this interpretation,

the meaning of this vicegerency extends to all people through all the qualities by which Allah has set apart humankind from the rest of the creatures...But man, although he has been created weak—as He has said in His Book, Man has been created with weakness (Q 4:28)—and as ignorant—as He, may He be Exalted, said, Allah brings you out from the wombs of your mothers in a state that you know nothing (Q 16:78)—yet despite this weakness and ignorance, he has dominion over powerful things. (...) This is because he is granted a power, which works through his rationality and through his perception in such a manner that he gains dominion (sulṭān) over the cosmos and he makes this cosmos subservient to him according to the volition of this power. (...) This strange power is called reason (ʿaql). (...) Through this power, humankind has produced marvelous inventions and it will achieve even more such inventions, to which there is no limit; it is through this power that man is neither limited in abilities nor in desires, knowledge or action; despite the weakness of its individual members, the dominion which mankind as such has over the cosmos has no limit, because of the permission and power granted by Allah.

Riḍā, Manār, sub Q 2:30

A characteristic feature of Manār is the authors’ overriding concern to produce agreement between the Qurʾān and a sense of modern progress propelled onward by scientific discoveries. When they attempt to interpret Qurʾānic verses, their guiding principle is reason—because for them, the foundations of Islam are constructed on rational grounds, and therefore no received reports can be hermeneutically substantiated against what reason affords.


Their goal through these radical interpretations was to make Islam ‘compatible’ with modernity. One of the last to hold the title of şeyhülislam in the Ottoman era, Muṣtafā Ṣabrī Efendi (1869-1954), observed that such interpretations are more deserving of being called alterations (taghyīr) than commentary (tafsīr) (Ṣabrī, Mawqif al-bashar p. 8). “And what can one say about those who claim that there is nothing in the Qurʾān which prevents [one accepting] Darwin’s theory, a widely and astonishingly popular belief in Egypt? (…) If Darwin had found out that some Muslim scholars consider his theory compatible with the Qurʾān, in order to establish a relationship with the Western scientists and to bring them closer to the Book--and if he had knowledge of the verses of the Qurʾān--rather than coming closer to the Book, he would have laughed at their intelligence and their belief in their Book” (Ṣabrī, Mawqif al-bashar p. 8). Elsewhere, Ṣabrī comments on the entire reform movement started by ʿAbduh by saying that it shook al-Azhar out of its religious indolence and stagnancy (ʿan jumūdih ʿalā al-dīn), and brought many Azharīs closer to secularism, but did not bring any secularists closer to religion (Ṣabrī, Mawqif al-ʿaql 1:133-134).


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See also

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