From the inception of the human race, Allāh (ﷻ) appointed Prophets—who, being sinless, are to be imitated in the smallest of matters—to deliver His (ﷻ) message to the people so that they may be guided. The Qurʾān frequently recounts the stories of these perfect individuals to remind the people of the Hereafter, the importance of obedience to the Creator (ﷻ) and what it entails, to instill morals and virtues, and to advise them to be patient. There are great prophetic wisdoms that can be drawn from the lives of the Prophets, but we will particularly be focusing on the life of the first man whose life is rich with such: Ādam (عليه السلام).
Ādam (عليه السلام) was created without parents. The Qurʾān states, “And We have certainly created you, [O mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate to Adam’; so they prostrated.”1 It further states, “Your Lord said to the Angels, ‘I will create a man from clay.’”2
Prior to the creation of Ādam (عليه السلام), Allāh (ﷻ) informed the Angels of His (ﷻ) decision to appoint a vicegerent (khalīfa) on Earth.3 Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī writes that it is the responsibility of the khalīfa of Allāh (ﷻ) to represent Him (ﷻ) on earth, and to teach the mukallifīn of His (ﷻ) laws. The appointment foreshadows the lofty status of Ādam (عليه السلام) and his true destination.
The Angels inquired, upon hearing of Allāh’s (ﷻ) declaration, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we exalt You with praise and declare Your Perfection?” The Angels, as al-Rāzī indicates, were not referring to bloodshed that Ādam (عليه السلام) would bring, as that would contravene the notion of Prophetic infallibility. Rather, they posed such concerning his (عليه السلام) progeny.
It was not an objection, but rather a way to understand the ever-encompassing wisdom of Allāh (ﷻ). Allāh (ﷻ) replied, ‘Indeed, I know that which you do not know.’ Allāh (ﷻ) created Ādam (عليه السلام) with clay from all over the Earth. As our Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Verily, Allāh (ﷻ) Almighty created Ādam (عليه السلام) from a handful which He took from the earth, so the children of Ādam (عليه السلام) come in accordance with the earth. Some come with red skin, white skin, or black skin, and whatever is in between smooth and rough, bad and good.”
Despite being surrounded by palaces, the most beautiful greenery and rivers, Ādam (عليه السلام), being a man, grew lonely. Allāh (ﷻ), thus, created Ḥawāʾ from his (عليه السلام) ribs. Thaʿlabī writes,
When Ādam awoke from his sleep he saw her sitting at his head. The angels said to Adam, testing his knowledge: “What is this, Ādam?” He answered: “A woman.” They asked: “And what is her name?” He replied: “Ḥawāʾ”. They said: “You are right, but why was Ḥawāʾ given that name?” He said, “Because she was formed from something alive (ḥayy).” They [then] asked, “Why did God create her?” Adam answered, “So that she would find rest with me and I with her,” for that is as God said, ‘It is He who created you out of one living soul, and made of him his spouse that he might rest in her.’”4
Rabghūzī provides the same reasoning behind their names.
The term insān, in Arabic, is related to the word nasiya, which means to forget. Ibn ʿAbbās, in a narration, states, “Indeed, man is called insān because, having covenanted with Him, he forgot (nasiya).” The forgetfulness of man, however, does not only apply in the case of the covenant he formed with Allāh (ﷻ), but is rather his nature that manifests recurrently through his actions and behavior.
The Qurʾān mentions that Allāh (ﷻ) informed Ādam (عليه السلام) and Ḥawāʾ that they may live freely and do as they wish, but not approach a particular tree and eat from its fruits. Given that such is man’s nature, Ādam (عليه السلام) had forgotten the commandment. His heart changed and thus he fell into error. Iblīs, out of envy, tempted them and swore to them that he was their sincere advisor.5 They regretted their action sincerely, and Allāh (ﷻ), being the Most Merciful, forgave them.
While it was an error on their part, it was from this very experience that Allāh (ﷻ) was able to teach them that Iblīs was man’s sworn enemy—a lesson which prepared them to undertake the task of being Allāh (ﷻ)’s vicegerent on Earth. It is due to this that it can be concluded that the ‘fall’ of Ādam (عليه السلام) was not necessarily a form of humiliation, but rather a form of dignified descent that Allāh (ﷻ) had planned for them so as to teach Ādam (عليه السلام), Ḥawāʾ, and their progeny of the misguidance of Satan and the importance of obedience to Allāh (ﷻ). As Ibn Kathīr writes,
Ādam’s (عليه السلام) descent on earth, then, was not due to degradation but rather it was dignified descent. Allāh (ﷻ) knew that Ādam (عليه السلام) and Ḥawāʾ would eat off the tree and descend to earth. He knew that Satan would exploit their innocence. That experience was essential for their life on earth; it was a cornerstone of their vicegerency. It was meant to teach Ādam (عليه السلام), Eve, and their progeny that it was Satan who had caused them to be expelled from Paradise and that the road to Paradise can only be reached by obedience to Allāh (ﷻ) and enmity to Satan.6
Ibn ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh writes, “To illustrate this, Shaykh al-Shādhilī has said, ‘I swear, Allāh (ﷻ) did not cause Ādam (عليه السلام) to descend into the world in order to diminish him (عليه السلام), but rather caused him (عليه السلام) to descend in order to complete him.’”7 His (عليه السلام) elevation was, in part, due to now worshiping God both out of knowledge (bi-l-taʿrīf), as he (عليه السلام) did in the Garden, and out of direct command (bi-l-taklīf). Thus, Ādam (عليه السلام) had now left Paradise and the chain of Prophethood had begun. He (عليه السلام) began to live his (عليه السلام) life as a human being on Earth, leaving behind the legacy of Prophethood which continued on with his (عليه السلام) lineage.
The Nature of Humanity
Man is a speaking animal with the capacity to reason. Because of this characteristic, other beings were made subject to him and he was burdened with the responsibility of knowing his Creator and worshiping Him (ﷻ). When Allāh (ﷻ) reintroduces Ādam (عليه السلام) to the angels, he tells Ādam (عليه السلام) to recite the name of all things which He had taught him, so as to remind the Angels that Allāh (ﷻ) knows that which they do not, and to emphasize man’s ability and capacity to learn. People—and beings, in fact, including humans and Angels—are distinguished by what is singular to them beyond their bodies, such as possessing reason, knowledge, and religion, as al-Yūsī indicates in his Muḥāḍarāt.
Iblīs was blind to Ādam’s (عليه السلام) unique nature, and merely saw his (عليه السلام) origin in clay. As such, he refused to bow down, justifying his ‘superior’ origins. Al-Yūsī further indicates that, in this, Iblīs erred in several ways. In ignorance and arrogance, he failed to view man’s created characteristics, and simply viewed the attributes of the substance that he was created with. It could also be the case that, despite having knowledge of these qualities, he refused to acknowledge their existence in Ādam (عليه السلام), which would also portray ignorance, rashness, and the willful denial of the abilities of the Exalted.
If the superiority of fire lied only in its beautiful appearance, it would not be enough of an advantage. Fire does, in fact, consist of benefits, which include burning, igniting, cooking, and warming, among others. These, however, do not take away from the negative qualities of fire—that it burns, destroys people, property, and crops, and that it causes pain, and is the punishment of Hell itself. Earth is man’s abode, and the source of all the medicine that heals. It is the place which provides nourishment for mankind and other living beings—it produces mercy and benefit. Fire, on the contrary, produces vengeance and harm, and such are the qualities that manifested in Iblīs.8
Forgetfulness, to return to the discussion concerning the term insān, is the cause of man’s disobedience, as al-Aṭṭās writes, and this blameworthy nature is what inclines him towards injustice and ignorance. At the same time, however, man has been equipped with reason, vision, and understanding, and has been guided to understand what is right and wrong with respect to his actions. The amānah that man has been burdened with implies his responsibility to it, and given that man is indebted to his Lord—indebtedness being one of the significations of the term dīn—it is being just to this amānah of being God’s vicegerent that will be in accordance with his true nature, and will bring him in harmony with his fiṭrah, thus granting him contentment in this life, and salvation in the next.
While Iblīs failed, or intentionally did not recognize the characteristics that man had been endowed with, the Angels themselves only understood man’s propensity violence and not his propensity for immense spiritual growth. By reminding Ādam (عليه السلام) of His names denoting mercy, kindness, compassion, and justice, Allāh (ﷻ) taught man that he can emulate these characteristics to attain greater understanding, guidance, and connection with God to spiritually prosper. Acting upon what is contrary to these qualities and ignoring the spiritual lessons leads man to the abyss of spiritual ruin.
The story of the first man shows us that our existence here is that of weakness and despair should we refuse to turn to Allāh (ﷻ). Upon his descent, Ādam (عليه السلام) turned to his Lord, the Ever Merciful, and was informed that the dunyā was his (عليه السلام) temporary abode, and that to his (عليه السلام) Lord he (عليه السلام) shall return, thus in essence highlighting the temporary nature of this life and our inevitable return to our Lord. Ādam (عليه السلام) excelled, and his (عليه السلام) rank as the father of all humanity was solidified, not because he (عليه السلام) was simply a creation of God, but because he (عليه السلام) was made to experience life via hardship and learning, through which he (عليه السلام) acquired the best of spiritual states, hence making himself (عليه السلام) worthy of the honor of Prophethood, the highest level of honor that man can be blessed with spiritually. One may refer to this section to learn more about the prophetic lives.
- Qiṣāṣ al-Anbiyāʾ
- Al-Bidāya wal-l-Nihāya.
- Kitāb al-Tanwīr fī Isqāt al-Isqāṭ al-Tadbīr.
- Several of these wisdoms were taken from al-Yūsī’s discussion on Ādam (عليه السلام). One should refer to his Muḥaḍarāt should he seek a more detailed discussion.
- Al-Aṭṭās has a detailed and insightful discussion concerning the significations of the term dīn and man’s responsibility in his Islām and Secularism.