Above is a ring composition analysis of the first creation-of-Adam narrative in the Quran, which is in Surat Al-Baqara as shown. It is the first of seven such narratives, which I insha’Allah shall analyze one by one in a series of posts, comparing them to each other and showing the significance and value of multiple narratives of the same event; and how the arrangement of each of them contributes to our understanding of the meaning. This is after all a truly foundational event, answering the most basic questions of why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Why is there evil in the world? Why is there paradise and hell, and why must we die in the first place?
Controversy in the Celestial Realm
Here we are first shown a discussion between Allah the Exalted and the angels concerning Allah’s intention to create Adam as a “successive authority” on earth, which the angels question (in bold above), to which Allah replies that He knows what they do not. Then Allah teaches Adam all the names. This is significant: it is Adam’s ability to learn, and specifically language, that distinguishes Adam from the angels. He then asks the angels to tell him the names of “these,” whose names He had taught to Adam, and they cannot, so Allah shows them how Adam knew all the names. This in itself explains to the angels something about Adam’s superior intellect. In a sense, one can infer that this presentation was a sort of “test” of how well Adam knew what he had been taught, and thus test he passed with flying colors. (Note that only Iblees wasn’t impressed.)
The last point the Exalted makes to the angels, is to point out subtly that they acted as if He, the Omniscient, does not know something, ostensibly implying that Adam is somehow unworthy and harmful and Allah the Exalted would be somehow better off without Adam. Why would His own angels question Him in this way? The answer is given a clue in the statement in bold “And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed.”
What was concealed? The All-Knowing reveals what happened by subjecting the parties involved to a test.
The first test is to ask all the angels, in whose company was Iblees, to prostrate to Adam. Some say Iblees was a fallen angel, but the Quran states clearly he was a jinn, further confirmed by Iblees stating he was created of fire — the angels were created of light, not fire per se, according to scholars, but it is clear from the Quran that angels are a different kind of creation from jinn, a fact that appears in the repeated phrase that “the angels prostrated, all of them entirely” (15:30, 38:73) in a separate aya from the phrase “except Iblees,” indicating that although Iblees was among them, he was not one of them. The Quran is unfailingly accurate, and could have easily made the point of Iblees being a fallen angel unmistakable but did not indicate this at all.
Thus Iblees was a jinn but in the company of angels, and he was commanded to prostrate with them. We are not told explicitly the nature of jinn as compared with angels at that time, but both were in the celestial realm together, presumably without restrictions. But we are told — by giving us the words of Satan himself — that he was jealous or envious of Adam, and thus Allah tested him before the ultimate test of Adam’s free will. One can deduce the reason for this powerful envy was likely Adam’s being described as a ”successive authority,” and being created ”on earth” (note in this Surah no mention is made of mud) somehow posing a threat to Iblees’ status. Iblees (who upon disobeying Allah became Satan), with such a motive, was then a likely source of the angels’ questions regarding Adam.
The All-perceiving heard his whisperings to them about Adam (motivated by his envy) and thus they questioned Allah’s very wisdom in creating him — and knew they had concealed the source of this questioning, Iblees. But the angels had no ill intent; having heard Iblees’ question about why create some creature who will shed blood and sow corruption on the earth, it perplexed them, so the question was posed, which exposed Iblees’ “problem” with Adam. By ordering them to prostrate, Allah the Exalted both indicated that Adam was more honored and of a higher status than them, and also “smoked out” Iblees, who refused to prostrate, or even to hesitate before disobeying His Lord. It brought out the Satan within him, and thereafter he became debased and indeed an enemy of Allah.
It’s important to point out the difference between what the angels did and what Iblees did: the angels simply asked about something that didn’t make sense from what they knew. Even if Iblees was, as I’m suggesting here, the instigator of such questioning, the angels never hesitated to prostrate, and to admit their lack of knowledge compared to Adam. Whereas Iblees acted on his envy and hatred for Adam to the point of disobeying Allah the Exalted for the sake of satisfying his own arrogance, much like how Adam’s son Cain killed his brother Abel out of envy as well.
So we have the two “framing ayat,” 30 and 39, in orange. They “match” in that the question the angels asked in aya 30 is, in the sense of how the creation of a creature who sheds blood and is corrupt can be just, answered in 39: indeed it is true that “those who disbelieve and deny Our signs…will be companions of the fire.” Such deniers/ wrongdoers will be punished.
But, in the paired bluegreen-highlighted ayat 31 and 38, just as Allah “taught” Adam the “names” (31), He also sends “guidance” (essentially teaching), noting that both are done with words so “whoever follows My guidance” will be saved from the fire and “neither fear…nor…grieve” (38). Those who learn from Allah’s guidance (sent through His messengers/ prophets) will become essentially the human beings Allah created Adam and his descendants to be, answering the angels’ question on another level: what good could come out of Adam’s creation. Those descendants of Adam will be forgiven and purified, returning to Allah the Exalted in paradise, the eternal realm.
The green ayat 32 and 37 pair the graceful response of the angels (32), realizing their mistake (in questioning Allah’s wisdom), with Adam’s repentance and Allah’s forgiveness (37). The difference is that the angels simply admitted their mistake, glorifying Allah, and obeyed His command without hesitation as they were created to do; whereas Adam was given words to say to properly repent — he had to learn how to repent using language — and then, for using the words he was taught, he earned and learned about how to achieve Allah’s forgiveness.
These contrast with the pink ayat 33 and 36, where Allah the Omniscient shows Adam’s learning ability/ intellect to the angels, and questions them regarding their disregard of His knowing even the thoughts of His servants, hinting at Iblees’ guilt (33), and similarly, Adam too is taken in by an Iblees who at that point has become Satan the accursed, but Adam’s fate is different because he, unlike the angels, has an intellect which requires free will, which requires time, thus Adam must hone his free will according to Allah’s guidance out of the timeless celestial realm. And thus Adam/Eve are sent to earth “for a time” (36) — time here being not only the limited lifetime given each person, but also time itself as the necessary element in which that free will can be tested. Also, aya 36 describes the effect of Satan’s influence, described as having “removed them from that (condition) in which they had been.” This “condition” was the state of innocence, of not having yet exercised their free will. Once they made a choice without Allah’s guidance, everything became “exposed” to them, the possibilities of shame and immorality. But Allah the Merciful guided them, forgave them, and promised to send guidance to them and their descendants on earth, as shown in the green and bluegreen ayat.
Leading us to the two tests in yellow of the central ayat (34, 35): 34 testing Iblees as well as the angels, and 35 testing Adam/Eve, the human. Note the ayat numbers at the center: 34 is 3+4=7, the number of heavens and a celestial number for those in the celestial realm. It is also 3×4=12, also a celestial number, associated with a year, and also with completion. The number 35 is the product of 7×5, and 7+5=12. It associates the number 5, representing hand(s), with the celestial (7 heavens) number 7. Here the celestial number 7 is placed literally “between our hands” where we learn by our intellect/ mind — a gift from the “celestial realm” where Allah taught Adam “the names”, the ability to associate words (abstract thought/ ideas) with actual things (reality both physical and metaphysical) — to use our hands to work, to make and invent all manner of things, to give in charity, to pray salat, a very physical prayer, to write and learn languages and ideas. All this is represented by the number 5, associated here with Adam’s test, which he “fails,” which is part of the plan – to make a choice, a mistake, and learn from it. We learn by trial and error.
Further, the simple sum of the digits 3,5 is 3+5=8. The number 8 is literally the number of carriers of Allah’s throne, indicating the highest among celestial creatures, among whom would be Allah’s “chosen servants,” the human beings we were created to be: not “carriers of the throne” as angels but as those whose intellect willingly exalts Allah’s names or thikr Allah of our own free will, thus becoming, by Allah’s will, eternal inhabitants of Paradise in the glorious Presence of our Lord Almighty.
Why is there a Satan?
The question of why did Allah let this whole incident with Satan occur can be answered from the understanding of responsibility and human nature. Without an enemy to goad us, we would find it much harder to simply obey using our free will alone. In fact, we can see, as the Quran points out, the richest and most powerful among us are those most likely to become corrupt, whereas those who must struggle both to survive and to avoid shameful acts succeed more often in doing so. Deprivation tends to motivate the necessary effort to take responsibilities seriously. And “necessity is the mother of invention.” A heinous enemy keeps us on our toes, builds both inner and outer strength. But it is also a potential pitfall, and so Allah the All-Merciful sends revelations to help guide us. Our best “friend,” in this case, is a grateful attitude and a dose of humility, combined with maintaining our innate aversion to immorality. And an alert, mindful attitude as well, guided by the Quran whose words are precisely attuned to our inner compass, if we only bother to let it work.
And that compass then can lead us to become the celestial beings we were created to be. The stakes are unimaginably high — eternal bliss or eternal torment — but for that very reason there is nothing trivial about it; no one goes to hell for minor infractions or from sins, even grievous ones, from which they have repented. At the same time, the highest levels of paradise (any level of which is a great fulfillment), are reserved for those who put forth the greatest effort to serve Allah, and made the greatest sacrifices to do what is difficult in His path (and each person has different areas of strength and struggle).
Finding the Balance
The more one reads and studies the Quran, then applies its wisdom to their life, the more that inner compass will become attuned to Allah’s will, thus aligning our own free but wayward will to His — and what an amazing return that will bring us!
Note that the final closing aya is a warning: to keep us alert to the ever-present dangers, not to become oblivious but to remain aware, mindful of Allah’s glorious Presence, and the enmity of satanic-inspired influences and their consequences so we don’t become too “comfortable” into thinking “oh great, I’m Muslim, so finally I’ve got paradise, guaranteed” — or to fall into despair over our mistakes and sins, “it’s over, I’m too unworthy” — for Allah the Exalted is perfect in Justice, Almighty and All-Merciful, in Whom should be our hope, and for Whom should also be our aim, and thikr Allah (keeping Allah in mind) is the greatest “handhold.”