The Basic Issues:
All 7 of the creation-of-Adam narratives in the Quran include Iblees’ refusal to prostrate after being commanded by Allah to do so, an indication of its importance. In this narrative, it is described in the 4th, 5th and 6th ayat of the narrative (29-31), each of which is given a separate section in the ring composition. This creation-of-Adam narrative is the longest in the Quran (in terms of ayat numbers), and is also quite comprehensive in scope, as we shall see.
The Creation Materials
In the first two ayat of this narrative, 26 and 27, Allah asserts that he indeed created the jinn of “scorching fire” before Adam, whom he created “out of clay from an altered black mud,” this exact phrase mentioned three times here (15:26, 28, 33), also the most detailed description of the creation “materials,” which are the crux of Iblees’ argument with Allah over Adam. Implied here is that Allah creates what He wills; to dispute this sacred attribute, as Iblees/ Satan did, is to deny Allah’s very clear and powerful authority as Creator and hence it is kufr (denial).
These two ayat are paired with the final two ayat, 43 and 44, which mention hell as the “promised place” for Satan and all those who follow him (43) and tell us that hell has 7 gates, each gate designated for a separate group/ party of those who enter (44). No further description is given as to how these groups are assigned. Because hell is mainly referring to the torment of fire, it naturally is associated with Satan who is created of fire. However, in Surat Al-Jinn, we read that the jinn say “among us are Muslims and among us are the unjust.” (72:14) Just as with Adam’s descendants, some of the jinn follow Satan and some worship Allah. So whether or not one is condemned to hell depends not on what they are made of but rather on their relationship to Allah their Creator which is determined by their attitude and actions, as illustrated here.
Allah’s Curse on Satan
The command to prostrate was how The Omniscient “smoked out” what was in Iblees’ heart of arrogance. Once he acted on this by disobeying Allah’s authority, he was expelled from Paradise and cursed, and his name changed to Satan. That curse is the central aya in this narrative, aya 35, a multiple of 7 in a narrative each of whose paired ayat in this ring composition add to 70. For example, aya 26 + 44, the first and last ayat, are paired, and their sum is 70; the same sum results from adding all chiastic pairs (as one increases the other decreases), with the central aya equal to exactly half of that sum. Aya 35 is then in the exact center of 19 total ayat. That too is significant, because the number 19 is mentioned only once in the Quran, in Al-Mudathir 74:30, in reference to the number of angels guarding hell, the number of whose gates is 7, making that number significant here.
In a sense, this the inverse of the previous narrative in Al-‘Araf where Adam’s test was presented in the middle; here, Satan is in the middle, but unlike Adam who had a test before him (“between his hands”), Satan has Allah’s curse before him, which is not between his hands. So the only chance he gets to exercise his free will is a “reprieve,” which he uses for evil and destruction. Satan is surrounded by his own denial and evil deeds, as well as the “reprieve” which “opened the door” to act on his evil intentions (in orange and pink); but also surrounded by Allah’s empowerment and mercy towards Adam, putting Satan at a clear disadvantage; and further surrounded by both the “materials” debate in the higher celestial position thus taking that argument out of Satan’s hands, and by hell in the final “lower” section, where the “seven gates” in particular “surround” Satan and all his followers, leaving no gap of escape from all “seven heavens” in Allah’s All-Powerful control.
Allah’s Mercy to Adam
The verses/ ayat in bluegreen and green above highlight Allah’s mercy to Adam, and the yellow-highlighted ayat show the intent of Allah is to create a creature with direct access to Allah as “a straight path to Me” and a place of honor in the eternal celestial realm (aya 42, which number is also a multiple of 7, in fact 7×6, where the number 6 represents the human created of carbon/ “black mud”).
This narrative is also one of only two which mention that the Most Holy Creator Allah breathed into Adam from His Spirit after creating and forming him (aya 29), and thereafter commanded the angels (in whose “company” but not “kind/ species” was Iblees thus the command was also issued to him) to prostrate to Adam (aya 30). Prostration here represents an acknowledgement of higher status and also a willingness to serve the one being prostrated to. Thus we can understand when Allah the Most High blew from His Exalted “Spirit” into Adam, the human being was given a higher status, one element of which is certainly the Intellect, a higher ability to reason and learn.
At the same time, one can see from this that prostration in salat (formal) prayer is the physically expressed — as body language — acknowledgement of Allah’s authority and supreme power and our willingness to serve Him, which in turn expresses our “inner”/ soul or “self” submitting to Allah. The word islam as a verb in Arabic is also used to mean surrender, as in surrender of the ego. The biggest obstacle to such submission/ surrender to Allah is arrogance, which is a refusal to relinquish one’s ego, and that is the ultimate sin committed by Iblees, turning him from Iblees to Satan the expelled/ accursed. This was not Adam’s sin; he “fell” to earth from which he was created because he was weak and easily influenced, for which Allah the Merciful forgave him. So the human was sent to earth to be tested, strengthened in resolve, and to develop the intellect, patience, faith, and power to defeat Satan’s followers and return to Allah as the celestial being he was created to become. Because of free will’s potential for arrogance and denial, not all humans will achieve this fulfillment.
The creation of Adam (humanity) and jinn occurred in the celestial realm, even though we think of “mud/ earth” as being from al-dunya or the “lower” realm. So the placement of the materials here in the higher position shows us that anything “touched” by Allah the Exalted, both in the act of creation and in the case of Adam His Spirit breathed into Adam’s physical form, becomes thereby “enlightened” or imbued with Allah’s Divine light, therefore capable of being guided by the Lord of all worlds. It may be that Iblees saw the earth as a “lower” element than “fire” which is less “weighty” and had based his superiority/ sense of power on that. It’s up to us to demonstrate, as knowledge of the “names” (language) did to the angels in the first narrative, that even “mud” can be a material from which arises exaltation/ closeness to Allah the Most Exalted. For those who follow the evil path of Satan, however, the material itself will not save them from debasement.
In the context of the mud/fire argument above, this also shows us that a creature of fire — which is in itself celestial to the point where Allah the Almighty appeared to Prophet Moses as a fire which Moses associated with the benefit of light and warmth — can also become debased and even cursed. And we know hell itself is a “place” of fire, though it also contains other elements (pus, some type of tree with “fruits” like the “heads of devils”). All this proves that it’s not the element that makes one “celestial” or imbued with light or on the other hand debased, but rather one’s relationship or denial thereof with Allah the Exalted.
Celestial and Lower Dunya Realms
It’s important to note that here, as in Al-Fatiha, this whole narrative taken as a ring composition can be seen as divided between the upper sections (ayat 26-34, 9 ayat in 6 colored sections) representing the celestial realm/ state and the lower sections (ayat 36-44, also 9-ayat/ 6 sections) representing the lower realm/ state of al-dunya (“this worldly life”/ earth). Separating them is the central aya 35 (the 10th aya and seventh “section” from the beginning), containing Allah’s curse on Iblees, whereupon he becomes Satan, because Iblees was his name in the celestial realm, and no creature in the celestial realm/ state is accursed. (Note that I refer to both “realm” and “state,” explained a little later below.)
However, Allah the Merciful did not curse Adam – the Quran never mentions such a curse on Adam, who retains his name throughout the Quran, unlike Satan whose name-change from Iblees occurred directly from being expelled and cursed. Thus the idea of “original sin,” which conceptually amounts to an original curse, as many Christians believe is suggested in the Biblical account (used in part as the basis for the Christian ideas of “salvation” and “baptism”), is here entirely debunked. It is only Satan and those who freely choose to follow him who are cursed. (Adam/Eve are treated in the Quran as a “unit” of spiritual equals, no “curse” or “temptation” from Adam’s wife who is not named, and Adam’s nature as a learning creature with free will and intellect applies equally to her.)
In the case of the angels, who are without question in the celestial realm/ state, they can act in both the celestial and lower/ dunya realms (as places), while maintaining their celestial state of being. Such interactions could be described as liminal or “between realms,” and indeed angels’ very function involves such liminality. Note that none other than angels are, according to the Quran (Al-Mudathir 74:31), the guardians/ keepers of hell! This shows us hell itself is entirely in Allah’s control, and angels are, one could say, indelibly celestial beings who can act within multiple realms without losing their inherent celestial or “innocent” state of being.
So when Satan entered “the garden” wherein Adam was placed in a state of celestial-realm innocence, he could not have “snuck in” without Allah’s allowing him. For this reason he was given a “reprieve.” Without it, Satan could not have entered there. This further shows us that this was all within the scope of Allah’s plan. The Omniscient knew the creation of Adam would itself “bring out” the arrogance in Iblees’ “heart”, and that he would utterly fail the prostration test. And ultimately become the nemesis against whom Adam’s descendants would have to prove themselves.
Our Purpose in Allah’s Plan
And so the Almighty Omniscient, who created Adam, knew that Adam had to learn by trial and error, therefore commit mistakes and “foolishness,” and that free will as a gift entails some of humanity making not only inconsequential errors but consequential ones. In fact, Adam was created to not only learn but to teach. We learn this in the example of Luqman (Surah 31)who taught his son, or Al-Khidr, who taught Prophet Moses a specific lesson. Adam’s descendants are then charged, in a very real but liminal sense, with teaching Satan a lesson in the punitive sense, conquering him with superior strength and intellect. We thus prove him wrong, demonstrating how to worship Allah and succeed to return to Allah the Exalted in the celestial realm/ state by harnessing our free will with patience, discipline, hardship, and taqwa or God-consciousness, that leads to the celestial attributes of compassion, justice, and faith, guided by Allah’s light of knowledge. When the “reprieve” ends on the Day of Recompense, Satan will be forced to admit his defeat by Adam’s descendants who struggled successively against him, which defeat is not only a foregone conclusion, but has already occurred with many prophets and their followers, and literally was demonstrated by Prophet Mohammad and his followers in their battles fought on earth who also were aided by celestial soldiers, the angels (Quran 3:124-5; 8:9, 8:48; 9:26), and in which Satan also appeared — only to make a quick exit the moment he saw the angels (Al-Anfal 8:48).
The Ring Composition Detailed
This narrative begins, as described above, with the two ayat 26 and 27 in tan where Allah the Creator describes to prophet Mohammad the two different materials He used in the creation of Adam/ humans and the jinn, which correspond with the final two ayat, 43 and 44, which both refer to hell. Both of these physical materials can burn; fire of course is already burning, and carbon, the element at the heart of “black mud,” is also flammable as coal or petroleum. Humans, of course, are also known to be flammable, cremation being a common example. And hell is the ultimate place of burning. These two pairs of ayat then ”frame” the whole narrative with the physical nature and vulnerability of humans and jinn, and the hellfire that awaits those who follow Satan, ”surrounded” in the middle by destruction of his own making, and a fate in hell over which he has no control.
But the Ruh or Spirit which Allah the Most High breathed into Adam gives him a direct “link” to His mercy and guidance. So although this life is indeed a test, symbolized by the number 7, if we turn to Allah and pray daily “on seven bones” in salat, reciting the seven ayat of Al-Fatiha, each aya prevents the opening of a gate to hell (and for this to be effective we must be conscious of what these ayat mean and mean it as we recite it), and we can reach, with Allah’s will and mercy, the ultimate celestial “gate,” literally the Opening (the meaning of the word Al-Fatiha) for righteous believers, to Al-Janna, Paradise. (This needs more detailed analysis in a future post insha’Allah.)
Here ayat 28 and 42 in yellow relate in that Allah’s intention to create a human in the first place is to be what they are in aya 42, Allah’s “servants” and a type of creature with free will and learning capabilities: some will follow the right path and choose to be with Allah the Exalted and some will choose to deviate, thus life on earth is a temporary proving ground, to test and separate the good from the bad. In this narrative, Adam is not mentioned by name, but referred to as bashar (emphasis on the first syllable), a term used in the Quran for the physical human, when the Almighty announces to the angels “I will create a human being out of clay from an altered black mud.”
Ayat 29 & 41 in bluegreen correspond as a pair, in that aya 29 emphasizes that Allah breathed into Adam from his Spirit, thus required the angels & Iblees to “fall down and prostrate to him,” exalting Adam over the angels and Iblees/ jinn — as Allah states “this is a path to Me that is straight,” thus confirming His intention to make for His “chosen servants” the “straight path” (41), one that leads to both return to Allah’s Presence and Paradise, and fulfillment of Allah’s plan for His chosen ones (because of their choice of thankfulness and trust leading to righteousness) of Adam’s descendants. Note that aya 28 refers to the creation of a physical human; aya 29 then describes that Allah “proportioned” and “breathed into him from His Spirit” which gave him life and inner light/ soul as well.
The two matched green ayat 30 & 40 show that not only did the angels all prostrate to Adam, but even Iblees/ Satan accepted that Allah’s chosen servants will be beyond his influence — ie, even Satan cannot dispute their victory over his evil. Note these are ayat 30 and 40, multiples of 10 (“perfection/ completion”) with factors 3 and 4, associated as 3 unique letters forming Allah’s 4-letter name. These 2 ayat represent the fulfillment of Allah’s plan, hence I put it in green.
Ayat 31 and 39 in pink show the downfall of Iblees: in 31 he refuses to obey Allah’s command to prostrate, thus succumbing to his own jealousy/ envy, and in 39 he literally declares that because Allah “put him in error,” he will mislead Adam and his descendants, giving the sense that this was not only envy or jealousy against Adam, but revenge against Allah the Most High, Almighty for creating Adam in the first place, thus somehow diminishing Iblees/ Satan. Satan’s planned revenge is to show the Almighty how bad Adam is (as if the All-Knowing doesn’t know) and undeserving of his prostration. It shows how arrogance is the mother of criminality, how it blinded Iblees to the point of destroying his relationship with Allah, shown to us in these examples as a warning.
The next sections pair 3 ayat from the upper “celestial” realm with 3 ayat from the lower “dunya” realm. In the upper 3-verse section, Allah asks Iblees why he refused to prostrate and Iblees replies he would never prostrate to a human created from “clay from an altered black mud” — this part occurred in the celestial realm — and Allah expels him therefore from Paradise and Satan (having been expelled) asks for a reprieve and Allah grants his request, all this in the “lower” realm. Note that du’a can be offered in the dunya realm. So the upper section tells us what happened after Iblees disobeyed, and the lower section tells what happened after Satan was expelled and cursed.
Missing here is any mention of the garden, the tree, or even Adam/wife by name. The focus goes directly to Satan boasting he will mislead “them,” meaning humanity, Adam’s descendants. It moves directly from “history” of Adam’s creation to now, where we are those very descendants and the action is now ours.
The specificity of celestial/ dunya realms graphically illustrates how Iblees’ fall to become Satan (Shaytan) made him literally part of the “lower” realm of al-dunya, so when he asks for a reprieve, he says “My Lord,” but once it is granted, he returns to insolence in the section in pink seeking revenge against Allah the Almighty for “putting” him “in error.” The yellow response from Allah the Exalted is not modified by “chosen” in aya 42 where Allah states Satan will have no power over His worshippers/ servants except those who follow Satan, showing us that Allah the Most Just and Wise does not choose (nor condemn) His servants until they have a chance to decide and act as righteous and thankful, or deniers and deviators.
The Central aya 15:35 is described above as where Allah the Exalted curses Adam until the Day of Recompense. Why is this central here? It shows that the moment of switch from the Celestial Realm to the realm of Dunya was precipitated by this curse on Satan. This was a command from the Almighty which set the entire plan in motion. Once Allah cursed him, Satan reacted in arrogant anger against Allah Himself. Allah the Omniscient granted Satan’s du’a for a reprieve fully knowing what it meant for all the parties including Adam. Once he got the reprieve, Satan couldn’t contain himself but to brag to the Glorious Exalted that he will “mislead them all” – then in the separate aya admits the exception of Allah’s “chosen servants/ worshippers.” This is a separate section because it shows that despite Satan’s evil, Allah the All-Merciful is in control and therefore His mercy cannot be superseded by anyone or anything, putting these words of mercy in none other than Satan’s mouth.
And to our mouths, The Merciful has given us the Quran as guidance, and Al-Fatiha, the first surah, to recite in salat prayer, both protecting/ guiding us clear from Satan’s lies, and all seven gates of hell.