Creation of Adam 7: Completing the Narrative

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This “creation-of-Adam” narrative from Surat Sawd (38) begins, unlike the others, with a statement given to Prophet Mohammad to “say” that he had no prior knowledge of the angels’ dispute in the celestial realm and that it was not revealed to him except that he is a clear warner. This reminds us of the very first such narrative in Surat Al-Baqara which began by telling us of that very dispute, but unlike that narrative, this one does not mention Adam by name but rather as bashar, which means literally “covered by skin” and is used to refer to the human as a physical being. And why would this narrative begin with a declaration of what the prophet did not know? (Please also note the amazing connection between verse 38:83 and verse 11:11 in bold later below.)

Specific Role of Prophet

This kind of statement re what the prophet did not know is frequently mentioned in reference to both Prophet Mohammad and other prophets. Often prophets are described as being “bringers of good news and warnings,” in Arabic the rhyming words nashira wa nathira, as in this excerpt from 2:213:

Humankind was one nation; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. (Emphasis mine.)

So in the first place, the statement given to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is a declaration of his specific vocation as prophet, adding that his knowledge is limited to what is given by Allah for that mission to bring the message/scripture of Allah and to warn people of Judgment Day and the Hereafter. This is often said in response to people’s questions, where they have a boundless curiosity for details that Allah may deem they have no need or perhaps ability/ background to know. But because some of this knowledge was indeed revealed in the Quran, it also asserts that this message is from Allah alone, not Mohammad. It is crucial to clarify that the knowledge in the Quran is given by the Almighty to us directly through Prophet Mohammad, that the prophet did not know it on his own, or worse, make it up, as people sometimes allege. 

At the same time, his “voice” is the one introducing the subject above, as a way of both honoring the prophet’s role as the human “connection” through whom this book is given to us, and in a sense showing us that we too, as humans, can have a connection (literally the meaning of salat usually translated “prayer” but whose meaning is to “establish” a connection) with Allah, which if one understands how unfathomably mighty Allah is, absolutely boggles the mind. 

The two ayat in yellow, then, correspond with the final 2-aya yellow section at the end as the frame of this ring composition. This final section begins, in contrast to the first, with Allah’s direct statement: that the Truth is His oath by which He swears He says the Truth, a very unusual statement in the Quran, giving it a high level of emphasis. That statement is addressed to Satan, that Allah will fill hell with Satan (and implied also his descendants) and his followers including both jinn and humans. What then could possibly be the correspondence between these first and last sections?

The word “warner” in the first section is the connecting idea, noting that unlike the aya quoted above, no mention is given here of “good news” but rather only the prophet’s role to warn. Thus the final sections gives us a powerful description of the warning itself, to both humans and jinn (who in Surat Al-Jinn 72:1-19 describe how they too hear and can be guided by this same Quran). The fact that Allah addresses Satan shows us that the force of His wrath is directed not at Prophet Mohammad, Adam, or even humanity as a whole, but rather at Satan and all who by following him become enemies of Allah and of truth. Swearing by Truth is also a strong rebuke to the deceiver satan and his minions, who are in essence rejecters of Truth. 

Angels’ Prostration Shows High Status for Chosen Humans

The upper section in blue 38:71-3 consists of the 3 ayat describing 1) Allah’s telling the angels He will create a human being from clay; 2) then telling them once He proportions and breathes into the human from His Spirit (telling us there are two stages, one for physical development or “proportions” and one for giving him “higher” qualities such as intellect and moral intuition and memory directly from the Creator as “breathed into him from His Spirit,” which is not further explained), to fall in prostration or “yield” to him; and 3) Allah tells us that all the angels prostrated entirely, emphasizing this fact. This does not mean the angels worshiped Adam/humanity as I explained in a previous post. Rather it shows that humanity (note Adam is not named here so we don’t think he was somehow exceptional/different from us) is given here an exalted or higher status by Allah the Exalted “breathing/blowing” into him from His spirit. Also it means that angels must “yield” to humans as guardians and witnesses, serving humankind as a service for Allah the Exalted. 

This is confirmed in the corresponding single-aya blue section 38:83 just before the last yellow section. In a sign of Allah’s precision in these verses, note the reciprocal verse number 38:83 (“except among them, Your chosen servants”) where if these numbers are added separately (3+8=8+3=11), they form a number 11:11 — which is a verse from Surat Hud that directly refers to how humans can become Allah’s chosen servants using the word “except” where its preceding aya referred to “boastful” human arrogance: “Except for those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward.” Those humans who thus succeed in their test against Satan on earth will become the high-status people we were originally created to be, described in 38:83 as Allah’s “chosen servants.” And here this expression is put in the voice of Satan. Thus the Almighty shows us this potential victory is one which Satan already knows, and accepts that he cannot overcome, and to which he also must submit.

Satan’s Arrogance becomes Enmity and Denial (Kufr)

The next two mirrored verses in orange, 38:74 and 38:82, show how Satan’s arrogance led to his enmity not only to humankind but to Allah the Exalted, enmity to Allah being expressed as denial or kufr, the antithesis of gratitude. This is an important connection, because it shows us the nature of true criminals: they do not appreciate good things, but rather envy them. They feel they should be the recipient of all “good” things such as wealth, power, or in this case, high status. “He became arrogant” which was displayed in his refusal to obey a command from the Almighty, who knew what was in Iblees’ heart, and for this very reason ordered him to prostrate to the very one he resented. Resentment is an emotion borne of envy, and envy is borne of conceit and lack of gratitude. “Thus became of the disbelievers” — how did arrogance lead to disbelief? “Disbelief” in this case means denial kufr in Arabic means to “cover up”, the expression of denying something that is true, or deceit/lying. What exposed this denial was Iblees’ refusal to obey the Almighty Himself face-to-face. That is out-and-out kufr/denial taken to its ultimate expression. As such, Allah immediately cursed him and Iblees became Satan the accursed, expelled from the celestial realm and condemned to hell. Thus in the corresponding aya 38:82, Satan expresses his enmity, saying “by Your might, I will mislead them all” to which he makes exception for Allah’s chosen servants as mentioned above. 

Note the two “exceptions”: (1) the angels prostrated “all of them entirely, except Iblees…” in 38:73-4; and (2) Satan vows to mislead all the descendants of Adam, except Allah’s chosen servants. Thus from now, before Adam/Eve are tested, before they are sent down to earth, the stage is already set. The angels are unchanged as essentially good and faithful in the celestial realm; but Iblees is expelled and condemned to hell for being the exception. He then lies in wait to mislead most of humanity, who would be condemned with him to hell; but Allah’s chosen servants are granted paradise for being the exception. In the celestial realm, goodness and obedience to Allah is the essential order of things, and the exception is expelled. In the worldly realm, arrogance and greed tend to predominate, so the exception are those who obey Allah in gratitude and good faith, and strive for good in this world, so they are delivered from this world to paradise, bypassing hell because they were “excepted” from the fate of the criminals and the arrogant deniers. 

Allah the Exalted Questions Iblees

In aya 38:75 (in green), Allah the Most High asks Iblees why he refused to prostrate. Of course, the Omniscient knows why, but here the question makes Iblees “come out” with his true motivation which reveals his deliberate disobedience, his inner intent, and the reason for this intention. In other words, this interrogation produces a full confession, but delivered in a tone of defiance. This presumably occurred in front of the angels who would then be witnesses, also letting them understand the full scope of Adam’s situation, which would have a direct bearing on their role as guardians and witnesses to Adam’s descendants, i.e. humanity. (Although this is not what is emphasized here.)

Iblees then replies “I am better than him. You created me from fire, and created him from clay.” (In orange.) I have placed the statements of Allah the Exalted in green and the statements of Iblees/Satan in orange to distinguish them. Iblees’ statement exhibits a tone of accusing Allah the Exalted of something he considers unfair/wrong. Implied is that Allah the Exalted has made a mistake by asking Iblees to prostrate to Adam, since in his view, fire is superior as an element to clay. This blind assumption, fueled by arrogance, actually has profound implications. 

Distinguishing Arrogance from Intellect and its Moral Consequences

On the one hand, it shows blind hubris in Iblees to presume that either he knows more than the All-Knowing — that to him, clearly he is made of a superior element and is therefore superior to the human — or that Allah is unjust and has oppressed him by making him prostrate to one inferior to him. So his feeling of envy overpowers his ability to discern and acquiesce to Allah’s greater wisdom. What he does not understand is that Adam is not entirely made of clay, but has a soul into which Allah “breathed from His Spirit,” which is an entirely different element — neither clay nor fire — and it is that which gives Adam/ humanity the superior ability to learn from an intellectual and logical ability, and to discern right from wrong, as well as utilize his “clay” physical abilities to explore the world and, over time, understand far more about things than any bashar or “humanoid” creature before him. And more than the jinn as well, although those of them who reject the path of Satan and submit to Allah are also promised their reward in paradise. 

Note here how Adam’s descendant, prophet Mohammad, and his followers have been given the Quran: a book that can only be accessed by the intellect, yet written down on physical parchment and recited by human physical voices, wherein the words, intellectual constructs, are interpreted as guidance for people to effect physical changes on the earth and in society that will benefit them. In contrast, becoming followers of Satan results in the destruction of themselves and the very earth on which we all live. 

This aya of questioning is paired with 38:80-1, which is Allah’s reply to Satan’s du’a in 38:79 asking Allah for a reprieve, which corresponds to Iblees’ reply to the question of why he disobeyed Allah’s command. In both his “confession” and his du’a or supplication, Satan does not admit wrongdoing and the “reprieve” he receives in 38:81 is ultimately a temporary one, whereas Adam, in other narratives (2:37, 7:23), is given a du’a for forgiveness (“inspired” by Allah’s “Spirit” which was breathed into Adam/ humans) which is also granted — the eternal gift. Allah grants Satan’s du’a because it is in fact part of His plan which also includes His promise of granting of du’a. But the Almighty Omniscient’s plan encompasses any attempt to plot against Him before even the idea of such a plot occurs, knowing Iblees’ short-sightedness will cause him to ask for a temporary reprieve, and having become a denier or kafir, he in arrogance likewise refuses the humility required to obey in the first place, or ask for forgiveness thereafter. 

The Central Curse Gives Iblees nothing but Deception and Destruction which is all he can Give

Note that before the central ayat 38:77-8, Iblees was named Iblees (38:74) and referred to using that name by Allah the Exalted in 38:75. Here the translator refers parenthetically to him as Iblees throughout this surah (although he is only mentioned by name in this surah only prior to the curse, twice in 38:74-5), but elsewhere in the creation-of-Adam narrative in Surah 7 (Al-‘Araf), he is referred to as Satan even parenthetically in the translation, and in the Quran in Arabic 3 times. The name “Satan” (Al-Shaytan in Arabic) seems to be, by its usage, a name used in his relationship to Adam, more of a descriptor of his “role” than a name (considering the al- prefix), especially as it also refers in plural to those of his descendants who follow him in working to deceive and debase humans. This usage distinguishes those jinn (same species) who do not follow Satan’s path from those who do. We are told in Surat Al-Jinn as mentioned above that among the jinn are Muslims, so this distinction in the use of the word “satan” is important. Yet even those jinn try to listen to the angels in the celestial realm but are prevented since the expulsion of Satan, just as humanity is also prevented from reaching paradise since Adam’s expulsion — until Judgment Day and the Hereafter (Al-Akhira or “the Finality”).

Thus Satan is the opposite of exemplar, that is, the example of evil, of what not to do, and the jinn’s mandate is to reject his choice/path. In contrast, Adam is considered the first prophet, and is counted among Allah’s “chosen servants,” because although he was duped and “forgot” the warning against Satan, and was deceived; but he did not deliberately/intentionally disobey Allah because his disobedience was not out of arrogance, hence could be forgiven, unlike Satan. 

But now we are in the testing period. Will we pass the test, serving Allah the Exalted and learning to remember and fear Him (taqwa, which is “mindfulness” and “reverence” coupled with fear that is tempered by reverent love)? Or will we become arrogant and deny Allah’s Supreme Power and Mercy, refusing to acknowledge and trust His absolute Goodness? For Satan became who he is by that very denial, by accusing the All-Good Wise and Just of being unjust. Based on a wrong assumption about the nature of materials used in creation, which of themselves are neither good nor bad in a moral sense, but to which Satan in his conceit assigned a nonexistent hierarchy, he became envious which fueled his arrogance. So Satan first deceived himself, and then set about to deceive all of us. So this is our test: to discern the truth using our intellect. Hence the Quranic reminder afa la t’aqiloon? Will you not use your minds??

Remember, in the original conflict between Adam and Satan, Adam won through Humility – the Quality of Earth/Clay

The difference between humility and humiliation is an important Quranic theme which is relevant to this discussion. Humility is a positive quality which leads to compassion and appreciation for good things, a generous and reciprocating attitude. Humiliation is the reciprocal or inherent response to arrogance, which can be also defined as an aversion to humility. 

There is also something about the nature of matter (“clay”) that relates to humility and encourages it, which likely relates to the wisdom of our being created from it. We are shown something about fire and earth as elements: Satan lies to us and tells us anyone created from earth (matter) is by nature debased, and people often speak of how the “body” (of earth) is bad and the “spirit” is good. And indeed, following our “lower/physical desires” as opposed to our “higher/spiritual aspirations” is justifiably associated with self-destruction, evil, and immorality, wherein following those “higher” aspirations leads to righteousness and even compassion — but not by abrogating our responsibility in the material world. The Quran clearly tells us we cannot deny our physicality nor should we seek self-destruction, but rather will be judged on how we embody that which is good/higher in the physical realm: including seeking knowledge through science in understanding and developing the physical world, and giving from our wealth to the poor and disadvantaged to create more equitable distribution of resources. 

Rizq refers to that which is given to sustain life such as water and food resources, and from Allah it is a “flow,” something currently given by our Sustainer. Spending in the way or path of Allah means that this flow is meant to be continuous, cyclical, like the water cycle, rock cycle, life cycle and others, and so we should not stop the flow by hoarding what has been given to us. Because we have free will, we must choose to contribute to the “flow” because if we do not, the overall system will not function property, creating poverty, deprivation, and all sorts of misery for other humans and all sorts of living things. This is very much tied up with our physicality. Thus we will be held accountable for our actual deeds, our physical acts of charity, of kindness, etc. 

Therefore, to think that we must reject the body and emphasize the spirit is a wrong and not a Quranic idea at all. Rather we must apply the highest values, themselves ideas, to our physical existence, by actually doing things to help one another. We must procreate, take care of our children, educate them, plant and harvest or raise animals for food, show our children how to survive and also how to get along and cooperate with one another. We can build dams, factories, cultivate farms, and work on ways to recycle waste, distribute clean water, etc. But it is a constant effort, and requires putting the welfare of the poorest among us as a priority. No one is “good” because of some “innate” preference or superiority; one is “good” if one is not arrogant and not self-destructive but balanced, grateful, and generous to others. 

Paradise is not [obtained] by your wishful thinking nor by that of the People of the Scripture. Whoever does a wrong will be recompensed for it, and he will not find besides Allah a protector or a helper.

Al-Nisa’ 4:123

And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed.

4:124

These two ayat are a strong rebuke to the Christian notion of “grace not by works” as opposed to being responsible about our deeds as advocated in the Quran and even the Bible, in the Gospel and the Old Testament as well as in the Torah — the idea of “redemption in Christ” being an idea generated by Paul and his advocate Marcion of Sinope as a direct rejection of prior scriptures including the message of Jesus the prophet. This doctrine denies Allah’s mercy, as did Marcion, and promotes the idea of a human sacrifice, Jesus, to be the only way to achieve “grace,” an English word that implies the doctrine of unconditional forgiveness that violates the law of reciprocity and conjures a false story to go along with this. 

The doctrine explicitly threatens hell for lack of belief in a torture-human-sacrificed “son” as the only “unforgiveable sin,” while in reality that very belief is the only unforgivable sin if one maintains it until death. 

It is a refusal to acknowledge the truth that One God is both Almighty and All-Merciful, where to insist otherwise is a great denial that incurs God’s wrath. This idea is borne of the same arrogance that Satan exemplifies: it implicitly accuses Allah of injustice, falsely claiming He didn’t forgive Adam, even though the Quran clearly explains in details that He forgave Adam. By claiming “redemption in Christ,” one is claiming faith in Marcion’s idea that the body Allah created is inherently evil — Iblees/Satan’s idea — and must be tortured and sacrificed in order to make us “as if” only created of something other than earthly matter — such as, say, fire — and thus “worthy” of what he wants us to believe constitutes “justice,” a “get-out-of-hell free card” where ultimately we will not be called to account for our deeds but just look up in the sky, say the magic words, and poof! Paradise!  

The Way to Paradise is Embodied Righteousness

Thus the Quran guides us to a greater challenge: to apply our higher aspirations to our physical selves not by trying to harm or debase our own physicality but quite the opposite, to find what is good in it in ourselves and others. 

Thus righteousness in the Quran requires we physically perform salat, not just in words but the body language of standing, bowing, and prostration; and that we give from our physical, worldly wealth to help the poor and disadvantaged, paying both zakat which means “purification” (and which in the Quran is described as “the excess” beyond our needs and the needs of our family) as well as voluntary charity; and that we fast, a highly physical act, for a whole month each year, as well as other times voluntarily or to expiate certain sins; and that we make a physical journey to the Hajj where we perform highly physical acts symbolic of higher meanings not to get imaginary “baraka” or forgiveness by, for example, kissing a stone, but rather by sacrificing an animal whose meat must be given to the poor (by those who can afford it), thus making a practical physical difference in nutrition in the lives of other human beings. 

Spending in the path of Allah does not mean building mosques if that money is used in décor thereof whereas Muslims in the community are going hungry for lack of resources. Spending in the path of Allah means first and foremost helping those in need; then, of course, building mosques and while we’re at it, why not help people who have no shelter find homes, as Jimmy Carter did with “Habitat for Humanity?” Saudi Arabia is accumulating an “impressive” sovereign wealth fund; yet an even more “impressive” number of those who live there have no roof over their heads, very little to eat, where good women are forced into prostitution to feed their own children. 

Who is devouring the wealth of the country, where the petroleum that belongs to the people of that land was used by the Al-Saud family as their pocket money to purchase wildly excessive personal extravagances, like “collecting” personal 747’s and throwing away vast quantities of food at parties just for the “fun” of throwing it? Is this not the epitome of arrogance and absence of gratitude, referred to by the Almighty as kufr or denial? Why isn’t any of it to be distributed more equitably among them, instead of hoarded by the few? And they call themselves Muslim? 

We will be asked on Judgment Day about what we did on earth to the earth and the people who live in it. Is it not enough that this very Quran that came to the Arabs is being ignored entirely by them? Rather they listen to selected platitudes and “royal-friendly sheikhs” who issue the fatwa that people are enjoined to “obey” their “leaders” who have a “right” to such wealth whereas the people have no rights. Even if their leaders are themselves “guided” by Satan? 

So let people from everywhere else in the world lead the way in taqwa and faith and righteousness. Let those who speak entirely different languages now show far greater understanding of the meaning of the Quran than those who speak the language in which it came. These are those who care about the physical suffering of others and want to do something about it, not those who protect their own wealth and power at the expense of anyone else. 

It is not our physicality in itself that causes us to lose our way, but our faith in the delusion that the “spirit” means we can ignore our physical responsibilities for what we do and how we spend what Allah gave us in the first place, and replace responsibilities with “hopes” and “dreams” that we are doing “good” by entering a mosque from time to time, like some Western nations invade other countries to steal their wealth and kill their children, then those who planned this injustice obliviously enter comfortable churches to sing a few hymns and show off how righteous they are. Islam likewise is not a club one joins and performs certain rituals by rote, thinking, “next stop, paradise!” These narratives in the Quran remind us of hell, often at the end, to let us be forewarned there is no bed of ease in this world, and we cannot dream our way to the Almighty. No. We must work, strive, give, remember, suffer, learn patience, learn self-control. We are not here to invent truth. Truth already exists, and can be found if you seek it. For the Truth is Reality is Allah the Almighty All-Merciful. Whose wisdom is in the Quran. 

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