10. These verses should he read in conjunction with (al-Baqarah 2: 30-9). The
words in which the command to prostrate before Adam is mentioned may give rise
to the misapprehension that it was Adam as such who is the object of prostration.
This misapprehension should be removed by what has been said here. The text
makes it very clear that prostration before Adam was in his capacity, as the
representative of all mankind and not in his personal capacity.
The successive stages of man's creation mentioned in the present verse ('We initiated your creation, then We gave you each a shape'), means that God first planned the creation of man, made ready the necessary materials for it, and then gave those materials a human form. Then, when man had assumed the status of a living being, God asked the angels to prostrate before him. The Qur'an says: And recall when your Lord said to the angels: 'I am about to create man from clay. When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit then fall You down in prostration before him' (Sad 38: 71-2).
Mention has been made in these verses, though in a difterent way, of the same three stages of creation: man's creation from clay; giving him a proportionate human shape; and bringing Adam into existence by breathing into him God's spirit. The following verses also have the same import:
And recall when your Lord said to the angels: 'I am about to create man, from sounding clay moulded into shape from black mud. When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall you all down in prostration before him' (al-Hijr 15: 28-9).
It is quite difficult for one to appreciate fully the details of the origin of man's creation. We cannot fully grasp how man was created out of the elements drawn from the earth; how he was given a form and a well-proportioned one at that and how God's Spirit was breathed into him. It is quite obvious, though, that the Qur'anic version of man's creation is sharply at odds with the theory, of creation propounded by Darwin and his followers in our time. Darwinism explains man's creation in terms of his evolution from a variety of non-human and sub-human stages culminating in homo sapiens. It draws no clear demarcation line that would mark the end of the non-human stage of evolution and the beginning of the species called 'man'. Opposed to this is the Qur'anic version of man's creation where man starts his career from the very beginning as an independent species, having in his entire history no essential relationship at all with any non-human species. Also, man is conceived as having been invested by God with full consciousness and enlightenment from the very start of his life.
These are two different doctrines regarding the past of the human species. Both these doctrines give rise to two variant conceptions about man. If one were to adopt the Darwinian doctrine, man is conceived as essentially a species of the animal genre. Acceptance of this doctrine leads man to derive the guiding principles of his life, including moral principles, from the laws governing animal life. Given the basic premises of such a doctrine, animal-like behaviour is to be considered quite natural for man. The only, difference between man and animal lies in the fact that animals act without the help of the tools and instruments used by humans, and their behaviour is devoid of culture.
Were one to accept the other doctrine, man would be conceived as a totally, distinct category. Man is no longer viewed simply as a talking or gregarious animal. He is rather seen as God's Vicegerent on earth. What distinguishes man from other animals, according to this doctrine, is not his capacity to speak or his gregariousness but the moral responsibility and trust with which he has been invested. Thus, one's whole perspective with regard to man and everything relating to him is changed. Rather than looking downwards to species of being lower than the human, man will turn his gaze upwards. It is claimed by some that however dignified the Qur'anic doctrine might be from a moral and psychological point of view, Darwinism should still be preferred on the basis of its being scientifically established. However, the very claim that Darwinism has been scientificaly established is itself questionable. Only those who have a very superficial acquaintance with modern science can entertain the misconception that the Darwinian theory of evolution has been scientifically, established. Those who know better are fully, aware that despite the vast paraphernalia of evidence in its support, it remains merely a hypothesis. The arguments marshalled in support of this theory at best succeed in establishing it as a possibility, but certainly not as an incontrovertible fact. Hence at the most what can he said is that the evolution of the species is as much a possibility as its direct creation.
11. Implicit in the Qur'anic expression (sagharin) is the idea of contentment with one's disgrace and indignity, for saghir is he who invites disgrace and indignity, upon himself. Now, Satan was a victim of vanity and pride, and for that very reason defied God's command to prostrate himself before Adam. Satan was therefore, guilty of self-inflicted degradation. False pride, baseless notions of glory, ill-founded illusions of greatness failed to confer any greatness upon him. They could only bring upon him disgrace and indignity. Satan could blame none but himself for this sordid end.
12. This was the challenge thrown down by Satan to God. What it meant is
that Satan would make use of the respite granted to him until the Last Day,
and he would do so in order to prove that nian did not deserve a position superior
to his and this had after all been bestowed upon him by God. So doing, he would
expose how ungrateful, thankless and disloyal a creature man is.
The respite asked for by Satan and granted to him by God includes not only the time but also the opportunity to mislead Man and to prove his point by appealing to man's weaknesses. The Qur'an makes a pointed statement about this in (Banu Isra'il 17: 61-5). These verses make it clear that God had granted Satan the opportunity to try to mislead Adam and his offspring At the same time it has also been made quite clear that Satan was not granted the power to lead men into error against their will. 'As for my servants', says the Qur'an, 'you shall have no power over them' (Banu Isra'il 17: 65). Thus all that Satan can do is to cause misunderstanding, to make people cherish false illusions, to make evil and error seem atractive, and to invite people to evil ways by holding out to them the promise of immense pleasure and material benefits. He would have no power, however, to forcibly pull them to the Satanic way and to prevent them from following the Right Way. Accordingly, the Qur'an makes it quite plain elsewhere that on the Day of Judgement, Satan would address the men who had followed him in the following words: 'I had no power over you except to call you; but you listened to me: then reproach me not, but reproach your own selves' (Ibrahim 14: 22).
As for Satan's allegation that God Himself caused him to fall into error see (verse 16) it is an attempt on the part of Satan to transfer the blame which fails squarely on him to God. Satan's grivance seems to be that God was responsible for his deviation insofar as He hurt Satan's pride by asking him to prostrate before Adam, and that it was this which led him to disobey God. It is thus clear that Satan wanted to continue enjoying his vain arrogance and that he was incensed that his weakness - arrogance - was seen through and brought to full light. The underlying stupidity of the statement is too patently obvious to call for any refutation, and hence God took no notice of it.
13. The narrative sheds light on the following significant points:
(i) Modesty and bashfulness are inherent in human nature. The primary manifestation of this instinct is seen in the sense of shame that one feels when one is required to expose the private parts of one's body in the presence of others. According to the Qur'an, this bashfulness is not artificial, nor an outcome of advancement in human culture and civilization. Nor is it something acquired as some misguided thinkers contend. On the contrary, modesty has been an integral part of human nature from the very beginning.
(ii) The very first stratagem adopted by Satan in his bid to lead man astray from the Right Path consisted of undermining man's sense of modesty, to direct him towards lewdness and make him sexually deviant. In other words, the sexual instincts of man were taken by Satan as the most vulnerable aspect of human nature. Accordingly, he sought to weaken man's natural instincts of modesty and bashfulness. This devilish stratagem is still followed by the disciples of Satan in our time. For them, progress is inconceivable without exposing woman to the gaze of all and making her strip before others in one form or another.
(iii) Such is human nature that man scarcely responds to an unambiguous invitation to evil. Those who seek to propagate evil are, therefore, forced to present themselves as sincere well-wishers of humanity.
(iv) Man is naturally, drawn towards lofty ideals such as the attainment of superhuman positions and the securing of immortality. Satan achieved his first victory in his bid to mislead man by appealing to the latter's inherent desire to attain immortality. Satan's most effective weapon is to promise man a more elevated position than his present one, and then set him on a course that leads instead to his degradation.
(v) Here the Qur'an refutes the fairly popular view that Satan first misled Eve and later used her as an instrument to mislead Adam. (See Ibn Kathir's comments on (verses 22-3 - Ed.) The Qur'anic version of the story is that Satan attempted to mislead both Adam and Eve, and in fact both fell prey to his guile. At first sight, this might seem of trivial significance. However, all those who are acquainted with the impact of this version of Adam's fall on the moral, legal and social degradation of women will appreciate the significance of this Qur'anic statement.
(vi) There is hardly any basis to assume that the forbidden tree had certain inherent qualities which could result in the exposure of Adam and Eve's private parts as soon as they had tasted its fruit. Instead of the forbidden tree possessing any extraordinary qualities, it was rather man's disobedience to God which led to his fall from his original state. Initially, Adam and Eve's private parts had remained hidden on account of special arrangements made by God. Once they disobeyed, they were deprived of that special Divine arrangement, and were left to themselves to cover their nakedness if they so wished.
(vii) This was a way, of conveying to mankind for all time that whenever he disobeys God, he will sooner or later be exposed; that man will enjoy God's support and protection only so long as he remains obedient to Him. Once man transgresses the bounds of his obedience, he will be deprived of God's care and protection and left to his own self. This idea is also embodied in many traditions from the Prophet (peace be on him). According to a tradition, the Prophet (peace be on him) prayed:
'O God! I seek Your Mercy. Do not leave me to my own care even for the wink of an eye!' (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 5, P. 421 - Ed.)
(vii) Satan wanted to prove that man did not deserve, not even for a moment, the superior status which had been granted to him by God. However, Satan failed in the very first round of his efforts to discredit man. Granted, man did not fully succeed in obeying God's command; rather, he fell prey to the machinations of his arch-enemy, Satan, and deviated from the path of obedience. Nevertheless, it is evident even in the course of this first encounter that man is a morally superior being. This is clear from many a thing. First, whereas Satan laid claim to superiority, man made no such claim rather a superior status was bestowed upon him by God. Second, Satan disobeyed God out of sheer pride and arrogance. But far from openly revolting against God out of his own prompting, man was disobedient under Satan's evil influence. Third, when man disobeyed God, he did so unwittingly, not realizing that he was committing a sin. 'Man was beguiled into disobedience by Satan ,who appeared in the garb of man's well-wisher. It was Satan who persuaded him to believe that in the fruit of the forbidden tree lay his good, that his action would lead him to the heights of goodness, not to the depths of evil. Fourth, when Satan was warned, rather than confessing his mistake and repenting, he clung even more adamantly to disobedience. But when man was told that he had sinned, he did not resort to continued transgression as Satan did. As soon as man realized his mistake, he confessed his fault, returned to the course of obedience and sought refuge in God's mercy.
This story draws a clear line between the way of Satan and the way that befits man. Satan's way is characterized by rebellion against God, by arrogantly persisting in that rebellion even after having been warned, and by trying to mislead the righteously disposed towards sin and disobedience. As opposed to this, the way that befits man is to resist the evil promptings of Satan and to be constantly vigilant against Satanic machinations. But, if in spite of all these precautions, a man does swerve from the course of obedience, he should turn, as soon as he realizes his fault, to God in penitence and remorse and make amends.
This is the lesson that God conveys to man through this anecdote. The Qur'an seeks to impress upon the opponents of the Prophet (peace be on him) that the way, they are following is the way of Satan. To become indifferent to God's Guidance, to take satans among men and jinn as their protectors and to persist in disobedience despite repeated warnings, amounts to adopting a Satanic attitude. It demonstrates that they have fallen prey to the snares of the arch-enemy and have been totally overpowered by him. This attitude will lead to their total undoing just as it led to Satan's undoing. Anyone who has even an iota of understanding should heed and emulate the example of his foreparents - Adam and Eve - who repented and made amends after their disobedience.
14. God's command that Adam and Eve 'go down' should not be misunderstood to mean that their departure from Paradise was by way of punishment. The Qur'an has made it clear many a time that God accepted Adam and Eve's repentance and pardoned them. Thus the order does not imply punishment. It rather signifies the fulfilment of the purpose for which man was created. (For elaboration see Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. 1, (al-Baqarh 2: nn. 48 and 53, pp. 63-4 and 66 - Ed.)