This week, we continue our reflections on Man’s unique status as Allah’s vice regent on earth.
“Then Allah taught Adam the names of all things, and presented them to the angels and said: ‘If you are right (that the appointment of Man as vicegerent will cause mischief) then tell Me the names of these things.’ They said: ‘Glory to you! We have no knowledge except what You taught us. You, only You, are All-knowing, All-wise.’ Then Allah said to Adam: ‘Tell them the names of these things’. And when he had told them the names of all things, Allah said: ‘Did I not say to you that I know everything about the heavens and the earth which are beyond your range of knowledge and I know all that you disclose and all that you hide?” Holy Qur’an, 2: 31-33.
Commenting on these verses, Abullah Yusuf Ali says “The literal word in Arabic throughout out this passage are: (“the names of things”) which commentators take to mean the inner nature and qualities of things, and things here would include feelings. The whole passage is charged with mystic meaning. The particular qualities of feelings which were outside nature of angels were put by Allah into the nature of man. Man was thus able to love and understand love. And thus plan and initiate, as becomes the office of vicegerent. The angels acknowledged this. These things they could only know from the outside, but they had fate or believe in the unseen. And they knew that Allah saw all-what other sees. What others do not see, what others may even wish to conceal. Man has many qualities which are latent or which he may wish to suppress or conceal, to his own detriment.”
The nature of man’s knowledge is such that he acquires information of different things through their names. Hence it might be said that the sum total of man’s knowledge consists of the names of things. To teach Adam the names of all things means, therefore, imparting the knowledge of those things.
It seems that the knowledge of each angel and each genre of angel is confined to its own sphere of competence. The angels appointed to administer, let us say, things relating to air have full knowledge about this subject but have no knowledge, say about water, and so on and so forth. Man’s range of knowledge, however, is comprehensive. Even if man’s information in a particular area may be narrower than that of the angel directly concerned with it, the total range of his knowledge has a comprehensiveness which has not been granted to the angels.
“And when we ordered the angels: ‘Prostrate yourselves before Adam’, all of them fell prostrate, except Iblis.” He refused, and gloried in his arrogance and became one of the defiers. Holy Qur’an, 2:34.
This demonstration of Adam’s capacity was an answer to the first of the doubts the angels had expressed. In this manner, they were made to realise that Allah had not only bestowed some authority upon man, but had also endowed him with knowledge. Fear of mischief and disorder through man’s appointment as vicegerent is only one aspect of the matter. The other aspect is constructive and offsets man’s potentiality for spreading mischief. For the wise will not sacrifice a major good for fear of a minor harm.
This signifies that all the angels whose jurisdiction embraces the earth and that part of the universe in which the earth is situated were ordered to devote themselves to man’s service. Since man had been invested with authority on earth the angels were told that whenever man wanted to make use of the powers with which he had been invested by Allah, and which Allah of His own will had allowed him to use, they should co-operate with him and enable him to do whatever he wanted to do, irrespective of right and wrong.
This can be understood with reference to the manner in which government employees are required to work. When a sovereign appoints a governor or a magistrate, all government employees under his jurisdiction are duty-bound to obey him. As long as the sovereign permits the governor or magistrate to exercise authority on his behalf, people are required to obey him, irrespective of whether he exercises this authority or not. But as soon as the sovereign indicates to those employees that the governor or magistrate should be barred from doing something, the effective authority of the governor or the magistrate comes to an abrupt end. In fact, were the sovereign to issue the order that the governor be dismissed or imprisoned, the same employees who until then had been moving to and fro at his bidding would not feel hesitant in putting handcuffs on him and taking him to prison.
Allah’s order to the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam was of a similar nature. It is possible that prostration signifies the fact of their becoming yoked to man’s service. At the same time it is also possible that they were ordered to perform the act of prostration itself as a sign of the envisaged relationship between angels and man. In my view the latter seems more plausible.
“And We said: ‘O Adam, live in the Garden, you and your wife, and eat abundantly of whatever you wish but do not approach this tree or else you will be counted among the wrongdoers.” Holy Qur’an, 2:35.
This indicates that before man was sent to earth – the realm of his vicegerency – Adam and Eve were kept in Paradise in order to test them and their proclivities. A tree was chosen for this test and they were told not to approach it. They were also told that if they did approach it they would be reckoned as wrongdoers in the sight of Allah. It is unnecessary to delve into a discussion about what tree was and what was the particular reason underlying the prohibition to approach it. The actual reason for the prohibition was not that any particular evil inhered in the tree which could harm Adam and Eve, but rather to test how far they would follow the instructions of Allah and overcome the temptations of Satan. Anything that served this purpose was good enough, and this is why Allah has mentioned neither the name of the tree nor its attributes.
Moreover, for this kind of test Paradise was the best possible place. What Allah wanted to impress on man was that the only place that befits man’s station is Paradise, and that if man turns from the course of obedience to Allah as a result of Satanic allurements, he will remain deprived of it in the Next Life even as he was deprived of it once before. The only way he can recover his true status and reclaim the lost Paradise is by resisting effectively the enemy who is always trying to drive him off the course of obedience to Allah.
Ya Allah, bless Your Prophet and his house hold and make permanent through the Qur’an the rightness of our outward selves, keep out confusing thoughts from the soundness of our innermost minds, wash away the dirt of our hearts and remove the bondage of our burdens, compose our scattered affairs, quench in the halting place of presentation before You the thirst of our burning heat, and cloth us in the robes of security in this world and at our resurrection on the day of judgement!
Ya Allah, bless Your Prophet and his household, and through the Qur’an redress our lack, through absence of impoverishment, drive towards us the comforts of life and in abundance of plentiful provisions, turn aside blameworthy character traits, and base moral qualities, and preserve us from the of faithlessness and the motives of hypocrisy, until the Qur’an would be for us at the resurrection a leader to Your good pleasure and your gardens, and for us in this world against your displeasure and transgressing Your bounds, a protector and a witness. Amin Ya Rabb