By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
23 June, 2015
(Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)
5. Creation of Human Being
The Qur’an reflects on the creation of human being in its typically condensed manner. Some of its verses relate to the Biblical episode,1 while others refer to the corporeal growth of human species (Insan, Bashar) from earth,2 and water;3 their procreation from their own selves,4 and the creative evolution of all living things from water.5
5.1. Creation of Adam As God’s Deputy (Khalifah) On Earth
“When your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will place a deputy (Khalifah) 6 on earth', they said: ‘Will you place someone there who will spread corruption and shed blood, while we celebrate your praise and sanctify you?’ (God) said: ‘I know what you do not know’ (2:30). He taught Adam the names (Asma’a) of all things and then placed them before the angels and said: ‘Tell Me the names of these, if you are truthful' (31). They said: ‘Glory to you (O Lord)! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, You are All-Knowing and Wise’ (32). He said: ‘O Adam! Tell them the names of these. When he told them the names of those, God said: ‘Didn’t I tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth, and I know what you reveal, and what you have been hiding’ (33)? And We said to the angels: ‘Bow down to Adam’ and they bowed down, except Iblis: he refused, showed arrogance, and was among the ungrateful (34). We said: ‘O Adam! Dwell in the garden - you and your spouse; and eat from it plentifully when and as you please; but do not approach this tree, lest you become wrongdoers.’ (35) Then Satan made the two of them slip (and they ate of the forbidden tree) and got the two of them expelled from whatever state (of felicity) they were in. We said: ‘Clear out, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves, and you will have an abode and means of livelihood on earth for a time’ (36). Then Adam received the Words from his Lord who turned to him (in forgiveness); for He is Most Relenting and Merciful” (2:37).
Narrated in a number of immaculately consistent passages1 the Qur’anic crystallized reflections on Adam’s primordial episode can be very thought provoking, as illustrated below:
• Humans are created as God’s deputy or delegate (Khalifah) and thus given a very special position and responsibility in Creation, but they are prone to bloodshed and corruption (2:30).
• The angels celebrate the praise of God and sanctify Him (2:30).
• God taught Adam the names (Asma’a) of all things (2:31). The Qur’anic plural word Asma’a (sing. ism) traditionally rendered as ‘names’ also connotes knowledge, virtue, quality etc. Thus, this pithy statement can be interpreted to imply God empowering humans with the faculty to identify and characterize every object individually.
• Adam told them the names of ‘those’ he were shown before (2:33) indicates the power of human mind to recount things out of memory – a unique gift to humans.
• God’s command to Adam, “But do not approach this tree” (2:35) evokes in him a curiosity and temptation and haunts him with a conflicting thought – whether to approach the tree or to keep away from it – a freedom of choice given only to humans.
• Satan made ‘the two of them’ slip (2:36).
• God’s warning: ‘Clear out, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves’, implies a plurality of the addressee that imparts an allegorical undertone to the entire episode centred around Adam and his spouse (2:36).
• God forgives Adam (2:37).
Other related passages1 add the following dimensions to our reflections:
• Upon eating of the forbidden tree “the two of them became conscious of their private parts (sexual morality)” (7:122, 20:122).
• The role of Satan as an eternal tempter.7
5.2. Man's Creative Evolution from the Elements
“He is the One who created you from clay (tin) (inorganic matter), then decreed a term, and there is a determined term with Him. Yet you remain doubtful”(6:2).
“... He (caused) you to grow from the earth (Ard) and settled you in it...”(11:61).
“He is the One who created human being (Bashar) from water and established for him relations of blood and marriage...” (25:54).4,5
These reflections are in complete harmony with modern science and therefore need no further explanation.
5.3. God Inspires Humans with Divine Spirit
As the culmination of the creative process of human being (Bashar), God breathes some of the divine spirit into it (15:29, 38:72),8 indicating that God alone is the source of all human virtues and intellectual potentials.
“And your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human being (Bashar) from (dry) clay (Salsal), from a slimy mass (Hama) (organic matter) moulded (into shape) (15:28). When I have completed him (to perfection), and breathed into him from My Spirit, bow down to him’ (29). The angels bowed down - all together (30), except Iblis. He refused to be among those who bowed down” (15:31).
“And your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human being (bashar) from clay (tin) (inorganic matter) (38:71). When I have completed him and breathed into him from My Spirit, bow down to him’ (72) The angels bowed down - all together (73) except Iblis. He refused, showed arrogance and was among the ungrateful” (38:74).
1. 2:30-37, 7:11-25, 15:28-40, 18:50, 20:116-123, 38:71-83.
2. 22:5, 23:12/Ch. 4.7, 30:20, 32:7, 35:11, 40:67, 71:17.
4. 30:21, 32:8.
6. Khalifah connotes a successor - someone who has received an inheritance as a successor, and is varyingly rendered as deputy, delegate, vicar, agent etc. (6:165, 27:62, 35:39).
7. 7:17, 15:39, 38:82.
6. The Day of Judgement
The Qur’an states, in no uncertain terms, that God has decreed the Day of Judgment. On that Day, God will judge each soul depending upon what it earned during the lifetime through faith and deeds, and any form of recommendation or intercession will not be accepted (2:48),1 except by divine permission.2
“Heed the day when no soul shall compensate for another* in any manner; when no intercession will be accepted from any (of them), nor ransom will be taken from any (of them), nor will they be helped” (2:48). *[Lit., ‘another soul’]
The Meccan Suras are full of warnings about the Day of Judgment and some of the Suras are wholly devoted to it.
6.1. Qur’anic Description of the Day of Judgment
The Qur’an describes the Day of Judgment in an immensely beautiful, overwhelmingly forceful, and highly allegorical language. As such, their rendering in human language is not meaningful. However, some illustrative passages are listed below to give some ‘metaphorical glimpses’ of this Final Event.
“When the sun is folded up (81:1), when the stars darken (2), when the mountains vanish (3), when the ten months (pregnant) camels are neglected (4), when the wild beasts are herded together (5), when the oceans overflow (6), when the souls are sorted out (7), when the infant girl buried alive is questioned (8) for what crime she was killed (9), when the Scrolls are unrolled (10), when the sky is unveiled (11), when the flaming fire is set ablaze (12), and when the garden is brought near (13) - then each soul shall know what it has prepared (for itself)” (81:14).
“When the sky is split asunder (82:1), when the stars are scattered (2), when the oceans burst forth (3), and when the graves are overturned (4), each soul will know what it sent forth, and (what it) left behind (5). O People! What has lured you away from your Noble Lord (6), who created you and completed you (in) due proportions (7), having put you together in whatever form He wished (8)? Yet you belie the Judgment” (82:9).
6.2. Qur'anic Description of Paradise and Hell
The Qur'an uses a highly allegorical and vibrant language to depict the delights of paradise, and the punishments of hell:
“God has promised the believing men and the believing women, gardens with streams running past, in which they will abide – goodly dwellings in the gardens of Eden – but approval from God is far greater (as a reward): that is the supreme triumph” (9:72).
“The foremost (sabiqun) (in faith and good deeds)3 will be the foremost (in reward) (56:10), and it is they who are drawn close (to God) (11) in gardens of bliss (12) - a multitude from the ancients (13), and a few from those of later times (14): on gilded couches (15), reclining on them, and facing each other (16). Around them will stroll immortal youths (17) - with glasses, goblets and cups (filled) from a fountain (18), which will not upset them, nor dull their senses (19). (They will have) any fruits they choose (20), and the meat of any fowl they wish (21), and companions (Hur) 4 with lustrous eyes (22) like the pearls hidden (in their shells) (23). (This will be) the reward for what they did” (56:24).
“When the sky splits open and becomes rosy like red hide (55:37) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (38)? That day neither man nor any jinn shall be asked about his sin (39) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (40)? The guilty shall be recognized by their features and will be seized by their foreheads and their feet (41) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (42)?. This is the hell, which the guilty denied (43). They will go circling round between it and boiling water (44) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny” (55:45)?.
6.3. The Relevance of Punishment in the Qur’anic Discourse
The graphic description of the punishments of hell might suggest that the Qur’anic equation of reward and punishment worked as stick and carrot to its simple audience leading to their conversion to Islam. Such an assumption may be too simplistic. Practically all the passages depicting punishment of hell- more than a score as listed by Ashfaque,5 date from the Meccan period, when the Quraysh vehemently rejected the revelation and derided the latter passages as the outburst of a crazy mind and the reflections of jumbled up dreams. Any significant conversion to the faith occurred only after the Hudaibiya Peace treaty, some twenty years into the revelation by which time all the passages referring to the punishment of hell had long been revealed. Besides, contrary to a popular belief, the Qur’an does not speak about any punishment or torture in the grave or in the span between death and resurrection.
The fact remains, as the Qur’an puts it, “man is intense in his passion for women, for hoarded up treasures, and glory, and power,”6 and these instincts, when go out of bounds, drive him to committing acts that displease God. The fear of punishment - either from a temporal court, or at an ineffable final reckoning restrains his criminal instincts. If there were no courts of law and no punishment, the criminals will dominate society and the weak and the innocent will be oppressed. In other words, the deterrent of punishment is essential to establishing justice and morality. So the Qur’anic references to punishment awaiting the sinners – no matter how they are described, were essential to its discourse that primarily aimed at establishing justice in the society and protecting the weak and the historically oppressed classes.
The Qur’anic pronouncements are, however, a clear reminder to all humanity – including the high and mighty, who cause collateral damages and human catastrophes through their actions and or decisions that they cannot escape the punishment of God, though their temporal, ecclesiastical, theocratic or official positions may have spared them from any temporal trial or punishment.
6.4. Qur'anic Explanation of Its Description of Paradise and Hell
The Qur’an clarifies that its graphical descriptions of the rewards of paradise and punishments of hell are parabolic and allegorical, and declares:
“A likeness of the garden which the heedful (Muttaqun) are promised (is that) streams run below it, its food and its shade are everlasting...” (13:35).
“No soul knows what delights* are kept secret for them as a reward for what they did” (32:17). *[Lit., ‘delights of the eye’.]
“A likeness of the garden which the heedful (Muttaqun) are promised (is that) in it there are streams of water never brackish, and streams of milk, whose taste never changes, and streams of wine – delicious to those who drink, and streams of honey, pure and clear...” (47:15).
While Islamic theological literature abounds in speculations about the rewards of paradise and the punishments of hell, these ‘expositions’ catered to the intellectual and emotional needs of the era, are not rooted in the Qur’an, and can hardly be of any help to the believer. To earn God’s blessings, a believer needs the glow of faith, the love of God, and compliance with divine guidance, rather than the attraction of hur4 or fear of hell. However, the believers can take a lesson from the Qur’anic description of human state in hell and paradise, and in doing so, cultivate a behavior pattern that can make their life pleasant on earth. Thus, for example, those in hell are described to be arguing, blaming, wishing to die, trying to rationalize, and also wondering why those they considered evil are not in hell, whereas people in the heaven are in peace and don’t utter wrong and are in deep gratitude.
6.5. The Qur’an’s Reminder on the Recreation of Human Being
The Prophet’s audience openly rejected the notion of resurrection and condemned it as the legends of the ancients (Note 8/Ch. 3.1). Those who deny it today are as skeptical of it, as the Prophet’s audience. Many questions may arise, even in the mind of believers, if they try to explain the resurrection, and all its potential ‘implications’. That is why believers are asked simply to believe in it as an article of faith (Ch. 2.1). The Qur’an, however, provides a rationale to reflect on the possibility of a second existence (56:62), and points to the divine scheme of transforming human being into some new form that we do not know (56:61, 21:104).
“Have you considered the seed* (56:58)? Is it you that create it or are We the Creators (59)? We have ordained death for you, and We are not to be prevented (60). Surely, We may change your forms and recreate you in (forms) that you do not know (61). You already know about (the miracle of) the first creation, so why aren’t you mindful” (56:62)? *[Lit., ‘what you emit’.]
“On that Day We shall roll up the Heaven as the scroll is rolled up for books (completed); and just as We brought forth the first Creation, so shall We repeat it - a promise We have undertaken; surely We shall fulfil it” (21:104).
1. 2:254, 2:255, 2:281, 34:23, 40:18.
2. 2:255, 34:23.
3. The insertion of the bracketed expression ‘faith and good deeds’ after the word ‘foremost’ (Sabiqun) is consistent with the concluding stipulation of the passage (verse 56:24) shown in bold, and is also supported by the Qur’anic usage of the root SBQ elsewhere in its text (2:148, 5:48):
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so vie (Fastabiq) (with each other) in goodness …” (2:148). [Full text in Ch. 16]
“…We have made for everyone of you a (different) code (Shir’ah), and an open way (of action)... so vie (Fastabiq) (with each other) in goodness…” (5:48). [Full text in Ch. 9.3]
4. As illustrated by Muhammad Asad (Message of the Qur’an), the word hur connotes the purest form of whiteness (Note 8, Ch. 56). The word also appears in the verses 44:54 and 52:20 with a qualifying epithet, ‘ayin, which means ‘the large eyed ones’. This has led the classical interpreters to associate this term with a female being - a woman, of fair complexion and large eyes. Such an interpretation has no Qur’anic basis, and is merely speculative, as the Qur’an promises paradise to the members of both the sexes (9:72/6.2 above). The Qur’an also uses the following gender-neutral terms/expressions to denote the companions of paradise:
a. Qasirat At Tarf in 37:48, 38:52, 55:56; literally, ‘such as restrain their gaze.’
b. Atrab in 38:52, 56:37, 78:33; most commentators have connoted it with ‘well matched’ or ‘equal in age.’
c. Khayratun Hisan in 55:70. The expression combines two Qur’anic words on shades or categories of goodness: Khairah and Hasanah (Note 24/Preface) and is thus suggestive of the noblest form of goodness.
As in the case of hur, the classical commentators have given the body of a woman to these allegorical expressions, and one can notice this even in modern translations by eminent scholars. Thus, Thomas Cleary, one of the most renowned translators of religious scriptures of modern era has translated qasirat at tarf as i) ‘demure women’ (37:48), ‘demure females’ (38:52), and ‘women who restrain their glances’ (55:56); atrabanas ‘wives’ (56:36) and ‘damsels’ (78:33); and khayratun hisan as ‘good women who are beautiful’ (55:70). – The Qur’an, A New Translation, USA 2004. Likewise, Michael Sells has translated khayratun hisan(55:70) as ‘women good and fair’ - Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 157.
Traditionally, some Muslim scholars have supported feminist personification of Qur’anic expressions on the ground that Qur’an refers to them in the feminine gender form. But this is not tenable. As with French, Arabic is grammatically gendered, and the Qur’an employs this grammatical nuance to create an evocative personification that leaves even the Arab readers puzzled (Note 8/Preface), and simply cannot be captured in a foreign rendition; example: ‘the earth grammatically feminine giving birth to its secrets.’ Those interested may consult Michael Sells work referred to and quoted above.
5. Ashfaque Syed, Index of the Qur’anic Topics, Maryland 1998, p. 589 to 616.
6. The expression under inverted comas combines the essence of the pronouncements of the verses 3:14 and 100:8 featured in Ch. 41.1.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.