Human beings feel a deep need to know about their origins. In many religions and cultures, we find stories of how the world began. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the story of Prophet Adam describes the creation of the first human beings. We begin this unit by studying the story of Prophet Adam as it is narrated in the Quran.
The story of Adam and Eve is an ancient one. We can find it in different forms, in the sacred books and religious texts of the Jews, Christians and Muslims. It has also been related in many different ways by story te1lers and writers throughout the centuries. In this section, we study a version of this famous story as related by twe1th-centuy writer by the name of al-Kisai.
Myths are stories in which we can find deep meanings and truths. When we study them closely we can find insights about ourselves as human beings and our relation with the universe. Myths are stories that continue to be told because they have the power to speak to people in every age.
Creation stories are special types of, myths that describe how the world began. The story of Prophet Adam is an example of a creation story.
The language of the Quran
By understanding the story of Prophet Adam in the Quran, we begin to understand the language of the Quran. It is a language that deals with our deepest questions and concerns. It is a rich language of stories, myths and parables that contains many levels of meanings.
A story for all times
It is for this reason that Prophet Adam’s story as given in the Quran has been told in many forms and versions throughout Muslim history. It is a story that will never lose its importance because it is like a magical mirror in which we can find all kinds of reflections of ourselves as human beings.
What does the story of Prophet Adam teach us about the language of the Quran?
WOLDS TO LOOK UP
– Creation story – Myth – Parable
TIMELINE: 7th century: The revelation of Allah’s message to Prophet Muhammad
Write the story of Prophet Adam in your own words, based on the verses of Quran that refer to the story.
THINKING ABOUT THE STORY
Why do you think God taught Adam ‘all the names’? What importance do names have in a language? What happens when we name something?
What do the following words mean? ‘And excite any of them whom you can with your voice ..’
In what sense is the story of Prophet Adam about beginning? What does the story teach us about beginning?
The story of Prophet Adam is common to Muslim, Christian and Jewish tradition. Compare how this story is narrated in the Quran and the Bible.
Science tolls us how the world came into being while religion explains to us why it was created. To what extent do you agree with this view?
Why do the sacred books of religions present many of their teachings in the form of stories or parables?
The story of Prophet Adam in the Quran helps us to understand the language of the Quran. It is a language that deals with our deepest questions, and in which we can find meaning for every age.
The Quran refers to the stories of many prophets, including that of Prophet Adam. In the early period of Islam, storytellers who narrated orally the lives of the prophets became very popular. Soon written collections of tales began to appear in which the lives of the major prophets were given as full stories. Here is the story of Adam and Iblis as presented in one of these collections.
The tales of the prophets
When God created the fire of Samum, which is a heatless. smokeless fire, He created the father of the genii. Iblis the accursed sprang from this race. When the land had become filled with the offspring of Iblis, God commanded them to worship and obey Him.
Since Iblis’ worship was greater than that of any of the jinn, God raised him to the heaven of the earth, where he worshiped God for a thousand years and was called ‘The Worshiper’, Then God raised him to the second heaven and continued to elevate him until he had reached the seventh heaven.
Long ages afterward, God commanded Gabriel to alight upon the earth and take a handful of dust from the East, the West, the plains, and the mountains so that He might fashion a new creation destined to be the best of all creatures.
When God had created Adam, He commanded the angels to bear him to the gate of Paradise. At that time. he was merely a body without spirit.
The angels marveled at the strangeness of Adam’s form and figure, for they had never seen anything like him. Iblis looked at him for a long time before saying, ‘God has created this thing for some great purpose. Perhaps He Himself has gone inside it.’
Iblis, however, retorted ‘If this thing be preferred to me, I shall disobey Him; if I be preferred to it, I shall destroy it’
God then breathed His spirit into Adam. God bade the spirit to be immersed in all the lights, then He commanded it to enter Adam’s body with praise and without haste. Adam opened his eyes and looked at his clay body. Then the spirit reached his ears, and he could hear the angels adoring God round about him. Then the spirit reached Adam’s nose and he sneezed. Adam said, ‘Praise be to God who is now and ever shall be.’ This was the first thing spoken by Adam.
When Adam stood erect, the angels saw that he appeared to be of glistening silver. Then God ordered the angels to prostrate themselves.
Iblis, however, refused to prostrate himself before Adam out of pride and jealousy. God said to him, ‘What hinders you from worshiping that which I have created with my hands?’ Iblis said, ‘I am more excellent than he: You have created me of fire, and You have created him of clay.’
Then God said, ‘The length of your worship will be of no avail: for I have known from all time what you would do. I have stripped you of all goodness until the end of eternity and have made you accursed, outcast, a devil. damned and abhorred!’ With this, his countenance was transformed into that of the devil.
God taught Adam the names of all things so that he knew all languages, even the language of the snakes and frogs and all that were on land and in the sea.
Then God commanded the angels to carry Adam on their shoulders so that he might be higher than them. As they marched along the highways of heaven they said, ‘Blessed! Blessed! We shall always obey you.
Them God commanded Gabriel the angelic hosts to gather before Adam so that he might address them. Gabriel. Therefore, called out and the hosts of the heavens assembled in twenty thousand rows, each row more splendid’ than the last.
That day Adam was wearing a robe of silk brocade as delicate as air. and he had two tresses studded with jewels and scented with musk and ambergris. On his head was a bejeweled crown of gold with four points, on each was a great pearl so radiant that the light of the sun and the moon was extinguished. He radiated a brilliant light, which shone in every corner of paradise.
Adam stood on the pulpit in all that radiance, and God taught him all names and gave him a staff of light. The angels were dazzled and said, ‘Our God, have you created anything more beautiful than this?’
Then Adam began to address the heavenly host: The first thing he said was, ‘Praise be to God.’ Then he cited the knowledge of the heavens and the earth, and what sorts of creatures God had made in the world.
Thereupon God said to the angels, ‘Declare unto me the names of these things if you say the truth.’ But the angels were unable to do so and said, ‘Praise be unto you; we have no knowledge but what you teach us, for you are knowing and wise.’
God said, ‘O Adam, tell them their names.’ And Adam informed them of the name of everything God had created on land and in the sea, even the pearl and the gnat. And the angels were astounded.
Then God said, ‘Did not I tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and know that which you discover, and that which you conceal?’
Then Adam descended from the pulpit, and God increased his beauty and radiance. God caused a bunch of grapes to draw near to Adam, and he ate it; and that was the first food of paradise Adam had eaten.
Slumber then overcame Adam and he slept, for there is no rest for the body except in sleeping. The angels, alarmed, said, ‘Sleep is the brother of death: this one will surely die!’
When Iblis heard that Adam had eaten food, he rejoiced and said, ‘I shall lead him astray!’
Abhorred – hated
Accursed – evil, wicked
Ambergris – a wax like substance used in making perfume
Avail – use
Brocade – a rich silky fabric with a raised pattern
Cited – mentioned, quoted
Countenance – face
elevate – raise to a higher position
glittering – shining
gnat – a small. Biting fly
hinders – stops, comes in the way
hosts-large groups, armies
musk – a perfume obtained from the gland of a deer
offspring – children, descendants
prostrate . to lie face downwards
pulpit – a raised platform for a speaker
retorted, answered angrily
tresses – coils of hair
When Adam slept, God created Eve, She was called Eve (Hawa) because she was made from a living being (hayy).
Eve was as tall and as beautiful as Adam and had seven hundred tresses studded with gems of chrysolite and incensed with musk. She was in the prime of her life. She had large, dark eyes; she was tender and white; her palms were tinted, and her long, shapely. brilliantly coloured tresses, which formed a crown, emitted a rustling sound. She was of the same form as Adam, except that her skin was softer and purer in colour than his was, and her voice was more beautiful. Her eyes were darker, her nose more curved, and her teeth whiter than his were.
When God had created her, He seated her at Adam’s side. Adam saw her in his sleep on that long-ago day and loved her in his heart.
Then God said, ‘O people of heaven, I establish Adam and Eve in paradise. I permit them everything that is in paradise, except the Tree of Eternity. If they approach it and eat from it, they will be among the unjust!’
When Iblis heard this, he rejoiced and said, ‘I shall certainly have them expelled from that kingdom, seeing they have been forbidden something!’
Slinking stealthily along the highways of heaven, at the gate of paradise he found the peacock, who had just come out.
“When Iblis saw him, he drew near and spoke to him in a soft voice, saying, ‘O bird, wonder of creation, most beautiful of colours, most pleasing of voice! Which of the birds of paradise are you’?
‘I am the peacock,’ he said. ‘What is it to you? You, who look like a fugitive, or as though afraid of some pursuer.’
‘I am one of the angels of the highest station who never for one moment cease praising God. Do you think you could get me into paradise?’ said Iblis. ‘In return, I shall teach you three words. Whoever says these words will never grow old or ill and will never die.’
‘What do you mean?’ said the peacock. ‘Do the people of paradise die?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘they die, they grow old, and they suffer illness – unless they have these words.’ And he swore by God that it was true.
The peacock, trusting him and not believing that anyone would swear by God if he were lying, said, ‘Oh! I am desperately in need of these words, but I fear Ridwan (the guardian at the gate of Paradise) will find me out. I will end you the serpent, who is the mistress of the beasts of paradise, and she will let you in.’
The peacock walked hurriedly off to paradise and told the serpent all that had happened.
‘How greatly do you and I need those words!’ said the serpent.
‘I promised I would send you to him,’ said the peacock to him ‘ Go out to him before he passes you over for another!’
That day the serpent went out and saw Iblis, just as the peacock had described him. Iblis drew near her and spoke with a soft voice, as he had done with the peacock. ‘Make me a promise about what you say!’ said the serpent. – And Iblis swore by God to her, just as he had done with the peacock.
‘That will suffice,’ she said,’ but how can I let you into paradise?’
‘I see a wide opening between your fangs,’ said Iblis. I know it is big enough for me. Let me get in, and I will teach you the words.’
The serpent opened her mouth, and Iblis jumped in and sat down between her fangs (thus the fangs of snakes became poisonous until the end of the ages. Then the serpent closed her mouth and entered paradise.
When the serpent reached the middle of heaven, she said to him, ‘Get out of my mouth now before Ridwan sees you!’
But Iblis spoke from the serpent’s mouth, saying. ‘O Eve, Beauty of Paradise, haven’t I been with you in paradise and told you about everything that is there? Haven’t I told the truth in all I have said to you?’
‘Yes,’ said Eve, ‘I have only known you to be truthful in your speech.’
Why did your Lord forbid you the tree of Eternity?’ asked Iblis.
‘I don’t know,’ said Eve.
‘But I know!’ cried Iblis. ‘He forbade it to you because He wanted to make you like that slave whose place is under the tree of Eternity and whom God brought to paradise two thousand years before you!’
Eve jumped up from the dais to look at the slave. Whereupon Iblis lept out of the serpent’s mouth like a streak of lightning and sat down under the tree. Eve saw him and thought he was the slave. Calling to him, she asked, ‘Who are you?’
‘I am a creature of my Lord, who created me from fire. I have been in this paradise two thousand years. He created me, as He created you two, with His own hand and breathed His breath into me. He caused the angels to bow down before me, then He established me in paradise and forbade me to eat from this tree. I did not eat from it until one of the angels, who swore to me that he was giving me good advice, told me to do so, saying that whosoever ate from it would have everlasting life in paradise.
I trusted him ‘and ate from it. As you can see, I am still in paradise, and have been safe from old age, illness, death and expulsion.’
Then he added, ‘Your Lord has not forbidden you this tree for any other reason but lest you should become angels, or lest you become immortal.’
So Eve drew near to the tree, plucked seven ears from seven branches of the tree, ate one and hid one away; the other five she took to Adam.
Then Adam took the ears from her hand, having forgotten the covenant binding upon him and tasted of the tree as Eve had done.
No sooner had Adam tasted one of the ears of grain than the crown flew off his head, his rings squirmed off his hand and everything that had been on both him and Eve fell off. They hurriedly began to cover themselves with leaves.
The dove which had shed light on Adam’s crown drew near and said, ‘O Adam. where is your crown, your jewels, your finery? O Adam, after beauty and magnificence, you have come to be cursed!’ And everything shouted rebuke after him from all sides, and the angels also; and he looked at them with longing and regret.
Then God said to him, ‘O Adam. did I not forbid you this tree: and did I not say unto you, “verily Satan is your declared enemy?”
‘O Lord,’ cried Adam, ‘you did not teach us that anyone would swear by you and’ lie!’
chrysolite – a precious gem
conceal – Hide
covenant – solemn agreement
dais – a low platform
ears – parts of a plant that bear seeds or grains
extinguished – put out
finery – showy costume or decoration
fugitive – a person who flees to avoid danger or being caught
incensed – scented perfumed
prime of her life – at he time of highest perfection in her life
rebuke – blame
slinking stealthily – moving secretly without being noticed
suffice – be enough
About the author and the story
During the time of Prophet Muhammad, many Arabs knew the stories of the prophets. When they heard the Quran mentioning the prophets, they understood the Quranic verses because they knew these stories well. They had heard them from storytellers who were familiar with religious stories and the sacred books of the Christians and Jews.
After the Prophet died, these storytellers became very popular. The tales of the prophets became more important than before because the Quran made mention of the lives of God’s apostles. The storytellers told the tales of the prophets to the common people in the streets and mosques. Later, learned works were produced in which all the stories of the prophets were put together as a single collection.
A book of tales about the prophets
The story on Prophet Adam in this section is from a collection of tales about the prophets, produced around the twelfth century. The original version was written by a writer named al-Kisai. We do not have much information about his life. It is interesting to study how al-Kisai has presented the story of Adam in his tails of the prophets.
Examining the Story
One of the first things we notice about al-Kisai’s tale of Adam is that it is based closely on the Quran, but he adds many details that are not there in the Quran. Al-Kisai uses the verses of the Quran as pillars on which he builds his story of Adam.
Al-Kisai adds details to the characters of Iblis, Adam and Eve so that we can see them as individuals with personalities and emotions. At the beginning of the story, we become aware of how high a status Iblis has, and why he looks down upon Adam when God creates this new being. We can also picture Adam and Eve as perfect and innocent beings before their fall.
Al-Kisai’s story makes us think deeply about the relations between Iblis, Adam and Eve. Iblis is overcome by pride and jealousy, which leads him to rebel against God. Adam and Eve are made weak by temptation. They experience shame and rejection, but are quick to ask for forgiveness.
In this short story, we encounter difficult dilemmas and powerful emotions that remind us of situations in our own lives. We often face choices where it is difficult to decide what is right and wrong. We feel anger and envy at those who are favoured in some ways. We may feel ashamed when we have done something wrong. All these are human feelings that are captured dramatically by al-Kisai in his story of Adam.
Fire, clay and light
Al-Kisai uses strong metaphors to portray the characters of each figure in the story. Iblis is made of fire, and Adam of clay.
The image of light is used to describes the spirit that God breathes into Adam. This brilliant light from Adam shines in every corner of paradise.
Metaphors and meanings
Fire, clay and light are all metaphors which can be understood in many ways. Fire, for example, can stand for passion, anger or destruction. Clay can refer to that which is impure, lowly or slothful. Light leads many people to think of knowledge, perfection or what is holy.
The play of metaphors
When these metaphors are brought together within a story, something wonderful happens. We understand the relations between God and Iblis with a deeper insight.
Fire versus clay
For example let us study how Iblis feels towards Adam. When Iblis looks at Adam’s clay body, he remarks, ‘God has created this thing for some great purpose. Perhaps He Himself has gone inside it.’ Iblis is aware of God’s spirit or light inside the clay of Adam. But he chooses to ignore this light and views Adam as only a creature of clay. lblis says to God, “You have created me of fire, and You have created him of clay.’
The one eyed
In Muslim tradition, Iblis is known as the ‘one-eyed’ because he only saw the clay or the physical side of Adam. He chose not to see the light in Adam, the spiritual side of human beings.
The power of language
Al-Kisai also gives us insight into the nature of Language. At the beginning of the story, we learn about the power that God gives to Adam to name all things. The story makes language into a special gift given by God to human beings.
Words can deceive
The power of language, however, is also given to Iblis. In the Quran, God says to Iblis, ‘And excite any of them whom you can with your voice …’ God grants Iblis the power to deceive through the use of words.
Iblis promises the peacock and the serpent that he will teach them three words. ‘Whoever says these words will never grow old or ill anti will never die.’ Iblis deceives the peacock and the serpent in believing that the inhabitants of paradise die. Then he deceives them in believing that words can make them live forever!
Between the fangs of a snake
Iblis then gains entry into paradise by lodging himself into the mouth of the serpent. The words that the serpent will now speak will be no longer hers but Satan’s. That is why the fangs of snakes are poisonous, so al-Kisai tells us.
When Iblis meets Eve, he deceives her as well through the clever use of words. He pretends that he was created in the same way as Adam, and he too was forbidden by God to eat from the tree of eternity. But having eaten from the tree, he can now live forever.
Swearing by God
To gain his ends, Iblis swears by God, gains the trust of his victims, and then leads them astray. Adam does not understand how someone who swore by God’s name could lie.
Al-Kisai’s story makes us realise that we have a choice between good or evil when we use the gift of language.
How was the story of Prophet Adam presented by Muslim writers in the early period of Islam?
WORDS TO LOOK UP
Read al-Kisai’s story again. Find all the verses of the Quran that he has used in presenting the story of Prophet Adam.
THINKING ABOUT THE STORY
In what way was Adam made superior to the angels?
What was the main reason why Satan succeeded in deceiving Adam and Eve?
How does al-Kisai make us aware of the power of language through his retelling of Adam’s story?
In what ways is al-Kisai’s tale of Adam different from that in the Quran?
Read the stories of other prophets given in the Quran. Explore the tales of alKisai and other writers who refer to the lives of prophets in their work.
The story of Prophet Adam in the Quran and as narrated by al-Kisai are two very different stories. How far do you agree with this view?
How do you think al-Kisai’s story might have been influenced by the times in which he lived?
Writers in Muslim societies used stories from Quran creatively to produce their own versions.
The well of inspiration
Over time, the Quran had a major impact on Muslim literature. Writers and poets who followed the Prophet’s period were deeply influenced by the language and contents of the Quran. They borrowed freely stories, parables, themes and metaphors from the Quran and used them in their own works.
In each age, writers and poets in Muslim societies have sought inspiration from the Quran. They have tried to find new ways of understanding old stories. Here is how one modern poet and philosopher has reinterpreted the story of Adam and Iblis in his poetry.
I am not such a foolish angel
That I would bow to Adam!
He is made of dust, but my element is fire.
It is my ardour that heats the blood
In the veins of the universe:
I am in the raging storm
And the crashing thunder;
I am the bond that holds the atoms together,
And the law that rules the elements;
I burn and give form –
I am the alchemist’s fire.
What I have myself made I break in pieces,
Only to create new forms from the old dust .. –
The stars owe their existence to You,
But they owe their motion to me
I am the soul of the world
The hidden life that is seen by none.
You give the soul to the body,
But I set the soul astir
Adam – that creature of dust,
That short-sighted ignoramus –
Was born in your lap
But will grow old in my arms!
The spirit of the earth welcomes Adam
Open your eyes:
Look at the earth, look at the sky, look at the space between.
Look at the sun rising from the east.
See how the naked glory of God is concealed
You are about to face
The tyranny of the days of separation.
Don’t lose heart, see how hope and despair
Fight the action out.
These clouds, these leaden skies,
This dome of heaven, these silent spaces,
These mountains, valleys, oceans, winds,
Are yours to rule.
Until yesterday, you watched the angels at play.
Now observe your own actions in the mirror of Time
Time will obey the direction of your glance.
Stars in heaven will watch you from afar.
The ocean of your thought knows no shores.
The fire of your heart will reach the skies.
Build up your Self, and see
The effect of the far-reaching cry of pain.
The brightness of the world-warming sun
Fires your spark.
A whole new world lives in your talents.
Paradise wanted for free leaves you cold.
Your paradise is hidden in the blood of your heart.
Figure made of clay! Receive the reward of incessant toil.
alchemist – a medieval chemist
astir – in motion
bond – force holding things together
concealed – hidden
element – substance, essence
ignoramus – an ignorant person
incessant- without end, repeated
leaden – lead-coloured, bluisn-grey
toil – hard work
tyranny – cruel rule
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