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The symbol of Adam

December 20, 2012

THE Quranic discourse on the nature of Adam is multilayered and symbolic. It ranges from biological to metaphysical dimensions connected to the existence of Adam.

But the most important aspect of the Quranic discourse is the unveiling of the spiritual dimension of Adam. God addresses the angels and reveals His intention that He has decided to send Adam as His representative on earth (2:30).

The angels collectively object to this selection on the grounds that Adam will shed blood on earth and create disorder. God replies to this angelic objection by saying that “…I know which you know not”.

Then Adam, on orders from God, demonstrates his competence to comprehend everything and name things micro as well as macro (2:31-32). The biological Adam became the spiritual Adam when the divine touch was applied to him (7:11). Therefore Adam became a perfect combination of knowledge, soul and desire.

It was the desiring aspect of Adam which made him vulnerable to the allurements of Satan (Iblis). Adam and Eve tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree; this revealed the deviant dimension of their self, rooted in their biological structure, which led to disobedience and compromise on their immortality.

This also revealed the dialectical aspect of Adam’s nature. That he was capable of unleashing good and evil from the core of his being simultaneously. That now he has to rediscover lost immortality by a subtle synthesis of knowledge, soul and desire. This was the beginning of the historical Adam on earth.

Shaikh-ul-Akbar Mohyieddin Ibn al-Arabi in his book Fusus-ul-Hikam has opined that God chose Adam to be His representative on earth because he (Adam) reflected the essential attributes of the divine in his cosmological design. He was chosen by God to be the microcosm for the entire creative process.

He was the mirror of realities in which the possibilities of the macrocosm (cosmos and its constituents) perfectly found expression. The microscopic and macroscopic dimensions of the cosmological processes are programmed in his very being.

The key to this cosmic treasure chest lies within the very being of Adam.

His ontological attributes, which include knowledge, soul and desire, equip him sufficiently to engage with all levels and all forms of cosmic realities. The strife between good and evil is primordial. It co-evolved with the very origin of the tribe of Adam on earth.

The first blood was shed by the son of Adam. Cain murdered Abel. He did this because his nature was a combination of knowledge and desire. He was after power and domination. Abel refused this killing allurement because his nature was a combination of knowledge and soul. He let his brother kill him because he had an innate sense of empathy, altruism and self-sacrifice.

This was the first historical scuffle of good and evil. The subsequent history of the race of Adam bears testimony to the dialectical engagement of self-corruption and self-purification, between accumulation and distribution of wealth and between hate and love.

According to the Biblical narrative, Cain thus founded the first city. The city became a symbol of inequality, domination and control of fellow men. On the contrary, Abel’s worldview of a nomadic life upheld equality, sharing and empathy as the basis of human existence on earth.

Most of the social, economic and political problems of the tribe of Adam on earth are connected with eternal struggles between the two opposing worldviews. Slavery, violence, genocide, oppression and accumulation of wealth are the legacy of the tribe of Cain. Peace, meditation, freedom, spiritual liberation and mutual sharing of economic resources are the characteristic attributes of the tribe of Abel.

Those who follow the worldview of Abel may not be millionaires, but they are more close to their self, more peaceful at heart and more kind and generous to their fellow brothers and sisters. Whatever they possess — social or economic capital — is open for all. They share it with all human beings without any discrimination on the basis of colour, race, language, sex and nationality.

They rise at midnight and pray to God. They seek forgiveness and mercy from God. They tremble at the thought that they might have been unjust to someone and seek guidance from God.

The cultural contradictions of our age are also rooted in our historical legacy. The desire to control the entire resources of the earth is ceaseless and unending. The power to dominate and enslave people is abundant. The combination of knowledge and desire has become the dominant paradigm of our global civilisation. Those who fit into the ‘myth of competitive advantage’ are allowed to exist. Those who cannot must carry the burden. They must suffer and perish.

One can witness the global economic peril of inequality in societies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. On the other hand, much of the global wealth and resources are controlled by a few nations of the world.

This time around the tribe of Cain has arrived on the bandwagon of globalisation. The external impetus to this is provided by meek nations who let the powerful take control of their economy, agriculture, manpower and natural resources.

The internal strength to this mammoth economic giant is injected by the almighty multinational corporations, the unequal control of knowledge and technology, the powerful neo-capitalism of global stocks and share markets, and the marketisation of pleasure by all sorts of objects, foodstuffs, brands, beliefs and bodies. The indomitable footprint of the tribe of Cain is everywhere.

The writer is a social scientist based at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore.