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Quran on the `fall` of man

May 14, 2010

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IT IS commonly assumed by Muslims, Christians and Jews that woman was responsible for man's expulsion from paradise. This assumption is based on the story of what is generally referred to as the 'fall of man', as narrated in the first book of the Bible, namely,

Genesis, Chapter 3.

There are three references to this incident in the Quran and these are as follows “And We said 'O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in the garden, and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers'. But Satan caused them both to stumble therein, and thus brought about the loss of their erstwhile state. And so We said 'Down with you (and be henceforth) enemies unto one another; and on Earth you shall have your abode and your livelihood for a while!'

Thereupon Adam received words (of guidance) from his Sustainer, and He accepted his repentance; ...(For although) We did say, 'Down with you all from this (state)', there shall, nonetheless, most certainly come unto you guidance from Me and those who follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.” (2 35-39)

The second reference reads “And (as for thee), O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in this garden, and eat, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become evildoers. Thereupon Satan whispered unto the two with a view to making them conscious of their nakedness, of which (hitherto) they had been unaware; and he said 'Your Sustainer has but forbidden you this tree lest you two become angels, or lest you live forever'. And he swore unto them, 'Verily, I am of those who wish you well indeed!' — and thus he led them with deluding thoughts.

But as soon as the two had tasted (the fruit) of the tree, they became conscious of their nakedness; and they began to cover themselves with pieced-together leaves from the garden. And their Sustainer called unto them 'Did I not forbid that tree unto you and tell you, verily, Satan is your open foe?'

“The two replied 'O our Sustainer! We have sinned against ourselves — and unless Thou grant us forgiveness and bestow Thy mercy upon us, we shall most certainly be lost!' Said He 'Down with you, (and be henceforth) enemies unto one another, having on earth your abode and livelihood for a while there shall you live' — He added — 'and there you shall die, and thence shall you be brought forth (on Resurrection Day)!'” (7 19-25)

Lastly, “We told the angels, 'Prostrate yourselves before Adam!' — they all prostrated themselves, save Iblis, who refused (to do it); and thereupon We said 'O Adam! Verily this is a foe unto thee and thy wife so let him not drive the two of you out of this garden and render thee unhappy' ...But Satan whispered unto him, saying 'O Adam! Shall I lead thee to the tree of life eternal, and (thus) to a kingdom that will never decay?' And so the two ate (of the fruit) thereof and thereupon they became conscious of their nakedness and began to cover themselves with pieced-together leaves from the garden. And (thus) did Adam disobey his Sustainer, and thus did he fall into grievous error.

“Thereafter, (however), his Sustainer elected him (for His grace), and accepted his repentance and bestowed His guidance upon him, saying 'Down with you all from this (state of innocence, and be henceforth) enemies unto one another! Nonetheless, there shall most certainly come unto you guidance from Me'; and he who follows My guidance will not go astray and neither will he be unhappy.” (20115-123)

An analysis of the cited Quranic passages shows that there is no 'fall of man'. As pointed out by Allama Iqbal, “The Quranic legend of the fall has nothing to do with the first appearance of man on this planet. Its purpose is rather to indicate man's rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience. The 'fall' does not mean any moral depravity; it is man's transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness.

“...Nor does the Quran regard Earth as a torture-hall where an elementally wicked humanity is imprisoned for an original act of sin. Man's first act of disobedience was also his first act of free choice; and that is why, according to the Quranic narration, Adam's first transgression was forgiven.

“...A being whose movements are wholly determined like a machine cannot produce goodness. Freedom is thus a condition of goodness. But to permit the emergence of a finite ego who has the power to choose ... is really to take a great risk; for the freedom to choose good involves also the freedom to choose what is the opposite of good. That God has taken this risk shows His immense faith in man; it is now for man to justify this faith.”

The writer is professor emerita at the University of Louisville, US, and a scholar of Islam and Iqbal.

rshass01@gwise.louisville.edu