Adam in Islam

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Iranian Islamic painting, depicting ʾĀdam and Ḥawwāʾ in the Garden Eden, surrounded by angels.
Known forFirst human being
SpouseḤawwāʾ (حَوَّاء)
ChildrenHābīl Qābīl Šīṯ
(هابيل، قابيل، شِيث)

Adam (Arabic: آدم, romanizedʾĀdam), in Islamic theology, is believed to have been the first human being on Earth and the first prophet (Arabic: نبي, nabī) of Islam.[1] Adam's role as the father of the human race is looked upon by Muslims with reverence. Muslims also refer to his wife, Ḥawwāʾ (Arabic: حَوَّاء, Eve), as the "mother of mankind".[2] Muslims see Adam as the first Muslim, as the Quran states that all the Prophets preached the same faith of Islam (Arabic: إسلام, Submission to God).[3]

According to Islamic belief, Adam was created from the material of the earth and brought to life by God. God placed Adam in a paradisical Garden. After Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden tree (Tree of Immortality), paradise was declined to him, but he may return if Adam repents from his sin. This story is seen as both literal as well as an allegory for human relationship towards God. Islam does not necessarily adhere to young Earth Creationism, and it is commonly held that life on Earth predates Adam.

Story of Adam

Adam honoured by angels – Persian miniature (c. 1560)

The Quran and Hadith give some account of the creation and fall of Adam. Synthesizing the Quran with Sunni interpretations can produce the following account. God created Adam, according to the Quran, from mud or clay and breathed his spirit (rūḥī) into him. Hadith add that he was named Adam after the clay he was made out of, or the skin (adim) of the earth.

According to the Quran, when God informed the angels that he was going to put a successor on Earth, they questioned why God would select a human who would cause bloodshed and damage. God then teaches Adam "the names of all things" and assembles the angels in front of Adam so as to show them that the angels know only "save what Thou Hast taught us",[4] but Adam could tell all names. God commands the angels to prostrate before Adam wherein all amongst them obeyed except for Iblis (Satan), who claimed: "I am better than him. You created me of fire while him you created of mud."[5] His disobedience of God's command followed by attributing injustice to God, caused him to fall out of God's favor:[6] "And behold, We said to the angels: "Bow down to Adam" and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was/became of those who reject faith." (2:34)

Adam and his unnamed wife (tradition identifies her with Ḥawwāʾ), in Garden Eden. In Sunni traditions, based on biblical reports (Israʼiliyyat), it is said that, when Adam was sleeping, God took a rib from him and from it he created Eve. While the creation of Adam and Eve is referred to in the Quran, the exact method of creation is not specified.[7] Some Sunni sources say it was from Adam's rib, based on biblical reports (Israʼiliyyat).

God tells Adam and Eve, that they are free to enjoy of its fruits except not to come near the "tree of immortality", but the devil (shaiṭān) was able to convince them to taste it: "He said, "Your Lord has forbidden this tree to you only to prevent you from becoming angels or immortals."" (7:21) Whereupon God sends Adam and his wife to earth, there they are condemned to "live and die", but is willing to forgive them.[8] When Adam was cast out of Garden Eden, Adam turned towards God and begged for forgiveness. Therefore, there is not a doctrine of original sin in Islamic theology (Kalām) and Adam's sin is not carried by all of his children.[9]

In the Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ (prophetic tales) Adam and Eve were cast down far apart, so that they had to search for each other and eventually met each other at Mount Arafat.[7] Hadith say that once Adam was on earth, God (sometimes Gabriel at service of God) taught him how to plant seeds and bake bread. This was to become the way of all of Adam's children.[10] Adam proceeded to live for about 960 years, though this has been a topic of debate.[10] Humankind would have learned everything from Adam. He was the first to learn to plant, harvest, and bake as well as the first to be told how to repent and how to properly bury someone.[7] It is also said by some scholars that God also revealed the various food restrictions and the alphabet to Adam.[10] He was made the first prophet and it is said that he was taught 21 scrolls and was able to write them himself.[10]

Theological significance

Adam features as an archetype of humans and their relationship to God in Muslim theology and philosophy. According to hadiths, Adam was created in God's own image, and according to the Quran, was "taught all the names", thus establishing the notion of Adam as a reflection of God's divine attributes. By that, Adam does not feature as a prophet or a male human being only, but also encapsulates the idea of an ideal human archetype.[11] Since God has forgiven Adam's transgression, humans are not viewed as inherently sinful or in need of redemption. Instead, Adam (or humanity) is viewed as being created from a relationship to God through learning and development.[12]

Suhrawardi (c. 1145 – 1234) discusses the nature of human's soul as a mixture between Adam and Hawwa; Adam referring to the heavenly attributes and Hawwa to earthly animalistic passion. Through a mixture of both, the human soul (nafs) is fashioned and becomes a personal animal soul. He based his anthropology on Quranic verses such as "He who has created you [all] out of one living entity, and out of it brought into being its mate, so that man might incline [with love] towards the woman" (7:189).

According to Tafsir al-Baydawi (d.1319), Adam might stand for an original pattern for all of the spiritual and the corporeal existence or serving as a way for angels to obtain their allotted perfections by submitting to God's command to prostrate before him.[13]: 508  Ibn Arabi explains that only Adam can comprehend all the names of God, thereby referring to the perfected heavenly Adam as a reflection of God's names.[14] When Iblis failed to submit to God's command, he attributed injustice to the reality (al-Haqq).[6]


Muslim scholars can be divided into two groups regarding Adam's impeccability (‘iṣmah): One argues that Adam only became a prophet after he was cast out of paradise. They adhere to the doctrine that ‘iṣmah only applies to prophets after they were sent to a mission. But since there was no population to whom Adam could have been sent, he could not have been a prophet and therefore ‘iṣmah did not apply until he left paradise.[15] These arguments are, however, rejected by those who argue that prophethood does not start with preaching God's word and thus ‘iṣmah begins before the prophetic mission. According to the second point of view, Adam was predestined by God to eat from the forbidden tree because God planned to set Adam and his progeny on earth from the beginning and thus installed Adam's fall.[15]: 194  By that Adam would not have truly disobeyed, but acted in accordance with God's will to his best ability. For that reason, many Muslim exegetes do not regard Adam and Eve's expulsion from paradise as punishment for disobedience or a result from abused free will on their part,[16]: 171  but as part of God's wisdom (ḥikma) and plan for humanity to experience the full range of his attributes, his love, forgiveness, and power to his creation.[16] By their former abode in paradise, they can hope for return during their life-time.

Some Muslim scholars view Adam as an image for his descendants: humans sin, become aware of it, repent (Tawba), and find their way back to God. Adam embodies humanity and his fall shows humans how to act when they sin.[15]: 194  Unlike Iblis (Satan), Adam asked for forgiveness for his transgression.[17]

Adam and the angels

The story of angels prostrating before Adam gave rise to various debates about whether humans or angels rank higher. Angels bowing down before Adam is mentioned as evidence for human superiority over the angels. Others hold that the prostration does not imply such a thing, but was merely a command or test for the angels.[18] A position, especially found among Mu'tazilites and some Asharites, holds that angels are superior due to their lack of urges and desires.[19] Maturidism generally does not think any of these creatures is superior to the other, and that angels' and prophets' obedience derive from their virtues and insights to God's action, but not as their original purity.[20]

In the Quranic version of Adam's fall, Satan tempted them with the promise to become immortal angels. Al-Qushayri comments on 7:20, that Adam's fall is for his wish to be like an angel, while angels' fall is because when they desired to be like human. Adam desired an angelic state of no passion and avoiding the fate of death, while Harut and Marut desired the freedom of choice and to rejoice in extravagance.[21]

Life before Adam

It is evident from the Quran that Adam was the father of contemporary humanity,[15]: 21  but if there was sentient life before him is debated. According to some views, God created an Adam thirty times, every 1000 years. After the downfall of each humanity, God left the world uninhabited for 50,000 years, then 50,000 inhabited, and then a new Adam was created.[15]: 195  The majority of scholars, however, reject this opinion, but they agree that the jinn and animals have lived on earth before. According to the Majallat Al Azhar, nowhere within Islamic texts is it prescribed how long humans existed and every Muslim is free to think that is right, and that the notion of a young earth derives from biblical reports (Israʼiliyyat).[15]: 196 

Creation of Adam

The creation of Adam's body

Ḥadīth material, incorporated in both tafsīr and qaṣaṣ ul-anbiyāʾ, offer detailed descriptions about the creation of Adam's body. Although they vary in detail, the following components are essential:[22]

  1. God orders the angels to collect dust from the earth to create Adam.
  2. Dust is taken from various places, influencing Adam's descendants.
  3. Mythological meaning behind the name of the first human
  4. Adam lies immobile for forty years and Adam hastily tries to rise up unable to do so.
  5. Adam sneezes and says al-hamdu li-allah.

Some components appear in both Jewish and Islamic traditions alike. The idea that God orders angels to collect dust from earth, is unique to Islam. It is only adapted in the later midrash Chronicles of Jerahmeel.[22] Islam usually has Azrael being successful, taking the earth despite earth's pleads not to do so. For his merciless withstanding, he earns his position as the angel of death. This further shows that life and death are interwined.[22] Only in one brief reference by Tabari, it is Iblis, not Azrael who collects dust from earth, leading to his claim to be superior.[22]

Both Jewish and Muslim sources agree that dust for the creation of Adam's body was taken from the entire world, and often a specific sacred place. However, they differ in regards the identity of the sacred places and the meaning of the gathering of dust from the world.[22] While Jewish tradition identifies sacred places from Israel or the altar of the Temple, Muslim sources identify the place with Mecca or the Ka'ba.[22] According to the Muslim interpretation, dust collected from all around the earth explains the differences among humankind, such as skin-color, but insist that humanity as a whole is united in the ancestry of Adam.[22]

Creation of Adam's soul

Adam and Eve with their thirteen twin children, miniature from Zubdat al-Tawarikh. As the text indicates, all of Adam's children were twins and each son had to marry the twin sister of a brother. Abel was asked by his father to wed Cane's twin sister, but Cane, whose twin happened to be the most beautiful wanted to keep her. This is how the dispute started between the two brothers. To end the dispute Adam asked both sons to make an offering to God and Abel's was accepted. This interesting version of the story is depicted in the lower left hand corner, where Cane is shown pulling the arm of his twin sister. The bushes, the symbol of Cane's offering, rest above the figures of Cane and his sister. Earlier Islamic artists, when illustrating the story of Adam and Eve, usually showed the couple in paradise but never placed them with their children, nor represented this version of the dispute between Cane and Abel. The Ottoman artist's narrative intent comes in here when he describes the story in the minutest detail and dresses his figures in sixteenth century Ottoman garments as if the theme was a local event.

Although Adam is considered the first human being, he is not necessarily depicted as the first prophet or first person spiritually. Islamic traditions acknowledge that before Adam was made, Muhammad's spirit, also known as the Muhammadan Light, was already created. It is disputed if this refers to Muhammad's predestination to be born as a prophet some day, or to his actual essence.[23]

Ibn Sa'd attributed to Qatada ibn Di'ama to quote Muhammad: "I was the first human in creation and I am the last one on resurrection".[24]

According to a Shia tradition, after the angels prostrated themselves before Adam, God ordered Adam to look at the Throne of God. Then he saw the radiant body of Muhammad and his family.[25]

This tradition also entered the orthodox Sunni discourse through hadiths as narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, when Muhammad was asked then his prophethood started, he would have answered: "When Adam was between the spirit and the body."[26]

For this reason, although Adam plays the role of the first physical human, he is still preceded by the essence of Muhammad. Although the notion of the pre-existing Muhammad takes some resemblance of the Christian doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, Muhammad is considered human in essence, not a second person within God.[27]

Genealogy of Adam

It has been said that Eve went through 120 pregnancies with Adam and each of these consisted of a set of twins: a boy and a girl.[10] In some other traditions, their first child was a girl, born alone, called ʿAnāq.[28] According to several sources, God took all of Adam's progeny from his back while they were still in heaven. He asked each of them "am I not your lord?" as read in verse 7:172 and they all replied yes.[10] For this reason, it is believed that all humans are born with an innate knowledge of God. The most famous of Adam's children are Cain and Abel. Both the brothers were asked to offer up individual sacrifices to God. God accepted Abel's sacrifice because of Abel's righteousness and Cain, out of jealousy, threw a rock at Abel, leading to the first murder in human history: the murder of Abel by Cain.[10] As Adam grieved his son, he would preach to his other children about God and faith in Him.[29] When Adam's death grew near, he appointed his son Seth as his successor.[29]

Ibn Jarir at-Tabari reported that Hawwa’ bore Adam one hundred and twenty sets of twins. The first of them were Qabil and his twin sister Qalima, and the last of them was ‘Abd al-Mughith and his twin sister Amat al-Mughith. Ibn Ishaq was quoted as saying that all the children that Hawwa’ bore Adam were forty children, male and female, from twenty twin pregnancies. And he said: The names of some of them have come down to us, and the names of others have not."[30]

Islamic scholar Sayyid Mumtaz Ali, while commenting on whether Adam was first or Eve, says that "the fact that Adam was created first is nothing but childish. To begin with, we are tempted to assert that this is so because it was not acceptable to God that a woman is left without a companion for even a second. Therefore, it is for her sake that he created Adam first. But as a matter of fact, the belief that Adam was created first and then came Eve is part of the Christian and Jewish faith. This is not at all part of the Islamic creed. There is no mention in the Quran about who was created first, Adam or Eve."[31]

See also


  1. ^ Lalljee, compiled by Yousuf N. (1981). Know your Islam (3rd ed.). New York: Taknike Tarsile Quran. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-940368-02-6.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Wheeler, Adam and Eve
  3. ^ Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, C. Glasse, Aadam = Adam = Man = Mankind = Early humans. His wife = Woman = Allegorically, early women. Udma = Ability to live together as a community. Aadam from Udma thus, indicates humankind. The word 'Eve' or 'Hawwa' is not mentioned in the Quran. She is described with dignity as Mer’a-til-Aadam = Wife of Adam = Mrs. Adam.
  4. ^ Qur'an 2:30
  5. ^ [Quran 7:12 (Translated by Pickthall)]
  6. ^ a b Sharpe, Elizabeth Marie (1992). Into the realm of smokeless fire: (Qur'an 55:14): A critical translation of al-Damiri's article on the jinn from "Hayat al-Hayawan al-Kubra" (Master's thesis). University of Arizona. hdl:10150/291386.
  7. ^ a b c Wheeler, Brannon M. (2001). Introduction to the Quran: stories of the prophets. New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-4957-3.
  8. ^ Stieglecker, H. (1962). Die Glaubenslehren des Islam. Deutschland: F. Schöningh.
  9. ^ Phipps, William (1996). Muhammad and Jesus. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company. pp. 122–3. ISBN 0-8264-0914-8.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g al-Tabari (1989). The History of al-Tabari. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 259. ISBN 0-88706-562-7.
  11. ^ The Shari'a: History, Ethics and Law. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2018. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-78831-316-2.
  12. ^ Khodayarifard, Mohammad; et al. (2016). "Positive psychology from Islamic perspective". International Journal of Behavioral Sciences. 10 (1): 29–34.
  13. ^ ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar al-Baydawi (2016). The Lights Of Revelation And The Secrets Of Interpretation. Translated by Haddad, Gibril Fouad. Beacon Books and Media Limited. ISBN 978-0-992-63357-8.
  14. ^ Dobie, R. J. (2010). Logos and Revelation: Ibn 'Arabi, Meister Eckhart, and Mystical Hermeneutics. Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 978-0-8132-1677-5.
  15. ^ a b c d e f : 194  Stieglecker, H. (1962). Die Glaubenslehren des Islam. Deutschland: F. Schöningh. p. 194 (German)
  16. ^ a b Lange, Christian (2016). Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions. Cambridge United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-50637-3.
  17. ^ Latif, Amer. Quranic narrative and Sufi hermeneutics: Rūmī's interpretations of Pharaoh's character. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2009.
  18. ^ Chipman, Leigh (2002). "Adam and the Angels: An examination of mythic elements in Islamic sources". Arabica. 49 (4): 429–455. doi:10.1163/15700580260375407.
  19. ^ Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936. Vol. 5. Brill. p. 191. ISBN 978-9-004-09791-9.
  20. ^ Rudolph, Ulrich (1997). Al-Māturīdī und Die Sunnitische Theologie in Samarkand (in German). Brill. pp. 54–56. ISBN 90-04-10023-7.
  21. ^ Gallorini, Louise (2021). The Symbolic Function of Angels in the Qurʾān and Sufi Literature (PhD thesis). American University of Beirut. hdl:10938/22446.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Chipman, Leigh NB. "Mythic Aspects of the Process of Adam's Creation in Judaism and Islam." Studia Islamica (2001): 5-25.
  23. ^ Rubin, U., “Nūr Muḥammadī”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 04 December 2023 doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_5985 First published online: 2012 First print edition: ISBN 9789004161214, 1960-2007
  24. ^ Goldziher, Ignaz (1909). "Neuplatonische und gnostische Elemente im Ḥadῑṯ". Zeitschrift für Assyriologie (in German). 22 (2): 317–344. doi:10.1515/zava.1909.22.2.317. S2CID 162392112.
  25. ^ Kister, M. J. (1988). "Adam: A Study of Some Legends in Tafsir and Hadit Literature". Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of The Qur'an. Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-19-826546-8.
  26. ^ Katz, Marion Holmes (2007). The Birth of The Prophet Muhammad: Devotional Piety in Sunni Islam. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-135-98394-9.
  27. ^ Landau, Rom (2013). The Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-02969-2.
  28. ^ Tottoli, Roberto (2009). "ʿAnāq". In Fleet, Kate; et al. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (Third ed.). doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_22679.
  29. ^ a b Kathir, Al-Imam ibn (2013). Stories of the Prophets. Fortress iPublications. ISBN 978-1-4848-4091-7.
  30. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad. Tarikh at-Tabari: Tarikh al-Umam wa’l-Muluk. pp. 1/98.
  31. ^ Deobandi, Sayyid Mumtaz Ali (1898). "The Supremacy Myth". Huquq-e-Niswan (in Urdu) (1898 ed.). Lahore: Rifah-e-Aam Press. pp. 21–22. Retrieved 22 August 2020. Adapted from Javed Anand's translation to the piece


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