Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Which Adam?

I have been reading a book on how to read the Qur'an called, obviously enough, Reading the Qur'an by Ziauddin Sardar. I was interested in knowing what, if any, differences there are between the Christian and Muslim understanding of the "Beginnings."

The first thing I learned is that the Qur'an is "non-chronological...non-linear...and non-narrative..." (pg18). I knew every time I had tried to read portions of the Qur'an that I relied heavily on the subject index in the back to get me to the Sura that addressed my interest. So, I am glad to have confirmed that it is not only my lack of knowing how the Qur'an is set up, but also the structure of the Qur'an itself that forces me to the subject index.

From what I can gather so far, there is no "Creation Story," as in the Bible. Creation is affirmed in Islam and God is affirmed as Creator, but how he did it is not mentioned directly. This is why, I assume, I have often heard that Islam and Evolution are not incompatible.

So what about Adam? Mr. Sardar devotes a chapter to the "Fall and Evil" section of the Al-Baqara (Sura 2:30-39). The text tells us that God created a vice regent on earth. We assume his name was Adam (2:31) and God taught him all the names (either of the plants and animals or attributes of God). The angels do not know the things taught to Adam until Adam revealed them to the angels. God, then, told the angels to bow down before Adam, which they did except Iblis. God continued and commanded Adam and his wife to dwell in the Garden and to eat freely from all the trees, and they were not to go near a certain tree or they would become wrongdoers. Satan caused them to slip and they lost their happy state. Next, Adam received guidance from God and God relented since He is Most Merciful. And whoever follows His guidance has no fear nor grief, but the ones who disbelieve and deny "Our" revelations deserve/are destined for the Fire.

As noted, there are some key differences between the Genesis account of the Fall and this one from the Qur'an.

  • Eve is not named as wife of Adam in Qur'an.
  • In Genesis God seemingly has endued Adam with the ability to name the animals, whereas in the Qur'an, God taught Adam the names (assuming names of animals).
  • Adam's wife appears without any explanation of her being brought into being.
  • Angels bow to Adam in the Qur'an.
  • Iblis refuses to bow down to Adam. It is assumed Iblis and Satan are the same.
  • In Genesis it is assumed the snake has been embodied by Satan.
  • Satan influenced Adam and his wife to "slip." The assumption is either he came near the forbidden unnamed tree or ate of it.
  •  In Genesis Adam and Eve may eat from every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve told the snake that they could not eat nor touch that tree.
Mr. Sadar reflects on this Sura and calls it a "parable...Their fate, the fall from grace, is an ever present possibility for those who stray from the straight path of God's guidance and will not repent and reform." (p90 emphasis mine) Sadar further explains that when God made the angels bow to Adam and his wife that this is a symbol of humanity's capacity to do better. "We can rise above angels in our good deeds."(p92) Adam and his wife only slipped up and were forgiven without any "bloodcurdling Old Testament curses from God..." (p92)

What shall we say in way of comparison and of the consequences of these two stories?

I think we can say that the differences in the two stories highlight the main difference between Christianity and Islam. In Christianity Jesus had to come to restore something irreparably done when Adam disobeyed. In Islam, it seems, humanity has no need of a rescuer. Humanity can do enough good deeds to earn the favor of God. Since nothing has been broken, nothing needs fixing. The story of Adam, according to Islam, is to highlight humanity's ability to find his way back to God on his own. The stress is not on Adam's "slip," but that he not be like Iblis (p92), not be arrogant towards God's guidance when he does slip. While Christians should admit that pride does keep us away from God, we also admit that there is nothing we can do to get back to God after sin. We believe that only Jesus can bridge the gap between our fallen sinful selves and a holy God.

In conclusion the Qur'anic Adam and the Adam from the Bible are not the same. One Adam highlights his ability to overcome slips through humility, the other Adam characterizes his total shame because of rebellion and wrongdoing and his inability to do anything about it.

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