Shafaqna (International Shia News Agency)
Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:30; Part-3)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Knowledge of Names – the Merit of Adam (AS)
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَـٰؤُلَاءِ إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ ﴿٣١﴾ قَالُوا سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ ﴿٣٢﴾قَالَ يَا آدَمُ أَنبِئْهُم بِأَسْمَائِهِمْ ۖ فَلَمَّا أَنبَأَهُم بِأَسْمَائِهِمْ قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكُمْ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَأَعْلَمُ مَا تُبْدُونَ وَمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ ﴿٣٣﴾
Translation: And He (Allah) taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He (Allah) said: Tell me the names of those if you are truthful.
They (the angels) said: Glory be to You! we have no knowledge but that which You have taught us; surely You are the Knowing, the Wise.
He (Allah) said: O Adam! Inform them of their names. Then when he (Adam) had informed them of their names, He (Allah) said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is unseen in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide?
Commentary: Before the creation of Adam, Allah (SWT) announced to the angels that He would appoint a vicegerent (deputy) on Earth. The angels’ initial view was that they are more qualified than Adam for this noble position. Hence, they were curious to learn as to what deemed Adam as the divine choice. Allah (SWT), through a divine test, revealed that the essential merit of Adam was his knowledge of all names.
The knowledge of names is the faculty of naming objects and things (regardless of whether they are physical or metaphysical), understanding their attributes and characters, and discovering the underlying laws which govern their nature. This interpretation may be inspired from a Hadith narrated by Imam Sadeq (AS) in an instance when he was asked about the names. The Imam replied1:
أَلْأَرَضِینَ وَ الْجِبالَ وَ الشِّعابَ وَ الْأَوْدِیَةَ ثُمَّ نَظَرَ إِلى بِساط تَحْتَهُ، فَقالَ: وَ هذَا الْبِساطُ مِمّا عَلَّمَه:
“An example (of names) is: lands, mountains, valleys, riverbeds. Then he looked at the rug under him and said that even that rug was among the things He (Allah) taught Adam.”
The gift of naming things and discovering the underlying science which governs the universe is aligned with the purpose of human creation. When Allah, glory be to Him, said that He created mankind so that they may know His power and knowledge, that encompasses all things: 2
اللَّـهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ يَتَنَزَّلُ الْأَمْرُ بَيْنَهُنَّ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّـهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا ﴿١٢﴾
Allah is He Who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like of them; the decree continues to descend among them, that you may know that Allah has power over all things and that Allah indeed encompasses all things in (His) knowledge.
How Adam Learned All the Names: Allah has endowed human beings with unique faculties to acquire knowledge3, the ability to articulate thoughts and communicate to others4, and also communicate thoughts with pen5. However, these abilities develop as one goes through the natural human development process as we begin with birth, then go through the various stages of childhood, adolescence, youth and end with adulthood. At each stage, our bodies and minds develop so that we can acquire new talents and knowledge. However, Allah made all these talents perfectly mature for Adam instantaneously with his creation, and bestowed him with knowledge6, as though he was created with the knowledge of names.
Acceleration in the maturity of talents, for instance, was also manifested in Prophet Isa and Prophet Yahya. Prophet Isa spoke in his cradle7 and Yahya (John) became a prophet in his childhood.8
The children of Adam were entrusted with the knowledge of names and this knowledge has begun to manifest itself from the beginning of time, with the discovery of the laws of the universe in different eras of human civilization9. Although the learning curve was slow until the 19th century, nevertheless, one gets astonished with the volumes of knowledge which human beings have generated in different disciplines of science. From this perspective, we are all beneficiaries of Adam’s knowledge of names.
The Quran indeed praises the angels and calls them “the honored servants” of Allah who are in full submission to divine commands. Allah (SWT) did not favor Adam over the angels on teaching names, nor did Adam purposely withhold any knowledge from the angels. But the intrinsic nature of the angels was not suited to learn all the names10. Otherwise, the angels would have argued that since Allah taught them the names, they would be equal or better than Adam for the position of vicegerent.
- Tafseer-e-Namoona, Vol. 1, P. 176, L. 11
- at-Talaq 65:122
- Al-Alaq 96:4-5
- Ar-Rahman 55:4
- al-Qalam 68:1
- Commentary of Al-Baqar, Ayat-Allah Amoly’s Lecture-90
- Maryam 19:29-31
- Maryam, 19:12
- Al-Mizan, Vol. I, P. 178, L. 25
- Al-Mizan, Vol. I, P. 180, L. 24