Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:37; Part-2)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
The Myth of Original Sin
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
فَتَلَقَّىٰ آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ ﴿٣٧﴾
Translation: Then Adam received certain words [of prayers] from his Lord, and his Lord turned to him [mercifully]. Indeed He is All-forgiving and All-merciful.
Commentary: The preceding verses, Chapter 2:35-37, assert that Adam and Eve went against Allah’s divine advice, yielded to Iblis’s temptation in the garden, and tasted fruits of the forbidden tree. As a consequence, they were stripped of their heavenly garments, lost their closeness to Allah (SWT) and were banished from the garden.
Adam and Eve realized their mistake immediately and sought Allah’s forgiveness. Allah (SWT) welcomed them with His mercy, since He is All-forgiving and All-merciful.
There is an old debate whether Adam and Eve had actually committed sin in the garden. A general opinion amongst Islamic scholars is that Adam (AS) was the first messenger and all divine messengers are infallible, since Allah (SWT) does not send a messenger to lead people into error, even inadvertently. Henceforth, Adam was innocent. This then raises another question: if Adam and Eve were innocent, why did they seek divine forgiveness?
Definition of Sin in Islam: There is a difference between disobeying divine commands and divine advice (divine recommendations). Certainly, disregarding any divine command and breaking any divine rule is a sin, such as abandoning mandatory daily prayers or neglecting to fast during the month of Ramadan.
In contrast, a lapse in obeying divine advice (divine recommendations) does not constitute sin. For example, there are many recommended prayers and fasts in Islam. The abandoning of recommended acts of worship is not sin; hence, one would not be punished for ignoring them, but would only lose the blessings which come with practicing them. However, the loss of divine blessings that come with voluntary acts of worship is a punishment for those who enjoy that special nearness to Allah (SWT). Therefore, pure and righteous servants of Allah (SWT) are very meticulous in doing both mandatory and volunteer acts of worship in order to maintain nearness to God and a constant flow of blessings.
Now, the proper question is whether Allah (SWT) commanded or advised Adam and Eve to stay away from the forbidden tree. Commentators of the Quran concluded that it was the latter. Hence, Adam and Eve did not sin, but simply failed to take the divine advice of Allah (SWT).
To support the above interpretation, we cite verses 117-119 from Chapter 20. Allah (SWT) in the garden told Adam:
فَقُلْنَا يَا آدَمُ إِنَّ هَـٰذَا عَدُوٌّ لَّكَ وَلِزَوْجِكَ فَلَا يُخْرِجَنَّكُمَا مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ فَتَشْقَىٰ ﴿١١٧﴾ إِنَّ لَكَ أَلَّا تَجُوعَ فِيهَا وَلَا تَعْرَىٰ ﴿١١٨﴾ وَأَنَّكَ لَا تَظْمَأُ فِيهَا وَلَا تَضْحَىٰ ﴿١١٩﴾
We said, “Adam, this (Shaytan) is your enemy and the enemy of your spouse. Let him not expel you and your spouse from the garden lest you plunge into misery. In the garden you will experience no hunger, nakedness, thirst, or exposure to the hot Sun.”
The verse contains the word of advice to Adam (AS); “…lest you plunge into misery (of life on Earth).” Disregarding the divine advice caused Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden, which the Quran refers to as an injustice [Arabic: (ظُلْمً)] (wrong) which they committed against themselves.
Hence, Adam and Eve’s removal from the garden was the natural consequence of disregarding divine advice. If it was punishment for a sin or crime which they had committed in the garden, then they should have been allowed to return to the garden after receiving Allah’s forgiveness, since divine forgiveness removes the punishment of sin, and the punishment of Adam and Eve was banishment from the garden.
Furthermore, Adam and Eve were predestined to live on Earth. The garden, perhaps, was an opportunity for Adam and Eve’s exposure to Shaytan’s deceptive nature and the consequences of exercising free will before they began their vicegerency mission on Earth. Life in the garden for Adam was a realm of learning, not a time of reward and punishment.
It was on Earth, where Allah (SWT) revealed divine guidance (religion) and the concepts of reward and punishment in the life of the eternal Hereafter as mentioned in the following verse:
قُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا مِنْهَا جَمِيعًا ۖ فَإِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُم مِّنِّي هُدًى فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَايَ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ ﴿٣٨﴾
We said, ‘Get down from it, all together! So surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, those who follow My guidance shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Critics may refute the above interpretation by saying Adam (AS) disobeyed his Lord, according to the Quran, and went astray:
وَعَصَىٰ آدَمُ رَبَّهُ فَغَوَىٰ ﴿١٢١﴾
Adam disobeyed his Lord, and went amiss (went astray).
This misunderstanding is due to the fact that the word [عَصَىٰ] “disobeyed” and [فَغَوَىٰ] “he went astray” are taken as synonymous to sin. Whereas the Arabic word [العصیان] “al-Isyan” (disobedience) literally means to resist. Hence, resisting an order is called “al-Isyan”. Resistance could be against a command or advice. The word itself does not imply sinning; it depends on the context of the command as discussed earlier.
Also, the Arabic word [الغوی] “al-Ghawayah” (to go astray) literally means the inability of a man to look after his interests or not managing one’s affairs properly. Similarly, the word by itself does not indicate committing a sin.
Hence, the above verse implies that Adam (AS) disobeyed divine advice and as a result, failed to safeguard his interest.
Adam’s Repentance: The Arabic verb [التوبه] means to return; and it is used for repentance. It defines a state when man turns away from defiance and returns back to the obedience of Allah (SWT). This includes defiance of a divine command, as well as advice.
The verb in the Quran is also ascribed to Allah (SWT), like in the above verse:
[Arabic: (فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ)] his Lord turned to him.
The defiance of Allah (SWT) damages, and can even sever, our connection with His divine mercy. When a servant repents, Allah (SWT) accepts His servant’s plea and restores him to His grace and mercy.
Adam and Eve disregarded divine advice; as a result, they lost their original closeness to Allah (SWT) which they used to enjoy in the garden. They realized this fact immediately and decided to return back to Him. Allah (SWT) accepted their plea and restored them to His mercy and grace.