Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:30; Part-1)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Man – Allah’s Vicegerent on Earth
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٣٠﴾
Translation: And when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to place on earth a khalif”; they said: “will you place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood while we celebrate your praise and extol your holiness?” He said: “Surely I know what you do not know.”
Commentary: Allah (SWT) announced to the angels that He would create Adam (PBUH) and appoint him as His vicegerent (deputy) on Earth. The angels initially thought that they were more qualified than Adam for this prestigious position. Therefore, they were curious to learn as to what made Adam to be the divine choice. Allah (SWT), through a divine test, revealed that the essential merit of Adam was his knowledge. In this part, we will discuss as to why Allah (SWT) appointed a vicegerent on Earth and what are the characteristics of this appointee?
The verse begins with the declaration of an appointment of a “Khalifah on Earth. The word “Khalifah” [Arabic: (خَلِيفَةً)] means either successor or deputy. Some commentators choose the former meaning and state that Adam was a successor to preceding extinct beings. However, this interpretation is not in harmony within the content of the next few verses for the following reason:
The Qur’an mentions that Allah taught “names” to Adam1 and commanded the angels to prostrate to him. If Adam was simply replacing preceding nations, then teaching “names” and demanding the prostration of the angels becomes vain and pointless.
Allamah Tabatabai, the author of Al-Mizan, in addition to a majority of contemporary scholars, took the latter meaning of “khalifah” and stated that Adam was Allah’s representative (deputy or vicegerent) on Earth.
A deputy, in an organization, either assists or frees the sovereign from daily administrative tasks. However, Allah (SWT) is self-sufficient and does not need a helper to manage the affairs of the universe. Hence, it must be the universe, including mankind, which is in need of God’s vicegerent, and this is one of the key aspects of this verse.
Before we delve further into this subject, we must acknowledge that numerous verses in the Quran assert that Allah (SWT) exerts His will, manages affairs of the universe and fulfills His creation’s needs through designated means2. Some of these means are absent from mankind’s sight, like the angels of death, who take the souls of mankind, and others are found in nature.
For instance, Allah quenches our thirst through water3. Note that this statement does not refute the physics and chemistry of water which quenches thirst. Rather, this verse emphasizes that it is God who provides such properties to water and He can take these properties away when He pleases. This is similar to when the fire became a cool place for Prophet Ibrahim4. The nature of fire is to burn; nonetheless, fire is fully submissive to the will of Allah and can be cool with God’s command.
The vicegerent is a means through which Allah (SWT) asserts His will and sends His blessings to the universe, including those who live on Earth. An instance which can support and help to envision this idea is the story of Khidr and Musa5.
Prophet Musa had an opportunity to meet Khidr and travel in his company. Allah bestowed His mercy on Khidr and gave him knowledge6:
عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا ﴿٦٥﴾
(Musa) found one from among Our servants (Khidr) whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Ourselves.
Prophet Musa’s mission was, according to God’s command, to learn knowledge from the pure and upright and also learn the sheer wisdom of Khidr. During their trip, in one instance, they both embarked in a boat. Shortly after the boat’s departure, Khidr impaired the boat by puncturing a hole in its body. Prophet Musa could not comprehend this action or find any justifications for damaging the boat.
At the end of the journey, Khidr explained the underlying wisdom for his decision. He said that the boat belonged to a poor family, and a king was seizing every well-conditioned boat. Hence, he purposely made a hole in the boat so the boat became unworthy for the king to seize, and subsequently it remained in possession of the poor family. In reality, Khidr, the one on whom God bestowed knowledge, was executing Allah’s will on Earth.
The vicegerent is the appointee of Allah on Earth, and Allah (SWT), through him, sends His divine blessings, guidance and asserts His wills. Messengers of Allah and the infallible Imams from the progeny of the Prophet (PBUH) are the best and perfect examples of vicegerents.
Characteristics of Allah’s Vicegerents: They are perfect humans; they possess divine knowledge and wisdom, and embody exalted attributes of Allah. For instance, Allah is oft-forgiving, and the forgiveness of Allah in complete form is manifested in the character and leadership of the vicegerent. This is true about other attributes of Allah as well, such as knowledge, wisdom, power, and creativity, all of which are showcased in God’s vicegerents.
The universe is in full submission to Allah; similarly, with Allah’s permission, the universe is subjugated to the vicegerent’s will. For instance, with his cane, Prophet Musa split the river (sea) and the children of Bani-Israel crossed the sea safely7. Prophet Sulaiman made a month’s journey in half of a day8, Prophet Isa spoke while in the cradle9 and gave life to the dead10, and Prophet Mohammad split the moon11 and ascended to the heavens12.
Allah (SWT) sends his blessing through His vicegerents. With them, one finds God more forgiving, as stated in the Quran13:
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ جَاءُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا اللَّـهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُوا اللَّـهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا ﴿٦٤﴾
When they were unjust to themselves, they come to you and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Apostle had (also) asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful.
- al-Baqar 2:31-34
- An-Nazi’at 79:1-5
- Ash-Shuara 26:79
- Al-Anbiya 21:69
- al-Kahf 18:60-82
- al-Kahf 18:65
- Ash-Shuara 26:63
- Saba 34:12
- Maryam 19:30-33
- Al-Imran 3:49
- Al-Qamar 54:1
- Al-Isra 17:1
- an-Nissa 4:46