Tafsir Zone - Surah 7: al-A`raf (The Elevated Places)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-A`raf 7:11

Overview (Verse 11)

The Start of Human Life on Earth

What we are about to learn is the story of human life with all its exciting events. It begins with an announcement of the forthcoming birth of mankind. The announcement is made in a majestic celebration attended by the Supreme Society, a Qur’ānic term that refers to the angels. As a further evidence of honour, no one other than God Almighty makes the announcement when the angels are gathered, and Iblīs is present, though he is not one of the angels. The whole event is witnessed by the heavens and the earth and all that God has created. It is indeed a great event in the history of the universe:  “We have indeed created you, and then formed you. We then said to the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Adam!” They all prostrated themselves, except for Iblīs: he was not one of those who prostrated themselves.” (Verses 11)

This is the first scene, which is both exciting and very serious indeed. It is perhaps more appropriate to look properly at the scenes in this story, making our comments at the end when we can better try to understand its importance.

We have indeed created you, and then formed you. We then said to the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Adam!” They all prostrated themselves, except for Iblīs: he was not one of those who prostrated themselves.” (Verse 11)

‘Creation’ may mean initiation, while `formation’ may mean the assigning of a particular form and special characteristic. These are grades not stages of existence. The conjunction `then’ may signify giving a higher status without having any element of a chronological order. To give something a form is more advanced than its mere existence, for the latter may be limited to the raw material only. Formation, in the sense of giving a special human form and characteristic, is certainly much more significant than mere existence. Hence, the Qur’ānic statement should be understood as not signifying mere existence but also giving that existence a number of higher characteristics. This is akin to the Qur’ānic statement which refers to God Himself as the One “who has given everything that exists its true form and then guided them.” (20:50).

Everything has been given its characteristics and tasks and was guided to its fulfilment at the time of its creation. There was no time gap between the creation of everything and the assigning of its characteristics and duties and then the guidance to the fulfilment of those duties. The meaning remains the same if ‘guided’ in the above Qur’ānic statement refers to their knowledge of their Lord. Again, that form of guidance has been given to all creation at the time when it came into existence. Adam was also formed and fashioned and given his human characteristics when he was created. Hence, it is much more correct to say that in the Qur’ānic verse which states. “We have indeed created you and then formed you,” the conjunction, ‘then’, signifies enhancement of grade not allowing for a time gap.

The total import of Qur’ānic statements that speak of the creation of Adam (peace be upon him) and the start of human life indicates very strongly that this particular creation was given its human characteristic and special tasks at the time of its coming into existence. Evolution in human history took the form of developing these characteristics and gaining further experience in utilizing them. It is not an evolution of existence which suggests, as Darwinism would like us to believe, that a process of evolution of species has reached its climax with the advent of man.

There might have been stages of advanced animals, with one coming after the other, as evidenced by the theory of natural selection. But this is no more than a theory that does not aspire to any degree of certainty, because the estimation of the ages of rocks in geological strata is again a theoretical process. It is the same as estimating the ages of different stars and planets on the basis of the characteristics of their rays. Future discoveries may amend or change these theories.

But even if we were to learn the ages of rocks with absolute certainty, there is nothing to prevent the existence of different species of animals, some of which are higher than others, in different time periods, and that their advancement makes them particularly suited for the prevailing circumstances. Some of them may disappear when circumstances change drastically to make it difficult for the earth to sustain their existence. That does not make it inevitable that these species have evolved one from the other. All the studies and observations of Charles Darwin and those who followed him cannot prove more than that. They cannot say with any certainty that one species evolved from a preceding one, on the basis of fossils and where they have been found. It simply proves that a subsequent species was higher than a preceding one. This can easily be explained as we have already said: the prevailing circumstances at one particular time allowed the existence of one species. The circumstances subsequently prevailing allowed the existence of another species and the disappearance of the first one.

All this means that the appearance of human beings was independent of other species. It took place at a time when the prevailing circumstances on earth facilitated the existence, development and advancement of this particular type of creation. This is the total sum of the Qur’ānic statements on the creation of man.

The fact that biologically, physiologically, mentally and spiritually, man has unique characteristics is so clear that it has been acknowledged by neo-Darwinists who include a number of atheists. This uniqueness also supports the view that human existence was totally independent of the existence of all other species. It simply has no biological interrelationship with them.

Be that as it may, God Himself, in all His Majesty, made the announcement of the birth of man in a great gathering of the Supreme Society: “We then said to the angels: ‘Prostrate yourselves before Adam!’ They all prostrated themselves, except for Iblīs: he was not one of those who prostrated themselves.” (Verse 11) The angels are a different type of God’s creation who have their distinctive characteristics and special tasks. We do not know anything about them except what God has told us, which we have stated earlier.7 Iblīs belongs to yet another type of creation, different from the angels. God states in the Qur’ān, in reference to Iblīs: “He belonged to the jinn and acted contrary to his Lord’s command.” (18: 50) The jinn are also a type of creation different from the angels and we have already summarized earlier8 what God has told us about them. It will be stated later in this sūrah9 that Iblīs was created out of fire. Hence, most certainly he never was an angel, although he was commanded to prostrate himself to Adam together with the angels in that great event when the Almighty announced the forthcoming appearance of man, the unique creature.

As for the angels, who never disobey God in whatever He may order them and simply do what they are bid, they all prostrated themselves in total obedience to God. None hesitated; none showed any indication of arrogance, because none contemplated disobedience of God for any reason. Such is their nature and such are their characteristics. Here we see clear evidence of the honour God has given to man, and of the total obedience that is always shown by the type of God’s servants to whom we refer as the angels.

As for Iblīs, he wilfully disobeyed God, defying His orders. We will soon learn what thoughts were in his mind and what caused him to take this stance although he was perfectly aware that the One who was giving the orders was his Lord who had created him and who had control of his destiny as also of the destiny of the whole universe. Iblīs never entertained any doubt about all this. Nevertheless, he still disobeyed God.