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

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-A`raf 7:21

Overview (Verses 21 - 25)

The Fall from Heaven

Wicked as he is and knowing that prohibition of that tree was firmly rooted in their minds, Satan thought to shaken its effect by assuring them that they had nothing to fear. He coupled that by tempting them with the fulfilment of their desires. He swore to them that he only gave them sound advice and that he was sincere in that advice: “And he swore to them: I am indeed giving you sound advice.” (Verse 21).

Upon the influence of their desires and the reassuring effect of his oath, Adam and his wife forgot that Satan was their enemy who would never point out something good to them. They became oblivious of the fact that God had issued a commandment to them which they had to obey, whether they recognized its purpose or not. They further forgot that everything takes place in accordance with God’s will. If it is God’s will that they should not be immortal or should not have an everlasting kingdom, then they will have neither. They forgot all this and yielded to Satan’s temptation. “Thus he cunningly deluded them. And when they both had tasted the fruit of the tree, their nakedness became apparent to them, and they began to cover themselves with leaves from the Garden. Their Lord called out to them: `Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you both that Satan is your open enemy?” (Verse 22)

The temptation was thus complete and yielded its bitter fruit. With their error, Satan brought them down from the level of obeying God to that of disobeying Him. Thus he caused their delusion: “Thus he cunningly deluded them.” (Verse 22) Now they realized that they were naked after they were unaware of those bodily parts which should remain covered. They began to gather leaves from the trees of heaven and patch them together to cover their nakedness. The way all this is expressed in the Qur’ān suggests that it is a reference to the physical private parts which a human being is naturally too shy to expose. He only exposes them when his nature is corrupted under the pressure of traditions and practices that may prevail in jāhiliyyah societies.

Their Lord called out to them: “Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you both that Satan is your open enemy?” (Verse 22) They heard their Lord’s reproach for their disobedience and for taking no heed of His advice. As to how this reproach was made and how they heard it, these are matters of which we have no knowledge other than that they took place. We accept that as we accept the statement that their Lord spoke to them the first time and also spoke to the angels and to Iblīs. God does what He wants.

With this address from on high, the other side of man’s nature is revealed. He is liable to forget and to err. He has a weakness which gives Satan the opportunity to delude him. He does not always maintain the right path. However, he recognizes his mistake and regrets it, and seeks God’s help and forgiveness. He is ready to turn back to God. He does not insist on his disobedience as Satan did, nor does he request his Lord to help him sink deeper into error: “Said they: ‘Our Lord.’ We have wronged ourselves; and unless You grant us forgiveness and bestow Your mercy upon us, we shall certainly be lost.’” (Verse 23) This is one of man’s main characteristics, establishing his bond with his Lord. This opening of the doors leading to his Lord involves recognition of his error, repentance, seeking forgiveness, feeling his own weakness, seeking God’s help and mercy. He is all the time certain that his own power is of no avail unless God helps him and bestows His mercy on him. Otherwise he is lost.

Thus the first experience is completed. Man’s main characteristics are thus outlined. He has become aware of these characteristics and he has gone through this experience. It all provides him with the necessary equipment to fulfil his task as vicegerent on earth. He can now enter into the battle against his enemy which is meant to be an unabating battle: “Said He: ‘Get you down hence, [and be henceforth] enemies to one another, having on earth your abode and livelihood for a while.’” (Verse 24)

“There shall you live, “ He added, ‘and there shall you die, and from there shall you be brought forth [on the Day of Resurrection].” (Verse 25) They all fell down, descending to this earth. But where were they? Where is Heaven? All that belongs to the realm which remains unknown to us except in so far as God, who holds the keys to that realm, tells us. Any attempt to discover that realm after revelations have ceased is bound to be futile. Any denial of it based on what is familiar or what is known today to human beings is a mark of arrogance. Man’s knowledge certainly falls short of trying to discover this unknown world without the proper tools and means. Man is both conceited and arrogant when he denies the existence of that realm which lies beyond the perception of his senses, when it is all around him. In the world of matter, which is within man’s own world, what is unknown is much greater than what is known.

All of them: Adam and his wife, Iblīs and his host, fell down to earth where they began their fight fuelled with hostility. The battle rages between two natures, one of them devoted completely to evil while the other has a dual aspect which responds to good and evil. Thus the test begins and God’s will is done.

Adam and his offspring are destined to remain on earth where they have the power to build it and to enjoy its comforts for a while. On earth they live and they die, before they are resurrected, when they return to their Lord at the end of their great journey. He then assigns them either to heaven or to hell.

The first round in the battle is over, but it is to be followed by numerous rounds. Man will also be victorious when he seeks help from his Lord and follows the path He has shown him. He will end up in defeat whenever he defers to his enemy.

Full Harmony in the System of Creation

What we are told in this sūrah about Adam’s creation is not a mere story. It is a presentation outlining the truth of the creation of man, explaining his nature and origin as well as the world around him and what control he has over his life. It also seeks to explain the code which God wants him to implement, the test to which he is put and the destiny awaiting him. All these are basic elements in the Islamic concept of life. We will tackle these only briefly in our commentary, because they are tackled in greater depth in a separate book.10

The first fact which we derive from studying the history of human existence and how man came into being demonstrates that there is full and complete harmony between the nature of the universe and the creation of man. Divine planning, which is characterized by being elaborate and careful, encompasses both man and the universe. It is this planning which makes man’s existence the outcome of a deliberate plan, not a mere coincidence. It also makes harmony between man and the universe the norm.

Those who do not have a proper concept of God and do not properly understand His nature or give Him the respect due to Him, apply their own human measures to His will and actions. When they realize that man is only one of numerous creatures which live on earth, and discover that the earth is no more than a small particle in the ocean of the universe, they claim that “it does not stand to reason” that man’s existence has a definite purpose or that man has a role to play in the overall universal system. Some claim that human existence was a mere coincidence and that the universe is hostile to human existence and life in general. These are no more than blind thoughts that result from imposing human standards on God’s actions.