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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 4 (Verses 30 to 39)


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Section/Ruku 4 [Verses 30 to 39]: Greatness of Man and Need for Revelation:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

30 And when thy Lord said to the angels,
a I am going to place a rulerb in the earth, they said: Wilt Thou place in it such as make mischief in it and shed blood?c And we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness.d He said: Surely I know what you know not.

31 And He taught Adama all the names,b then presented them to the angels; He said: Tell Me the names of those if you are right.c

32 They said: Glory be to Thee! We have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us. Surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise.

33 He said: O Adam, inform them of their names. So when he informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I know what is unseen in the heavens and the earth? And I know what you manifest and what you hide.a

34 And when We said to the angels, Be submissive to Adam,a they submitted, but Iblisb (did not).c He refused and was proud, and he was one of the disbelievers.d

35 And We said: O Adam, dwell thou and thy wife in the garden,a and eat from it a plenteous (food)b wherever you wish, and approach not this tree,c lest you be of the unjust.

36 But the devil made them slip from it,a and caused them to depart from the state in which they were. And We said: Go forth,b some of you are the enemies of others. And there is for you in the earth an abode and a provision for a time.c

37 Then Adam received (revealed) words from his Lord, and He turned to him (mercifully).a Surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

38 We said: Go forth from this (state) all. Surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.a

39 And (as to) those who disbelieve in and reject Our messages,a they are the companions of the Fire; in it they will abide.b

 

2. Commentary:

30a. The Arabic word for angels is mala’ikah, which is the plural of malak. It is said to be derived, either from malaka which means he controlled, and refers to the angels’ function of controlling the forces of nature on the physical side of life, or from alk, to send, the original being in this case ma’lak, contracted into malak, and refers to the angels’ spiritual function of acting as intermediaries between God and man. Both root ideas thus contain a reference to the principal functions ascribed to the angels. The existence of such intermediaries has been recognized by righteous men in all ages and all countries.

It will also be seen, from what has been said above as to the functions of the angelic beings, that Allah’s saying to them is really the expression of an intention which is to be brought into execution. It is not a conversation, or a consultation with the angels; it is an expression of the Divine will to those intermediary beings who are entrusted by the Divine Being with the execution of it. It may also be added that by the angels here are meant the angels entrusted with this particular affair, not all the angels of the universe (IJ). [Back to verse 30]

30b. This shows the high place that man was destined to hold in the whole of creation. The original word khalifah (from khalafa, meaning he came after or succeeded another that had perished or died), means primarily a successor, and hence the supreme or the greatest ruler who supplies the place of him who has been before him (T, LL). IMsd and I‘Ab explain khalifah as meaning one who judges among, or rules, the creatures of Allah by His command (IJ). What is stated here is an allegorical description of the preference of man above the whole of the creation on this earth, and then of the election of those righteous servants of Allah from among men themselves who lead others into the right path. One of the significances suggested by the commentators is that the word khalifah here refers to the children of Adam, i.e., the whole of mankind. The correctness of this view is corroborated by the Quran itself, which says, referring to the whole of mankind: "and He it is Who has made you successors in the land (or rulers in the earth)" (6:165), the word used for rulers being khala’if, plural of khalifah. Hence the reference here seems to be to the whole of mankind. References to Adam are contained in 2:30–39 and in 3:59; 7:11–25; 15:28– 44; 17:61–65; 18:50; 20:115–124 and 38:71–85. [Back to verse 30]

30c. God declares His will to the angels, the controlling forces of nature, to create man who is meant to rule the forces of nature, and to whom, therefore, power to rule is to be delegated. Being entrusted with such great powers, man could use them rightly or wrongly, and it is to this fear of abuse of power that the angels give expression, they themselves being only executors of Divine will in which they have no choice. The concluding words of this verse show that God knew that man would abuse the power given to him, but He also knew that he would turn it to good use as well. The whole of history of man is briefly written in this one verse. Man is the greatest killer on this earth but he also turns the gifts of God to the best use. The angels speak of the darker side of the picture of humanity, but to God was known the brighter side as well as the darker side of this picture. Hence the words, I know what you know not. [Back to verse 30]

30d. While giving expression to the darker side of the picture of humanity, these intermediaries declare that this could not be the Divine purpose, for God is free from all imperfections, such being the significance of tasbih (LL), generally rendered as declaring the glory of God. [Back to verse 30]

31a. Adam is generally taken to be the proper name for the first man, but neither here nor anywhere else in the Holy Quran is it affirmed that Adam was the first man or that there was no creation before him. On the other hand, great Muslim theologians have held that there were many Adams — thousands of Adams — before the great ancestor of mankind known by this name (RM). As the previous verse shows, the whole of humanity is spoken of here because the shedding of blood could not be the work of one man; the reference is to the shedding of the blood of man by man. Adam, therefore, though it may also be the name of a particular man, stands for man generally. [Back to verse 31]

31b. Explaining asma’, which literally signifies names (being plural of ism, meaning a name), Rz says: "He taught him the attributes of things and their descriptions and their characteristics, for the attributes of a thing are indicative of its nature". Teaching Adam the names therefore signifies the vast capability of man and the superiority of his knowledge to that of the angels. Or, the reference may be to the faculty of speech, which is the real source of the excellence of man above the whole of creation. To this the Holy Quran refers elsewhere too: "He created man, taught him (the mode of) expression" (55:3, 4). [Back to verse 31]

31c. Man’s superiority to the angels is made clear here. The angels were not gifted with the knowledge which was given to man, and the gift of knowledge was the greatest gift of God. The form of dialogue is kept up to indicate eternal truths. Man might be a maker of mischief and a shedder of blood, but he possessed vast capability for knowledge, and hence the angels’ estimate of man, which looked only to the darker side of the picture, was not a right estimate. Evil there might be in him, but the good was preponderant.

Note that sidq (lit., truth) sometimes signifies sawab, or that which is right, as kidhb (lit., falsehood) sometimes signifies khata’, i.e., that which is wrong (Rz). [Back to verse 31]

33a. "What you hide" refers to those great qualities in man which preponderate the evil in him, and which remain hidden until they are made manifest through the Divine gift of knowledge. The immense capability of man for progress remains hidden, while the evil of shedding blood is manifested in a very primary stage in his growth. [Back to verse 33]

34a. Sajada is really synonymous with khad‘a, i.e., he was lowly or submissive (LL). In the Holy Quran, the word is frequently used to signify simple submission. And you also say, sajada la-hu, meaning he saluted him or he paid respect or honour to him (LL).

What is the significance of the angels being submissive to Adam? In the first place, it must be remembered that Adam throughout this section stands for man generally; so submission is not limited to one particular man; it is to man generally. Secondly, it has already been shown that man has a superiority over the angels on account of his great gift of knowledge of things, the angels being the controlling powers of the forces of nature. By his knowledge man could harness the forces of nature and exercise control over them; in other words, the angels submitted to him. [Back to verse 34]

34b. Iblis was not one of the angels: "He was of the jinn, so he transgressed" (18:50). In v. 36 he is called Satan. It should be borne in mind that Iblis and Satan (Ar. shaitan) refer to one and the same being. The word Iblis is used when the Evil one’s evil is limited to himself, and Satan, when his evil affects others besides himself; or Iblis is the proud one, and Satan the deceiver. Iblis is derived from balasa, meaning he despaired, and Shaitan from shatana, meaning he became distant or remote. The same entity is thus mentioned under two different names; he is called Iblis because he despairs of the mercy of God and Shaitan because he allures others to do things which remove them further off from Divine mercy. Iblis therefore stands for the lower desires which keep man off from bowing before God and seeking His mercy, and Satan incites the low desires of man to lead others away from the path of rectitude.

What is the significance underlying the refusal of Iblis to submit to man? As shown in the last footnote, the angels’ submission meant that man could control the forces of nature by his knowledge of things; he could conquer nature. But he himself was a part of nature, and he could not conquer his own evil desires. His advancement lay in two directions, the conquest of nature and the conquest of his own self. He could attain the first end by the power of knowledge with which he was gifted, but the higher end, the conquest of self, needed yet another act of Divine mercy, the sending of Divine Revelation; and this is explained in this story of Adam in v. 38. [Back to verse 34]

34c. The thing excepted by means of illa (lit., except) is in some cases disunited in kind from that from which the exception is made, and the statement which follows illa is, therefore, a new statement altogether cut off from the first. Therefore instead of adopting the ordinary rendering, with the exception of Iblis, I adopt but Iblis did not. [Back to verse 34]

34d. Note that he refused to submit because he was a disbeliever, which further corroborates the statement that he was not one of the angels. [Back to verse 34]

35a. The garden spoken of in this verse was on this earth, as it was on the earth that man was placed. It was certainly not the paradise to which men go after death, and from which they will never be expelled (15:48). The placing in the garden signifies leading a life of ease and comfort, as is shown by the words that follow: "Eat from it a plenteous food wherever you wish". And more clearly still, the life in the garden is thus described in 20:117–119: "So let him not drive you both out of the garden so that thou art unhappy. Surely it is granted to thee therein that thou art not hungry, nor naked. And that thou art not thirsty therein, nor exposed to the sun’s heat". And now, as it were, to complete the picture of happiness, the woman is brought in, and both Adam and his wife are made to dwell in the garden, though there is no mention of the wife in what has gone before. All this shows that life in the garden meant a life of comfort, ease and happiness. [Back to verse 35]

35b. Raghad here either qualifies an understood noun, and the meaning is a plenteous food, or it is indicative of the condition of Adam and Eve, and the words may thus be rendered: Eat from it wherever you wish, having abundance of all things. [Back to verse 35]

35c. According to the Bible, the tree which Adam was forbidden to approach was the tree of knowledge of good and evil; the Quran does not say so. On the other hand, where the devil deceives man, he calls it "the tree of immortality" (20:120). It was therefore just the opposite of what the devil stated it to be. It was the tree of death, the spiritual death of man — the tree of evil. Adam undoubtedly stands for man in the whole of this description, and it is evil which man is again and again forbidden to approach, and it is evil against which all prophets of God have warned men. In the Quran, it is always called this tree, which further shows that it was something which was known to man, and there is not the least doubt that not only has man been warned against evil throughout his history, but hatred for evil is also innate in him. That man hates evil by nature is shown by the fact that every man condemns evil when it is done by another. As regards the figurative use of the word tree, compare 14:24–26, where a good word is likened to "a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are high, yielding its fruit in every season", and an evil word is likened to "an evil tree pulled up from the earth’s surface; it has no stability". The order to eat from the earth a plenteous food but not to approach evil is really a description of what pure human nature is. Man is entitled to all the benefits of nature to maintain the body, to harness the forces of nature for his physical comforts and happiness, so long as he does not forget his soul. It is an order not to pamper the body at the expense of the soul, but it is as yet an order innate in human nature, not an order given by Divine Revelation — the need for revelation comes on later. [Back to verse 35]

36a. Azalla (translated as made them slip) is derived from zall, to slip (foot or tongue) unintentionally (R), and zallat is a fault committed unintentionally (R). Azalla-huma therefore means the devil made them commit a fault unintentionally. The result was that they were made to depart from the happy condition in which they were. The lesson taught here is that real happiness lies in peace of mind, so that when the peace of mind is disturbed by committing an evil, even if it be unintentional, physical happiness does not avail a man.

How did the devil do it? Here the Quran again contradicts the Bible. It was not the serpent that misled Eve, nor did Eve mislead Adam. The devil cast an evil suggestion into the minds of both Adam and Eve, as he casts evil suggestions into the mind of every son and daughter of Adam and Eve: "But the devil made an evil suggestion to them that he might make manifest to them that which had been hidden from them of their shame" (7:20). [Back to verse 36]

36b. Habt sometimes means going down a declivity, or descending from a high place to a low one, but its more frequent use in literature is simply in the sense of removing from one place to another, as in ihbitu misr-an (2:61), which means go to, or enter into, a city. It also signifies simply change in condition. According to LL, habata means he came forth from it and also he became lowered or degraded. And habt further signifies falling into evil; or becoming low or abject; or suffering loss or diminution. This loss or suffering is brought about by means of indulgence in evil.

The new condition in which man finds himself by submitting to his low desires is the condition of the mutual enmity of one to the other, the tyranny of man to man being undoubtedly the greatest evil which man can commit. The use of the words "some of you are the enemies of others" shows clearly that this address is not to Adam and Eve alone, but to all mankind or man in general. [Back to verse 36]

36c. The words "an abode and a provision for a time" refer to man’s span of life on earth, which is limited as compared with the eternal life of the next world. [Back to verse 36]

37a. The Arabic word taubah (repentance) gives us in fact the philosophy of repentance. Taba originally means he returned, and hence the primary meaning of taba il-Allahi is he returned to Allah. In religious terminology the word taubah comes to mean the returning to a state of obedience. Thus taubah implies a perfect change in the course of one’s life, and this is repentance according to the Holy Quran. It is not an utterance of certain words, but an actual change for the better. The same word taba is used to express the Divine act of the acceptance of repentance, with reference again to the original meaning of the word, because in this case the Divine Being deals with man mercifully.

Kalimat (words) here means the revealed words of God. Man is found too weak to overcome the evil suggestions of the devil or the evil inclinations in him, however strong he may be to conquer the forces of nature. So God comes to his help and reveals Himself to him. He sends down revelation which, strengthening his faith in God, gives him the strength to overcome the devil and reject his suggestions. [Back to verse 37]

38a. This section is now closed with the statement of a general law that Divine Revelation will be granted to the whole of humanity and prophets will appear everywhere from time to time, and that it would be by following the Guidance sent by God through His prophets that men will attain to perfection. This state of perfection is described as a state in which "no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve". The man who truly follows the Divine Revelation shall have no fear of the devil misleading him, for he has subjugated his devil, nor shall he grieve that he wasted the opportunity given him in this life, for he turned it to the best use. [Back to verse 38]

39a. The word ayat [aayat] (plural ayat [aayaat]), which occurs for the first time here, is of very frequent occurrence in the Holy Quran and conveys a number of significances. The primary meaning of ayat is an apparent sign or mark (R), by which a thing is known. Hence it comes to signify a sign as meaning an indication or evidence or proof (T, LL). In this sense it signifies what is called a mu‘jizah or a miracle, instead of which the Holy Quran always uses the word ayat, thus showing that the miracles of which it speaks are not wonders but actual evidence or proof of the truth of a prophet. But the most frequent use of the word ayat in the Holy Quran is to signify a message or a communication and it is in this sense that the word is applied to a verse of the Holy Quran, i.e., a collection of the words of the Holy Quran continued to its breaking, or a portion of the Quran after which a suspension of the speech is approvable (T, LL). But it generally retains the wider significance of a sign or a mark, or a Divine message or a Divine communication. [Back to verse 39]

39b. As against those who attain to perfection by following the Divine message, the people spoken of in this verse are those who not only disbelieve but also exert their utmost to oppose revealed truth and uproot it. Such people are described as companions of the Fire. They keep company with evil in this life, so the fire becomes their companion in the next to purge them of the evil consequences of their evil deeds. Their hearts burn with evil passions in this life, and it is this very fire that assumes a palpable shape in the next.

Khalada signifies originally he remained or abode, or remained or abode long, being synonymous with aqama (A). Hence you say khwalid (plural of khalid), meaning the three stones upon which the cooking-pot is placed, so called because of their remaining for a long time after the standing relics of a house have become effaced (LL). Therefore khalidun signifies simply abiding, and does not necessarily convey the idea of perpetuity. [Back to verse 39]

 

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 4 (Verses 30 to 39)


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