The Concept of ‘Original Sin’ in the light of the Quran

The concept of ‘original sin’ used in this post is meant to carry a mere philosophical meaning; it is a mere idea which came in my mind and indeed has a slight resemblance but not connotation with the way it is interpreted in Christianity. Nonetheless, it carries logical weight and that is why I feel I should share it publicly.

Christianity has its origin of this concept from the allegory of Adam and Eve. The allegory of Adam is in brief the following:

‘After a certain point in time in the creation of the Heavens and Earth, and all that we know that is created in them, God willed to create mankind and informed the angels or natural forces of His plan. When God brought mankind into existence, the angels or natural forces exclaimed “Oh God, why create a creature that will shed blood and spread corruption on Earth, when we (the angels) proclaim your purity and sanctify your name?” God simply told them that they are unable to understand the benefit of this judgment. Thus, God brought the first man (Adam, who represents the prototype of humanity) into existence and taught him the names of things which exist on Earth and all of reality. These names and qualities were unique to Adam and could not be imitated by the angels and natural forces. Thus, they were told to come under the service of this creature (in other words, prostrate to Adam). All the angels came under Adam’s service except Iblees (the Satan, who is defined by the Quran as a member of the species known as Jinn kind). When God asked why he chose not to prostrate, Satan replied “I am better than he; he You created from clay, while I was created from fire”. However, this idea is entirely metaphorical for Adam’s ability to conquer the forces of nature while those that fight him are the Satans due to their pride and arrogance against the former. And so, Iblees developed into the utter enemy of Mankind. God warned Adam of this enemy and told him to Dwell in Paradise (the Earth) and to enjoy its fruits from wherever he wished but to not come near ‘this tree’ (symbolic of the limits placed on mankind). It so happens that Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree and willingly disobeyed God’s command due to temptation from the Satan. God then completely renounced Adam. Adam sought forgiveness from God, and He forgave Adam and told him that ‘those among you who follow my guidance will never go astray while those who disobey Me will suffer’. ” (End of narration)

[It is to be strictly kept in mind that this narration is an extremely brief and biased version of the original story of Adam. For a complete explanation of this story, please see the following post: Regaining the Lost Paradise: The Story of Adam in the Quran. My point here is only to convey the reader with a brief background]

Christianity interprets the above story based on a concept called ‘original sin’. The concept says that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, they became aware of the evil they had done and thus were able to conceptualize alternate courses of action, in other words: ‘know’ good and evil. This is why the forbidden tree is also called ‘the tree of knowledge of good and evil’ or ‘the tree of immortality’.

Christianity claims that this ‘original’ sin of Adam was inherited by the whole human race; and, in order for sin to be extinguished, a ‘pure’ sacrifice is needed. Thus, this ‘pure’ sacrifice is interpreted by the Christians as Jesus’ death on the cross; who (as they claim) would absolve them of all sin simply by a mere belief of his lordship and following. Thus, those who believe in the Triune God and the sonship of Jesus are forgiven in this world and hereafter.

Due to the theological and moral problems related with it, the Quran entirely rejects this concept. The Quran claims that Jesus (upon whom be peace) was a mere mortal and prophet whose nature was completely human:

Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, “Be” – and he is (Quran 3:59)

and regarding the trinity God Himself proclaims in the Quran:

O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. (Quran 4:171)

So where does this leave the problem of original sin?

In order to understand this concept, the allegory of Adam and Eve must be properly understood. This allegory is explaining the psychological change of mankind from an an instinctual state to a complete human being. This is explained by 20th century scholar, Muhammad Asad, in the following way:

“In his earlier state of innocence man was unaware of the existence of evil and therefore, of the ever-present necessity of making a choice between the many possibilities of action and behavior: in other words, he lived, like all other animals, in the light of his instincts alone. Inasmuch, however, as this innocence was only a condition of his existence and not a virtue, it gave to his life a static quality and thus precluded him from moral and intellectual development. The growth of his consciousness—symbolized by the willful act of disobedience to God’s command—changed all this. It transformed him from a purely instinctive being into a full-fledged human entity as we know it—a human being capable of discerning between right and
wrong and thus of choosing his way of life. In this deeper sense, the allegory of the Fall does not describe a retrogressive happening, but, rather, a new stage of human development: an opening of doors to moral considerations. By forbidding him to approach this tree, God made it possible for man to act wrongly—and, therefore, to act rightly as well: and so man became endowed with that moral free will which distinguishes him from all other sentient beings.” (The Message of the Quran, Surah 7,
Note 16)

Those who know the reality of this story would be able to understand the concept of ‘original sin’. What we say is that, human beings do not directly inherit the sin of Adam, rather this is a human condition present within the very fiber of our being. As Muhammad Asad has pointed out, “By forbidding him to approach this tree, God made it possible for man to act wrongly-and, therefore, to act rightly as well”. This ability of free will is a natural condition of the human being and I feel is present down to the genetic level. If we did not have the natural ability to choose our actions, we would simply not be able to do so.

The outcome of this condition is that mankind is naturally and inherently prone to evil and thus requires guidance. This guidance is given by God Almighty Himself through the prophets. Thus, those who follow the prophets are saved while those who do not are renounced. The former of the two acts saves Adam from the ‘original sin’ of disobedience to God and allows him to regain his lost Paradise; while the latter act leads Adam astray from the path of obedience to God and causes him to lose this Paradise.

Moreover,

“Although Sufi commentators agree that the truly great sin is shirk (idolatry), they consider shirk to also mean an excessive attachment to worldly things, and even the assertion of the independent existence of one’s own soul in a way that would obscure pure devotion to and utter reliance upon God. Hence the Sufi saying, sometimes attributed to Rābiʿah al-ʿAdawiyyah (d. 183/801): “Your existence is a sin to which no other sin can be compared!” (K, Qu).” [Study Quran, under the notes of surah 4 verse 31]

References:

Asad, Muhammad (1980). (surah 7 note 16). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf

Nasr, Hossein (2015). Study Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/TheStudyQuran.pdf