April 18, 2021

Islamic Web Library

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Regaining the Lost Paradise: The Story of Adam in the Quran (Surah 20: Verses 115-124)

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Surah 20 Verse 115
And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination.

As I have explained under the commentary of Surah 2 Verse 36, the story of Adam has an esoteric and exoteric meaning. In common terms this would mean: ‘The Revealed Truth’ and ‘The Empirical Truth’. In Revealed terms, this concept would be understood as how the traditional scholars have explained the Story of Adam: that is, Adam and Eve were misguided by Satan in the Heavenly Garden and ‘ate’ the fruit of the ‘tree’.

According to Maariful Quran vol 1 pg. 180-181,

“The Prophets are innocent of all sins
As we have seen here, Adam had been forbidden to eat the fruit of a certain tree, and had also been warned against the machinations of his enemy, Satan, and yet he had eaten the forbidden fruit. It is seemingly a sin, while the Holy Qur’an, the Hadith and rational arguments too establish the innocence and sinlessness of all the prophets. There is an absolute consensus of the four great Imams of Islamic law and of all the authentic scholars on the doctrine that each and every prophet is innocent of and protected against all sins, major or minor. Some people have suggested that prophets are not protected against minor sins, but the majority of authentic scholars does not agree with this opinion. (Qurtubi) It is necessary for prophets to be thus protected, because they are sent down to be the guides of men – if a guide can go against the commandments of Allah and commit a sin, major or even minor, people would no longer be ready to trust his word or deed. If one cannot have trust and faith even in the prophets, how
can the work of spiritual guidance be possible? Hence the necessity of prophets being sinless. The Holy Qur’an does, however, relate certain incidents which tend to suggest that a certain prophet committed a sin, and drew upon himself the displeasure of Allah. The story about Adam eating the forbidden fruit is one such instance. According to the consensus of the authentic scholars, in all cases a prophet comes to commit an error through a misunderstanding or just forgetfulness, and it is never a deliberate and wilful transgression of divine commandment. As is well known, a Mujtahid is one who possesses the necessary qualifications for finding out through analogical deduction the rule for a case regarding which no specific commandment is present in the Holy Qur’an or the Hadith; if he makes a
mistake in determining the rule, he still receives a reward from Allah for having made the effort. The mistake made by a prophet is always of this nature, or is due to oversight and hence pardonable, and
cannot be called a ‘sin’ in the technical sense. Moreover, a prophet, being under the protection of Allah, can never show oversight or forgetfulness in
things which are directly concerned with his prophetic and legislative function, but only in personal matters. (see al-Bahr al-muhit) The station of the prophets, however, is so exalted, that even a little oversight on the part of a great man is considered to be a great error. That is why such slips on the parts of certain prophets have been described in the Holy Quran as ‘sins’, and Allah has shown his displeasure too, although they are not ‘sins’ in their nature.”

According to Muhammad Asad, pg. 618, note 102:

The relevant divine commandment – or, rather, warning – is spelled out in verse 117. The present passage connects with the statement in verse 99, “Thus do We relate unto thee some of the stories of what happened in the past”, and is meant to show that negligence of spiritual truths is one of the recurrent characteristics of the human race (Razi), which is symbolized here – as in many other places in the Qur’an by Adam.

Surah 20 Verse 116
And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam,” and they prostrated, except Iblees; he refused.

Surah 20 Verse 117
So We said, “O Adam, indeed this is an enemy to you and to your wife. Then let him not remove you from Paradise so you would suffer.

Surah 20 Verse 118
Indeed, it is [promised] for you not to be hungry therein or be unclothed.

Surah 20 Verse 119
And indeed, you will not be thirsty therein or be hot from the sun.”

As T.O. Shanavas writes, “From among the billions of stars in our universe, why would the Quran mention the sun’s heat if the Garden of the Forbidden Tree was Paradise? Moreover, in every context (7:98, 20:59, 79:29 and 46, and 91:1), the waord (daha) or its derivatives are used in the Quran only in situations related to the sun.” Thus, he concludes that the Garden of the forbidden tree must have been on planets close to the sun, and the only possibility is, of course, the Earth. (Islamic Theory of Evolution, pg. 165).

Allamah Noorudin writes,

‘The garden spoken of in this verse was on this earth, as it
was here that Adam was placed and made vice regent (2:30). It was
not the Paradise to which the righteous go after death, and from which
they will never be expelled (15:48). The place where human beings,
symbolized by Adam dwelt was called a garden because of the
fertility of its soil and abundance of the fresh green colour of its trees,
and because they led there a life of comfort, as is shown by the words
that follow (see also 20:117).’ ((Exegesis of The Holy Qur’ân Commentary and Reflections. p. 351)

Again, an empirical interpretation of the esoteric. In revealed terms, this Garden was the indispensable Garden of Return promised to believers: “Al Jannah”.

Surah 20 Verse 120
Then Satan whispered to him; he said, “O Adam, shall I direct you to the tree of eternity and possession that will not deteriorate?”

The following excerpt is taken from “The Story of Creation in the Qur’an: A Sufi Interpretation” by Shaykh Fadhlalla pg. 121:

“The story of Adam in paradise and his curiosity as to the state of eternity signifies the rise of personal conditioned consciousness, and apparent separation from Reality. Then Adam (his soul) was given the knowledge of Allah’s Attributes: life, power, knowledge, ability, will and others. It is through these that separation is bridged and unity is established. By grooming the lower self and yielding to the supremacy of the soul, Adam’s offspring can access paradise within. Passion for paradise can drive us to rediscover its state and thereby attain liberation from earthly exile and limitations.”

According to Muhammad Asad regarding “the tree”:
“This symbolic tree is designated in the Bible as “the tree of life” and “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis ii, 9), while in the above Qur’anic account Satan speaks of it as “the tree of life eternal (al-khuld)”. Seeing that Adam and Eve did not achieve immortality despite their tasting the forbidden fruit, it is obvious that Satan’s suggestion was, as it always is, deceptive. On the other hand, the Qur’an tells us nothing about the real nature of that “tree” beyond pointing out that it was Satan who described
it – falsely – as “the tree of immortality”: and so we may assume that the forbidden tree is simply an allegory of the limits which the Creator has set to man’s desires and actions: limits beyond which he may not go without offending against his own, God-willed nature” (The Message of the Quran pg. 619-620)

For a further understanding of the concept of “tree” in the Quran, see the following post:
The Motif of the Tree in the Quran:A Good Tree and an Evil Tree

Surah 20 Verse 121
And Adam and his wife ate of it, and their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And Adam disobeyed his Lord and erred.

“I understand these two verses (verse 120-121) in the context of surah 7 verse 20-22 which almost complement the same meaning”

Surah 20 Verse 122
Then his Lord chose him and turned to him in forgiveness and guided [him].

Surah 20 Verse 123
[Allah] said, “Descend from Paradise – all, [your descendants] being enemies to one another. And if there should come to you guidance from Me – then whoever follows My guidance will neither go astray [in the world] nor suffer [in the Hereafter].

Surah 20 Verse 124
And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.


  1. Al-Azami, Usaama (2013). Muslims and Evolution in the 21st Century: A Galileo Moment?. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/muslims-and-evolution-in-the-21st-century-a-galileo-moment_b_2688895
  2. Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .1 pg. 180-181) http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/maarif-volum1-english.pdf
  3. Asad, Muhammad (1980). (pg. 618). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf
  4. Asad, Muhammad (1980). (pg. 619-620). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf
  5. Haeri, Shaykh Fadhlalla. The Story of Creation in the Qur’an: A Sufi Interpretation (p. 121). Zahra Publications. Kindle Edition.
  6. Shanavas, T.O. (2005). Islamic Theory of Evolution: The Missing Link between Darwin and the Origin of Species. (p. 165).
  7. NOORUDDÎN ,ALLÂMAH. (2015). Exegesis of The Holy Qur’ân Commentary and Reflections. (p.351). http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Exegesis-of-the-Holy-Quran-Commentary-and-Reflections.pdf

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