I have borrowed the following concept from the book “Science and Scriptures: Friends or Foes?: Marrying science and religion in the quest for meaning”. Though I agree with the general concept, I differ slightly with the author in its interpretation as I will explain in the conclusion.
Prior to the physical conception of life on this planet, God created every individual soul and existing in a different plane (The immaterial plane) As God says
Q7:172 “When thy lord drew forth from the children of Adam from their lions-their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves (Saying) “Am I not your lord (who cherish and sustains you? They said “yea! We do testify” (37)
So every individual soul had collectively testified to the sovereignty of God in their former plane.
If we look into the narratives of both the Old Testament and the Qur’an we will realize the creation story is being told in two versions, before the fall (spiritual/immaterial) and after the fall (physical/material).
Prior to fall, the two forces of good and evil were in rivalry, as God said in the Qur’an
38:69 “Also say: “I have no knowledge of that time when the exalted chiefs disputed among themselves” (38)
The crisis only reached climax when Man was created. God (representing good) warned the spiritual side of man to be wary of Satan (The king of evil).
Q20:117-9 “Then we said” O Adam! Verily this Satan is an enemy to thee and thy wife. So let him not get you both out of the garden, so that you are landed in misery. There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry, nor naked, nor suffer from thirst, nor from the suns heat” (39)
Man was given a limited free will, to choose from the two and Satan began to campaign:
Q20:120: But Satan whispered evil to him he said “0 Adam shall I lead you to the tree of eternity and to a kingdom that never decays” (40)
God has forbidden the collective soul from approaching the evil tree, but cunningly Satan is here telling the collective souls the aroma of eternal life. Seduced, man became the victim of the power play between God (The absolute creator) and Satan (the challenger). God decided to expel them both from the garden down to earth to see if Satan can uphold his claim as being able to be God himself. The ability to do good means nothing without the freedom to do evil. The Earth becomes the battle field between God, Satan and Man, but God made it a level playing field by bestowing us (Humans) through the evolutionary process consciousness to be able to distinguish between right and wrong and choose freely. On the other hand Satan became the architect of evil as he, at every turn commands our souls to do and act evil in defiance of God.
God says Q20:117-9 “Then we said” O Adam! Verily this Satan is an enemy to thee and thy wife. So let him not get you both out of the garden, so that you are landed in misery. There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry, nor naked, nor suffer from thirst, nor from the suns heat”
Here the Lord is addressing Adam in the former plane before his expulsion and condemnation to the lower plane. The former plane is immaterial thus it is not governed by all the physical laws. In that plane Adam need not eat for there is no hunger, had no physical body to suffer nakedness, will not get thirsty and being not existing in physical plane the sun’s heat is out of the question. The provisions in the Garden provides for perpetual spiritual contentment and endless bliss. In that plane, man existed in his pure state with pristine qualities devoid of any evil tendencies. God warns him to keep on like that and be not prone to any evil or it may cause his fall into the lower plane (the physical plane). The advice was unheeded and man succumbs to Evil forces (Satan), which led to his expulsions to the lower plane, where if he purges the evils by restraints it will earn him re-admittance into the original station.
‘Generally, Muslim scholars differ as to the place where this event occurred; and they have come up with two main possibilities:
- The Earth
- The Paradise that awaits the Believers in the Hereafter.
I cited the above reference for a reason as it allows for multiple interpretations of the same concept. It is equally possible that Adam was the first man and was also born through evolution. It is possible that Allah initially created the first man the way it is described in the Hadith literature i.e. Adam’s miraculous creation as well as Hawa (Eve) from Adam’s ribs; but, when Adam and Hawa were sent down from Heaven to Earth, it was not a literal descent but one of differentiation. No where in the Quran nor the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet does it describe the nature of this descent. It is possible to assume then that the human race was designed through evolution but at the completion of this form (i.e., Homo Sapiens) the spirit of each individual was uniquely breathed into his/her unique body in the womb of his/her mother. Thus, in our earthly life, we are reminded of our covenant with God and the unique plan with which he created and determined all of creation. In order to return to the Eternal abode from which we initially came, we must live a life of obedience and servitude to God through the guidance given through the prophets, from Adam to Muhammad (peace be upon them).
It seems to me that this is also the opinion of the great commentator Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Under the commentary of 2:35, he writes,
“Was the Garden of Eden a place on this earth? Obviously not. For, in verse 36 below, it was after the Fall that the sentence was pronounced: “On earth will be your dwelling.” Before the Fall, we must suppose Man to be on another plane altogether – of felicity, innocence, trust, a spiritual
existence, with the negation of enmity, want of faith, and all evil. (R). Perhaps Time and Space also did not exist.”
See also the last paragraph of surah 2 verse 36 in the post Regaining the Lost Paradise: The story of Adam in the Quran
Sadiq, Ali Abubakar. Science and Scriptures: Friends or Foes?: Marrying science and religion in the quest for meaning . Kindle Edition.
Yusuf Ali, Abdullah. Translation and Commentary of the Quran. (surah 2 verse 35). http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/002%20Baqarah.pdf