The Man of Dust, the Man from Heaven

The Fall of Adam and Eve in the Qur’an

Convincing atheists, humanists, evolutionists, naturalists and agnostics of the authenticity of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is no easy task, but fortunately in Muslim evangelism the issue is not in dispute. The Qur’an describes both the creation of Adam and Eve as well as their transgression and fall in very similar terms to those found in the Bible and Muslims not only recognise the story but even regard Adam as one of the great prophets of God. The narrative, like so many of the brief biographical records of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs, is very sketchy in the Qur’an and lacking in detail, but it is sufficient to establish much common ground between Christians and Muslims on the subject.

Adam was created from an ‘alaq, a clot of blood (Surah 96:2), and was taught the nature of all things (Surah 2:31). Both he and his wife Eve were placed in al-Jannat, the Garden, and told to eat freely of all the bountiful fruits therein save one tree which they were not to approach lest they ran into harm and wrongdoing (Surah 7:35). When Allah commanded all the angels of heaven to bow down to Adam they did except Iblis, the Devil, who refused to do so. When challenged on his disobedience he replied that he would not bow down to a creature moulded from mud and clay (Surah 15:29-33). For this he was cast out of heaven and became ash-Shaytaan, Satan the Devil. He then appeared to them to tempt them into sin and unbelief. The narrative continues:

Then Satan whispered an evil suggestion to them, to show them clearly their shame that had been hidden from them and said, "Your Lord has only forbidden you this tree lest you should become angels or such beings as live for ever." And he swore to them both: "Surely I am a sincere adviser to you." Surah 7:20-21

The Qur’an does not say how Eve was created, nor does it point out that it was Eve alone who was tempted by the devil. The story, however, compares with the Biblical record in all its essentials, especially their fall which is recorded in the following passage:

Then Satan made them slip from it, and caused them to depart from the state they were in. And We said "Get Down, all of you with enmity towards each other. On the earth there will be a dwelling place for you for a time." Surah 2:36

Adam, however, relented towards his Lord who thereafter taught him words of inspiration. The command to "Get down!" is repeated in verse 38 where Allah commands "all of you," meaning the whole human race, to leave the Garden with the promise that when guidance comes from Allah, those who follow it will have nothing to fear. The Qur’an follows the Bible in declaring that Adam and Eve fell by eating of the forbidden tree. Yusuf Ali, the well-known Muslim translator of the Qur’an, says in a footnote to this passage that as the plural of the Arabic word habata, meaning to fall down, is used in the verse quoted, "evidently Adam is a type of all mankind" while Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, another Muslim translator, says the same: "Here the command is in the plural, as addressed to Adam’s race." The word for "all of you" in Surah 2:38 is jamii’aa, an Arabic word defined in Kassis’ A Concordance of the Qur’an, as "a host, a congregation, all, together, altogether" (p.595). Not only, therefore, does the Qur’an clearly teach the fall of Adam but it also, like the Bible, implicates the whole human race in his act of disobedience and its consequences.

The root meaning of the word habata is to crash down, to descend, to fall, or to get down. In Surah 2:36 the form used is the imperative, ihbit (ahbituwa in the text), and means simply "Get out! Descend! Fall down!" The same word is used two verses later in the command to the whole human race to descend with them both. The traditions of Islam teach that the Garden, known in Islam as al-Jannatul-’Adn, the Garden of Eden, was in heaven and that Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise after they had disobeyed God. Both they and their offspring, the whole human race, have since been confined to a temporal, earthly existence where they have all died and been buried. The story of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise reads as follows:

Adam was externed from the Paradise between the zuhr (afternoon) and ‘asr (the declining of day) prayers. His stay in Paradise had been half the day of the next world, and the day there is equal to one thousand years based on the calculation made by the people of this world. He was cast down on a mountain in India known as Nawdh and Eve was cast at Juddah.    Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.21

Despite this similarity with the Biblical record of Adam’s sin and fall and the imputation of his transgression to the whole human race, the Qur’an does not pursue the matter further. It thereafter regards sin simply as an act of individual wrongdoing either to be forgiven by Allah or condemned at his pleasure, or to be cancelled out by a good deed. Another passage does, however, strongly emphasise not only the seriousness of the first transgression but also its wider consequences:

So by deceit he caused them to fall. When they had tasted of the tree their shame was revealed to them and they began to cover themselves with leaves from the Garden. And their Lord called to them: "Did I not forbid you that tree and say to you that Satan is a sworn enemy to you?" They said, "Our Lord! We have wronged our souls. If you do not forgive us or have mercy on us, we will be of the losers." He said, "Get down – with enmity between yourselves. And you will have the earth as your abode and provision for a time." Surah 7:22-24

It should be obvious that there is tremendous material here for an effective witness to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who voluntarily descended from heaven to become man, committed no sin, and reversed the effect of Adam’s sin. We shall see how this can be done.

The Biblical account of Adam’s Sin and Fall

In the Qur’an it is interesting to note that Satan calls the forbidden tree the "tree of Eternity" (Surah 20:120), another hint to the fact that by disobeying God and eating from it, Adam would implicate the whole of humanity in serious long-term consequences. It is in the Bible, especially the description it gives of the tree, that we obtain a much more comprehensive picture of why God commanded Adam and Eve to leave it alone:

And the Lord God commanded the man saying, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." Genesis 2:16-17

The tree had to be avoided because it was the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil," meaning that if they ate of it, Adam and Eve would come to know what evil was and its distinction from good. In consequence of this, being partakers of evil, they would be cut off from the tree of life, lose their experience of the life of God in their hearts, and eventually die and return to the ground. Hence, when they did sin, God declared:

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

Muslims really have no knowledge or understanding of what it was about the forbidden tree that made the act of eating its fruit so terribly wrong. The Qur’an gives no explanation other than to declare the tree forbidden, but the Bible does in its description of the tree and in Satan’s temptation to Eve when he said:

You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:4-5

Satan and his angels had fallen because of their desire to be like God, to oppose his authority, and to set themselves up as the masters of their own destiny (Isaiah 14:12-14, 2 Peter 2:4). Now he was tempting Eve, and through her Adam, to break faith with God and do the same. It was a call to declare independence from God, to refuse to submit to his authority, and to establish their own. When God created Adam he gave him dominion over everything on the earth, in the seas, and over all living creatures (Genesis 1:26). God made man in his own image, in his likeness (Genesis 5:1), meaning that man was able to bear all the attributes of God and reflect his glory. God did not make man already perfected in righteousness but rather in an innocent state with a potential and inclination towards uprightness. "God made man upright" (Ecclesiastes 7:29) and, while putting all things under his feet, only commanded in return that man should be subject to him in his personality, dominion and character.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolised this sole area where man would not have authority. By not eating of it Adam would acknowledge God’s authority over him and that he was called to be a servant of God. Satan’s temptation was to shake off God’s authority and become gods in their own right, to become "like God" and so determine their own destiny. Adam and Eve did not know that the actual result would be exactly the opposite – that they would fall from their dignity and upright state, lose their relationship with God and the spiritual life surging within them, and become evil like the devil instead. The Qur’an also makes Satan mislead them into believing they would benefit from disobeying God and obtain an exalted status of their own when he promises them they would become like angels or immortal beings (Surah 7:20).

As we will see, it is important to point out to Muslims that the sin of Adam and Eve was not just a transgression. It was a deliberate act of defiance, a renunciation of authority. God’s only command was that they should, in their characters, hearts and inner beings, remain subject to him. Instead they fell for Satan’s temptation that they could become "like God" and so grasped at equality with God. This was tantamount to shirk, associating themselves as partners with God. It was to arrogate to themselves a complete likeness with him in authority and dominion. Quite simply it was an appalling blasphemy. To the unenlightened the act of eating of the forbidden fruit might seem like no more than a transgression of a simple command. It was not. The tree symbolised God’s right to complete authority over man’s obligation to be righteous, faithful, obedient, true and devoted to him. By breaking the command not to eat of its fruit, Adam and Eve thoroughly defied God at the root of their beings, disowning his lordship over their lives. The consequences for the human race have been horrendous.

Did Adam Simply Forget His Lord’s Command?

Muslims traditionally underrate the effect of that first transgression. They claim Adam merely slipped in a moment of temporary forgetfulness and that, once he had repented of his oversight and asked forgiveness, he was duly forgiven. It is vital to show them that the Qur’an takes a far more serious view of the matter, stating plainly that Satan brought about their fall (Surah 7:22) and that Allah deliberately chased them out of the Garden and cast them down to earth where their previous state of peacefulness and felicity would give way to malice and hatred (Surah 7:24). It goes on to appeal to the "Children of Adam" to avoid being seduced by Satan "in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden" (Surah 7:27). Their sin was not a single act of transgression that could easily be forgiven as a minor, isolated act of wrongdoing. It was an act of gross rebellion, a total rejection of God’s rule over the whole human race, and it had awful consequences.

Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. Romans 5:12

We do not believe that they were cast out of Paradise as the Bible states the Garden was the source of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on earth (Genesis 2:14). Nonetheless the Muslim belief actually helps to strengthen the effect of their sin. Ask any Muslim if Adam and Eve could have died in heaven, in Jannat al-Firdaus (the Garden of Paradise). They will invariably say "no." Also ask them if they would have been cast out of the Garden to a decaying earth if they had not sinned and again the answer will be "no." Lastly, would their offspring have perished in Paradise? Once again you’ll get the same answer.

Therefore neither Adam nor Eve, nor any of their billions of offspring, would ever have died had they not broken faith with God and been cast out of Paradise. By implication, Islam supports the Biblical teaching that death was the consequence of their sin – firstly, spiritual death and separation from God in the act of rebellion, and then later physical extinction at the end of a temporal life.

Can it really be argued that there was no intention on Adam’s part to disobey God and that his transgression was no more than an excusable lapse of memory? The Qur’an shows plainly that Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation and this despite the fact that Allah had warned them that Satan was an adversary who would seek to get them out of the Garden (Surah 20:117). Adam and Eve must both have had incredibly poor memories to forget God’s one command to them and the one consequence they would have wished to have avoided. Satan words to Adam, according to the Qur’an, were:

O Adam! Shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom which never decays? Surah 20:120

Adam chose to believe Satan and to disobey God. Moreover, in Surah 7:20, Satan actually reminded Adam of Allah’s command to him not to eat of the forbidden tree. How can one possibly sustain the argument that Adam merely "forgot" his Lord’s command, the only negative commandment he ever received and that from God himself? Furthermore, if this was only a minor mistake as Muslims claim, why was the penalty so severe? The whitewashing and diluting of Adam’s transgression by Muslims is usually done in the interests of maintaining the hypothesis in traditional Islam, contradicted by the Qur’an, that all the prophets were sinless. (See the companion volume to this book, Facing the Muslim Challenge, pp.46-48). If Adam was a prophet as they believe, then he too could not actually have sinned. Ask any Muslim, then, who it was who introduced sin into the world, when this happened, what the first sin was, and what the effect on the human race was. Obviously there can be no answer based on any sources. The disobedience of Adam was the great single sin that brought the human race into the decaying, sinful world it struggles with today and its ultimate consequence was the worst that could be imagined, death itself.

To be delivered from this shattering consequence the world obviously needs a deliverance from both sin and death. Merely asking God for forgiveness won’t help. Even though the Qur’an teaches that Adam and Eve were forgiven (the Bible is silent on the subject), Allah never let them back into the beautiful Garden of Paradise where the Tree of Eternal Life was. Instead they struggled on with the hardships of an earthly existence and eventually died. Obviously a lot more than merely a declaration of forgiveness is needed for the human race to find its way back to Paradise and here is where the Christian witness to the Muslim comes in. Let’s see how our common ground on this vital subject can be used as a basis for effective witness to the grace of God as it has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Second Adam: Jesus the Universal Redeemer

It is not hard to show Muslims what the effect of Adam’s sin was. It had a calamitous effect on the whole human race. Both Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden in which God had placed them. God drove them out as both the Bible and the Qur’an clearly state (Genesis 3:24, Surah 20:123). The human race found itself in a world where sin and death reign (Romans 5:21). No one was allowed back into the Garden and no one became as upright as Adam and Eve had been in the beginning. Even Muhammad is recorded in the traditions of Islam as confirming that all human beings were implicated in the original sin and fall:

Anas reported that it was said by the Messenger of Allah (saw): Every son of Adam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who repent consistently.     Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol.5, p.489

Enter the man Christ Jesus. The Qur’an has an interesting statement about him, linking him to Adam and comparing the two men. It says:

The likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be!" – and he came to be. Surah 3:58

Muslims are familiar with the catchy Arabic phrase Kun! faya kun. The only time the Qur’an compares the two men it says the same about them. Both were created simply by the Word (kalam) and Power (‘amr) of Allah. Muslims see no distinction between them. Yet the Bible is at pains to distinguish them and in every place where they are mentioned together the book contrasts them. The difference is summed up in this verse:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21

The Qur’an appears to be unaware of a much needed solution to the problem caused by Adam’s transgression. Sinfulness, decay, enmity and death were the effects of the first man’s sin. "Abraham died, as did the prophets," the Jews exclaimed to Jesus (John 8:52), showing that no one had escaped the devastating consequences of the fall. Here we have a tremendous opportunity to show Muslims who Jesus really was and why he came to earth. He was not just an ordinary man, made from the dust as the Qur’an suggests. He assumed human form, he was born in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), but he, in his soul and spirit, had existed before the world had ever been made (John:1:1-3). He was there when Satan fell like lightning from heaven before Adam and Eve were even created (Luke 10:18). He came down from heaven (John 6:51). He was the only human being without sin (John 8:46, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:25). He has the power of eternal life (John 10:28).

It is important to emphasise to Muslims the total contrast between Jesus and Adam. Adam and Eve had grasped at equality with God and independence from his control but, in doing so, brought themselves and the whole human race down to destruction. Jesus by nature had that equality with God as the eternal Son to the Father, but he voluntarily chose to become totally dependent on his Father as a human being, assumed the form of Adam and Eve, yet was willing to suffer and endure death and humiliation such as they would never have known had they remained faithful to God.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Adam grasped at higher things beyond his reach. Jesus emptied himself to assume lower things. Adam disobeyed God even though he only had to remain obedient to God to live forever. Jesus obeyed God completely, yet gave up his life to become our Saviour. He became obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Here was perfect obedience.

Although he was a Son, he learnt obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. Hebrews 5:8-9

Jesus was the only man who lived in absolute, perfect conformity to God’s will. He always did what was pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). He knew that, no matter how low his estate on earth, a humble man without possessions from an insignificant family in Nazareth from which no good thing could surely come (John 1.46), there was nothing more glorious than that he should be under God’s holy and gracious will. Adam and Eve returned to the dust. Jesus, however, rose from the dead. Because of his perfect love and obedience God glorified him as Lord of all.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

In witnessing to Muslims we have a wonderful opportunity to show how the whole human race is represented in two heads, Adam and Christ. The sin of the one man Adam brought the whole human race down to sin and death. The perfect obedience of Jesus, however, and his saving death and resurrection, can bring all men back to the path to eternal life. As Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were created in heaven but fell to earth when they sinned and died here, so Jesus was born on earth but rose to heaven where he stands alone at the right hand side of God. We do not believe Adam and Eve were created in heaven but the contrast between them and Jesus in Muslim belief needs to emphasised. Muslims accept that Jesus was taken to heaven.

According to Islam, Jesus is the only person who is not buried on earth but is physically alive in heaven. While more than five billion people live on earth and many more billions have lived and died before us, right now just one man, only one, is alive in heaven and that is Jesus Christ. He alone has gone back into the presence of God and the realm of Paradise from which Adam and Eve were driven out. Jesus, by dying for us, reversed the effect of Adam’s sin. He has the power of eternal life and gives it to all who believe in him. Emphasise with Muslims this one great contrast: as one man brought us into sin and condemnation, so another man delivers us from it. The Bible contrasts the effect of Adam’s sin with the effect of Jesus’ deliverance from it in these words:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift of that grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. Romans 5:15-16

If because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17

We need to concentrate on this great contrast just as intensely as the Bible does. Death was the consequence of Adam’s sin. Muslims cannot deny this. There is no death in Paradise, only here on this earth to which Adam and Eve were driven and where every living thing must die eventually. Yet it was on this same earth that Jesus, laid down his life which no one could take from him (John 10:17) and, by rising from the dead, became the source of eternal life to all who follow him.

Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19

Adam was made from the dust and returned to it. Jesus, however, came from heaven and returned to where he had come from. All who have sinned in Adam will die like Adam did. All who believe in Jesus will be raised from the dead to live for ever in the eternal heavenly kingdom to come at the end of time. As opposed to the Qur’anic claim that Adam and Jesus were exactly the same, the Bible says:

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

The contrast could not be put more emphatically. Christians, in witness to Muslims, need to emphasise the seriousness of sin. Islam takes too light a view of its devastating power, hardly recognising that death is its final and complete consequence. Yet, by narrating the fall of Adam and Eve in terms similar to those we find in the Bible, the Qur’an does give us common ground, a platform with which to show Muslims what the effects of sin really are and why a Saviour from heaven was needed.

Jesus rose from the dead and, through the Holy Spirit, releases into his followers a life-giving power that already has passed through the grip of death and assures us of salvation. As Adam died, so we will die. But as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, so we will do the same. Muhammad lies dead and buried in Medina. Adam lies dead and buried somewhere. The likeness of Muhammad is the same as the likeness of Adam. He lies in the dust, unlike Jesus who lives in glory in heaven and is able to save all Muslims and fill them with his resurrection life-giving power as well.

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