Adam and his family

Surah 23 (Al-Muminun): 14

Then fashioned We the drop a clot,

Then fashioned We the clot a little lump,

Then fashioned We the little lump bones,

Then clothed the bones with flesh,

And then produced it as another creation.

So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!

[‘The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an’, 1930, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall,  (British orientalist and convert)]


The Creation of Man

The Qur’an states several times that all of humanity was created by God ‘from a single soul’, {4.1}, {6.98}, {7.189}, {31.28} and {39.6}, dwelling in bodies fashioned from either blood, {96.2}, see 〈31.〉; water, {25.54}; clay, {6.2}, {15.26-33}, {23.12}, {37.11} and {55.14}, or dust, {30.20}. As previously noted, God gave life to the first man by breathing into him ‘of his Spirit〈12.〉


From this first human, a female mate was created ‘that he might find rest in her’, {4.1}, {7.189} and {39.6}, and from their loins proliferated many ‘peoples and tribes’, {49.13}, of diverse ’tongues and colours’, {33.22}, mirroring the diversity found in fruits, mountains, beasts and cattle, {35.27-28}. {2.213} and {10.19} each state that mankind had once been one community but had ‘differed’. This, one might suppose, refers to the period between Adam and Noah and probably alludes to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.1-6 . Neither gives a reason as to humanity’s division, but the former clearly implies that these differences were disagreements over religion.


In these passages human diversity is presented as the result of man’s tendency to argue, but more commonly the Qur’an maintains that human diversity is a part of God’s plan, stating in {5.48}, {11.118}, {16.93}, and {42.8} that ‘Had the Lord willed, he would have made mankind one community’ – presumably, since {2.213} and {10.19} state that mankind had once been one community, meaning that He would have preserved mankind as one community. Two reasons for God willing diversity are offered: in {49.13} the variety of peoples is permitted to allow cultural interaction: ‘that you may come to know one another’, whilst {5.48}, suggests that division encourages a healthy competition in the performance of good works, see 〈84.〉


It is made explicit in {5.18} that mankind is God’s creation, not his children:

{5.18} And the Jews and Christians say: ‘We are the children of God, and His beloved ones.

Say: ‘Why then does he punish you for your sins?

Nay, but you are mortals of his creating…’



Adam and his wife

Separately, to the ‘single soul’ verses above, the Qur’an tells in several places, most fully at {2.30-38}, {7.11-28}, {15.28-50}, {20.115-123}, {32.9} and {38.71-88}, of the creation of Adam (Adem) to be his ‘khalifa’ (‘successor’ or possibly ‘vice-regent’) upon the earth. The gathered angels are wary of this asking God: ‘Will Thou place therein one who will work corruption therein, and shed blood whilst we hymn Thy praise and call thee holy? {2.30}. Having completed Adam and breathed into him of His Spirit, God commanded all the angels to bow to him, but Iblis, who was present at the scene though apparently not an angel, refused and was expelled from heaven (see, in addition, to verses already cited, {17.61-65}, {18.50}, {20.116}; also 〈17.〉 following.)


Adam was then placed in a garden, {2.35-38}, {7.19-25} and {20.117-123}, which is not named in the Adam narratives (although the name Eden is used nine times as the name for Paradise where the righteous will dwell at the End of Days). Two of the three accounts of Adam in the Garden refer to him being there with an unnamed wife, although her creation is never described, appearing alongside him without explanation in {7.20} and {20.123}. Here they are told not to eat from a specific tree, identified in {20.120} as the ‘Tree of Immortality’ (‘Shajarat al-Khold’). Both of them, however, succumb to the suggestion of al-Shaitan that they eat the fruit of this tree and their subsequent embarrassment at their nakedness prompts them to sew leaves together to make clothes. In {7.27} we are told that Adam and his woman’s awareness of their nakedness was not, as is popularly imagined in the Judeo-Christian tradition, due to their loss of innocence, but the result of their having actually been stripped of their heaven attire  by al-Shaitan. When confronted with their disobedience, they and al-Shaitan are expelled from Paradise, whereupon God provides them with new clothes – literally clothes and feathers – to cover their nakedness.


The Qur’an follows, in general terms, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden contained in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. In turn, this famous story, along with that of the Great Flood, has been known since the late nineteenth century to be a Jewish adaptation of part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh . Knowledge of this source, helps us to make sense of the Genesis version of this foundational but confusing story. In Gilgamesh, a wild man, Enkidu, is described as roaming naked in the wilderness, releasing animals from traps set by town dwellers. The townspeople sent a woman, Shamhat, to seduce Enkidu and then to civilise him, which she succeeded in doing, sharing her clothing with him prior to returning with him to the town. Here, in the presence of other people, Enkidu learnt for the first time of his own mortality and he cursed the woman who had taken him away from the blissful ignorance he had enjoyed in his former life and led him to this knowledge. It is overwhelmingly likely that this story became known to the Israelites during the Babylonian Captivity. Following the exiles’ return to Israel elements of Enkidu’s story – the innocence of a natural and naturist life ruined by the knowledge of mortality, brought about through the agency of a temptress, and symbolised by the donning of clothing – together with the story of the Great Flood – must have been given a monotheistic gloss and placed at the front of the Torah as two moral fables in the mode of creation myths.


From the Torah, these elements then transferred to the Qur’an. In this process the story was, in several respects, changed again removing it even further from its original form:

In the Genesis version there were two named trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which Adam and Eve ate, and the Tree of Life, the fruits of which they were denied as punishment for their sin . In the Qur’an, these two trees are conflated into one, the Tree of Immortality. However, for reasons that are not stated, after the Fall, Adam and his wife remain mortal, whilst their immediate response to their false belief in their immortality is, for a similarly unexplained reason, a sudden shame at their nakedness.


The Qur’an names the tempter as al-Shaitan, whereas in Genesis the role of tempter is played by an anonymous serpent (but note the Iblis-jinn-snake connection referred to in 〈15.〉 preceding).


Unlike in Genesis, where the serpent tempts Eve and Eve tempts Adam, there is no indication in the Qur’an that Adam is encouraged to taste the forbidden fruit by his ‘wife’: on the contrary, in {20.121} al-Shaitan explicitly addresses his seductive words to Adam alone, countering an element of the biblical story that has, in modern times, been interpreted as a misogynistic slur against Eve.


Following the fall, both the biblical and Qur’anic Adam and Eve receive new clothing from God (Genesis 3.21), but the Quranic couple also receive  words of comfort from God, {2.37} and {7.23-28}, that are understood as words of forgiveness. As a result, Muslim theologians have not developed from the story any equivalent to the Christian doctrine of original sin.



Cane and Abel

In the Book of Genesis (chapter 4) three children of Adam and Eve are named: Cain, Abel and Seth. Cain kills Abel, out of envy at the Lord’s favour towards him and buries him in a field, prompting God to declare to Cain that ‘Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!’ (4.10 ). A version of this story is told in the Qur’an {5.27-32}, in which none of the sons of Adam are named.


Here, the two most striking changes to the Genesis account are that the Qur’an describes a discussion between Cain and Abel in which Cain declares to Abel that he intends to kill him, but Abel refuses to defend himself; and the appearance of a crow that demonstrates to Cain, by scratching the ground, how Cain should bury his brother’s corpse. The first of these elements is consistent with a number of pre-Islamic Christian writings . The role of the crow is clearly connected with a rabbinic commentary of the Babylonian Talmud, Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer, in which Cain observes a raven burying another bird.


The Qur’anic account of Cane and Abel culminates in the oft-quoted, and misquoted, {5.32-33} -‘For this reason we prescribed for the children of Israel unless it be for another should or for working corruption upon the earth, it is as though he slew mankind altogether…’ – which is discussed in 〈71.〉 below.