Story Night: Fallen

Nouman Ali Khan – Story Night – Title: Fallen

Part 1 

Here’s the landscape that we are going to cover in this writing. It’s a huge topic so we need a map to navigate it. We are going to cover the story of Adam a.s. This story is covered 7 times in the Qur’an but there are two places that it is covered in more details that is Surah Baqarah and Surah A’raf. But both of those stories are not the same. What Allah highlights in Baqarah was not highlighted in A’raf and what was highlighted in A’raf was not highlighted in Baqarah. Today we are looking at how the story unfolds in Surah Baqarah specifically.

We are looking at these stories and let Allah tell the story to us. It’s different compared to hearing the stories coming from other sources. Or when you mix the stories and tell it in one sitting. Now we want to see how Allah tells the story Himself.

Allah begins in almost unexpected place in Baqarah:29 هُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ جَمِيعً۬ا  It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth. This means two things: whatever Allah created on earth is for you altogether. Not a thing he put on earth, not a service for human beings. All the resources on earth were made for human beings.

The second meaning is that the resources are made for all of you. All human beings should share all the resources. Human beings become greedy and some parts become greedy. There’s no part of the cities in a country that get more resources and more benefit than other neighbourhoods in the cities. This ayah actually tells us how to use the resources that Allah has already provided for us on earth. We have to learn how to live with each other. And it’s only for the Muslims only.

Then Allah continues ثُمَّ ٱسۡتَوَىٰٓ إِلَى ٱلسَّمَآءِ فَسَوَّٮٰهُنَّ سَبۡعَ سَمَـٰوَٲتٍ۬‌ۚ then He turned to heaven and made them into seven skies. Before this He said that He made the earth for us and now He’s talking about the skies. He divided the skies into seven layers. And at the end of the verse He said He is the All-Knowing وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمٌ۬ and of all things He hath perfect knowledge. He started with earth and later made a switch to the skies. We would have thought that it got nothing to do with us, but actually both of these places got to do with human beings.

The first part is that He made the earth for you and when He mentioned the skies, He wants to point to Jannah which is in the sky. عِندَهَا جَنَّةُ ٱلۡمَأۡوَىٰٓ Near it is the Garden of Abode; Najm:15. This verse is about the event of Rasulullah going for his mi’raj which was to heaven.

And you all know the story of Adam a.s. Did it begin on earth or in heaven? The story of Adam a.s. began in Jannah. So this is the first part of this story: ‘Heaven or Earth?’

Allah said in Baqarah:30: وَإِذۡ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬‌ۖ Behold thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a khalifah on earth.” He’s telling all the angels about the human. Humans were not made yet at that time but Allah already told the angels that He is creating this thing, called the human beings to be on earth. So before Adam was even created, the plan was always that humans were designed to be on earth. Because some people were taught that our parents Adam and Hawwa were having a great time in Jannah and because they were tricked by the was-wassa of the Devil, they were punished and sent to earth. Here we learn that the Qur’an is telling us that they were planned to be put on earth all along from the beginning. So it’s not a punishment. So we were supposed to live on this earth and verse Baqarah:29 already mentions that the earth was made for us as a gift, remember? So for Muslims they should know that this dunya is not a curse.

How can we understand this? Let’s hear an analogy to understand. There’s a man who works in a company. His boss sent an email to the entire company that he is sending this guy to another state. The only person who didn’t get the email is the guy himself. The next week the guy came to the office 30 seconds late. His boss calls him and tells him that because of that, he is being sent to another state. Is that fair, just because of 30 seconds late? Remember that all the other staff already knew that he was being sent to another state. In fact, one of his friends even told him that he’s being sent to another state.

So we know that he is being sent not because of that 30 seconds late, but it was the plan all along from the beginning, right?

So Adam a.s. already knew that he was being sent to earth. Iblees already came to him and told him that. Iblees tricked Adam a.s. that if he wants to keep staying in Jannah, he must eat from the forbidden tree. Because he claimed that only the angels and the permanent resident can stay in Jannah forever and Adam is neither of those. And by eating from the tree, Adam and Hawwa can either be angels or become a permanent resident. So the reason that Adam and Hawwa ate from the tree is because of the issue of transfer to earth.

The question many people asked is this: If Allah has already decided what we are going to be and where we are going to end, so how is it our fault? Isn’t this all a set up?

The question of predestination is the oldest question in philosophy. The first human being ie. Adam could have asked this question directly to Allah, right?

Let’s look at another analogy. There’s this person who works in a company and he started at the lowest position in the company, let’s say as a janitor. And he got promoted to security guard, later to front desk and later office manager. And he keeps getting promoted and after 40 years in the company, he’s now the Vice President of the company. There’s only one position higher than him that is the President.

One day the President walks into his office with a little kid with a baseball hat, 16 year old. The President said that that kid is the new VP and he needs to give his chair to the kid. Please get us some coffee.

What do you imagine will happen next? Surely he’s going to be mad, right? He would be kicking and yelling? And if you hear this story, who do you sympathise with? This is a hard question. Of course the VP, right?

But we’re not talking about the VP, right? We’re talking about Iblees. He worked his way up to the ranks of the angels. He helped to eradicate the jinns from earth because of their wrongdoings. And suddenly Allah made the announcement to the angels to prostrate to Adam. Excuse me? What did he do? I’ve been doing the work for so long with so many services.

Was Adam honoured by Allah? Yes. Iblees has also been honoured by Allah at one point, right? Adam was given a position and Iblees were given a position. Adam eventually disobeyed Allah and Iblees also later disobeyed Allah, right? So they have something in common up until now. But there’s one difference. When Adam was demoted to earth he could have asked the question: “O Allah, you have always intended to send me to earth, so could this be my fault?” But did he ask that question? No, he didn’t.

Iblees could also ask a logical question: You made me from fire and You made him from dirt. So what is his worth?

Both of them are in a position to make a logical question to Allah. And yet one of them is cursed forever and the other one, the door of hope remains open. Why? Because of this, they decided that whether things make sense to me or not, I have to trust the wisdom of Allah. If there’s a fault, it’s my own and I have to take personal responsibility.

But Iblees on the other hand, blamed Allah when he messed up. So when you blame Allah, you are following the sunnah of Iblees. And when you mess up and put the responsibility on yourself, then you are following the sunnah of Adam a.s. That’s the difference between these two.

Now let’s take a step further. Remember that the earth is not a curse from Allah. The Christians creed is that the earth is a punishment and the humans were born into sin. This is not the concept in Islam. Allah honours us by putting us on earth. He wants us to live well on earth and to make our way to heaven.

Again on the question that many people ask about predestination. Some said that if all has been predestined, then why are we at fault when we do anything wrong? If we can take a shoe and throw it at the person who asked, would he be offended? Who do you think he would be angry with? Surely the guy who throws the shoe, right? But can the guy in return say: that was the qadr of Allah. Allah decided that you are going to be hit by the shoe.

But of course that guy would stay mad at the thrower. He wants the thrower to take personal responsibility. And if he can accept that, why doesn’t he want to take personal responsibility for his wrongdoings? Adam decided to eat from the tree, and he took personal responsibility and repented to Allah. Compare this with the Devil who did wrong but he didn’t put the blame on himself, but he blamed Allah instead.

Now let’s enter into the second portion of this topic: what is the meaning of ‘Khalifah’?

Since he’s putting us as khalifah on this earth, so we need to understand what it means? There are many meanings to the word but we are only highlighting 3 here.

The first meaning is ‘successor’. If a principal of a school retires and a new one takes over, that new principal is the successor to the previous principal. So he is a khalifah in a sense. Another example is if a grandfather passed away and the oldest uncle takes his place as the head of the family. He is also a khalifah. He is the one left behind in charge.

So this means that Allah will put somebody to be in charge of the earth. We are taking this task from the people before us and when we leave this earth, we will pass this responsibility to the ones after us. Allah says in Al-An’am:133 using the same word origin as ‘khalifah’: وَرَبُّكَ الْغَنِيُّ ذُو الرَّحْمَةِ إِن يَشَأْ يُذْهِبْكُمْ وَيَسْتَخْلِفْ مِن بَعْدِكُم مَّا يَشَاء كَمَآ أَنشَأَكُم مِّن ذُرِّيَّةِ قَوْمٍ آخَرِينَ And thy Sustainer alone is self-sufficient, limitless in His grace. If He so wills, He may put an end to you and thereafter cause whom He wills to succeed you – even as He has brought you into being out of other people’s seed.

The second meaning that we can use for the word ‘khalifah’: someone left to their own devices.

Let’s say we are leaving the house and we leave our child in charge, he is a caliph. Because he is in charge. In those times he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. We might give him the dos and don’ts but we’re not there to check, right?

So a khalifah means someone who has a choice to do anything. They can do what they are supposed to do, but they can also do otherwise. The decision is in their hands. So this is what Allah has given us. He has given us the freedom to make the choice. Allah does not force it on us. He does not force us to pray, to tell the truth every time, to do good or not, all these are up to us to decide.

The third meaning: stewardship. Someone that is given the responsibility by someone else. Not just to take the place of somebody but to take the responsibility. And it’s different from taking ownership. Because you are given the responsibility and later you will have to pass it to someone else later, so you don’t own it. Human beings that are here on earth and understand the meaning of khalifah would also understand that they own nothing. Allah alone owns the earth and the skies. We think that we own our clothes and shoes, but eventually we have to return all those things. Because we are going to die and we don’t bring all those to the akhirah. And while we at it, we also don’t own our physical body, right? Even this body that we live in will testify against us on the day of judgement.

Thus all three meanings above can explain the meaning of the khalifah that is being handed to us. It’s a powerful responsibility and the announcement were given to the angels in heaven. In fact the angels were in shock when they were told about it.

That brings us to part 3 of our discussion: the angels complained.

Before humans lived on this earth, there was a huge population of jinns on earth. And they are just like human beings were left on earth and they are also the khalifah. It means they have choices and because of that, they have messed up. And eventually Allah decided to end it and sent armies of angels to wipe them out. And one of the jinn that has done good so much that he was elevated to the rank of the angels and he had joined the angels in fighting the jinns. They drove the jinns into the ocean and order was restored on earth.

And now Allah said that putting another khalifah on earth. That has the responsibility and also freedom of choice and the angels are now in shock. They just had an intense war to wipe out the jinn and now they are hearing another group of khalifah is on the way? And they asked the question أَتَجۡعَلُ فِيہَا مَن يُفۡسِدُ فِيہَا وَيَسۡفِكُ ٱلدِّمَآءَ They said: “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood? And this is exactly we humans had done, right?

But they did not know us yet, right? How did they know that we are going to do these? It’s based on the experience with the jinns. Because they know that when Allah creates a creation that has choice, then this creation will end up making the wrong choice every time.

And they add something else وَنَحۡنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمۡدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ‌ۖ while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You. The angels are saying that they’re the ones that are not going to mess up. So why the need for another creature?

This raises a few questions, right? Doesn’t it sound like the angels are praising themselves? Aren’t they putting themselves in a higher position and putting the humans in a lower position? Doesn’t it sound like they are advertising themselves? Doesn’t it sound like arrogance? But wait, isn’t arrogance the problem of the Devil? Interesting, right?

So we have these difference of outcomes:

Adam could have asked the question, but he didn’t;

Iblees could have asked the question, and he did;

Angels had questions and they asked.

So we understand why the angels asked the question that they asked. But what about their marketing of themselves?

What does tasbeeh mean? In Arabic language, it is said when you hear or say something blasphemous. If somebody said Allah has a son, the response to that is subhanallah. Meaning when you do something that takes away the perfection of Allah, you are supposed to say subhanallah. It’s to remove those that are not supposed to be said about Allah. That is the act of ‘tasbeeh’.

Actually when the angels could not understand why Allah is putting human beings on earth as khalifah, and then they asked Allah, they immediately thought that they went too far. So they are not praising themselves, but they are declaring to Allah that even though they asked this question, they did not mean to question His perfection. You are perfect, even though we cannot understand Your act.

They were actually scared when they asked that question. But they asked nonetheless.

And what does taqdis mean? It means declaring Allah’s purity? What’s the difference with tasbeeh (declaring Allah’s perfection)? And now what’s the difference between perfection and purity?

Perfection is about every attribute of Allah. The mercy of Allah is perfect, His justice, His wisdom, all of those and more is captured when we say tasbeeh.

But purity has to do with goodness. In other words, fairness is part of goodness, justice is part of goodness, so does mercy, eliminating evil is part of goodness. So when the angels did taqdis to Allah, they were not attributing evil to Allah. Because Allah is too perfect and too pure for them to insinuate that He is doing something evil. The question is just because they’re confused, that’s all.

Angels do not disobey Allah in whatever He tells them to do. They never do outside what Allah commands. But they do ask questions to Allah. So here we learn that asking questions to Allah is not a disobedience.

Unfortunately all over the world, where a person of a higher position is teaching, it almost seems like the students cannot ask questions. Those that ask will be put down. It’s as though they are committing blasphemous acts when they question their teacher. Is this the correct understanding?

The Devil questioned Allah; and the angels as well, right? But there’s a big difference between them. It’s the way of asking the question. When you ask a question because you want to understand but not questioning the position of Allah, then you are asking the kind of questions that are allowed, much like the angels did. But when you ask a question, questioning the motive of Allah, questioning His perfection, then you are wrong. Even the tone they ask will show that they are questioning Allah.

You are not discouraged to ask, but you are discouraged to ask with the wrong attitude. At the end of the day, the thing that makes Satan as Satan is his attitude. So young people should be allowed to ask questions but young people should be fairly warned, if you have the wrong attitude in your question, you are not offending the teacher, but you are offending Allah with that kind of questions.

And this teaches us as teachers, if even the angels are allowed to ask Allah, then anyone should be open to be asked and to be questioned by anyone. It should be an open society. Unfortunately that is not the case in so many places in the world.

So when the angels questioned Allah, what was Allah’s response? قَالَ إِنِّىٓ أَعۡلَمُ مَا لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ He (Allâh) said: “I know that which you do not know.” Allah knows something about this khalifah that you the angels don’t know. It’s as if Allah is saying to the angels: You think that this one is going to be like the last khalifah, right? But there’s something different about this one.

And Allah will tell them what it is.

Continue to Part 2

Translation in Malay Language

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Blog mentafsir Quran berdasarkan fahaman Sunnah dan salafussoleh.

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