The forbidden tree

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Did the prophet Adam not commit a sin by approaching the forbidden tree?

As is known, Adam was in the Garden before his worldly life. While in the Garden, God commanded him and Eve not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree. Then, after they ate of it, they were expelled from the Garden and commanded to live on earth.

Although interpreters of the Qur’an have offered different views on what the prohibited fruit was, it was most probably human inclination towards the opposite sex. Satan approached Adam and Eve and argued that it was a tree of eternity and of a kingdom that would never decay, the fruit of which had been prohibited to them (Ta Ha, 20:120). Most probably knowing that they were mortal, Adam and Eve must have desired eternity through offspring. This can also be deduced from the verses: Then Satan whispered to them so that he might manifest to them that which was hidden from them of their shame, and he said: ‘Your Lord forbade you this tree only lest you should become angels or become immortals.’ And he swore to them (saying): ‘Truly, I am a sincere adviser to you.’ Thus did he lead them by a deceit; and when they tasted of the tree their shame was manifest to them and they began to cover (by heaping) on themselves some of the leaves of the Garden...(al-A‘raf, 7. 20–2). The intuition of, and desire for, eternity are intrinsic to man.

Even if we accept Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit as a lapse, it is difficult to regard it as a deliberate or sustained disobedience, that is, a revolt against God, which may lead us to see the Prophets as fallible. First of all, Adam was not a Prophet while in the Garden. Secondly, this lapse of Adam was the result of not willful disobedience, but merely some sort of forgetfulness. Concerning this, the Qur’an says:

We had made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and we found on his part no firm resolve. (Ta Ha, 20.115)

Sins committed because of forgetfulness will not be accounted for in the Hereafter. The Prophet said:

My community are exempted from being questioned about forgetting, unintentional errors, and what they are compelled to do, not of their will.11

The Qur’an teaches us this prayer:

Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error. ( al-Baqara, 2.286)

Adam did not make this lapse deliberately. Although some have misinterpreted the verse above to suggest that Adam was not determined to fulfill the covenant God had made with him, the context does not allow such an interpretation. For Adam and Eve turned to God immediately after their lapse in sincere repentance and entreated Him, saying:

Our Lord! We have wronged our own selves! If you forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be among those who are lost. (al-A‘raf, 7.23)

Destiny had a part in Adam’s lapse. God had destined him to be His vicegerent on earth, before his creation and settlement in the Garden. This is explicit in the Qur’an:

Behold, your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will make a vicegerent on earth.’ They said: ‘Will you make therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood, whilst we do celebrate Your praises and glorify You?’ He said: ‘I know what you know not.’ (al-Baqara, 2.30)

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also points to that truth, saying:

Adam and Moses met each other in the Heaven. Moses said to Adam: ‘You are the father of man-kind, but you caused us to come down to earth from the Garden.’ Adam replied to him: ‘You are the one whom God addressed directly. Did you not see this sentence in the Torah: “Adam had been des-tined to eat of that fruit forty years before he ate of it?” After reporting this meeting, God’s Messenger added three times: “Adam silenced Moses.”12

The life of Adam in the Garden and the trial he underwent were preliminaries he had to pass through before his earthly life. He passed all the tests to which he was put and, being chosen and saved from being lost in the swamp of sins and deviation, was made a Prophet and honored with being made the father of thousands of Prophets, including the pride of mankind – the Prophet Muhammad – and millions of saints:

Then his Lord chose him; He relented towards him, and rightly guided him. (Ta Ha, 20.122)

11. For different versions of the hadith, see, Bukhari, “Hudud,” 22; Abu Dawud, “Hudud,” 17; Tirmidhi, “Hudud,” 1; Ibn Maja, “Talaq,” 15,16.

12. Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 3; Tirmidhi, “Qadar,” 2; Ibn Hanbal, 2.287, 314.

 

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