Did Allah create human beings before Adam?

Excuse me if I remove myself from these straitened times… these times of the  ‘canned’ interpretation of religious texts, the ready-made opinion that awaits us like early morning breakfast and the inherited answer we hear and repay like a promissory note that has become due. Excuse me if I take an extended holiday from what we are accustomed to and hold so dear. I have become tired of the state of inertia in which we exist. Our thoughts and feelings have become numb.

The Quran says: “And when your Lord said to the angels, I am about to make a caliph in the earth, they said: Will you make therein one who will corrupt it and shed blood while we celebrate Your praise and sanctify You.” (Al-Baqara: 30). How did the angels know Sayedena Adam (a.s.) and his descendants would spread corruption and bloodshed on earth?  Did they think this was all there would be? Did they not know they would also develop the earth? Did they not know there would be prophets, messengers and saints (Ar: awliya) from among Sayedena Adam’s descendants?

Some commentators have concluded there were human beings on earth before Sayedna Adam (a.s.) and that this is the reason the angels spoke about corruption and bloodshed. In short, this is simply not true. Sayedna Adam (a.s.) was the first human being to be created on earth. There were none before him no matter what the commentators may say. The knowledge of the angels about what the descendants of Sayedna Adam (a.s.) would do was given to them by Allah (s.w.t.). This knowledge was given to them before Sayedna Adam (a.s.) had been created. While there is a kind of hidden knowledge, the “unknown” or the “unseen” (Ar: al-ghayb) which is known to Allah (s.w.t) only, He may also give knowledge of the unseen to whomever He chooses. In this instance, He had revealed to the angels one aspect of how mankind would behave on earth but had hidden other aspects of mankind’s behavior from them. He had shown them only the corruption and bloodshed that would take place on earth and kept everything else hidden from them. To try to understand more fully the angels asked: ‘Will you make therein one who will corrupt it and shed blood’. This was a question. It was not an objection or protest. Neither do the words “while we celebrate Your praise and sanctify You” suggest that the angels believed themselves to be better than others. They were simply asking for clarification. Only one aspect of mankind’s behavior on earth had been revealed to them. This is why Allah (s.w.t.) said to them: “Surely I know what you do not know.” (Al-Baqara: 30)

Allah (s.w.t) taught Sayedna Adam (a.s.) ‘all the names’. What are the ‘names’ Allah (s.w.t.) taught Sayedna Adam (a.s.) and which caused the angels to bow down to him? Most commentators say the ‘names’ are the names of the things mankind would come to know and use from the beginning of creation until the end of time, including, one must presume, names such as ‘tree’, ‘cup’, ‘river’ ‘office’, ‘sky’, ‘computer’, ‘laser’, ‘heroin’, ‘telephone’, ‘asphalt’, and ‘Nescafe’. A name can only be given to something to which the name refers. The ‘something to which the name refers’ must exist before it can be given a name. This means by inference that either all the ‘things’ whose names Sayedna Adam (a.s.) was taught existed before Sayedna Adam (a.s.) was created or that Sayedna Adam (a.s.) was the last human being to be created or that there were beings prior to Sayedna Adam (a.s.). It might be understood to mean Allah (s.w.t.) produced samples of each and every thing that would have a name and placed them in a ‘showroom’ to teach Sayedna Adam (a.s.) ‘all the names’ or that everything preceded Sayedna Adam (a.s.) and that the names Sayedna Adam (a.s.) learned were the names of things that were already present.

The Quran says: “And He taught Adam all the names. Then He showed them to the angels and said to them, ‘Tell me the names of those” (Al-Baqara: 31). In the Arabic, the word for ‘showed’ is a’rdahum which signifies Allah (s.w.t.) showed the angels something belonging to the intellect or the understanding not a’rdaha which would signify Allah (s.w.t.) showed them something physical. Similarly the Arabic word haou’laa translated at the end of the verse as ‘those’ signifies the plural form of things belonging to the intellect not physical things. If the names Allah (s.w.t.) taught Sayedna Adam (a.s.) were not the names of physical things as most commentators assume, then we must ask ourselves to what did the ‘names’ refer?

A key to a correct understanding of why Allah (s.w.t.) said ‘all the names’ is to be found in understanding the relationship between the angels and Allah (s.w.t.). Angels are created from the lights of the Divine Names. Each angel is created from the light of a Divine Name and bows down to the Name from whose light it was created. Each angel’s knowledge of Allah (s.w.t) is the knowledge of a Divine Name. If another Name is presented to it, the angel will not recognize it. The angel will not see it and therefore will not bow down to it. It can be likened to a radio receiver designed to receive signals from only one radio station. If the radio station is broadcasting radio signals then the receiver will pick them up. If the broadcast is terminated the receiver has nothing to pick up. It will become silent as if it has ceased to exist. If you were to ask the receiver about the other stations it will tell you it is able to pick up only one station. If you were to tell it there are many other radio stations, it would tell you it is unable to receive their signals.

This is exactly the situation of the angels. Each of them is able to ‘receive’ the light of only one of the Divine Names. Whenever that Name appears or is manifested, the angel bows down to it. An angel may for example bow down to the Name “The Merciful” (Ar: Al-Rahman). The only thing that angel knows is that Allah is The Merciful. That angel does not know for example that Allah is also The Most Holy (Ar: Al-Qudus). Allah taught Sayedna Adam (a.s.) ‘all the Names’ that were known to the angels collectively. In this sense, Sayedna Adam (a.s.) is like a central broadcasting station able to interact with all other stations operating on a single frequency. When the central broadcast begins on different frequencies and wavelengths each station will receive what it is equipped to receive.  This is why Allah (s.w.t.) said to him: “Adam, tell them their Names” (Al-Baqara: 33). Here, the word ‘their’ signifies that each of the angels knows a Divine Name by which it worships Allah (s.w.t.) and by which it knows Him. As Sayedna Adam (a.s.) began to recite the Divine Names, each angel hearing the Divine Name from whose light it was created, bowed down to it. Since the Divine Names belong to Allah (s.w.t.) it is evident the Divine Names existed before the creation of Sayedna Adam (a.s). Allah is before time (Ar: qadim qedam al-azal) and eternal and everlasting (Ar: abady and  sarmady).

When Allah (s.w.t.) told the angels to bow down to Sayedna Adam (a.s.) was he telling them to bow down to other than Allah (s.w.t.)? Not at all! It was an order from Allah (s.w.t.) to bow down to Allah (s.w.t.). It is like when Allah (s.w.t.) said “And obey the messenger” (Al-Nisaa:59, An-Nour:54, Muhammad:33), because to obey the messenger (s.a.a.w.s) was to obey Allah (s.w.t.). In the same way, the angels who bowed down to Adam bowed down to Allah. Iblis refused to bow down to Adam because he thought he was superior to him. Allah deemed Iblis’s refusal a refusal to bow down to Him.

It should be noted that although Iblis, at that time, was an angel, he was not created, like other angels from the light of a Divine Name, but from the light of smokeless fire. There was therefore no Name for Iblis to bow down to. If this is the case, how could Iblis’s refusal to bow down to Adam is deemed to be an act of disobedience? And why was he cursed for it? The answer is that if the matter had been limited to the manifestation of the Divine Names to which the angels bowed down, Iblis would not have been cursed. Iblis was cursed because he put forward reasons to Allah why he should not bow down to Adam when he said: “I am better than him. You created me from fire, but you created him from dust.” (Al-Aa’raf: 12, Saad: 76). Since Iblis acknowledged Allah as the Creator and the Creator of Adam he should not have tried to force his own opinion over that of Allah. This is the difference between the manners of the angels when they said: “……. while we celebrate Your praise and sanctify You.” (Al-Baqara: 30), without objecting in any way to Allah’s will, and the outright bad manners and audacity of Iblis.

Another question concerns the meaning of Allah’s words to Iblis.: “Are you being proud or are you one of the angels on high (Ar: al-‘aliyin)? ” (Saad:75). The answer to the meaning of these words is that the angels ordered to bow down to Adam were ‘celestial’ angels (Ar: al-falakayin) who roam throughout the earth and skies. The angels on high who are on a level above the level of the celestial angels were not ordered to bow down to Adam. The “angels on high” are also called “the angels of the sphere” (Ar: al-korobeyin) or “those who circle the Throne’ (Ar: al-hafin min howl al-arsh ). The meaning of Allah’s words to Iblis were ‘Are you being haughty and proud or do you consider yourself to be one of the angels on high?’ The celestial angels aligned themselves with Adam no matter where he was much like sunflowers seeking light or compass needles seeking magnetic north.

It remains for us to ask: Do the Divine Names continue to be the Qibla in which direction the Muslims pray or are they the Qibla for the angels only? How are human beings who do not have the powers given to the angels able to identify the caliph in whose direction they pray and to know where the Divine Names are to be found? The answer is the secret of the manifestation of the Divine Names in the Qibla to enable people to easily determine where they are. The spirit of the caliphate is present by Allah’s power in the Kaaba in Mecca.

Allah fixed the place of the manifestation of the Divine Names at the Kaaba because human beings do not have the same powers as angels. The Quran says: “Most surely the first house appointed for people is the one at Bekka, blessed and guidance to the peoples.” (Al-Imran: 96). The verse says the ‘house’ i.e. the Kaaba was placed ‘for people’ which means not only that it was not placed for angels but also that it was not placed there by people. In fact, the foundations of the Kaaba were laid by the angels. That said, the fact it was placed ‘for people’ does not stop the angels circling around it just as people circle around it as part of the rites of pilgrimage. It was placed ‘for people’ to enable them to determine the position of the Qibla. To bow down in front of the Kaaba is to bow down in the direction of the Kaaba just as to bow down to Adam is to bow down in the direction of Adam. In both instances what is intended by bowing down is bowing down to Allah (s.w.t.).