Lessons from the Story of Prophet Adam
The second chapter of the Qur’an, Surat Al Baqara (The Cow), includes the story of Prophet Adam `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) from the beginning of creation through its unfolding phases.
Prophet Adam (as) was the first of creation to take upon himself the role of God’s deputy on earth. God ordered him to depart from paradise only after He nurtured him and equipped him with the proper learning to assume such a responsibility. In the story of the creation of Adam (as) are many lessons for parents who seek to raise their children as the future deputies of God. By reflecting upon the stages and the process through which Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) taught a fatherless Adam and prepared him for deputyship, it is possible to identify a similar process by which parents can raise righteous children.
It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth. Then He directed Himself to the heaven, [His being above all creation], and made them seven heavens, and He is Knowing of all things. And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.” They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.” He said, “O Adam, inform them of their names.” And when he had informed them of their names, He said, “Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed.” And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate before Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers. And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.” But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, “Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.” Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words, and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” (Qur’an, 2:29-39)
In this article, we allude to the aforementioned verses of chapter Al Baqara and bring forth the parenting lessons embedded in the story of Prophet Adam (as). In each verse are lessons, which carry tremendous meanings and which provide a simple blueprint for parents to follow. We sum those meanings into six lessons; the first three lessons in this first article and the last three lessons in part two.
Establish family relationships based on trust starting in infancy.
“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth. Then He directed Himself to the heaven, [His being above all creation], and made them seven heavens, and He is Knowing of all things.” (Qur’an, 2:29)
In the story of creation, Allah (swt) subjected all of earth’s provisions to the benefit of man and sustained the mechanisms which govern the universe so that His servant feels secure enough to strive in his new environment. He shaped the sky as a roof and prepared the earth to meet the needs of Prophet Adam (as) and his descendants. He created an environment, which man can successfully inhabit and cultivate. This is a great blessing and mercy from God as this preparation preceded the creation of Prophet Adam (as).
According to Ma’ariful Qur’an commentary: all that is on the earth means “all kinds of benefits that accrue to man from the earth and its produce.” Consequently, as Allah (swt)—Who is not bound by any obligation—prepared the earth, as a safe dwelling for Prophet Adam, man is obliged to prepare a safe environment, which meets the physical needs of a newborn.1 Allah (swt) created this safe environment by providing Prophet Adam (as) with all the physical, intellectual and spiritual nourishment, which will help him struggle in His way. Furthermore, He housed him in paradise, his first home, a dwelling of peace, order and beauty, and it was in that same dwelling that He taught him the names of things. Allah (swt) is surely the nurturer and most merciful.
Undoubtedly, the presence of those qualities in infancy beautifies the domestic life and accentuates its sense of safety and stability as the child grows observing those qualities, internalizing them and eventually exhibits them in every aspect of his life. The importance of providing secure and stable environments in infancy and throughout childhood is key to increasing the likelihood of successful parenting outcomes, which are rooted in “trust.” Such outcomes are also the product of nurturing and “responsive” parenting skills. Western research on early development supports those views.2
Allocate time to prepare the family for the arrival of a newborn.
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.’ They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ Allah said, ‘Indeed, I know that which you do not know.’” (Qur’an 2:30)
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According to Tafsir Al Tabari, Allah (swt) revealed to the angels that the purpose of Adam’s creation was to establish His commandments and rule with justice. To prepare the angels to meet Adam (as) and recognize his honorable status with His Lord, Allah (swt) delivered the news that He will establish a deputy on earth. According to Ma’ariful Qur’an commentary: “Allah did not mean to seek the advice of the angels, nor was there any need for it, but He, in His wisdom, gave a mere statement in the form of a consultation in order to teach men the advisability of mutual consultation.” Similarly, when parents communicate with family members about the arrival of a newborn, they strengthen family bonds and promote an environment of mutual respect. Furthermore, they instill the love necessary for that child to grow in a safe environment by showing gratitude and contentment, especially through the practice of `aqiqa (the sacrifice of a goat or lamb following the birth of a child). This practice, which is a confirmed Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) to the majority of the school of Islamic jurisprudence, facilitates the gathering of all family members and friends to bless and welcome the newborn in an environment tempered with love and joy.
Educate the child through beneficial knowledge.
“And He taught Adam the names – all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, ‘Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.’ They said, ‘Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.’” (Qur’an 2:31-32)
According to Ma’ariful Qur’an commentary, “Teaching Adam the names meant that Allah taught him the properties and qualities of all that exists, animate and inanimate.” According to the Shaarawy, the method through which Allah (swt) taught Prophet Adam (as) is identical to the one, which human beings still adopt, in teaching language. Adults begin teaching children the names of objects so that they are able to build meaning and share them. Therefore, knowledge is a gift from God so that man understands his physical environment and the divine laws, which he must follow, and then teaches those meanings to his descendants.
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Knowledge is of two types: knowledge of the sacred and knowledge of the physical world. To gain access to the beneficial knowledge in both types, it is imperative that parents are God-conscious since Allah (swt) is the All-knowing and He bestows knowledge upon those who are mindful of Him. It is this type of beneficial knowledge, which translates into good deeds and brings human beings closer to God.
“And fear Allah. And Allah teaches you. And Allah is Knowing of all things.” (Qur’an 2:282)
Consequently, Taqwa (righteousness; goodness) is the foundation for pursuing knowledge. Parents, who instill this quality in their children at an early stage, while taking into account their age readiness, abilities and diverse learning needs, are literally shaping the character of the future deputy on earth. Prophet Adam (as) experienced closeness to His Lord through that direct learning. In essence, Allah (swt) was his first teacher and He is the One Who taught and nurtured all His prophets and continues to do so with His believing servants. Our role, combined with the efforts of an effective and enthusiastic teacher, is indispensable in inculcating in our children the comparable knowledge which they need to struggle as conscientious and upright individuals in this world. Again, parents and teachers should impart knowledge in a safe environment and facilitate the necessary channels for the child to voice his opinion and seek further inquiry.
In an attempt to provide a practical description of the basic needs of all infants for safe environments and domestic happiness, we will briefly touch on each of the components mentioned in the following hadith (narration). The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “There are four things that are essential for happiness: a righteous wife, a spacious home, a good neighbor and a sound means of transportation.” The Prophet ﷺ taught us that if we are aware of those four components then the likelihood of successful parenting outcomes increases (narrated by Ibn Hibbaan in his Saheeh).
The Righteous Wife
Religion is the comprehensive factor, which provides the moral framework, for all women, through which they can beautify their characters as independent and intelligent human beings and responsible mothers. The righteous wife raises her children to be morally conscientious and instills in them the values, which will help them carry their responsibilities as the future deputies of God. No wonder it was one of the components, which the Prophet brought to our attention and which will contribute to domestic happiness if present in the life of a newborn.
A Spacious Dwelling
And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an, 2:35)
Allah (swt) chose paradise as the first home for his first deputy Adam and He chose the essential characteristics that are most befitting for such a dwelling. Similarly, parents should arrange the newborn’s home to encompass those qualities of peace, calm and beauty, which are essential qualities of Paradise.
Abu Huraira reported that Gabriel came to Allah’s Apostle ﷺ and said: “Allah’s Messenger, lo. Khadija is coming to you with a vessel of seasoned food or drink. When she comes to you, offer her greetings from her Lord, the Exalted and Glorious, and on my behalf and give her glad tidings of a palace of jewels in Paradise wherein there is no noise and no toil.” (Muslim)
From the above hadith, we learn that paradise is an abode of peace and serenity where man does not tire or labor. Additionally, in paradise, Angels do not cease to worship their Lord and praise Him. Those Words of Praise were the first utterances that Adam (as) heard and worship was the first action, which his eyes encountered. By analogy, we can say that it befits parents to expose the unborn child to such utterances and to have his eyes encounter worship upon birth; thus, following in the footsteps of his father Adam (as). We also know the importance of supplication for a righteous child through Prophet Zechariah’s prayer (as) to Allah (swt) that He grants him a righteous child. Allah (swt) answered his prayer and granted him Yahya (as), who was born into a world of worship, while hearing his father’s perpetual prayers in the womb.
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At that, Zechariah (as) called upon his Lord, saying, “My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.” So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, “Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of John, confirming a word from Allah and [who will be] honorable, abstaining [from women], and a prophet from among the righteous.”(Qur’an 3:38-39)
Finally, Prophet Adam (as) witnessed the beauty of paradise as a peaceful abode with spacious gardens filled with trees, streams and a gentle breeze. This beauty is a mere reflection of the beauty of the Creator and the deserving reward of the believers. Beautifying our environments is consequently part of our faith so are the blessings of order, tranquility and safety at home. It is the right of the child to feel that his home is his paradise as Prophet Adam (as) experienced this perfect dwelling first-hand. Consequently, the child leaves his home feeling an appreciation for such values and thrives to embrace them in all aspects of his life.
The Good Neighbor
Ibn `Umar and `Aishah (ra) reported: Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Jibril kept recommending treating neighbors with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The Prophet ﷺ mentioned the good neighbor regardless of his faith because of his physical proximity. Neighbors seek help from each other and share joyful and sad moments together. A good neighbor influences our child in immeasurable ways. The child may see in him/her a good role model.
Al Hasan Al Basri (ra) was asked, “Who is a neighbor?” He answered: “Your neighbors are forty houses ahead of you and forty houses to your back, and forty houses to your right and forty houses to your left.” This hadith gives us an impression of how important it is to have a sense of community in our neighborhoods so that a child is nurtured in a compassionate and safe environment, where neighbors interact in unison. The Prophet ﷺ explains that state of unison when he brings forth the example of the strength, which is measured by the unity of the believers. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The example of the believers in their mutual love and mercy is like the example of a body. If one part feels pain, then all of it is affected by sickness and fever.”
Choosing the appropriate neighbourhood, which will give our children a sense of security and belonging, while exposing them to healthy social interactions, will surely enhance their social competence and emotional well-being.
A Sound Means of Transportation
A sound means of transportation, through which parents manage daily chores, is another factor which contributes to a family’s level of happiness and comfort. Each child has educational, physical and medical needs, and Allah (swt) has subjected transportation as a means to fulfill those needs. The concept of transportation today is not limited to the physical movement through the car or the plane but also refers to the journey which each child experiences through educational tools such as books, social media and the internet. Transportation whether through physical movement or an educational journey is an important tool in cultivating the child and exposing him to the reality of the world. Only after he is able to move freely will the child be able to internalize the nature of this life, understand its reality and grow up to fulfill his role as God’s deputy.
Allah (swt) brought Adam (as) into this world only after He taught him the names. “He taught Adam the names” so that he does not succumb to the fears associated with ignorance and He equipped him with the weapon of knowledge so that Adam (as) may make the world a better place. The freedom of physical and intellectual exploration, under the parents’ supervision, exposes the child to the beneficial knowledge, which he needs to understand his own world and consequently assign things around him their proper due, by neither negating the worth of what is important nor venerating what is worthless.
Please look at the appendage for more on the physical components that contribute to a safe domestic environment for the child. We touch on the four components mentioned in the hadith (tradition of the Prophet): The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There are four things that are essential for happiness: a righteous wife, a spacious home, a good neighbor and a sound means of transportation” (Narrated in Ibn Hibban).
Erick Ericson, a psychoanalyst, described the different stages of emotional development in children from infancy through adulthood. He explained that in the early stages of growth, infants form attachment bonds, which flourish in safe environments with responsive caregivers. “A critical emotional struggle in infancy is between trust and mistrust. Emotionally healthy babies come to understand that they have nurturing responsive caregivers who meet their basic needs. They come to view the world as safe and predictable. They enter into trusting relationships with caregivers and, later, with other human beings. Security is another word to describe this emotional state.” Trawick- Smith, J, (2010) Early Childhood Development [a Multicultural perspective] p, 170. Pearson Education.
Inculcating knowledge in a formal setting starts at the age of seven as Ali ibn Abi Talib, radiAllahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) advised us: play with your children till the age of 7, discipline and teach them from the age of 7 to 14 and befriend them at the age of 14 and over.
Translate beneficial knowledge into practice.
“And [mention] when We said to the angels, ‘Prostrate before Adam’; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers. And We said, ‘O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.’” (Qur’an 2:34-35)
After Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) taught Adam `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) the names, He then prohibited him and his wife from taking delight in one tree. Adam’s first concrete interaction—with Satan and the ensuing punishment—defined the beginning of his practical experiences. The purpose of the encounter with Satan was to teach Prophet Adam (as) and his wife about the nature of their struggle in the real world. According to Ma’riful Qur’an commentary: “They were warned that their existence on the earth would no longer be full of perpetual bliss as it had been in paradise, but there would be dissension and enmity among men, their progeny, which would spoil the joy of earthly life.” Consequently, Prophet Adam (as) learned that his struggle in the world will be between evil and good, and that evil is weak if he is armed with beneficial knowledge and yaqeen (certainty), the real weapons of the future deputy of God. It is those qualities which will protect his relationship with his Creator and strengthen it.
As the child grows older and reaches the age of discernment and beyond, he develops a moral compass and a concrete understanding of the world which are in line with the theological teachings of Islam (creed). This is the time for parents to give their growing children choices and responsibilities. Through closely supervised experiences, parents expose their children to life’s trying nature as prophet Adam (as) was exposed to the consequences of breaking God’s commandment. Giving children an opportunity to blend into their environments while making mistakes is paramount to their developmental growth and social competence. This is an important phase as the child gains the trust of his parents while he feels their unwavering presence in his life and experiences a practical application of his value system.
Those supervised exposures will support the child in navigating through his future with confidence, as he is able to delineate the boundaries, which define his relationship with his Creator, his relationship with the self, and his relationship with creation.
Teach the child repentance with mercy and love.
“But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, ‘Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.’ Then Adam received from his Lord [some] words, and He accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.” (Qur’an, 2:36-37)
Prophet Adam (as) was afflicted with forgetfulness and ate from the forbidden tree. Thereafter God questioned him and he assumed responsibility for his actions. “And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination,” (Qur’an, 20: 115). Adam’s disobedience was not intentional. He grew accustomed to the comforts of paradise, forgot his promise and believed Satan. The lessons, which can be highlighted here, are two.
Firstly, Prophet Adam (as) learned how Allah (swt) reprimands the wrong doer and punishes him. Secondly, he learned how Allah (swt) forgives and reveals His mercy when the disobedient repents. Consequently, Adam’s disobedience was instrumental for him to experience the human quality of wrongdoing and the divine attribute of the merciful and compassionate God. Furthermore, mercy is an adornment of the deputy of God so that he may guide those wrong doers in this world to repentance by seeking their Lord.
Making mistakes is of human nature and contributes to invaluable room for emotional growth as it helps define the relationship that the child has with the self and with the Creator. Prophet Adam’s disobedience presented an opportunity for him to understand his weak self and the necessary mechanism to remedy wrong actions through repentance. He also understood that his relationship with his Creator is fortified through beneficial knowledge, which breeds yaqeen, and obedience to God’s commandments. He also learned that his biggest enemy is forgetfulness. Consequently, teaching children repentance is fundamental, as no human being is infallible as the following hadith (narration) states:
The Prophet ﷺ said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if you did not commit sin Allah would do away with you and bring people who would commit sin then pray for forgiveness.” Narrated by Muslim . He ﷺ also said: “Every son of Adam sins and the best of those who sin are those who repent.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi)
During this phase of upbringing, parents may find many lessons in Prophet Ya`qub’s1 “responsive” parenting style.2 His (as) wisdom and divine knowledge contributed to shaping Prophet Yusuf’s righteous personality as a child and to his unwavering presence in the lives of Yusuf’s misguided brothers. He (as) continuously called them to repentance though wisdom, patience and good counsel. Therefore , reminding our children so that they do not forget as their father Adam did and showing mercy towards them as Allah (swt) did towards Adam (as) are essential parenting tools to raising the future deputy on earth.
The Earthly Struggle
“We said, ‘Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.’” (Qur’an, 2:38-39)
Prophet Adam (as) learned the consequences to disobedience; he repented and Allah (swt) opened His door to a world which He created and prepared for him to inhabit as His deputy on earth. Allah (swt) then left Prophet Adam (as) in this world with the complete freedom to fulfill this role and out of His mercy sent prophets as a gift and a reminder.
Consequently, whoever is guided in this world is in essence guided to paradise in the hereafter and whoever forgets and is misguided in this world is in essence misguided from the gift of paradise in the hereafter. God in His infinite mercy provided Adam (as) with the knowledge he needed to struggle in His way, taught him the mechanism of repentance and sent messengers to remind his descendents of the meaning of their existence. Those who fulfill their role of deputyship are the ones who rule with justice, avoid transgressions and follow God’s commandments. Those who corrupt and oppress themselves do not assume that divinely delegated role.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Religion is counsel,” (Muslim). Our children are the most entitled to such precious counsel until they take on the role of the deputy of God and struggle on their own to gain the pleasure of their Creator.
The first step in raising the future deputy of God lies in establishing safe environments, which reflect the orderliness and beauty of paradise. Attending to the physical and developmental needs of the child through “responsive” and nurturing parenting is equally important.
Secondly, imparting beneficial knowledge, which caters to the child’s learning needs and his age readiness is fundamental to shaping character, reinforcing values and empowering the child to understand the nature of the world and to overcome the fears bred through ignorance.
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Thirdly, supporting the child in experiencing his environment broadens his insight into the nature of the world and provides him with practical application of his value system. Parents’ support must be always channeled through an attitude of love and open communication; they remind the child and reprimand him with mercy and love. Alluding to Prophet Ya’qub’s approach (as) to parenting proves to be a good example here, especially during the adolescent years.
Finally, as the child matures well beyond the age of discernment, parents teach him that his carnal instincts are a blessing if channeled towards what Allah (swt) made permissible. In doing so, he reaps the rewards of this life and the hereafter. They also teach him repentance while remaining steadfast to Allah’s commandments, through a character which manifests moderation and wisdom. Equally important, they teach him that his greatest enemy is forgetfulness if he steers away from God’s religion and that the door of mercy is open until he takes his last breath.