Al-Baqarah (12)

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30  Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.”

Now, back to the verse under discussion – verse 30 of Al-Baqarah, where Allah said He was about to create a vicegerent on earth. This means Adam was destined to live on Earth and not in Paradise before his creation. Adam was to live on earth as Allah's vicegerent. Let us keep this in mind. This conversation between Allah and His angels occurred before Adam was created.

But does Allah need anybody to take His place or to represent Him on earth? No. Human beings were not made in a way that they could receive Allah's messages directly. They were, therefore, in need of who would serve as a mediator between them and Allah. Hence, the messengers of Allah were sent at different intervals to convey Allah's directives to His bondmen. So, every messenger was Allah's vicegerent to his people:

(And it was said unto him): O David! Lo! We have set thee as a viceroy in the earth; therefore, judge aright between mankind, and follow not desire that it beguile thee from the way of Allah. Lo! Those who wander from the way of Allah have an awful doom, forasmuch as they forgot the Day of Reckoning. (Saad)

Allah's prophets were prepared for that. Therefore, Adam was Allah's vicegerent as he was one of His prophets. Placing vicegerent on earth was for the benefit of man alone, not because that will benefit Allah in any way. Messengers were sent as Allah's vicegerents to convey His messages to His creatures, establish justice among people, and execute Allah's commandments here on earth.

Some scholars said vicegerent is not the real translation of Khaleefah. According to them, the word means ‘replaceable', one who shall be replaced by others, who will die, and his progeny will continue. So, from the onset, man's sojourn here was finite and not eternal.

Were the angels backbiting man even before he was created when they said, ‘Will You place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood'?

The angels were not backbiting Adam. They are honoured slaves of Allah. They obey Allah what He commanded them. They do only what He ordered them. When they said those words, they were not challenging Allah. They were seeking guidance on Allah's intention.

And they say: The Beneficent hath taken unto Himself a son. Be He glorified! Nay, but (those whom they call sons) are honoured slaves;
They speak not until He hath spoken, and they act by His command. (Al-Anbiyaa)

Then, when they uttered those words, Allah permitted the angels to do so.

No, the angels would not do a bad thing. They were not backbiting Adam. Allah sought their position on what He was about to do. The angels do not speak before Allah speaks. If anything, this is teaching us the art of consultation.

Jabir narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “If one of you consults his brother, let him advise him.”

Sunan Ibn Majah 3747

Al-Hasan said, “People never seek advice without being guided to the best possibility available to them.” Then he recited, “and manage their affairs by mutual consultation.” (42: 38)

Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 258

But how did the angels know that man will make mischief on earth and shed blood?

Tafseer scholars were challenged. Some said that Allah has already inspired the angels with that knowledge. And some said the angels deduced from the substance with which Adam was to be created – namely, clay – that he would be imperfect and prone to sin and transgression. However, some scholars believe that the Jinn were the earth's first inhabitants. There was no corruption left that they did not commit. They did mischief and shed blood. So, Allah sent a portion of the angels to clear them from the face of the earth. The angels, therefore, given their experience with the earth's first inhabitants, compared man with Jinn. So, they thought rightly that man would make mischief and shed blood like his predecessors among the Jinn.

But what is more authentic from all these positions, and Allah knows best, is that the angels formed their opinion about man from that word used by Allah to describe the vicegerent Khaleefah, a messenger whose task is to preach against mischief and shedding of blood, to bring peace and justice on earth. So, the angels immediately deciphered that man would do evil on the face of the earth. You only speak about bringing justice when wrong is done to others. You preach against iniquities perpetrated in a given community. From the word, the angels got the outcome. When you say, for example, that you want to prepare a dish, a meal, or food, somebody is hungry and will eat whatever you prepare. Another example is saying you want to buy a car. You or your chauffeur has what it takes to drive the car, like a driver's license. There are motorable roads, and there will be movement from one place to another.

Therefore, a single word can lead to several issues. This Khaleefah, Allah's vicegerent who will convey Allah's messages to His people, make plain to them what is lawful and what is not, to be an impartial arbiter between quarrelling parties and bring the erring to justice, denotes that man will make mischief and shed blood on earth.

Then, the angels' response to Allah was neither a challenge nor backbiting. The angels were stating the obvious and marvelling at the same time that man, though honoured by Allah, will fall into the folly of disobedience and sin. They were also displeasingly surprised that Allah had chosen to anoint one as His vicegerent but whose descendants shall be scoundrels who will flout His commandments. Yes, their surprise was twofold: if you desire a representative, you look for somebody you can trust, you can vouch for their character. How will Allah choose a man who is certain to make mischief, and how can man who is so honoured as Allah's vicegerent on each now turn against His lord who created him with transgression and murder?

The angels' response encompasses everybody on Earth. ‘Will you place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood make every person on earth a mischief' maker. That is why Allah retorted:

He said: “I know what ye know not.”

Yes, some men shall commit unspeakable iniquities on the face of the earth, but at the same time, there will be others who shall be reformers, enjoining what is right, forbidding evil and establishing justice. There will be prophets, saints, scholars, the epitome of adoration and servitude to Allah; people who shall be quintessential representatives of Allah on earth! I know what you don't know.

31  And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the names of these if ye are right.”

The names of everything.

But for names, we could not differentiate between a man and a woman, between his brother and his father, between a cat and a dog, or between a man and his father. So, with names, you can call things according to what they really are. How did Allah teach Adam these names? By inspiration? Arch Angel Gabriel taught him by Allah's leave.

Some said Allah created a special knowledge and placed it in Adam.

We, therefore, learn from this verse that people need a shepherd, that our creation came together with our language, the name we call things. It's not what anthropologists and linguists are telling us. So, all creations on earth, with differences in their languages and colours, are part of Allah's design.

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge. (Ar-Rum)

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