Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 33

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Session 57

Chapter 2, Verse 33

Then He said, ‘Adam, tell them the names of these.’ When he told them their names, God said, ‘Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and that I know what you reveal and what you conceal?’ (Chapter 2: Verse 33)

When God created and appointed Adam as a successor and a trustee on earth, the angels remarked '‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’.  In the this verse, God is presenting evidence to the angles that their knowledge is incomplete, and that the wisdom behind Adam's creation escapes them. 

            Even before the creation of Adam, God had full knowledge of what Adam and his descendants will do until the last day and beyond.  The angels, on the other hand, did not possess this knowledge because it is not related to their task.  Recall what we discussed earlier: each person is guided by Allah and is given access to the proper knowledge that facilitates whatever he or she is created for.  Thus, in this instance, Allah wanted to clarify to the angels when they pre-judged Adam -as a result of their experience observing other creations that preceded him- they formulated a false perception about the future.  

            In order to present this proof to the angles, God distinguished Adam, before all the angels to see, by teaching him the names of everything.  God, then, asked the angels to tell Him these names -a fairly simple task-.  They replied that the all knowledge belongs to God alone, and as long as He does not teach them the names, they will not be able to know them.  At that moment, Allah ordered Adam to inform the angels about the names of these things.  Adam had the information not through his effort or experience, rather, it was through the knowledge taught to him by Allah.  It is God who is all knowledgeable as the following verse illustrates:

He began with their sacks before his brother’s sack; and then he brought the drinking-cup out of his brother’s sack. In this way We made an arrangement for Joseph. Under the king’s law, he could not have detained his brother, had not God so willed. Whomsoever We will, We raise in ranks. Above every owner of knowledge there is one more knowledgeable (12:76)

Hence, it was through God's will that Adam obtained the knowledge of what the angels did not have at that moment.  Here, and by teaching Adam, God replied to the concern of the angels that ‘Adam will cause corruption on land’.  He said ‘Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and the earth’. 

            Let's examine the word 'hidden' which refers to the knowledge of the unseen. The unseen or the unknown is of two types: the relative and the absolute.  Suppose, for example, that my wallet was stolen, and I was unable to find or know the person who stole it.  Thus, this knowledge is hidden from me or unseen.  At the same time, however, this knowledge is known to the one who committed the theft, and to anyone who assisted with or witnessed the crime.  This type of the unseen, or the unknown, is relative.  Another example is a corporate board's decision to promote some employees and discharge others.  As long as the decision is not publicised, it remains a relative unseen -known to some and not known to others-.  This is not the type of knowledge referred to in this verse.  The verse refers to the absolute unseen.  The sort of knowledge that is absent from all; the knowledge that is not preceded by any signs or clues and often comes as a total surprise.  None beside God has this type of knowledge.

            The last part of this verse: ‘and that I know what you reveal and what you conceal’ sparks another question in our minds.  Did the angels say: ‘how can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness’ out aloud or did they keep it in to themselves? God’s statement: ‘and what you conceal’ suggests that the angels might have said what they said within themselves.  Whatever the case may be, whether they declared it or concealed it, God knew it because His knowledge is absolute and encompasses everything.  When it comes to Allah's knowledge: both the declared and the concealed, the past and the future are all equal.