Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 36 & 37
Chapter 2, Verses 36 and 37
But Satan made them slip, expelling them from the state they were in. We said, ‘Go down from here as enemies to each other! You will have residence on earth and enjoyment for a time.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 36)
The phrase ‘enemies to each other' refers to the animosity between man and Satan. The ongoing battle between the devils and the believers, as any battle between good and evil, should keep us vigilant. Those who are hostile towards Islam should help drive every Muslim to learn more about his or her faith in order to preserve and defend it. When you have an enemy, you always strive to surpass him by all means, and this type of competition is necessary and healthy.
Take a moment to look through history, you will find that the periods of fastest scientific advancement and innovation were the periods of war. During hostilities, each camp tries to overcome the opponent. The best scientists, engineers and thinkers are recruited and given vast resources in order to dominate over the enemy. While these advances and inventions may initially be for the purpose of destruction and killing, their benefits remain to serve humanity during peace. Great leaps in flight technology, such as the birth of the jet engine were the result of world war II. The internet and GPS satellite navigation were born out of the cold war.
The phrase 'Go Down' means descending to a lower place from a higher one. This descent maybe physical or maybe intangible in status. You may, for example, say that a friend has fallen in your sight when he or she had betrayed your trust. In this case descent is referring to value rather than physical space. Similarly, there may be a person living hundreds of miles away from you, but he or she is closer to your heart than the person sitting right next to you. Adam and Eve descended to earth after their experience and faith-based exercise was conducted in the Garden. God has the full knowledge whether Adam's descent in this verse was physical or in status.
During Adam's stay in heaven, Allah clearly demonstrated for him that Satan is his enemy who does not intend any good for him. He also showed Adam that all Satan's promises are lies. God further pointed to all of us that the worldly life, in all its allures and enjoyments, is temporary. He said: ‘You will have residence on earth and enjoyment for a time.’ No one will remain on earth except for the period Allah has destined for him or her to live.
Now, let's move on to the next verse. God says:
Then Adam received words from his Lord and He accepted his repentance: He is the All-forgiving and most merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 37)
Prior to their descent to earth, Adam and Eve had the practical experience of applying God's laws under the constant whispers and temptations of Satan. These temptations, along with our freedom of choice are bound to result in mistakes and sin. Therefore, after Adam and Eve committed their first mistake, it was necessary for repentance and forgiveness to be legislated. An interesting point to note is that the legislation of repentance is not only out of God's mercy for the disobedient, rather it is for the benefit and mercy of the entire community. Imagine for a moment a world with no forgiveness, so when a person living in such a world disobeys God, he or she knows that there is no room for repentance. When a person loses hope, he or she will turn to a life of continual sin and crime. Transgression and injustice will be rampant in society. Who will suffer in such case? Of course, the society in which that disobedient person lives. In fact, the believers will suffer the most because they are people of good character who strive to make life kind and just. Allah is the most merciful, and He wants all of us to show mercy to one another. He says:
Those of you possessing affluence and ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to their relatives and the very poor and those who left their homes in the service of God. They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (24:22)
and in another verse:
If you divorce wives before consummating the marriage but after fixing a bride-gift for them, then give them half of what you had previously fixed, unless they waive their right, or unless the one who holds the marriage tie waives his right. Waiving your right is nearer to godliness, so do not forget to be generous towards one another: God sees what you do. (2:337)
There are many verses in the Noble Quran that encourage everyone to pardon and forgive. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "My Lord gave me nine bits of advice, and I share them with you. He advised me to be sincere whether in private or in public; to do justice whether in anger or in happiness; to be moderate whether in riches or in poverty; to reconnect with those who abandoned me; to give to those who deprived me; to forgive those who wronged me; God advised that my silence be thoughtful; my speech be mindful and my gaze be considerate”
You can see from the examples above that if repentance was not legislated, then the entire community, especially the believers, would have suffered immensely. Repentance and forgiveness are amongst Allah's greatest gifts to mankind.
Allah legislated repentance first, then, as people started asking for forgiveness, He receives each person's words. At that point, God accepts this repentance or rejects it out of His will, knowledge and wisdom. He says:
And to the three men who stayed behind: when the earth, for all its spaciousness, closed in around them, when their very souls closed in around them, when they realized that the only refuge from God was with Him, He turned to them in mercy in order for them to return to Him. God is the all forgiving, the Most Merciful. (9:118)
Allah wanted Adam to repent, so he taught him how to ask for forgiveness, and then forgave him. Some people criticize the fact that Adam was forgiven for his mistake while Satan was accursed and destined to eternity in hell for his disobedience. Isn't that unfair? We answer that this argument misses the central point of what Adam actually did. Adam ate from the forbidden tree, but as soon as he realized his mistake he stopped, did not persist or defy Allah; Rather he said ‘O Lord Your command and religion is the truth but I was unable to take control over myself, so please pardon me’. Adam confessed his sin and admitted his weakness. He acknowledged that God's path is the truth, and asked for forgiveness. In contrast, Satan rejected God's command and path. He followed his sin by saying ‘I am better than him. You created me from fire and You created him from clay,’ ‘by Your Might, then I will surely mislead them all except Your chosen servants amongst them,’ ‘I will surely sit and wait for them on Your straight path’. Clearly, Satan did not acknowledge his sin nor regret his actions. And this clear denial of God -the gravest of sin- is what lead to his eternal removal from God's mercy.
You and I should learn from this difference between Adam's sin and that of Satan. The main lesson is: Beware of rejecting God’s commands and teachings. If you do not pray, for example, then do not say that 'I do not pray because there is no benefit in prayer'. Likewise, if you miss paying your almsgiving (zakah), then do not say that the legislation of zakah is unfair or unclear. Similarly, if you do not apply God’s laws, do not say that God's teachings are not compatible with modern life. Because if you say any of these statements, then, you will become a disbeliever, and you will lose access to God's mercy.
Instead, if you happen to be in a situation of weakness, or you are unable to bring yourself to carry God's teachings, then say 'My Lord the obligation of prayer, the duty of zakah, and the application of your teachings are the truth, but I am unable to bring myself to do this duty because my faith is weak. God, please shower your mercy upon me, and help me come back to your path in this life and the next'. When you sincerely say these words, you will only be considered disobedient, and you will always have access to God's mercy and forgiveness.