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Adam: A Forgetful Victim or A Rebellious Transgressor?

One will often find Muslim polemicists denying that Adam’s sin negatively affected the human race by causing mankind to inherit a corrupt sinful inclination/nature which makes it inevitable that humans will indeed disobey and transgress God’s laws. They further claim that Adam’s “mistake” wasn’t a willful act of defiance since the Quran states that he ate out of forgetfulness.

I will allow renowned Christian apologist and author John Gilchrist refute these of-repeated assertions by citing from his published works responding to Islamic polemics:

The Qur’an follows the Bible in relating the occasion of Adam’s disobedience in approaching the forbidden tree (Surah 2.35) and declares that the result of his action was that he was driven from the Garden (Surah 2.36). Significantly the command in this verse is in the plural and both Pickthall and Yusuf Ali, in footnotes, take this to mean that the whole of mankind was dismissed with Adam and Eve. This supports the Biblical teaching that sin came into the world through one man Adam and that all men were implicated in his transgression (Romans 5.12). Nonetheless, not only is the doctrine of Original Sin denied in Islam but, because Adam is considered to be a prophet, many Muslim writers even go so far as to boldly claim that he committed no sin at all and merely slipped through a forgetfulness of God’s command!

There was no intention on the part of Adam to disobey the Divine commandment; it was simply forgetfulness that brought about the disobedience. (Ali, The Religion of Islam, p. 201).

On the other hand the Qur’an teaches quite plainly that it was not a mere forgetfulness that led to Adam’s disobedience but that he fell to the temptings of Satan (Surah 20.120) and that after God had warned him that Satan was an adversary who would seek to get him out of the Garden. (Surah 20.117) Satan allegedly said to him:

“O Adam! Shall I lead thee to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?” Surah 20.120

Even though this was the very tree forbidden to him Adam chose to believe Satan and disobey God. If this is not sin, what is? In another passage we find even further evidence that Adam’s transgression can hardly be excused as an act of forgetfulness. We read that Satan said to Adam and Eve:

“Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live forever”. Surah 7.20

Not only did God warn them against eating of the tree but we discover that Satan even reminded them of his warning while tempting them to sin. How can one possibly sustain the argument that Adam merely forgot his Lord’s command? Satan’s reminder aside, it is surely too hard to believe that Adam could have forgotten the one and only thing prohibited to him especially when the order came directly from God himself. Furthermore, if this was only a minor “mistake”, why was the penalty so severe – the permanent banishment of the couple and the whole human race with them from the Garden? Again, if Adam did not really commit a sin and was a sinless prophet, then who introduced sin into the world and what was its consequence? It is refreshing to find that not all Muslim writers endeavour to whitewash Adam’s transgression and sweep it under the carpet of their presuppositions. One says of Adam and his wife:

When they were asked about their present shameless condition they confessed that they were beguiled and outwitted; turned rebellious for a moment; forgot His kind grace and commandment and broke the covenant. In other words, they had sinned. There was no sin in the state of nature. Sin came from the knowledge of it, from the fateful fruit of the tree of knowledge. When Adam hid behind the tree and hesitated to come before God in the nude, sin had been born. (Raze, Introducing the Prophets, p.5).

The Qur’an also teaches that Noah and Jonah were transgressors and that they too prayed for the forgiveness of all their sins (Surah 11.47, 21.87). These words, said in another context, appear to be a fitting conclusion to our study of the Qur’anic teaching regarding the sins of the prophets:

This much is true at least: The Qur’an is nearer to Christianity than the system of Islam as it has developed through the centuries. (Guillaume, Islam, p. 160).

In the Sunan works of Tirmithi, Ibn Maja and ad-Darimi it is recorded that Muhammad once said: “Every son of Adam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who repent constantly” (quoted in Karim’s Mishkatul-Masabih, Vol. 3, p. 360). This statement clearly shows that Muhammad himself did not believe in the sinlessness of the prophets. (Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, 3. Islam: The Religion and Its Movements, 7. The Principal Duties of Islam B. Sinlessness of the Prophets: The Isma Doctrine, Sinlessness of the Prophets: The Isma Doctrine)


Did Adam Simply Forget His Lord’s Command?

Muslims traditionally underrate the effect of that first transgression. They claim Adam merely slipped in a moment of temporary forgetfulness and that, once he had repented of his oversight and asked forgiveness, he was duly forgiven. It is vital to show them that the Qur’an takes a far more serious view of the matter, stating plainly that Satan brought about their fall (Surah 7:22) and that Allah deliberately chased them out of the Garden and cast them down to earth where their previous state of peacefulness and felicity would give way to malice and hatred (Surah 7:24). It goes on to appeal to the “Children of Adam” to avoid being seduced by Satan “in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden” (Surah 7:27). Their sin was not a single act of transgression that could easily be forgiven as a minor, isolated act of wrongdoing. It was an act of gross rebellion, a total rejection of God’s rule over the whole human race, and it had awful consequences.

Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. Romans 5:12

We do not believe that they were cast out of Paradise as the Bible states the Garden was the source of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on earth (Genesis 2:14). Nonetheless the Muslim belief actually helps to strengthen the effect of their sin. Ask any Muslim if Adam and Eve could have died in heaven, in Jannat al-Firdaus (the Garden of Paradise). They will invariably say “no.” Also ask them if they would have been cast out of the Garden to a decaying earth if they had not sinned and again the answer will be “no.” Lastly, would their offspring have perished in Paradise? Once again you’ll get the same answer.

Therefore neither Adam nor Eve, nor any of their billions of offspring, would ever have died had they not broken faith with God and been cast out of Paradise. By implication, Islam supports the Biblical teaching that death was the consequence of their sin – firstly, spiritual death and separation from God in the act of rebellion, and then later physical extinction at the end of a temporal life.

Can it really be argued that there was no intention on Adam’s part to disobey God and that his transgression was no more than an excusable lapse of memory? The Qur’an shows plainly that Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation and this despite the fact that Allah had warned them that Satan was an adversary who would seek to get them out of the Garden (Surah 20:117). Adam and Eve must both have had incredibly poor memories to forget God’s one command to them and the one consequence they would have wished to have avoided. Satan words to Adam, according to the Qur’an, were:

O Adam! Shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom which never decays? Surah 20:120

Adam chose to believe Satan and to disobey God. Moreover, in Surah 7:20, Satan actually reminded Adam of Allah’s command to him not to eat of the forbidden tree. How can one possibly sustain the argument that Adam merely “forgot” his Lord’s command, the only negative commandment he ever received and that from God himself? Furthermore, if this was only a minor mistake as Muslims claim, why was the penalty so severe? The whitewashing and diluting of Adam’s transgression by Muslims is usually done in the interests of maintaining the hypothesis in traditional Islam, contradicted by the Qur’an, that all the prophets were sinless. (See the companion volume to this book, Facing the Muslim Challenge, pp.46-48). If Adam was a prophet as they believe, then he too could not actually have sinned. Ask any Muslim, then, who it was who introduced sin into the world, when this happened, what the first sin was, and what the effect on the human race was. Obviously there can be no answer based on any sources. The disobedience of Adam was the great single sin that brought the human race into the decaying, sinful world it struggles with today and its ultimate consequence was the worst that could be imagined, death itself.

To be delivered from this shattering consequence the world obviously needs a deliverance from both sin and death. Merely asking God for forgiveness won’t help. Even though the Qur’an teaches that Adam and Eve were forgiven (the Bible is silent on the subject), Allah never let them back into the beautiful Garden of Paradise where the Tree of Eternal Life was. Instead they struggled on with the hardships of an earthly existence and eventually died. Obviously a lot more than merely a declaration of forgiveness is needed for the human race to find its way back to Paradise and here is where the Christian witness to the Muslim comes in. Let’s see how our common ground on this vital subject can be used as a basis for effective witness to the grace of God as it has been revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Gilchrist, Sharing the Gospel with Muslims A Handbook for Bible-based Muslim Evangelism, Part One: Old Testament Personalities and Prophecies, Adam: The Man of Dust, the Man from Heaven)



Although there is no chronological sequence of events or teachings in the chapters of the Qur’an it is significant to find the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall at the beginning of the book. The narrative is very similar to the account in Genesis where God gives him dominion over the earth and places him there as his khalifah, his “representative”. He likewise puts him in a bountiful garden, commanding him only to refrain from eating of one tree. Satan, however, caused him and his wife (not named in the Qur’an) to lose their blissful state and they were sent down out of it and told their dwelling place would be on al-ardth, “the earth”, with enmity between their offspring. The Qur’an adds, however, that Adam learnt words of inspiration from his Lord who turned in mercy towards him (Surah 2:30-39). Because the Qur’an twice uses the word habata (to “get down”) in describing the order against them Muslims have taught that the Garden was originally in heaven and that they were thrown down to the earth after their transgression. Nevertheless at the beginning of the narrative Allah is recorded as telling his angels specifically that he would create his representative fiil ardth, “on the earth” (Surah 2:30), and it appears that the fall was not from heaven but from a state of righteous bliss. It is perhaps also from the Qur’anic title Jannati `Adn in Surah 9:72 that Muslims presume it must have been in heaven as Jannat in this verse and elsewhere in the text refers to Paradise itself and this is believed to be the “Garden of Eden” where Adam and Eve were. Nevertheless the correct translation of the expression here is simply “gardens of bliss” as the definite article is missing for both words.

In another passage the Qur’an states that Satan began to whisper suggestions to them and brought about their fall by deceit. They tasted of their shame and acknowledged before Allah that they had wronged their souls and, if he would not forgive them and show mercy to them, they would assuredly be lost (Surah 7:20-23). Allah then appeals directly to mankind on no less than three occasions in the following verses as Bani Adam (“Children of Adam”) who should not be ashamed like them or be seduced as they were by Satan. Muslims believe that Adam was a prophet, although he is never actually given this honour in the Qur’an, because he was taught kalimat (“words”) from his Lord (Surah 2:37) implying that he was inspired by messages as other prophets were. As Muslims further believe that all prophets were sinless they endeavour to minimise his disobedience by arguing that it was just a “mistake” and that he had simply “forgotten” the command not to eat of the tree. It is very hard to see how he could have forgotten it when one reads that Satan actually reminded him of the order while tempting him to eat of it (Surah 7:20). It would also be interesting to know how sin came into the world if not through this initial rebellion and who it was who introduced it.

The Qur’an follows the Bible in setting human wrongdoing at the very beginning of creation and it sees the transgression of Adam and Eve as the prime example of sinfulness. It does not teach that men are bound in sin and need to be regenerated as the Bible does but it does view sin as the great problem in man’s relationship with God. It therefore, like the Bible, regards the quest for salvation as the supreme goal of human daily living. The burden rests solely on the individual to gain his own approval from Allah, however, as no intercession can be expected from anyone on his behalf:

Then guard against a Day when one soul will not avail another, nor will intercession be accepted from it, nor will recompense be taken, nor will there be any assistance. Surah 2:48 (Gilchrist, The Qur’an: The Scripture of Islam2. BASIC QUR’ANIC DOCTRINES AND TEACHINGS, 1. The Principle Tenets of the Islamic Faith)


  1. The Biblical Account of the Sin of Adam and Eve.

The Qur’an states that if Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree they would fall “into transgression and harm (Surah 2.35), making Satan call the tree “the Tree of Eternity” (Surah 20.120). The Bible, however, contains another description of the tree which shows very clearly why God commended Adam and Eve to stay away from it. The title given to the tree in the Bible discloses precisely wherein their folly would lie if they partook of its fruit.

And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. Genesis 2.16-17.

The tree had to be avoided because it was the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”, meaning that by disobeying God and by eating of it, Adam and Eve would come to know what evil was and, in consequence, would be cut off from the tree of life and lose their experience of the life of God in their souls and eventually die and return to the dust. “God made man upright” (Ecclesiastes 7.29) and it was his desire that he should remain so.

When God made man he put all things under his feet, giving him dominion over all his creation, the earth, the sea, and all living creatures (Genesis 1.26). God made man in his own image, in his own likeness (Genesis 5.1), meaning that he so created man that he was able to bear all the holy attributes of God himself. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19.2) was his command. As God is perfectly righteous, honest, faithful, loving, forgiving, caring and good, so man was made with the capacity to bear all these attributes as well. Nothing else in all creation can reflect the glory of God or bear his image. Only man has the capacity to distinguish good from evil and to become like God in his holy character.

Although God put all things under Adam he intended that man should nevertheless be under his command and authority and exercise his dominion over creation according to God’s holy will. That is why he placed that one tree in the middle of the garden, so that man would always be reminded that he must be obedient to God and submit to his authority.

Satan came to Eve, however, and tempted her to eat of the fruit of the tree. After first asking her if God had indeed forbidden them to eat of it, he then proceeded to deceive her, saying to her:

“You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. Genesis 3.4-5.

The Qur’an also quotes Satan’s words when he came to tempt Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit and it makes him say to them:

“Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest ye should become angels or such beings as live for ever”. Surah 7.20

It is in the Biblical quote, however, that we find the real essence of his temptation. “You will be like God“, he said, thus inciting them to grasp at equality with God. He tempted them to break loose from God’s authority, to assert themselves instead, to declare independence from God, to assume their own control over creation, and to act and live according to their own desires.

God had wanted Adam and Eve to obey him, to be under him, because God is perfectly good and it would have been better for man to have remained under his authority and so develop God’s creation rather than spoil it. But Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in an act of momentous defiance. It is quite common to find Muslims suggesting that Adam merely “forgot” his Lord’s command and that after he had repented and asked forgiveness, he was duly forgiven (see the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, p. 277). The Qur’an takes a far more serious view of the matter, however, stating plainly that Satan brought about their fall (Surah 7.22) and that God deliberately shut them out of the Garden, where they had enjoyed peace and felicity, and cast them down to earth “with enmity between yourselves” (Surah 7.24) as we have already seen. It goes on to appeal to the “Children of Adam” to avoid being seduced by Satan “in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden” (Surah 7.27). Their sin was not a single act of transgression that could easily be forgiven as an isolated act of wrongdoing, it was an awful act of gross rebellion, a total rejection of God’s rule over the human race, and it had awesome consequences.

Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned. Romans 5.12

The angels were created individually and each individual angel who sinned fell through his own wrongdoing while the elect angels kept their proper dwelling. Yet in the case of man God made one man and one woman as representatives of the whole human race and the sin of the one became the sin of all (Romans 5.18-19). Even Muslims must surely admit that sin duly comes to one and all in this world.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7.20

The sin of Adam and Eve, their complete rebellion and defiance of God’s holy will, had a devastating effect on the whole human race. The Bible and the Qur’an both state quite plainly what the immediate consequence of their sin was – their banishment from the Garden in which God had placed them. Both books show that God drove them out (Genesis 3.24, Surah 20.123). As the whole human race was at that moment in their loins, the effect of their sin became universal. All humanity was chased out of the Garden, all were sent to a world where sin and death reign (Romans 5.21), no one was allowed back into the Garden and no one became completely upright as Adam and Eve had been in the beginning.

As we have seen, the Qur’an plainly states that all men were affected by their fall. There can be no doubt that the command to get out of the Garden was addressed to the whole human race. It reads: Qulnaahbituu minhaa jamii’aa – “Get ye all down from here” (Surah 2.38). The word jami, as used in this verse, is taken to cover a “host, congregation, all, together, altogether” (Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur’an, p. 595). It is obvious that the order to depart from the Garden was intended to cover all mankind.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve was in no way a small thing, it was a comprehensive rejection of God’s sovereignty. Man elected to be his own god over the creation at his feet. This was a total act of rebellion with lasting fatal consequences. Men have not been re-admitted to the Garden nor have they become upright – all sin and all die for their sin.

Adam and Eve tried to exalt themselves to God’s level by seeking to become masters of their own destiny. Instead, by heeding the temptations of Satan, they fell to his level and became subject to his influences. There could be no excuse, it was a calculated act of disobedience. Though they had been made in the form of servants, they attempted to assume the form of God by taking control of their own lives and destiny and so, as it were, grasped at equality with God. Man duly became independent of God.

The highest achievement man can attain to is to be completely under God, to reflect his image and glory. When man, in pride, seeks to exalt himself instead, paradoxically he falls. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10.18) and, in the same way, Adam and Eve fell like lightning from God’s grace and their high status before him when they sinned.

Before proceeding let us briefly consider in more detail how Satan caused Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible tells us how Eve contemplated the fruit before she partook of it:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Genesis 3.6

The temptation had a threefold character. Firstly, she saw that the tree was “good for food”, that is, that the fruit was obviously tasty and could benefit her physically if she ate of it. Secondly, she saw that it was “a delight to the eyes”, that is, it appealed readily to her sight. Lastly, it “was to be desired to make one wise”. It could increase one’s knowledge and extend it to realms hitherto reserved to the knowledge of God alone. It could improve one’s own self-esteem and personal perspective on one’s existence. The Apostle John summed up this threefold nature of all temptation in saying:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 1 John 2.16

The “lust of the flesh” made Eve see that the tree was good for food, the “lust of the eye” that it was attractive to the sight, and “the pride of life” that it was to be desired to make one wise. One awful, comprehensive temptation fully absorbing all three of these characteristics brought about the downfall of the human race.

The Bible has a much fuller account of the nature of the first sin and the implications behind it than the Qur’an has, yet up to this point the Qur’an hardly takes issue with it. Thus far Christians have common ground with Muslims. Let us press on, however, to see how the Bible alone supplies the answer to this universal dilemma and how Christians can use the sin or Adam and Eve as a bridge to an effective witness Of God saving grace in Jesus Christ. (Gilchrist, The Christian Witness to the Muslim, 2. Effective Methods of Witnessing to Muslims, 6. Comparing Bible and Qur’anic Tenets, The Fall of Adam and the Cross of Christ)

The foregoing citations from Gilchrist sufficiently refute the desperate Muslim attempt of denying that Adam’s sin was willful and defiant.

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