The concept of creation :By Dr Riffat Hassan

Courtesy to “Dawn”

IN the Quran, creation is not seen merely as an event which occurred “at the beginning” but as an ongoing process to which reference is made a number of times (for instance, in Surah 2:28, 27:64, 29:19-20 and 35:1).

Recognising the central importance of the theme of divine creation in the Quran, Toshihiko Izutsu observes in his book God and Man in the Quran: “In fact, the Quran may be regarded in a certain sense as a grand hymn in honour of Divine Creation. At any rate, the whole Quran is literally impregnated with the thought of Creation and a feeling of profound admiration for it.”

It is one of the most dominant ideas in the Quran that Allah’s creations are ‘signs’ (ayat) for those who seek to understand reality and be faithful to God who alone created (khalaqa, baraa), originated (anshaa, badaa), brought forth (fatara), brought about (jaala), or produced first (abada), everything in the heavens and on or within the earth (fis samawat wal ard). The Quran also affirms repeatedly that God created everything with authenticity, purpose and durability (bil haq) and not the opposite (batilan), or in sport, and that Allah “made beautiful everything that He created”.

Whilst stating that God “creates what you know not” and “adds to Creation what He pleases”, the Quran refers to the creation by God of a number of particular creations belonging to various spheres, including the celestial, natural, animal and human. Reference is made, for instance, to the creation of the sun and moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees, fruits, grains and herbs, animals, the angels (malaikah), the jinn and human beings.

Lest human beings regard their own creation as Allah’s highest achievement, verse 40: 57 points out: “Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth: yet most men do not understand (what this implies)”. At the same time there is no doubt that the creation of humanity — to which reference is made over 35 times in various surahs — is of particular importance as may be seen, for instance, from 17:70: “Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favoured them far above most of Our creation”; and also 95:4: “Verily, We create man (al insan) in the best conformation (fi ahsan-i-taqwim)”.

That human beings have been created by God in a very ‘personal’ way is also indicated by verses such as 15:28-29, 32:9 and 38:1-72, in which it is stated that after fashioning bashar or al insan (both generic terms for humanity), God breathed ‘My spirit’ into the creation; and 38:75 in which God asks Iblis why he did not bow in submission to humanity, “which I have created with My Hands”.

God’s proclamation to the angels prior to the creation of Adam: “I am going to place on Earth ‘a khalifah’” (2:30), further testifies to the importance of human creation. The term khalifatun from the root ‘kh-l-f’ which means ‘to be behind, to come after, to succeed’, has been variously translated as ‘vice-gerent’ , ‘viceroy’, ‘ruler’, ‘substitute’, ‘deputy’, ‘successor’, ‘one in my stead’, and ‘one who shall inherit the earth’.

Regarding the origin of the word ‘Adam’, E.W. Lane states in his Arabic–English Lexicon: “There are various opinions respecting its derivation; but (these it is unnecessary to mention) the truth is that it is a foreign word, (i.e. Hebrew)”. In Hebrew, the term ‘adam’which is the masculine counterpart of the feminine term ‘adamah’ (literally, the soil) is a collective noun which literally means ‘of the soil’, and refers to humanity in general.

In the Quran, the word ‘adam’ occurs 25 times. It is used as a proper noun in 3:33, 5:27 and 19:58. In all the remaining Quranic references to adam, the word is used as a collective noun and refers to more than one or two human beings. It is important to note that though the word mostly does not refer to a particular human being, it does refer to human beings in a particular way.

As pointed out by Iqbal: “Indeed, in the verses which deal with the origin of man as a living being, the Quran uses the word ‘bashar’ or ‘insan’, not ‘adam’, which it reserves for man in his capacity of God’s vice-gerent on earth. The purpose of the Quran is further secured by the omission of proper names mentioned in the biblical narration — Adam and Eve. The word ‘adam’ is retained and used more as a concept than as the name of a concrete human individual. This use of the word is not without authority in the Quran itself.”

The writer is professor emerita at the University of Louisville, US, and a scholar of Islam and Iqbal.