In our last lesson we mentioned that the ḥadīth literature – whether Sunni or Shi’ī – suggests that it was a woman who made the first mistake and committed the first sin. Based on this, we see that a lot of condemnation has been geared towards women and they have been presented in a negative light within literature. Subsequently, we find numerous rulings being deduced due to this understanding.
The original narration that discusses this has been reported from Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, which then got into Shi’ī works like Biḥār al-Anwār and al-Mustadrak. No one should tell us that this narration is weak due to its chain, because our approach to ḥadīth sciences is not the same as Sayyid Khoei, or those who take the sanad-only approach. We do not completely discard a narration by merely its chain being weak, or accept a tradition simply because its chain is strong.
Not to mention the fact that, you will be able to find narrations with reliable chains that convey the same meaning, and thirdly we are talking about a general outlook towards women present in our ḥadīth literature and these narrations number in hundreds.
In today’s lesson I want to see what the Qur’ān has to say about women – does it have a positive outlook or a negative outlook towards them? Before we do that, let us make it clear that the ḥadīth tradition is very clear that Ḥawwa was the first person who made an error, and who led Ādam to his mistake as well – otherwise Ādam himself was not the first person to commit a sin and fault.
The Qur’ān speaks about Ādam and his wife in a number of places, and does not mention the name of his wife. The Qur’ān says [20:117] O Adam, indeed this is an enemy to you and to your wife, however is this incident a description of a real event or is it an allegory? If it is a real story, then what realm did this story take place in – was it in this world or some realm before this world? If it was in a world before the one we are in, then was there such a thing as legal responsibility or not? If it was this world, then why would they get kicked out – they were already here? There are tens and hundreds of questions one can ask about this incident. When Allah (swt) asked the angels to prostrate to Ādam, was this a real incident, where Ādam was standing in some room and the angels came there to prostrate to him? If angels are immaterial, then how does an immaterial being prostrate towards a material being? Was it a prostration that is legally required from someone like in Ṣalāt – do angels have a legal responsibility or not? The command of Allah – prostrate to Ādam – was it a legal commandment or an ontological one? If it was a legal commandment then the angels do not have any legal commandments, and if it was an ontological command, then Iblīs could not have rebelled because it is kun fayakūn.
These are only questions if we predicate this event on it being an actual event. If we predicate it on a symbolic and allegorical description by which the Qur’ān described ontological realities it will result in other questions.
If we look at al-Mīzān of ‘Allamah Ṭabaṭabā’ī, he writes:
و بالجملة يشبه أن تكون هذه القصة التي قصها الله تعالى من إسكان آدم و زوجته الجنة، ثم إهباطهما لأكل الشجرة كالمثل يمثل به ما كان الإنسان فيه قبل نزوله إلى الدنيا من السعادة و الكرامة بسكونه حظيرة القدس، و منزل الرفعة و القرب، و دار نعمة و سرور، و أنس و نور، و رفقاء طاهرين، و أخلاء روحانيين، و جوار رب العالمين. ثم إنه يختار مكانه كل تعب و عناء و مكروه
In volume 8, page 23, under the chapter of al-A’rāf, he writes
و القصة و إن سيقت مساق القصص الاجتماعية المألوفة بيننا و تضمنت أمرا و امتثالا و تمردا و احتجاجا و طردا و رجما و غير ذلك من الأمور التشريعية و المولوية غير أن البيان السابق على استفادته من الآيات يهدينا إلى كونها تمثيلا للتكوين
When you want to teach a young child about ethics and morality, do you teach them through the work Jāmi’ al-Sa’ādāt or through stories? Through stories and example, because that is what they understand. God is Wise, and speaks on a level our intellects can understand and thus He has spoken to us through this manner as well where He saw fit.
Ayatullah Jawādi says this in even more explicit terms in his Tasnīm, volume 3, page 286-288, under verse 34 of al-Baqarah:
حقيقي بودن امر به فرشتگان به هر دو قِسم آن محذور دارد و چون محذور… بايد از واقعي و حقيقي بودن امر به سجده، صرف نظر و آن را بر تمثيل حمل كرد
The command to the angels cannot be real because in both cases (legal or ontological command) we encounter a problem, … therefore we must overlook its real meaning and predicate the command to prostrate on a symbolic meaning.
Now we would need to ask whether all those narrations that speak about the story of Ḥawwa and Iblīs, are descriptions of real events or are they describing something symbolic. First, we need to prove that this incident is real in the Qur’ān and not symbolic, before we can go and even use those narrations. If it is proven that the incident is symbolic, then many of the narrations on this topic are not in line with the Qur’ān. This is our first critique. You can read more about this notion of real and allegorical cases in the Qur’ān in my own worked titled al-Ramziyyah wa al-Mathal fi al-Naṣṣ al-Qur’āni.
Let us now presume that the Qur’ān is describing it as a real incident. We need to see what are the roots of this story? If you refer to the 3rd volume of the 4-volume work titled al-Filsūf al-Masīḥī wa al-Mar’ah by Imām ‘Abd al-Fataḥ Imām – a teacher and the head of the Philosophy department in University of Kuwait you will find that he relates on page 15, from one of the Christian saints (St. Bonaventure – d. 1274) who says: When you see a woman, do not assume that she is a human creation, in fact not even a barbaric creation, in fact what you see is the Devil himself. So when she speaks, then what you hear is the hissing of a serpent.
These are the same concepts which crept into our books, a woman being a scorpion or a serpent. Her apparent nature is that of a human, but from the inside she is poisonous and dangerous.
On page 54 of the same work, there is a section that talks about woman being the first one to make a mistake. He says that this was a well developed view within Christianity. On page 15 he writes that Christianity took these views regarding women from Judaism, views suggesting that her intellect is deficient, source of all corruption in society, from the time of her creation. Now you will ask Sayyid are you doubting our narrations that say the same thing? Yes, of course I am doubting them. It does not matter if they are Mutawātir or Mustafīḍ, I will throw them against the wall until you bring me explicit evidence from the Qur’ān.
Now finally, I want to begin look at what the Qur’ān says about this incident.
وَقُلْنَا يَا آدَمُ اسْكُنْ أَنتَ وَزَوْجُكَ الْجَنَّةَ وَكُلَا مِنْهَا رَغَدًا حَيْثُ شِئْتُمَا وَلَا تَقْرَبَا هَٰذِهِ الشَّجَرَةَ فَتَكُونَا مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
فَأَزَلَّهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ عَنْهَا فَأَخْرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ ۖ وَقُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَاعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ
[2:35] And We said, “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.”
[2:36] But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, “Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.”
In Arabic, you constantly see the dual pronoun being used in these verses. Satan caused both of them to split, he caused both of them to leave from the condition they were in. Where does it say Satan first deceived Ḥawwa and then Ādam? The explicit verse of the Qur’ān is saying Satan deceived both of them, and the narrations are saying he deceived Ḥawwa first – if you are an Akhbāri and believe the narrations have priority over the Qur’ān, it doesn’t matter if you are an Akhbāri like the Ḥanbalī school or like the school of Majlisī, only then will you suggest an alternative narrative. Otherwise the Qur’ān is very clear.
Let us go to chapter of A’rāf:
وَيَا آدَمُ اسْكُنْ أَنتَ وَزَوْجُكَ الْجَنَّةَ فَكُلَا مِنْ حَيْثُ شِئْتُمَا وَلَا تَقْرَبَا هَٰذِهِ الشَّجَرَةَ فَتَكُونَا مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
فَوَسْوَسَ لَهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ لِيُبْدِيَ لَهُمَا مَا وُورِيَ عَنْهُمَا مِن سَوْآتِهِمَا وَقَالَ مَا نَهَاكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَٰذِهِ الشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّا أَن تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنَ الْخَالِدِينَ
وَقَاسَمَهُمَا إِنِّي لَكُمَا لَمِنَ النَّاصِحِينَ
فَدَلَّاهُمَا بِغُرُورٍ ۚ فَلَمَّا ذَاقَا الشَّجَرَةَ بَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ ۖ وَنَادَاهُمَا رَبُّهُمَا أَلَمْ أَنْهَكُمَا عَن تِلْكُمَا الشَّجَرَةِ وَأَقُل لَّكُمَا إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لَكُمَا عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ
[7:19] And “O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat from wherever you will but do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.”
[7:20] But Satan whispered to them to make apparent to them that which was concealed from them of their private parts. He said, “Your Lord did not forbid you this tree except that you become angels or become of the immortal.”
[7:21] And he swore [by Allah] to them, “Indeed, I am to you from among the sincere advisors.”
[7:22] So he made them fall, through deception. And when they tasted of the tree, their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten together over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called to them, “Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you a clear enemy?”
Can it get any clearer than this? The pronouns being used in Arabic are dual – Satan whispered to both of them, not just to Ḥawwa. Then he told both of them that he is from their sincere advisors, while the narration says Satan told Ḥawwa only that he is from her sincere advisors. Then he made both of them fall through his deception, not just Ḥawwa. Did their Lord call on to her only – as the narration says – or to both of them? Stop claiming Tawātur for the narrations against the explicit verses of the Qur’ān. God knows if they are even Ḥujjah (binding) or not. Even the opponents of Islam have Tawātur for their views, the Jews and the Christians have Tawātur for their views. The Sunnis have Tawātur for the justice of the companions of the Prophet (p), they have Tawātur for the first three caliphs being superior to ‘Ali (a). Who says all Tawātur is binding?
In chapter of Ṭāhā we read:
وَلَقَدْ عَهِدْنَا إِلَىٰ آدَمَ مِن قَبْلُ فَنَسِيَ وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا
فَقُلْنَا يَا آدَمُ إِنَّ هَٰذَا عَدُوٌّ لَّكَ وَلِزَوْجِكَ فَلَا يُخْرِجَنَّكُمَا مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ فَتَشْقَىٰ
فَوَسْوَسَ إِلَيْهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ يَا آدَمُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَىٰ شَجَرَةِ الْخُلْدِ وَمُلْكٍ لَّا يَبْلَىٰ
فَأَكَلَا مِنْهَا فَبَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ ۚ وَعَصَىٰ آدَمُ رَبَّهُ فَغَوَىٰ
ثُمَّ اجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ وَهَدَىٰ
قَالَ اهْبِطَا مِنْهَا جَمِيعًا ۖ بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ ۖ فَإِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُم مِّنِّي هُدًى فَمَنِ اتَّبَعَ هُدَايَ فَلَا يَضِلُّ وَلَا يَشْقَىٰ
[20:115] And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination.
[20:117] So We said, “O Adam, indeed this is an enemy to you and to your wife. Then let him not remove you from Paradise so you would suffer.
[20:120] Then Satan whispered to him; he said, “O Adam, shall I direct you to the tree of eternity and possession that will not deteriorate?”
[20:121] And Adam and his wife ate of it, and their private parts became apparent to them, and they began to fasten over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And Adam disobeyed his Lord and erred.
[20:122] Then his Lord chose him and turned to him in forgiveness and guided [him].
[20:123] [Allah] said, “Descend from Paradise – all, [your descendants] being enemies to one another. And if there should come to you guidance from Me – then whoever follows My guidance will neither go astray [in the world] nor suffer [in the Hereafter].
This verse suggests that it was Ādam (a) who forget, and his wife is not even in the picture. This is all presuming that this was an actual incident and not a symbolic story. I don’t understand how some of the exegetes justify this act of Ādam as tark al-awla (abandoning what was better). First, they say this happened in a realm that had no legal responsibility, then they come and justify it as tark al-awla. These two are not reconcilable.
In verse 117, God addresses Ādam first and says Satan is an enemy for you, and then his wife. In verse 120, we see a completely different description as we find in the narrations, where Satan whispers to Ādam, not Ḥawwa. Those narrations that say to compare the narrations with the Qur’ān and find evidence for their reliability through the Qur’ān, tell me if these verses help us affirm those narrations or not? It is also from these verses some went so far as to say the Qur’ān is not Divine, because there are contradictions. One time it says Satan whispered to both of them, and another time it says he only whispered to Ādam. I say these verses actually prove the Divinity of the Qur’ān because it completely changed the narrative as it was present in the Jewish and Christian theology.
In conclusion, the Qur’ān seems to suggest that Ādam was the first person to make the mistake, whereas the narrations say it was Ḥawwa.
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