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Was Adam taught Every Name?

Question: What is the connotation of الْأَسْمَاءَ (names) in the following verse of Sūrah Baqarah: وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ (2: 31 )?

Answer: Various interpretations have been offered by the commentators for theword الْأَسْمَاءَ (names). According to al-Tabarī[1], Ibn 'Abbās is of the view that الْأَسْمَاءَ connotes the "names of everything"; al-Rabī' maintains that it is used for the "names of the angels" and Ibn Zayd opines that it refers to the "names of Adam's progeny".

Farāhī and Islāhī[2] hold the last of these opinions to be the most appropriate. The arguments proffered by them in support of their view can be summed up in the following words:

Firstly, the pronouns used for the word الْأَسْمَاءَ are the ones that refer to living and cognizant objects and not to inanimate ones; the pronouns and the expressions in which they are found are as follows:

ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ…أَنْبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَؤُلَاء … ياَدَمُ أَنْبِئْهُمْ بِأَسْمائِهِمْ…فَلَمَّا أَنْبَاهُمْ بِأَسْمائِهِمْ

Second, as per the context, the purpose of this whole exercise was to answer the objection very respectfully raised by the angels that the progeny of Adam would create havoc and disorder on the earth. This could only have been done by introducing them to people of lofty character from among Adam's descendents about whom mankind would feel proud of. Instead of misusing the authority granted to them by the Almighty and creating disorder and anarchy on earth, they would exercise this authority within the specified limits and set examples of high conduct.

Thus the الpre-fixed to the word أَسْمَاءَ is for definition (لِلْعَهْد) and connotes specific names and not "all names" – the names of specific individuals from among the progeny of Adam. These individuals were introduced to the angels to allay their fears. As far as the question of the occurrence of this incident is concerned, the Qur'ān itself says that such a huge assembly took place before the birth of Adam on this earth when the Almighty asked all the souls of mankind to acknowledge Him as their Lord:

وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَى شَهِدْنَا أَنْ تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَذَا غَافِلِينَ(172:7)

When your Lord drew forth from, the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify upon themselves, [saying]: "Am I not your Lord [who cherishes and sustains you]?" – they said: "Yes! we do testify!" Lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never aware." (7:172)

Sabrin the Qur'ān

Question: What is the meaning of sabr in Arabic? Can it be translated as "patience" or is this not appropriate?

Answer: In the Arabic language, the word sabris used to firmly set one's self on one's view while protecting one's self from worry, frustration and anxiety.It does not have any element of feebleness and frailty in it.

While referring to this meaning, Farāhīwrites:

الصبر عند العرب ليس من التذلل في شى كمايصبر المضطهد العاجز بل هو أصل القوة والعزم و كثر في كلام العرب استعماله بهذا المعنى

To the Arabs, صَبْر never referred to what is frail and feeble – something accustomed to the weak and meek. On the contrary, it is the basis of power and determination. It is abundantly used in this meaning in classical Arabic.[3]

Farāhī goes on to corroborate his claim by quoting from the Qur'ān and from various classical poets:

وَلَمَن صَبَرَ وَغَفَرَ إِنَّذَلِكَ لَمِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ(43:42)

And indeed if anyone shows patience and forgives, that would truly be an exercise of courageous. (42:43)

قال حاتم الطائي

وغمرة موت ليس فيها هوادة

يكون صدور المشرفي جسورها

صبرنا له في نهكها و مصابها

بأسيافنا حتى يبوخ سعيرها

(Many are the seas of death on which are bridges of swords. We showed perseverance with our swords against all their torments and tortures until they cooled down.)

وقال الأصبغ

يا بن الجحاجحة المداره

والصابرين على مكاره

(O progeny of noble chiefs and of people who persevere in facing hardships.)

وقال زهير ابي سلمي

قود الجياد وأصهار الملوك وصبر

في مواطن لو كانوا بها سئموا

(Riding well bread horses, being sons in law of kingsand[showing] perseverance in trenches where others lose inner strength.)

All these usages of the word sabr show that it is referred to as a commendable trait and not something which reflects weakness and frailty. Thus a more accurate translation of it would be "perseverance" rather than patience.




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