What is the Forbidden Tree?
Question: At many places, the Qur'ān mentions the forbidden tree with regard to Adam and Eve. I have heard many views about it. Some say that it is the olive tree and some say that it is the tree of good and evil. Please explain.
Answer: Commentators have interpreted the forbidden tree variously. After enumerating their opinions, Ibn Jarīr is of the views that one should not go after determining which tree is implied here since one does not have any basis for it either in the Qur'ān or in any Hadīth.1
Javed Ahmad Ghāmidī is of the opinion that the forbidden tree is symbolically and subtly used for the female reproductive organ. His opinion is based on the following arguments.
First, the word has been used at other places in the Qur'ān to connote the tree of eternity and an abiding kingdom:
فَوَسْوَسَ إِلَيْهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ يَاآدَمُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَى شَجَرَةِ الْخُلْدِ وَمُلْكٍ لَا يَبْلَى (120:20)
But Satan whispered evil to him; he said: 'O Adam! Shall I lead you to the tree of eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?' (20:120)
Another verse says that eating the fruit of this tree would give them eternal life and in this way they would become similar to angels:
وَقَالَ مَا نَهَاكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَذِهِ الشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّا أَنْ تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنْ الْخَالِدِينَ(20:7)
He said: "Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest you should become angels or such beings as live forever." (7:20)
It may be kept in consideration that the expression تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ is actually تَكُونَا كَمَلَكَيْنِ (you two will become like angels) and implies no different to what the subsequent words viz أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنْ الْخَالِدِينَ imply. In other words, what is implied is that it is the female reproductive organ which through procreation will give Adam eternal life in this world.
Second, the verses of Sūrah A'rāf and Sūrah Tāhāwhich mention this incident portray what happened immediately after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of this tree in the following words:
فَلَمَّا ذَاقَا الشَّجَرَةَ بَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِنْ وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ(21:7)
When they tasted of the tree, their sexual organs became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. (7:21)
فَأَكَلَا مِنْهَا فَبَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِنْ وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ (121:20)
Sothey both ate of the tree and their sexual organs became manifest to them: they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the garden. (20:121)
The relationship of "sexual organs becoming manifest to Adam and Eve" with "tasting the fruit of the tree" subtly alludes to the fact that it was after becoming sexually involved with one another that Adam and Eve became aware of their sexual instincts and started to cover their sexual organs with leaves.
The Bible portrays this part of the incident of creation in the following words:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis, 3:6-7)
Consequently, in the opinion of Ghāmidī the whole purpose of keeping Adam and Eve in a garden and putting them through a trial of sexual abstinence was to explain to Adam and, through him, to his progeny that man's greatest trial on this earth would be through sex. While referring to this trial, the Qur'ān says:
يَابَنِي آدَمَ لَا يَفْتِنَنَّكُمْ الشَّيْطَانُ كَمَا أَخْرَجَ أَبَوَيْكُمْ مِنْ الْجَنَّةِ يَنزِعُ عَنْهُمَا لِبَاسَهُمَا لِيُرِيَهُمَا سَوْآتِهِمَا (7:27)
O you Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden, stripping them off their robes to expose their sexual organs. (7:27)
Challenge of the Qur'ān
Question:The Qur'ān at various places has thrown a challenge to its disbelievers to produce a discourse like it. My question is that how will a person judge the Arabic of the responses to this challenge to be substandard because there can be answers to this challenge which are in eloquent Arabic?
Answer:The following two aspects of the challenge thrown by the Qur'ān need to be kept in consideration:
First, its basic stress is that if the Idolaters think that the Qur'ān is the product of Muhammad's fancy, then they should realize that what they are implying is that Muhammad (sws) who they know as an unlettered person has produced such a magnificent literary masterpiece. Is that possible? Can a person who is not even conversant with Arabic author such a matchless piece of literature? If they think that it is, then they have people among them who, unlike Muhammad (sws), are well read and well versed in Arabic language and its literature: can they produce such a masterpiece?
Second, the challenge thrown here does not mean that its rejecters have been asked to imitate one sūrah or some parts of the Qur'ān. The words "produce one sūrah like it" actually imply that they should try to produce some discourse which is similar in its grandeur and magnificence as the Qur'ān. In other words, what it says is that the rejecters should come up with something as unique as the Qur'ān: it should of course not be a copy of the Qur'ān, rather something which has its own distinctive features that can place it in parallel with the Qur'ān. People of later periods who undertook this challenge failed to realize what it meant and all their efforts hinged upon imitating the style and diction of the Qur'ān.
Divorce in the Qur'ān and the Bible
Question: You have stated many times in your articles that the sharī'ah given to the Abrahamic religions varied while issues of beliefs and morality always remained the same. Can you please point out how the sharī'ah of divorce is different in the Old Testament from that of the Qur'ān?
Answer:The divorce verses of the OT (Old Testament) read as follows:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives to her and sends her from his house, and after she leaves his house, she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then the first husband who divorced her is not allowed to marry her again after she had been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy, 24:1-4)
Some of the contrasting points regarding divorce between the OT and the Qur'ān are:
i. According to the OT, a husband can seemingly divorce his wife only on the grounds of indecency. The Qur'ān, on the contrary does not impose such a condition.
ii. The divorce sentence according to OT must be in written form (certificate of divorce), while the Qur'ān does not impose this condition. Divorce sentences pronounced orally are also acceptable.
iii. Contrary to the Qur'ān, the OT does not allow re-marriage between a former husband and wife, if after divorce, the wife is married to some other person and this second husband dies or divorces her.
iv. The OT also does not allow a husband to exercise his right of a revocable divorce twice in the course of a marriage, as the Qur'ān does. He can only exercise it once.
Will Paradise have Underground Rivers?
Question: It is stated at many places in the Qur'ān that rivers will flow below Paradise. What exactly is the use of such rivers? How can they be counted as favour of God?
Answer:In order to understand the Qur'ānic description of Paradise, it may be noted that the Arabs of the times of the Prophet (sws) had a special taste regarding gardens. To them, the most scenic of gardens and orchards were those which were situated at some height above the ground level on some mountain or hill such that rivers and streams would flow around and beneath them at a lower altitude. The height not only adds to the beauty of the orchard, but also secures it from floods and similar calamities. Thus the words جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ do not mean that the gardens of Paradise would have underground rivers. The word تَحْتِهَا (below it) here signifies a relative lower altitude of the rivers and not their being underground. The following verse portrays such a garden:
وَمَثَلُ الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ أَمْوَالَهُمْ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاةِ اللَّهِ وَتَثْبِيتًا مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ كَمَثَلِ جَنَّةٍ بِرَبْوَةٍ أَصَابَهَا وَابِلٌ فَآتَتْ أُكُلَهَا ضِعْفَيْنِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يُصِبْهَا وَابِلٌ فَطَلٌّ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ(265:2)
And the likeness of those who spend their wealth, seeking to please Allah and to strengthen their souls is as a garden high and fertile: heavy rain falls on it but makes it yield a double increase of harvest, and if it receives not heavy rain, light moisture suffices it. Allah sees well whatever you do. (2:265)
At another place, the Qur'ān has mentioned the various types of الْأَنْهَارُ (rivers) that will flow in Paradise:
مَثَلُ الْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي وُعِدَ الْمُتَّقُونَ فِيهَا أَنْهَارٌ مِنْ مَاءٍ غَيْرِ آسِنٍ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِنْ لَبَنٍ لَمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِنْ خَمْرٍ لَذَّةٍ لِلشَّارِبِينَ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِنْ عَسَلٍ مُصَفًّى (15:47)
[Here is] a description of the Paradise which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. (47:15)