Otherworldly Origins: Adam and Jesus in the Quran
In the Holy Quran, Allah, the Exalted, says:
“The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be.” And he was.” (3:59)
This is one of the most explicit verses in the Quran on the topic of Adam’s (as) miraculous, non-biological origins.
Increasingly, modern Muslim commentators, like Usama Hasan, argue that Muslims ought to, not only accept evolutionary theory, but also realize that evolution — as an account of the origins of life and humankind — is itself endorsed by revelation. To this end, they cite verses such as:
“Allah has created every creature from water. And of them are those that move on their bellies, and of them are those that walk on two legs, and of them are those that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” (24:45)
“And Allah has caused you to grow from the earth a [progressive] growth.” (71:17)
At the same time, other verses, on a plain reading, substantiate a non-evolutionist, non-gradualist view:
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever over you an Observer.” (4:1)
Some Muslims, in arguing for the evolutionist reading, take this last verse as figurative. Others may take the verse as clear, literal, qat`i (definitive), but resort to an “enouslment” view to reconcile the verses on Adam with evolutionary theory.
In contrast, verse 3:59, cited at the top, gives inarguable, definitive evidence of the Quran’s and, more broadly, Islamic theology’s incompatibility with evolutionary thought.
As I have argued before, the singular, decisive proposition that draws the proverbial line in the sand logically and unequivocally distinguishing traditional Islamic theological conceptions of Adam from modern evolution is whether or not the first human being had biological origins. Traditional Islamic thought says the first human being, Adam, was a special, miraculous creation of God, having no parents. Modern science says that it is impossible — theoretically, empirically, historically, etc., — that the first human being was not born of (non-human) parents.
One of the many significances of verse 3:59 is that it explicitly connects the creation of Jesus (as) to the creation of Adam (as). The well-known Islamic theological position on Jesus is that he was of miraculous origin, born to the Virgin Mary sans father (biological or otherwise). Allah makes this very clear in the Quran, and there is widespread agreement from Muslim scholars on the subject of Jesus’ virgin birth. By mentioning Adam (as) with Jesus (as), this verse likens the miraculousness of Adam’s origin with the miraculousness of Jesus’ origin.
To better understand this connection, it is helpful to reference the classical Muslim exegesis of verse 3:59. How did Muslim scholars of the past understand the question of whether or not Adam had biological ancestors? Below are a list of translated references from premodern tafsirs of verse 3:59. To read more on the question of how traditional Muslim theological conceptions of Adam relate to or can be reconciled with modern evolutionary thought, see here.
Allah then explained the creation of Jesus without a father because the delegation of Najran asked the Prophet to provide proof from the Qur’an for his saying that Jesus was not the son of Allah, so Allah said: (Lo! the likeness of Jesus) the likeness of the creation of Jesus (with Allah) without a father (is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust) without a father or mother, (then He said unto him) to Jesus: (Be! and he is) a son without a father.
Truly, the likeness of Jesus, his remarkable case, in God’s sight, is as Adam’s likeness, as the case of Adam, whom God created without father or mother: this is a comparison of one remarkable thing with another more remarkable, so that it convinces the disputer and establishes itself in one’s mind more effectively. He created him, Adam, that is, his form, of dust, then said He to him, ‘Be,’, a human being, and he was; similarly, He said to Jesus, ‘Be’ — without a father — and he was.
Allah said, (Verily, the likeness of `Isa before Allah) regarding Allah’s ability, since He created him without a father, (is the likeness of Adam), for Allah created Adam without a father or a mother. Rather, (He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: “Be! and he was.) Therefore, He Who created Adam without a father or a mother is able to create `Isa, as well, without a father. If the claim is made that `Isa is Allah’s son because he was created without a father, then the same claim befits Adam even more. However, since such a claim regarding Adam is obviously false, then making the same claim about `Isa is even more false. Furthermore, by mentioning these facts, Allah emphasizes His ability, by creating Adam without a male or female, Hawa’ from a male without a female, and `Isa from a mother without a father, compared to His creating the rest of creation from male and female.
(Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam…) [3:59]. The commentators of the Qur’an said: “The delegation of Najran said to the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace: ‘Why do you insult Jesus?’ He said: ‘What did I say about him?’ They said: ‘You say that he is a servant’. He said: ‘Indeed, he is the servant and messenger of Allah, as well as His word which He cast into the Virgin Mary’. They became angry and said: ‘Have you ever seen a human being who was born without a father? If you are truthful, show us such a person’. And so Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse”. Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Harithi informed us> ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Ja’far> Sahl Abu Yahya al-Razi> Sahl ibn ‘Uthman> Yahya> Waki’> Mubarak> al-Hasan who said: “Two monks from Najran came to see the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and he invited them to surrender to Allah. One of them said: ‘We have surrendered to Allah before you’. He said: ‘You lie! Three things prevent you from surrendering to Allah: your worship of the cross, eating pork and your claim that Allah has a son’. They said: ‘Then who is the father of Jesus?’ The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, was not in the habit of giving hasty answers but waited for Allah’s answer instead. Then Allah, exalted is He, revealed this verse (Lo! the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam…)”.
He chose both of them to be purified of the spirit (rūḥ) from passing from one body to another (tanāsukh) in the loins. He singled out Adam in creating him by His own hand, and Jesus (ʿa) in selecting the blowing of the spirit into him as a form of honor. Even though these two were weighty beings, the imperfection of events and creatureliness were nonetheless unavoidable for them:… then He said to him, ‘Be’, and he was [3:59].
Truly, the likeness of Jesus, in other words, his attribute in God’s sight, his being created by [divine] power without a father, is as Adam’s likeness, in having been created without parents. Know that the marvels of [divine] power are endless and there can be no analogy in this respect to the effect that there is an analogue from the world of wisdom for the creation of a human being without parents, since there are many deficient animal beings of unusual nature that are generated from the point of creation in a short period of time then reproduce and propagate [further]. Likewise, a human being can come into being by being generated in one of several cycles, then through propagation. Similarly is engenderment without a father, for the seminal fluid of a man is much hotter than that of a woman and contains a more powerful capacity for coagulation, just as in the case of rennets with regard to [the curdling of] cheese, whereas in the woman the more powerful capacity is that of being coagulated, as is the case with milk. When the two come together coagulation takes place, the fluids coagulate and the embryo is engendered. It is possible to have a strong female constitution that corresponds to a male constitution as can be seen in the case of many women, to the extent that what is generated in her right kidney [read: ovary?] is equivalent to male seminal fluid on account of its extreme heat sitting as it does next to the liver in the case of the woman the constitution of whose liver is sound and sufficiently hot, and that what is generated in her left kidney is equivalent to female seminal fluid. So when she experiences seminal emissions as a result of a male form overwhelming her imagination during sleep and consciousness because of her spirit’s being joined to the holy spirit and to another angel and [by] the imagination’s reproductive imitation (muḥākāt) of that [male form], as God, exalted be He says: and he became imaginalised to her as a man without fault [Q. 19:17], the two seminal fluids from both sides proceed to the womb. In the setting place on the right side is formed the stronger capacity for causing coagulation and in the setting place on the left side is formed the capacity for becoming coagulated whereupon the embryo is engendered and the spirit is attached to it. As for His saying: ‘Be’, and he was, this is an allusion to the infusion of the spirit, which derives from the world of the command and as such is not preceded by any substrata or [time] duration, as in the case of the creation of human bodies. Adam thus corresponds to Jesus as mentioned in that both share in the breaking of the [creational] habit and in that both of their bodies were created from the dust of the elements, both preceded by substrata and a duration, and that their spirit is originated [without precedent] from the world of the command which [spirit] is not preceded by substrata or duration.
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