Meaning of ‘the Names’

قُلْنَا اهْبِطُواْ مِنْهَا جَمِيعاً فَإِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُم مِّنِّي هُدًى فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَايَ فَلاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

We said: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.[Al Baqarah:38]

Now to enter the real paradise, going back to the land of eternal bliss, man must use his intelligence, and make a choice of the right path shown by Allah through the guidance He has made available to man in this world of opposite forces. This guidance was already shown to Adam, which he disclosed to the Angels who prostrated themselves immediately, but Iblis refused. He is here to lead man astray from the true guidance Allah has made available through His last prophet Muhammad and the divinely commissioned Imams. Those who follow these divinely chosen guides shall walk on the right path, will be safe from fear and grief, and earn the right to enter the heavenly garden. The Holy Qur’an and the Infallible Progeny (Ahlul Bayt) of the Holy Prophet are the two most important trusts of Allah given to the Muslims, about which they will be questioned (see Hadith Al Thaqalayn).

Significance of ‘the Names’

وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الأَسْمَاء كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلاَئِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاء هَـؤُلاء إِن كُنتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

And He taught Adam the names, all of them, then presented them to the angels and He said: “Tell Me the names of those if you are right” [Al Baqarah:31]

Grammatically, the Arabic pronoun, “them”, used in “then presented them”, is made for rational beings, those who have life, sense and understanding. Obviously, the names (or, the named ones) were some living and sensible beings who were hidden behind the curtain of the “unseen”. It follows that the knowledge given to Adam of their names was something totally different from what we understand from the knowledge of names. Merely knowing names, in the sense of words and meanings, has no distinction; otherwise, the Angels too would have become equal to Adam in this respect as soon as they heard them from Adam. Also, there would have been no distinction for Adam in possessing knowledge of words and meanings. He might as well have learnt a dictionary by heart.

However, it is clear that the knowledge of the names which the angels got after hearing them from Adam was not the same as Adam had got by teaching of Allàh – the inferior knowledge of the names they could grasp, but not the superior one which qualified Adam for vicegerency of Allàh.

Adam deserved the vicegerency because he was given the knowledge of the names, and not because he informed the angels of those names. That is why they declared, “Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us”. They accepted that they did not possess that knowledge.

The above discourse leads us to believe that Adam was taught the names of the named ones in such a way that he clearly knew their reality and recognized their substantial existence; it was not merely knowing the semantic value of a noun. The named ones were substantial realities, the actual beings that were, at the same time, hidden behind the curtain of the unseen (secrets) of the heavens and the earth. This special knowledge could be learnt only by an earthly human being, but was quite incomprehensible by a heavenly angel. And this knowledge had an intrinsic bearing upon vicegerency.

“Al-Asma’” (= the names), in the sentences, “And He taught Adam the names”, is a plural with the definite article “al” (= the) prefixed to it. Grammatically, it denotes generality, comprehensiveness; and it is followed by the emphatic, “all of them”. Clearly, Adam was taught all the names of every named thing, without any restriction or limitation. As described earlier, the pronoun them in the clause, “then presented them to the angels”, shows that every name, that is, the named one, was a living being having knowledge and intellect; and at the same time, he was in the curtain of the unseen – the unseen of the heavens and the earth.

“The unseen of the heavens and the earth”: It is a genitive case. Somewhere else this phrase may mean the unseen parts of the heavens and the earth. But in this verse, where Allàh intends to demonstrate His perfect and comprehensive power, and to show the deficiency and incapability of the angels, it must mean a secret which is unseen to all the worlds, to all the heavens and the earth; an unseen beyond the sphere of the universe.

If you look at all the particulars of this verse – that “the names” denotes generality, that the named ones were alive and had knowledge, and that they were unseen to – the heavens and the earth – you will agree that it perfectly fits on the theme of the verse 15:21, And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it and We do not send it down but in a known measure. Whatever is called a thing – whatever is “named” a thing – Allàh has its vast treasures, ever-lasting, never-ending, unmeasured by any measure, unlimited by any limit. Measure and limit come to it when it is created and sent down. The vastness of these treasures is not of the same kind as the multiplicity of number, because a number, no matter how large, is by definition measured, limited and quantified. The said treasure are vast in their ranks and grades.

The named ones who were presented before the angels were sublime beings, who were well-protected by Allàh, hidden in curtains of the unseen. He sent them down to the universe with their blessings and benefactions, and created all that is in the heavens and in the earth from their light and splendour. Although they had numerous identities, they were not different in their number or in their persons; whatever difference there was, it was in their ranks and grades.

Therefore viceregency has been reserved to a certain few who possessed knowledge of the unseen realities. Man is not by default God’s viceregent, yet it is only a being like Man that could reach this rank.


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