In this penultimate post on the subject of Human Perfection in the Holy Qur’an, I will try to clarify the reality when establishing the consistency of Adam’s committing a ‘sin’ and his infallibility, by discussing the different degrees of spiritual excellence and infallibility of Prophets that exist in Islamic belief. For the sake of this post, I will assume the absolute infallibility of Prophets has been established (and I will do so in future posts when dealing with the need of humanity for Religion, and hence Prophets). Similarly, I need to establish that there exists a tangible prevalence and differing degrees amongst the Prophets without compromising their absolute infallibility. This prevalence is tangible due to the corporeal elevated existence of some Prophets over others, which manifests stronger character and resolution and hence, perfection, but with it also comes higher responsibility and increased levels of devotion to God.
وَمِنَ اللَّيْلِ فَتَهَجَّدْ بِهِ نَافِلَةً لَكَ عَسَى أَنْ يَبْعَثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًا مَحْمُودًا
And some part of the night awake for it. a largess for thee. It may be that thy Lord will raise thee to a praised estate [Al-Isra’:79]
مَا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْقُرْءَانَ لِتَشْقَى
We have not revealed unto thee (Muhammad) this Qur’an that thou shouldst be distressed [Ta’Ha:2]
When someone embarks on a journey of seeking and gaining knowledge, with a set goal to achieve a certain level of specialisation in a subject, such an endeavour requires a substantial amount of effort, focus and determination. Once he reaches a certain level, this needs to maintained by practise and further development, otherwise all his efforts will be lost. An example is someone who is learning the Qur’an by heart, whereby one requires daily recitation of a few chapters to remember what has been memorized and gradually add to that further chapters to complete the memorization of the complete book. The same theory applies to athletes, who need to maintain their level of fitness and stamina with a stringent training regime in order to stay competitive.
In spiritual wayfaring, sincerity in faith and continuous worship and devotion is required for a person to maintain this lofty status. But with new knowledge and new levels of nearness to God, requires a different set of obligations. Therefore, the manifestation and materialization of such a position requires a certain effort and responsibility, and the maintaining and continuation of it requires another kind of responsibility. A Prophet who has reached a certain level of nearness to God, would avoid things that would otherwise be permissible for a regular believer. A recommended act would be an obligatory matter for him, since it will result in further nearness to God (as in the above verse: ‘And some part of the night..’) . An inadvisable act would be considered abominable, since it will result in a distancing from God, which would result in a feeling of falling short of giving Him His due, at which stage they feel the need to ask for forgiveness for this shortfall and negligence.
So, in summary, there exist general divine laws and responsibilities which all Muslims should abide by as a minimum, with some recommended acts and devotions that are advisory in order to reach further closeness to God. And there exist specific divine laws and responsibilities for Prophets and Messengers which over and above the general ones, which they have to follow in order to maintain their status of Prophethood. And within these specific obligations to Prophets, there exist varying degrees depending on the responsibilities assigned to them and their capabilities to handle these additional duties.
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلۡمُزَّمِّلُ (١) قُمِ ٱلَّيۡلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً۬ (٢) نِّصۡفَهُ ۥۤ أَوِ ٱنقُصۡ مِنۡهُ قَلِيلاً (٣) أَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَيۡهِ وَرَتِّلِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ تَرۡتِيلاً
O thou wrapped up in thy raiment! (1) Keep vigil the night long, save a little – (2) A half thereof, or abate a little thereof (3) Or add (a little) thereto – and chant the Qur’an in measure [Al Muzzamil:1-4]
And since infallibility relates to the general duties of humanity, this concept does not contradict their absolute infallibility.
The exceptions comes with the Last Messenger (pbuh) and the Imams (‘as), where it is God’s right over them to demand nothing less than continuous devotion, remembrance and awareness. Yet the responsibilities of managing the affairs of the state and its people during the day demands most of their attention, in order to guide the ummah, will have a direct affect on such a divine demand, and hence they feel sinful and negligent and request His forgiveness.
To summarize, we can conclude that a fair explanation of the ‘sin’ committed by Adam, can be viewed as a specific advisory prohibition, particular to his Prophethood, which required repentance (he was forgiven) and a compensation of increased worship and devotion to God.