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“(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels...” (Al-Baqarah 2:30)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Baqarah (The Cow)

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وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ

(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels, I am setting on the earth a vicegerent, the angels asked, Will you set therein one who will cause disorder and corruption on it and shed blood? (Al-Baqarah 2:30)

Certainly, the angels must have known this truth about humankind through their unique knowledge. This fact also shows that the angels have knowledge of “The Tablet of Confirmation and Effacement”[3] to some degree. Here it needs to be kept in mind that the Divine Knowledge encompasses the past and future, embryo and adult, and ion and nucleus all at the same time. Therefore, it is a limitation to claim that God took the Covenant from the children of Adam (humankind) that He is their Lord[3] in the world of spirits or in the mother’s womb. It is more accurate to affirm that God receives it in eternity or eternally, because the realm that we inhabit changes continuously whereas the Divine “realm” is free of change. The well-known hadīth, “Renew your faith by declaring lā ilāha illa’llāh (There is no deity but God)!”[3] can be fully comprehended only from this perspective.

Now coming back to our topic, angels became aware of the fact that humankind is prone to causing disorder, corruption, and bloodshed through the Tablet of Confirmation and Effacement and asked God the question in the verse above to understand the Divine Wisdom in setting humankind on the earth as vicegerents, perhaps in the way that we, in the face of disgusting (sinful) scenes we witness on streets and social and moral corruption, wonder: “What is the wisdom in God’s creating and allowing such things?” In all likelihood, the angels were not yet aware that Prophets, saints, and verifying, purified scholars—the suns and moons in the heaven of humanity—would appear among humankind. It must be for this reason that God Almighty responded to the angels, saying: “I know what you do not know” (Al-Baqarah 2:30).

Accordingly, God Almighty endowed humankind with the position of vicegerency. Vicegerency could be interpreted as the authority accorded to human beings to interfere with and control things and events to some extent. Or it may mean that human beings would enjoy some sort of sovereignty in both their own realm and on the whole of the earth as a gift from His Will and Power. This kind of privilege means acting freely in the universe on behalf of God on condition that they obey God in their acts and commands and attribute every favor and accomplishment to Him. That is, human beings should take action in the name of God and perform everything in the name of God. They will act as His brush in gilding or decorating the book of existence, His gardener in the garden of earth, and His apprentice in their work and deeds in the world. Furthermore, they will consider any sense of attribution to themselves for any of their accomplishments as overstepping their limits.

In fact, the verse uses the phrase innī jā‘ilun (I am doing, I am setting) instead of innī khāliqun (I am creating). In “setting” humanity as vicegerent on the earth, God relates this act to His Attributes, not to His Divine Essence. Therefore, this implies that human beings will behave on the earth not in their own name but in the name or on behalf of God Almighty, as His representative. Perhaps one of the reasons why the angels asked God the question under discussion was that they worried that human beings would act in their own name and attribute to themselves any action or thing or accomplishment with which they would be favored. What led them to feel such worries might be that the dough of humankind consisted of the seeds of evil along with those of good, and that besides the mechanism of conscience weaved of the heart, will-power, power of perception, and consciousness, humankind would have a carnal soul which would embody such feelings as hatred, lust, anger, and greed. God’s response, “I know what you do not know,” could indicate that the matter has very profound dimensions, and the questioning of the angels is therefore justifiable.

[1] The Tablet of Confirmation and Effacement or the metaphorical page of time along which God manifests or hangs whatever He wills and decrees of the beings and/or things and events recorded on the Supreme Ever-Preserved Tablet, where the Divine principles that determine the archetypal “plan and program” of the creation and the future lives of all beings including all their deeds are kept recorded. (Tr.)
[2] See Sūratu’l-A‘rāf 7:172.
[3] Al-‘Ajlūnī, Kashfu’l-Khafā, 1/332; Musnad Ahmad, 2/359.