It is commonly held that Hazrat Adam(as), who lived about 6,000 years ago, was the first man on Earth. However, this view is not supported by the Holy Quran, as a close study of the relevant verses reveals.
SEPTEMBER 29, 2023
In today’s age, Islam is subjected to heavy criticisms, and its teachings and commandments are often misunderstood. As it seems that most of these criticisms arise from the misinterpretation of the Quranic text, an accurate and true explanation of the scripture is called for. Therefore, this series aims to present the authentic interpretation of the Holy Quran as provided by the leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which we believe will do a great deal in dispelling the numerous misconceptions that have become associated with Islam.
In this issue, we present the commentary of the Quranic verse 2:31 from Tafsir-e-Kabir (The Grand Exegesis) by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra. This abridged translation is not an official rendering but is being published for the benefit of our readers in view of the aforementioned objective. Light of Islam takes full responsibility for any errors in the translation or summary.
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And when thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I am about to place a vicegerent in the earth,’ they said: ‘Wilt Thou place therein such as will cause disorder in it, and shed blood? — and we glorify Thee with Thy praise and extol Thy holiness.’ He answered: ‘I know what you know not.’
Holy Quran 2:31
Khalifa: Khalifa is derived from ‘khalafa’, which means, he came after, or stood in place of. The word Khalifa is used in three senses (1) one who comes after and stands in the place of someone. (2) An Imam, or supreme religious head. (3) A sovereign or king or ruler.
Let it be clearly stated, at the very onset, that Prophet Adamas was not the progenitor of the human race but was the first link in the human dispensation, through whom the phenomenon of Divine revelation commenced among mankind.
The popular view regarding the origin of mankind, which is also falsely attributed to Islam, is that God spontaneously created a man named Adam, then created his wife from his rib, and after that, the human lineage continued through them. This notion is totally without substance and finds no support whatsoever in the Holy Quran.
Upon carefully inspecting the Quranic verses that detail the account of Prophet Adamas, it becomes apparent that Hazrat Adamas was not the first human created by God on earth; rather, many people existed during his time.
The verse refers to the appointment of a Vicegerent
Evidently, the verse under comment makes no mention of the creation of man. It merely states that God announced He was about to appoint a Vicegerent in the earth, which clearly indicates that such individuals were already present at the time who belonged to the same species as Adamas. Hence, the subject matter being discussed here is not the creation of human beings but the choosing of a vicegerent from among them.
Similarly, it is obvious that appointing a vicegerent does not imply that mankind did not exist prior to that. The Quran describes Hazrat Dawudas as a Vicegerent of God. However, Hazrat Dawudas was, in no respect, the first man on Earth. The Holy Quran says:
“O David, We have made thee a vicegerent in the earth; so judge between men with justice, and follow not vain desire, lest it should lead thee astray from the way of Allah.”
This verse makes it clear that appointing a vicegerent alludes to the establishment of justice among people and the subordination of human intellect to Divine revelation. As such, the word ‘Khalifa’ or vicegerent used for Hazrat Adamas holds reference to this very fact and no other. It does not imply that Prophet Adamas was created at that point. Instead, the verse points to the announcement of God to make Hazrat Adamas the focal point of Divine revelation once he attained the state of spiritual maturity.
This interpretation is further corroborated by the next verse wherein it is said that Allah taught Hazrat Adamas names, i.e. bestowed revelation upon him. The signification of names will only be discussed in the relevant verses. At this point, it is important to note that after God expressed His will to appoint a vicegerent, the verse does not speak of the creation of Adamas, as should have been the case if no men existed during that period. Conversely, the verse goes on to state that God’s words descended upon Adamas, clearly implying that he was not created at that instance but was already present to receive revelation.
Physical and mental evolution of man
Another verse makes reference to the account of Hazrat Adamas as follows:
“And We did create you and then We endowed you with perfect faculties; then said We to the angels, ‘submit to Adam.’’’
The word ‘sawwara’ here has been translated as the endowing of man with perfect faculties, which is consistent with the rules of the Arabic language.
It is quite evident from this verse that the appointment of Hazrat Adamas as God’s vicegerent – as has been expressed in the command to angels to submit to him – is not immediately preceded by the creation of man. Instead, the verse states that God created man, then gave shape to his faculties, and then appointed Hazrat Adamas as His vicegerent. Hence, after man was created, an intermediate phase occurred before the creation of Adamas that saw the perfecting of man’s spiritual capabilities, gradually passing through several stages of evolution.
Likewise, it should also be noted here that the verse uses the plural form of ‘you’ as it speaks of the creation of man and the development of his attributes. This not only implies that human beings existed before Adamas but also establishes that they possessed excellent spiritual faculties. Since Hazrat Adamas was the perfect individual of that generation, he was selected as the vicegerent and angels were commanded to submit to him.
Adam was born from a father and mother
Yet another verse that substantiates the fact that Prophet Adamas was not the first man is as follows:
“Who has made perfect everything He has created. And He began the creation of man from clay. Then He made his progeny from an extract of an insignificant fluid (i.e. sperm). Then He endowed him with perfect faculties and breathed into him of His spirit. And He has given you ears, and eyes, and hearts. But little thanks do you give!”
The verse provides the following sequence in which the creation of man occurred.
Initially, man was created from clay, after which his lineage continued and survived through sperm. Then, at one point, his faculties were perfected, following which he became the recipient of Divine revelations.
This sequence of events clearly shows that the creation of man comprised two stages. The first stage saw man’s creation through a gradual process that began from clay. In the second stage, his lineage survived through sperm. After this, his spiritual faculties were perfected and Divine revelation was bestowed to him. This clearly indicates that God’s words descended upon such an individual who was created from sperm and not upon the first man who was created from clay.
In light of this, it is evident that Adamas, as a recipient of Divine revelation, belonged to the category of individuals who were created from sperm. Naturally, when someone is created from sperm, it implies that he is born from a father and mother. As such, a person with a father and a mother cannot be regarded as the first man.
The only valid conclusion that can be drawn from the above analysis is that the reference to the creation of the first man in the verse does not pertain to Adamas but to one of his ancestral predecessors. Similarly, the person to whom the angels were directed to submit was not the first man but the perfect individual, who became the first to receive Divine revelation after mankind had refined its intellectual capabilities.
Many humans existed during the time of Hazrat Adamas
In one of the verses following the verse under discussion, Allah says to Adamas and his companions – or Adamas and his wife – to dwell in the Garden. The word ‘zauj’ here can be interpreted as either ‘companions’ or ‘wife’, both of which are permissible according to Arabic lexicons.
If the term is translated as ‘companions’, it would mean that many individuals of the same species as Adamas existed at that time. Alternatively, should the word be construed to mean ‘wife’, it would still signify that both man and woman had been created by that time, as no mention in this verse alludes to the creation of a wife for Adamas. Instead, it only refers to God’s directive to Adamas and his wife to dwell in the Garden, clearly implying that woman was already present prior to this occurrence.
The view that there were many people at the time of this occurrence is further validated by the next verse, which says:
“And We said, Go forth; some of you are enemies of others.”
Here, the command to leave the place is addressed to a group of people, as is evident from the use of the plural pronoun ‘you’, which, according to the Arabic grammar, denotes a number exceeding two. This definitively asserts the presence of many individuals at that time other than Adamas and his wife. If one were to contend that the plural form is used to include Satan in the command, it would still not invalidate the above conclusion, as in that case, Satan would be understood as belonging to the same species as Adam, as the verse explicitly states that all those expelled from the Garden will coexist on the earth and will interact with one another. Thus, even incorporating Satan into the command would only prove the presence of other people during that time.
From all that has been detailed above, it is clear that Prophet Adamas was not the first human on the earth, as is popularly believed. Instead, he was the first prophet appointed by God to guide mankind towards His path.
 It is imperative to note here that the world has passed through different cycles of creation and civilisation. The reference to Hazrat Adamas in this verse only pertains to the first link in the present cycle of human civilisation. Before him, many Adams had passed who belonged to earlier civilisations. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra elaborates on this fact later in the commentary of the same verse. (See Tafsir-e-Kabir v. 1, p. 436-438)
 Holy Quran 38:27
 Holy Quran 7:12 (Translation sourced from the commentary)
 Holy Quran 32:8-10 (Translation sourced from the commentary)
 Holy Quran 2:36
 Holy Quran 2:37