Muslims in general reject the Christian concept of the fallen nature of humanity which resulted from Adam's rebellious attitude against God. Adam indeed disobeyed God, yet - according to Islam - every person is responsible for his own actions. If a person is righteous and practices what is good, he will be rewarded greatly, but if he deviates from the straight path and commits evil, he will surely suffer in an eternal hell. As the offspring of Adam we could not inherit Adam's sin and be accountable for it in God's eyes. Muslims ask, for example, If a man's arm is amputated, does that mean that his son will be born with one arm? And, by the same analogy, How can Adam's descendants inherit Adam's sin? Moreover, does the justice of God decree that children should bear the iniquities of their forefathers? These questions have often been raised to negate any possible need for a divine incarnation and/or redemptive act such as Christians see in the cross of Christ. Christians agree that if anyone is righteous and practices only good, he will be rewarded with heaven, but they also maintain that none except Christ meets that criterion. All others have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God because they inherited a sinful nature from Adam. For them divine intervention was an inevitable necessity for the redemption of fallen and sinful human beings. If we are really interested in probing the depth of this spiritual understanding of the fallen nature of mankind, we must examine objectively the story of that fall both in Islam and in Christianity.
Because of space limitations I will not attempt to quote all the verses cited in the Qur'an and the Bible which deal with this issue but rather select the most significant references which will highlight points under discussion and provide us with a deeper insight into the subject.
It is stated in the Qur'an, Sura (Chapter) 2:36, concerning Adam's disobedience:
Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden) and get out of the state of (felicity) in which they had been. We said: "Get ye down all (ye people) with enmity among yourselves; on earth will be your dwelling place, and your means of livlihood for a time."
In the commentary of the Jalalayn on this verse we read:
We said: "Get ye down" to the earth; that is, you and your offspring still contained within you. "among yourselves" means some of your offspring will harbor enmity for some others because of your oppression towards each other.
This means that God cast Adam and Eve and all those who were yet to be born to them in future generations out of paradise as a penalty for the disobedience of their parents and thus all mankind, represented in Adam and Eve, were punished.
If we scrutinize the details of the story of the fall closely, we will realize that the consequences were more serious than the mere action of punishment. As a result of this rebellion against God, a drastic change occurred in human nature. The Qur'an indicates that "all of you will become hostile to each other." This means that sin has entered the world and has created a new state of life. Human nature became enslaved to the power of sin and even the entire universe was subjected to a significant modification, for when Adam was settled in paradise God designated him to be the master of the earth, reigning over all its creatures. But as soon as he committed his sin and rebelled against God, that paradisical world in which Adam and Eve dwelt changed completely and became a world of evil, oppression, iniquity and polytheism. Even Adam's repentance did not help him much. Yes, God did accept his repentance and forgave him (according to the Qur'an - see verse 37) but neither Adam nor his descendants were able to return to paradise nor even to find it again. Since then suffering, misery, and hostility have dominated man's life.
`Abdullah Yusuf `Ali, a translator of the Qur'an into English, comments on this verse:
Evidently Adam is the type of all mankind and the sexes go together in all spiritual matters.
This is a sound statement. Adam was, at the time, the representative of mankind when he committed his sin. Thus, when he fell, his offspring fell with him.
There are a few other verses in the Qur'an which denote the responsibility of Adam as the representative of the human race. For example, in Sura 7:172-173 we read:
When God drew forth from children of Adam - from his loins - their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves (saying): "Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?" They said: "Yea! We do testify! (This), lest you should say on the day of judgment: 'Of this we were never mindful.' Or lest you should say: 'Our fathers before us may have taken false gods, but we are (their) descendants after them; wilt thou then destroy us because of the deeds of men who were futile?'"
In the commentary of the Jalalayn we read the following interpretation:
He (God) drew forth each one of them from the loins of the other back to Adam, generation after generation in the form they will take when they are born. They were so numerous like the ants in Nu'man (a mountain) in the day of `Arafa. He erected in front of them the evidences of His deity and installed in them brains and made them testify concerning themselves.
Muhammad Farid Wagdi in his commentary on these verses, says:
Remember that your God drew forth from the loins of the children of Adam their offspring in the same form they will take (when they are born) century after century and erected in front of them the evidences of His deity and installed in their brains the capacity to make them recognize these evidences. Thus they were elevated to the level of those who were told: "Am I not your Lord? They said, Yes." Thus their full knowledge of it and their being deeply rooted in it made them, so to speak, witnesses, lest they say in the Day of Judgment: "Of this (that is, their knowledge of God) we were never mindful." Or they say: "Our fathers have taken false gods, thus we followed them. Wilt thou destroy us because of the coeds of the futile people?"
`Abdullah Yusuf `Ali goes one step farther in his understanding of the above verse. He says:
The words of the text refer to the descendants of Adam; i.e., to all humanity, born or unborn, without any limit of time. Adam's seed carries on the existence of Adam and succeeds to his spiritual heritage. Humanity as such has a corporate aspect.
This is a clear confirmation of the deputyship of Adam for all mankind. According to the aforementioned comments, God performed a miracle in which He drew forth the posterity of Adam who were yet to be born up to the Day of Judgment to make each one of them testify concerning themselves and bound each individual by a covenant. Then He replaced them in Adam's loins.
This interpretation is not foreign to Islamic theology. In fact Ibn `Abbas transmits to us Muhammad's interpretation of the text of these two verses:
God took the pledge from the loins of Adam in Nu'man; i.e., `Arafa. He drew forth all his posterity which He created and dispersed them in His presence like ants. He talked to them and said: "Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, we testify!" Lest they say in the Day of Judgment, "Of this (i.e., the knowledge of God) we were never mindful."
Ibn `Abbas also said:
In the beginning when God cast Adam to earth He sent him to a desert in the land of India. Then he rubbed his loins and drew forth every soul he decided to create until the Day of Judgment. That took place in Nu'man which is behind mount `Arafa. God then talked to them end enabled them to speak. He took from them the pledge that they will worship him and never associate anything with Him. (He did that) after He installed in them brains and granted for them their sustenance and determined the length of their life-span, their afflictions, and so forth. Then He replaced them in Adam's loins. Thus the Day of Judgment will never come until everyone who gave his pledge is born. (See also Al-Khazin II, 191.).
Abu Hurayra also quoted Muhammad's saying:
Thus Adam disobeyed and his descendants disobeyed likewise. Adam forgot and ate from the tree; likewise his offspring also forgot. Adam sinned and his posterity sinned too! (Quoted by Tarmadhi and others.)
It is obvious from these verses, interpretations and traditions that Adam is recognized by Muslims as the representative of his offspring and that the Qur'an alludes to this. Thus Adam, by his disobedience and sin, made all his descendants sin too. Undoubtedly corruption permeated the essence of Adam's nature and caused a drastic change in its components, in some respects similar to the way a genetic change may produce a new breed or significantly alter an old breed. This change in human nature was transmitted to Adam's seed who inherited his fallen nature and his propensities.
In Sahih al-Bukhari (Vol. 3:1213, No. 3156)* there is further evidence of the veracity of this interpretation. We read:
We were told on the authority of Qays Ibn Hafasa ... on the authority of Muhammad that God says to the one who suffers least among the people of hell: "If you possess all the wealth of the world with which to redeem (yourself, would you do that?)" He said, "Yes." Then God said, "I had asked something which is much easier than this while you were still in the loins of Adam: Not to associate other gods with Me. Yet you have refused and worship false gods."
Therefore, we must ask, What happened to this posterity which pledged to worship God and not to associate others with Him so that it failed to fulfill its promise and broke its pledge? The only conclusion which explains this tragic failure is that it inherited the fallen nature of Adam, the father of mankind, who, in his capacity as the representative of man, has failed to live up to God's expectations. How else can the Muslim explain the observable fact that all human beings continue to repeat Adam's sin of rebellion against the known will of God?
There is another tradition ascribed to Muhammad based on the authority of `Abdullah which says:
Whenever a soul is killed unjustly the first son of Adam (Cain) would bear part of its blood (responsibility) because he was the first who decreed assassination. (Al-Bukhari 3:3157. See also nos. 6473 & 6890.)
Thus if Cain, according to Muhammad, was morally responsible for every soul unjustly killed, why should not Adam be responsible for bequeathing the fallen nature of man to his seed, to those who carried his own characteristics and genes? Was it not Adam the first man who first disobeyed God? Yes, and so corruption has permeated the nature of man through his first parent.
The Qur'an declares in Sura 5:32:
On that account we ordained for the children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
To kill or seek to kill an individual because he represents an ideal is to kill all who uphold the ideal. On the other hand, to save an individual life in the same circumstances is to save a whole community.
In light of the above quotations we can see that no instruction or teaching or guidance will ever enable us to restore the pristine essence of sinless human nature as it was manifested in Paradise. The essential change which is required is a change in the very nature of mankind. All the prophets have failed to generate any change in human nature or in man's character. Yes they called people to worship God only and to live according to the Ten Commandments, but that call could not change people. They knew the shortcomings of man and that he is bound by chains of sin. They realized also that all their teaching had failed to produce salvation because no one was able to meet God's standards nor His righteous demands. In this respect the Bible and the Qur'an agree.
The Bible asserts the existence of original sin which we have all inherited from Adam. We read in Romans 5:12:
Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Thus the progeny of Adam carried forward all the characteristics of his fallen nature and became subject to the sentence of death. In other words, Adam sinned; therefore all his descendants sinned with him, too. Sin has distorted God's image in man. The Bible asserts that God created man in his own image; i.e., He bestowed on him reason, will, ability of free choice, freedom of conscience, and creativity. But man abused the freedom with which God blessed him and chose to rebel against God in the person of Adam. Soon this rebellious nature dominated the will of mankind and corrupted it. Therefore the fall of Adam was not a temporary defect but rather a determinative event which had a tragic impact on the universe. Its effect has afflicted not only individuals but the entire human race across the ages. Since this nature became subject to the condemnation of God, man was destined to suffer in an eternal hell forever because God's holiness does not tolerate sin. "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) This is God's law and justice. Yet, God is LOVE. He created man in His own image which He would never dishonor for His own sake. Thus He planned a way of salvation for mankind. His plan is the only straight path which delivers man from his dilemma. God's holiness demanded justice while His love pleaded for mercy and forgiveness. In order to meet the requirements of His holiness, justice, and love, the living Word of God, Christ, with all His perfection, righteousness and goodness became incarnate because of His great love for all people and suffered in Himself the consequences of their sin. Man has failed to save himself from the bondage of his fallen nature; therefore the righteous One, the Christ, who is free from all iniquity, determined to pay the price for our redemption. So He, the Living Word of God, became flesh and was crucified; that is, God's judgment fell upon Jesus who by His own choice and because of His love granted to us the gift of freedom and forgiveness of sin. The Bible says:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:19)
In other words, Christ's voluntary incarnation and His death on the cross opened wide the door of freedom for us because we became righteous in God's eyes through Jesus Christ has paid the price on our behalf by His atoning death. Our only obligation is to accept Him by faith. His sacrificial act of love enables Him to restore our pristine nature which was distorted by sin. II Corinthians 5:17 says:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
The "new things" include our fallen human nature which is formed anew. It is now liberated, by the riving power manifested in Christ's death end resurrection, from its old dispositions. Christ has restored to it its beauty, purity and the greatness which it lost as the result of the fall. This restoration was not possible without God's intervention. That is why the verse above says: "New things have come."
The act of creation cannot be performed apart from Christ. Christ Himself realized the impossibility of man's deliverance from his inevitable destiny without divine intervention. This is why He said:
Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Christ did not reguest that sinners should free themselves first, then come unto Him. He knew perfectly well that man is not able to justify himself before God. This is an impossible task. So he summoned them unto Him, as they were, burdened with sins, in order to recreate them anew. Then, and only then, they will be justified because the righteous Christ atoned for them by His death, for:
He who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthians 5:25)
Or, as the apostle Peter says:
He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (I Peter 2:24)
John, the apostle, reiterates the same idea as he states:
And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (I John 3:5)
The phrase "take away sins" was not possible without an atoning act which meets all the requirements of God's justice and holiness. The Bible summaries this basic fact when it states:
... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
The true greatness of this redemptive act is that Jesus was not compelled to carry out this responsibility, but He voluntarily gave Himself, of His own free will, to save us from the condemnation of eternal hell. In Hebrews 9:14 we read:
Of how much more value is the blood of Christ Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God.
Even Christ Himself said publicly:
For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10:17-18)
In short, the fallen nature of man which he inherited from Adam is a fact recognized by both Islam and Christianity. But this nature could not be changed by guidance, instruction or teaching because such a change requires an internal transformation which touches the depths of the human soul. Doctrines have failed to produce such change because they lack spiritual power. Man's endeavors can never acquire God's favor or reach the level required by His justice. Who among us, for instance, can comply completely with the Ten Commandments? What prophet is there who did not commit sin and did not need to ask for forgiveness? The founder of Islam himself attested, as recorded in more than one sound tradition, that he asked for forgiveness seventy times a day. If the prophets from Adam to the latest prophets of the Old Testament have failed to meet God's requirements without offering a sin sacrifice, how could any ordinary man elevate himself to a level which pleases God???
For this reason the sinless, perfect and righteous One became incarnate to liberate us from the bonds of iniquity and has elevated us to a higher level and made us acceptable to God. The divine love was embodied in Christ on the cross. The Bible epitomizes the majesty and greatness of God's love in John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.
By the merits of the Living Word of God we are liberated from our fallen nature which we inherited from our forefather, Adam, and therefore we are justified in the presence of God as we become new creatures in Christ.
(*) In the text, Dr. Bagha's Numbering system is used for Sahih Buhkari. The next two quoted hadith are Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Nos. 551 & 552 according to the numbering system used by M. Muhsin Khan in his English translation.