The story of the two sons of Adam: Tafsir al-Sa’di

Allah سبحانه وتعالى informs us of one of the stories of earlier times in surah al-Maa’idah when He says:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّ‌بَا قُرْ‌بَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِنْ أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الْآخَرِ‌ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللَّـهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ ﴿٢٧﴾ لَئِن بَسَطتَ إِلَيَّ يَدَكَ لِتَقْتُلَنِي مَا أَنَا بِبَاسِطٍ يَدِيَ إِلَيْكَ لِأَقْتُلَكَ ۖ إِنِّي أَخَافُ اللَّـهَ رَ‌بَّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿٢٨﴾ إِنِّي أُرِ‌يدُ أَن تَبُوءَ بِإِثْمِي وَإِثْمِكَ فَتَكُونَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ النَّارِ‌ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الظَّالِمِينَ ﴿٢٩﴾ فَطَوَّعَتْ لَهُ نَفْسُهُ قَتْلَ أَخِيهِ فَقَتَلَهُ فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِ‌ينَ ﴿٣٠﴾ فَبَعَثَ اللَّـهُ غُرَ‌ابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الْأَرْ‌ضِ لِيُرِ‌يَهُ كَيْفَ يُوَارِ‌ي سَوْءَةَ أَخِيهِ ۚ قَالَ يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ أَعَجَزْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِثْلَ هَـٰذَا الْغُرَ‌ابِ فَأُوَارِ‌يَ سَوْءَةَ أَخِي ۖ فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ النَّادِمِينَ

And recite to them the story of Adam’s two sons, in truth, when they both offered a sacrifice [to Allah], and it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other. Said [the latter], “I will surely kill you.” Said [the former], “Indeed, Allah only accepts from those who have taqwa (27) If you should raise your hand against me to kill me – I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds. (28) Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers.” (29) And his soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers. (30) Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, “O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the body of my brother?” So he became of the regretful. [5:27-31]

Imam al-Sa’di, in his book of tafsir, expounds upon these ayaat by writing:

أي‏:‏ قص على الناس وأخبرهم بالقضية التي جرت على ابني آدم بالحق، تلاوة يعتبر بها المعتبرون، صدقا لا كذبا، وجدا لا لعبا، والظاهر أن ابني آدم هما ابناه لصلبه، كما يدل عليه ظاهر الآية والسياق، وهو قول جمهور المفسرين‏.‏

Meaning: Recite to the people and inform them in truth of the matter which took place between the two sons of Adam. And recitation is considered by those who are thoughtful, the truthful ones and not the liars, the prescient and not the fool-hearty. And it is clear that the two sons of Adam are his sons from his (own) loins, as is clearly shown from the ayah and the context, and this is the opinion of the majority of the mufassireen (exegetes).

أي‏:‏ اتل عليهم نبأهما في حال تقريبهما للقربان، الذي أداهما إلى الحال المذكورة‏.‏

Meaning: Recite to them the story of these two about when they sought nearness [to Allah] through a making a sacrifice, which they both performed in the incident mentioned.

‏{‏إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا‏}‏ أي‏:‏ أخرج كل منهما شيئًا من ماله لقصد التقرب إلى الله، ‏{‏فَتُقُبِّلَ مِنْ أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الْآخَرِ‏}‏ بأن علم ذلك بخبر من السماء، أو بالعادة السابقة في الأمم، أن علامة تقبل الله لقربان، أن تنزل نار من السماء فتحرقه‏.‏

“When they both offered a sacrifice” – meaning: each of them brought out something from their wealth with the goal of seeking nearness to Allah. “And it was accepted from one of them but was not accepted from the other” he knew this by of the news from the sky, or the custom of the previous nations, that Allah’s acceptance of a sacrifice was known because He would send fire from heaven and burn it [i.e. consumer the sacrifice in fire before their very eyes].

‏{‏قَالَ‏}‏ الابن، الذي لم يتقبل منه للآخر حسدا وبغيا ‏{‏لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ‏}‏ فقال له الآخر ـ مترفقا له في ذلك ـ ‏{‏إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللَّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ‏}‏ فأي ذنب لي وجناية توجب لك أن تقتلني‏؟‏ إلا أني اتقيت الله تعالى، الذي تقواه واجبة عليّ وعليك، وعلى كل أحد، وأصح الأقوال في تفسير المتقين هنا، أي‏:‏ المتقين لله في ذلك العمل، بأن يكون عملهم خالصًا لوجه الله، متبعين فيه لسنة رسول الله ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ‏.‏ ثم قال له مخبرًا أنه لا يريد أن يتعرض لقتله، لا ابتداء ولا مدافعة فقال‏:‏

The son from whom it was not accepted “said” to the other in jealousy and ill-will, “I will surely kill you” so the other one responded to him – with gentleness he said this to him – “Indeed, Allah only accepts from those who have taqwa” – so which sin and offense of mine compels you to kill me? [For nothing] Except that I had taqwa of Allah the Exalted, and taqwa of Him is required from me and from you, and for everyone. And the most correct statement in the exegesis of al-muttaqoon is this: those who have taqwa of Allah in that action, because their action was sincerely for the sake of Allah, (and it was) according to the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Then he said, informing him that he did not intend to turn back his death, neither to begin nor to defend (himself) so he said:

‏{‏لَئِن بَسَطْتَ إِلَيَّ يَدَكَ لِتَقْتُلَنِي مَا أَنَا بِبَاسِطٍ يَدِيَ إِلَيْكَ لِأَقْتُلَكَ‏}‏ وليس ذلك جبنا مني ولا عجزا‏.‏ وإنما ذلك لأني ‏{‏أَخَافُ اللَّهَ رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ‏}‏ والخائف لله لا يقدم على الذنوب، خصوصًا الذنوب الكبار‏.‏ وفي هذا تخويف لمن يريد القتل، وأنه ينبغي لك أن تتقي الله وتخافه‏.‏

If you should raise your hand against me to kill me – I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you” and that is not because of any cowardice from me or due to inability, rather that is only because, “Verily, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds” and the one who fears Allah does not commit sins, especially major sins. And in this is a deterrent for whoever wants to murder, that you should have taqwa of Allah and fear Him.

‏{‏إِنِّي أُرِيدُ أَن تَبُوءَ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ ترجع ‏{‏بِإِثْمِي وَإِثْمِكَ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ إنه إذا دار الأمر بين أن أكون قاتلا أو تقتلني فإني أوثر أن تقتلني، فتبوء بالوزرين ‏{‏فَتَكُونَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ النَّارِ وَذَلِكَ جَزَاءُ الظَّالِمِينَ‏}‏ دل هذا على أن القتل من كبائر الذنوب، وأنه موجب لدخول النار‏.‏

Indeed I want you to obtain” – meaning, to take on – “my sin and your sin” – meaning, that when the matter between being a murderer of that you kill me is examined, then I prefer that you kill me, and thereby bear [my sins] with the bearers [of sins] “so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers“. This shows that murder is one of the major sins, and that it requires entrance into the Hell-fire.

فلم يرتدع ذلك الجاني ولم ينزجر، ولم يزل يعزم نفسه ويجزمها، حتى طوعت له قتل أخيه الذي يقتضي الشرع والطبع احترامه‏.‏

But that did not deter the felon nor did he feel a rebuke, and it did not stop his conviction or assertion, until he obeyed it and murdered his brother who had an honorable character.

‏{‏فَقَتَلَهُ فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ‏}‏ دنياهم وآخرتهم، وأصبح قد سن هذه السنة لكل قاتل‏.‏

So he killed him and became among the losers” in both this life and the next. And He became his example has become the sunnah for every murder.

‏”‏ومن سن سنة سيئة، فعليه وزرها ووزر من عمل بها إلى يوم القيامة‏”‏‏.‏ ولهذا ورد في الحديث الصحيح أنه ‏”‏ما من نفس تقتل إلا كان على ابن آدم الأول شطر من دمها، لأنه أول من سن القتل‏”‏‏.‏

Whoever introduces an evil practice that is followed after him, then upon him is its burden and the burden of whoever does it until the Day of Resurrection“. And on this topic is the authentic hadeeth that, “No human being is killed unjustly, but a part of responsibility for the crime is laid on the first son of Adam, because it was he who invented the tradition of murder.

فلما قتل أخاه لم يدر كيف يصنع به؛ لأنه أول ميت مات من بني آدم ‏{‏فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الْأَرْضِ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ يثيرها ليدفن غرابا آخر ميتا‏.‏ ‏{‏لِيُرِيَهُ‏}‏ بذلك ‏{‏كَيْفَ يُوَارِي سَوْأَةَ أَخِيهِ‏}‏ أي‏:‏ بدنه، لأن بدن الميت يكون عورة ‏{‏فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ النَّادِمِينَ‏}‏ وهكذا عاقبة المعاصي الندامة والخسارة‏.‏

So when he killed his brother, he did not know what to do with him [i.e. his corpse], because he was the first to die from the Children of Adam. “Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground” – meaning, he sent it to bury another dead. “In order to to show him” that, “how to hide the disgrace of his brother” – meaning, of his body, because the dead body was naked. “So he became of the regretful” and this is the ultimate end of the disobedient one, regret and loss.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 251-252]

Imam ibn Kathir, in his monumental work of history, gave some details of this incident, including the names of the brothers and the nature of the sacrifices, and Allah knows best, when he wrote:

فلما ذهب قربا قربانهما، فقرب هابيل جذعة سمينة، وكان صاحب غنم، وقرب قابيل حزمة من زرع من رديء زرعه، فنزلت نار، فأكلت قربان هابيل، وتركت قربان قابيل، فغضب

So when they presented their two sacrifices, Haabeel (Abel) offered a fatty flank [of meat], and he was an owner of goats. And Qaabeel (Cain) offered a bundle of produce from his poor produce. So fire descended [from heaven], and it consumed the sacrifice of Haabeel, and it left the sacrifice of Qaabeel, so he was angry.

[al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah 1/104]

See also: The story of the town by the sea: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The Orator of the Anbiya: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: The story of Nuh and his son

See also: The story of Ilyaas: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: Two disbelieving women and two believing women: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: Notes on Perfecting One’s Deeds and their Acceptance: ibn Rajab

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6 thoughts on “The story of the two sons of Adam: Tafsir al-Sa’di

  1. Pingback: The Story of the Town by the Sea: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: The Orator of the Anbiya: Imam al-Sa’di’s tafsir of 7:85-93 | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: The story of Nuh and his son | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: The story of Ilyaas: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

  5. Pingback: The supplications of four prophets for or against their people: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

  6. Pingback: Notes on Perfecting One’s Deeds and their Acceptance: ibn Rajab | Tulayhah

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