A Subtle Point Regarding Adam’s Repentance

One of the valuable books of Badr al-Deen ibn Jamaa’ah (d. 733AH) was Kashf al-Ma’aani fee al-Mutashaabih min al-Mathaani, which focuses on providing explanations for the slight differences in otherwise similar ayaat. He raises and then answers the following question regarding a difference of wordings between the story of Adam as told in surah al-Baqarah and the story as told in surah Taha:

مسألة: قوله تعالى: فَمَنْ تَبِعَ هُدَايَ ، وفى طه: (فَمَنْ اتبِعَ هُدَايَ) ؟ . ـ

Question: In surah al-Baqarah, Allah says:

فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَايَ

So whoever tabi’a (follows) My guidance … [2:38]

but in surah Taha He says:

فَمَنِ اتَّبَعَ هُدَايَ

So whoever ittaba’a (follows) My guidance … [20:123]

Why is that?

جوابه: يحتمل والله أعلم أن: (فَعِلَ) التي جاء على وزنها: (تبع) لا يلزم منه مخالفة الفعل قبله (وافتَعَلَ) التي جاء على وزنها: (اتبع) يشعر بتجديد الفعل. وبيان قصة آدم هنا لفعله، فجئ بـ (تَبِعَ هُدَايَ) وفى طه جاء بعد قوله: (وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا) (وَعَصَى آدَمُ رَبَّهُ فَغَوَى) فناسب من اتبع، أي: جدد قصد الاتباع. ـ

Response: Allah knows best, but one explanation is that the form I verb which is used in

تَبِعَ

tabi’a (follows) [2:38]

does not imply any change in behavior between this “following” and his previous actions, while the form VIII verb which is used in

اتَّبَعَ

ittaba’a (follows) [20:123]

indicates a renewed or restarted or restored action.

So surah al-Baqarah is simply clarifying a lesson from the story of Adam, which is why it comes with the following wording

فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَايَ

So whoever tabi’a (continues to follow) My guidance … [2:38]

But in surah Taha, the phrase

فَمَنِ اتَّبَعَ هُدَايَ

So whoever ittaba’a (returns to following) My guidance … [20:123]

comes after

وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا

… and We found him lacking in resolution [20:115]

and

وَعَصَىٰ آدَمُ رَبَّهُ فَغَوَىٰ

… and Adam disobeyed his Lord and thus went astray [20:121]

so therefore it is very fitting to say

اتَّبَعَ

ittaba’a (returns to following) [20:123]

i.e. that he renewed his resolution to follow Allah’s guidance.

والله أعلم ، ولذلك قال بعد (تَبِعَ) (فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ) وقال بعد (اتَّبَعَ) (فَلَا يَضِلُّ وَلَا يَشْقَىٰ) . ـ

Allah knows best, but this is why after saying

تَبِعَ

tabi’a (continues to follow) [2:38]

Allah then says

فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve [2:38]

while after saying

اتَّبَعَ

ittaba’a (returns to following) [20:123]

He says

فَلَا يَضِلُّ وَلَا يَشْقَىٰ

he will neither go astray nor suffer [20:123]

[Kashf al-Ma’aani pg. 41-42]

Read more excerpts from this same work here

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