What is the Forbidden Tree?
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

At many places, the Qur’ān mentions the forbidden tree with regard to Adam and Eve. I have heard many views about it. Some say that it is the olive tree and some say that it is the tree of good and evil. Please explain.


Commentators have interpreted the forbidden tree variously. After enumerating their opinions, Ibn Jarīr is of the views that one should not go after determining which tree is implied here since one does not have any basis for it either in the Qur’ān or in any Hadīth.1

Javed Ahmad Ghāmidī is of the opinion that the forbidden tree is symbolically and subtly used for the female reproductive organ. His opinion is based on the following arguments.

First, the word has been used at other places in the Qur’ān to connote the tree of eternity and an abiding kingdom:

فَوَسْوَسَ إِلَيْهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ يَاآدَمُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَى شَجَرَةِ الْخُلْدِ وَمُلْكٍ لَا يَبْلَى

But Satan whispered evil to him; he said: ‘O Adam! Shall I lead you to the tree of eternity and to a kingdom that never decays?’ (20:120)

Another verse says that eating the fruit of this tree would give them eternal life and in this way they would become similar to angels:

وَقَالَ مَا نَهَاكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَذِهِ الشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّا أَنْ تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنْ الْخَالِدِينَ

He said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest you should become angels or such beings as live forever.” (7:20)

It may be kept in consideration that the expression تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ is actually تَكُونَا كَمَلَكَيْنِ (you two will become like angels) and implies no different to what the subsequent words viz أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنْ الْخَالِدِينَ imply. In other words, what is implied is that it is the female reproductive organ which through procreation will give Adam eternal life in this world.

Second, the verses of Sūrah A‘rāf and Sūrah Tāhā which mention this incident portray what happened immediately after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of this tree in the following words:

فَلَمَّا ذَاقَا الشَّجَرَةَ بَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِنْ وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ

When they tasted of the tree, their sexual organs became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. (7:21)

فَأَكَلَا مِنْهَا فَبَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِنْ وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ

So they both ate of the tree and their sexual organs became manifest to them: they began to sew together, for their covering, leaves from the garden. (20:121)

The relationship of “sexual organs becoming manifest to Adam and Eve” with “tasting the fruit of the tree” subtly alludes to the fact that it was after becoming sexually involved with one another that Adam and Eve became aware of their sexual instincts and started to cover their sexual organs with leaves.

The Bible portrays this part of the incident of creation in the following words:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis, 3:6-7)

Consequently, in the opinion of Ghāmidī the whole purpose of keeping Adam and Eve in a garden and putting them through a trial of sexual abstinence was to explain to Adam and, through him, to his progeny that man’s greatest trial on this earth would be through sex. While referring to this trial, the Qur’ān says:

يَابَنِي آدَمَ لَا يَفْتِنَنَّكُمْ الشَّيْطَانُ كَمَا أَخْرَجَ أَبَوَيْكُمْ مِنْ الْجَنَّةِ يَنزِعُ عَنْهُمَا لِبَاسَهُمَا لِيُرِيَهُمَا سَوْآتِهِمَا

O you Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden, stripping them off their robes to expose their sexual organs. (7:27)


1. Ibn Jarīr al-Tabarī, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Dār ihyā’ al-turāth al- ‘arabī, 2001), 267.

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