Was Adam taught Every Name?
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

What is the connotation of الْأَسْمَاءَ (names) in the following verse of Sūrah Baqarah:  وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ (2: 31 ) ?


Various interpretations have been offered by the commentators for the word الْأَسْمَاءَ (names). According to al-Tabarī1, Ibn ‘Abbās is of the view that الْأَسْمَاءَ connotes the “names of everything”; al-Rabī‘ maintains that it is used for the “names of the angels” and Ibn Zayd opines that it refers to the “names of Adam’s progeny”.

Farāhī and Islāhī2 hold the last of these opinions to be the most appropriate. The arguments proffered by them in support of their view can be summed up in the following words:

Firstly, the pronouns used for the word الْأَسْمَاءَ are the ones that refer to living and cognizant objects and not to inanimate ones; the pronouns and the expressions in which they are found are as follows:


ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِأَنْبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَؤُلَاء  … ياَدَمُ أَنْبِئْهُمْ بِأَسْمائِهِمْفَلَمَّا أَنْبَاهُمْ بِأَسْمائِهِمْ

Second, as per the context, the purpose of this whole exercise was to answer the objection very respectfully raised by the angels that the progeny of Adam would create havoc and disorder on the earth. This could only have been done by introducing them to people of lofty character from among Adam’s descendents about whom mankind would feel proud of. Instead of misusing the authority granted to them by the Almighty and creating disorder and anarchy on earth, they would exercise this authority within the specified limits and set examples of high conduct.

Thus the ال pre-fixed to the word أَسْمَاءَ is for definition (لِلْعَهْد) and connotes specific names and not “all names” – the names of specific individuals from among the progeny of Adam. These individuals were introduced to the angels to allay their fears. As far as the question of the occurrence of this incident is concerned, the Qur’ān itself says that such a huge assembly took place before the birth of Adam on this earth when the Almighty asked all the souls of mankind to acknowledge Him as their Lord:


وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَى شَهِدْنَا أَنْ تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَذَا غَافِلِينَ(١٧٢:٧)

When your Lord drew forth from, the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify upon themselves, [saying]: “Am I not your Lord [who cherishes and sustains you]?” – they said: “Yes! we do testify!” Lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never aware.” (7:172)



1. Abū Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Jarīr al-Tabarī, Jāmi‘ al-Bayān, 1st ed., vol. 1, (Beirut: Dār al-ihyā al-turāth al-‘arabī, 2001), 246-248.

2. See: Hamīd al-Dīn al-Farāhī, Tafsīr Sūrah Baqarah, 1st ed. (Azam Garh: Dāi’rah Hamīdiyyah, 2000), 207; Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 160-161


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