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

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


Various interpretations have been offered by exegetes for the word الْأَسْمَاءَ (names). According to al-Tabari,1 ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (rta) is of the view that الْأَسْمَاءَ connotes the “names of everything;” al-Rabi‘ 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.”

Farahi and Islahi2 hold that it refers to illustrious individuals among Adam’s progeny. 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 in the set of verses in which the given verse occurs are as follows:


ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَی الْمَلَائِكَةِ أَنْبِئُونِي 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 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. 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’an 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 مِن بَنِي آدَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتَ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُواْ بَلَى شَهِدْنَا أَن تَقُولُواْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَذَا غَافِلِينَ. (٧:١٧٢)

 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. Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan, 1st ed., vol. 1, (Beirut: Dar al-ihya al-turath al-‘arabi, 2001), 246-248.

2. See: Hamid al-Din al-Farahi, Tafsir Surah Baqarah, 1st ed. (Azam Garh: Dai’rah Hamidiyyah, 2000), 207; Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, vol. 1, 160-161.



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