Forbidden Tree

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The Forbidden Tree or al-Shajara al-Mamnū'a (Arabic: الشَجَرة المَمنوعة) refers to a tree the fruits of which were forbidden by God for Adam and Eve when they resided in the heaven. However, they were deceived by the temptations of Iblis (Satan) and ate the fruits of the Forbidden Tree. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve lost their clothes and were ousted from the heaven. The story of the Forbidden Fruit appears three times in the Qur'an. The story also appears in the Torah though with differences. There are different views about the nature of the Forbidden Fruit. Some people take it to be the tree of jealousy and others take it to be the tree of knowledge.

The Story

When Adam and Eve resided in the heaven, God gave them the permission to eat the fruits of every tree in the garden. He only forbade them from approaching a certain tree and being deceived by the devil. God warned Adam and Eve that if they eat the fruit of the tree, then they will be wrong-doers. Adam and Eve were tempted by Iblis (Satan) and ate the fruit of the Forbidden Tree. Iblis deceived them by saying that if they eat the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, then they will turn into angels or will have an eternal life. When they ate the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, the shameful parts of their bodies became apparent, and they were ousted from the heaven.

Nature of the Tree

The story of the Forbidden Tree appears in the Qur'an, Sura al-Baqara (verses 35-38), Sura al-A'raf (verses 19-23), and Sura Taha (verses 120-122), but the type of the tree is not specified in these verses. However, there are two sorts of views about the Forbidden Tree in Islamic hadiths and exegetical sources:

Literal Interpretations

Some exegetes of the Qur'an take the "tree" in these verses at face value. They have thus developed different views about the kind of the tree, such as wheat, grape, fig, palm, bergamot orange, camphor, and jujube.

Esoteric Interpretations

  • The Tree of Jealousy: some hadiths take the Forbidden Tree to be the tree of jealousy. According to these hadiths, when the angels prostrated for Adam, he told himself: "has God created a creature superior to me?" Thus, God introduced him to the position of some of his own progeny, that is, Prophet Muhammad (a), Ali (a), Fatima al-Zahra (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), and Imam al-Husayn (a), who were superior to him. God warned Adam about being jealous of their positions, but with Iblis's temptations, the state of jealousy appeared in him. The word, "Shajara" (tree), has been used metaphorically in other verses of the Qur'an as well, such as "al-Shajara al-Mal'una" (Arabic" الشجرة الملعونة; the cursed tree) which refers to the polytheists.
  • The Tree of Knowledge and Wilaya (guardianship): some exegetes have appealed to some hadiths to show that the Forbidden Tree is knowledge or the Wilaya of Muhammad (s) and his household. According to these hadiths, the story of the Forbidden Tree goes like this: God showed the position of the Wilaya of the Five (a) to Adam and told him that they are superior to him and all other creatures, and if it was not because of them, He would never create him, nor the Heaven, the Hell, the sky, and the Earth. God warned Adam then about having any envy about the position of the Five (a), but Adam secretly wished to have had their positions. Thus, Iblis tempted him to eat the fruit of the Forbidden Tree so as to have an eternal life.

The Forbidden Tree in the Torah

The Forbidden Tree is taken in the Torah as metaphorically referring to two trees: the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. The Torah gives a different picture of Adam from that of the Qur'an as a person who had no knowledge of right and wrong before eating the fruit of the Forbidden Tree such that he could not know about his nudity. When he ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God ousted him from the heaven to prevent him from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life and having an eternal life.

Adam's Sin

According to Abrahamic religions before Islam and the Biblical account of the Forbidden Tree, Adam committed the greatest sin by intending to eat the Fruit of Life, and thereby, have an eternal, endless life like God, which counts as a war with God. However, since Islam emphasizes the infallibility of the prophets, it does not take the eating of the Forbidden Fruit to be a sin. Thus, different accounts have been given of the sort of sin committed by Adam:

  • Disregarding what is recommended (tark al-ula): according to this view, Adam did not commit a sin in the absolute sense; rather he committed a sin in the relative sense. An absolute sin is to disobey God's decisive commands and prohibitions, that is, not to comply with His orders or to do what He forbade. However, a relative sin is to do things which are permissible for ordinary people, but not proper for prophets. Such a sin is to disregard what is recommended. Thus, although it was not haram to eat the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, it was not proper for Adam, as the best creature of God, to do so. Thus, he was ousted from the heaven for doing what was not proper.
  • The prohibition of the fruit as a recommendation, not a command: some people believe that the prohibition of the forbidden tree was not a divine command or obligation; rather it was only a recommendation. Thus, since God knew that to eat the Forbidden Tree would lead to troubles for Adam, such as falling from the heaven and suffering, He recommended him not to approach the tree. Such orders and prohibitions are called "al-Irshadi" (guiding commands). If one disobeys such rulings, then they will not be punished, although they will lose the advantages for which the commands were issued. Some exegetes of the Qur'an have criticized the view because when Adam disobeyed God's command, he asked for His forgiveness, while forgiveness does not make any sense if one does not just comply with guiding commands.
  • Not any jealousy is a sin: according to the view that takes the Forbidden Tree to be jealousy, Adam's jealousy was a sort of envy, which is not a moral vice. Others have taken Adam's jealousy to be a moral vice, but hold that it counts as a sin only if it leads to a behavior or a speech. A mere psychological state of jealousy is not a sin.

Heaven of Adam

Main article: Heaven of Adam

According to Quranic verses, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, they were ousted from the heaven. There are different views about the heaven in which Adam and Eve lived:

  • An Earthly heaven: some people believe that the heaven in which Adam and Eve lived was a green garden on the Earth. This is because the devil cannot enter the Afterlife Heaven and so, its residents are immune to temptations and wrong-doings. Moreover, people who enter the Afterlife Heaven will live there forever, while Adam was tempted in his heaven and was ousted from it. There are some hadiths according to which Adam's heaven was not the Afterlife Heaven.
  • The Promised Heaven: according to some hadiths, Adam's heaven was the Afterlife Heaven. Some people appeal to the first sermon of Imam Ali (a) in Nahj al-balagha to show that Adam's heaven was the Promised Heaven: "God promised Adam to return him to the heaven." The sentence implies that God promised Adam to return him to the place where he lived at first, and since the heaven in which Adam will reside in the future is the Afterlife Heaven, the heaven he used to live in should be the same as the Afterlife Heaven.
  • A heaven in Barzakh: according to the third view, Adam's heaven was neither the Promised Heaven, nor an Earthly one; rather it was a heaven in Barzakh between this world and the Afterlife. This heaven possesses some features of the Promised Heaven, such as permanent happiness and lack of hunger, thirst, cold, and warmth, as well as some features of Earthly heavens, such as lack of immunity to the devil and its temptations. Thus, the view is a mixture of the first two views.

The Fate of Adam and Eve

According to Quranic verses, when Adam and Eve learned about their mistakes, they repented and asked God to forgive them. God accepted their repentance, but they were ousted from the heaven, nonetheless. At God's command, they lived on Earth and started a new life. God made Adam His successor on Earth and appointed him as His prophet.