وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَـئِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِى الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُواْ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَآءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.’ They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ Allah said, ‘Indeed, I know that which you do not know.’ ”
The word, ‘successor’ (khaleefah) has been explained by the scholars in two ways,
- That the khaleefah refers to our father Adam alaiyhi as salam, and our Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, because he was the khaleefah of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala on His earth appointed to implement His laws. And it is said: that Adam alaiyhi as salam was the khaleefah because he succeeded the Jinn that used to live on the earth before him and because when he died, he would be succeeded by those that came after him. And Adam alaiyhi as salam being referred to, as the khaleefah is the clear understanding derived from the context of this ayah.
- That His saying, ‘ khaleefah’ is singular but intending the plural i.e. successors – this being the preferred opinion of ibn Katheer. The singular, if it is a generic noun, is commonly employed in the language of the Arabs to refer to the plural such as, “and make us leaders (imaamah) for the pious” (25:74).
So, if this ayah is open to these two interpretations then know that other ayaat lend weight to the second explanation, i.e. khaleefah is the successors to Adam alaiyhi as salam and his sons, not just Adam himself. For example His saying, “Will you place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood?” (2:30)
And it is known that Adam alaiyhi as salam, and our Prophet salAllah u ‘alayhi wa sallam, were not from those that made mischief therein and shed blood. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said in Surah Fatir,
“It is He subhanahu wa ta’ala Who has made you successors, generation after generation, in the earth” (35:39)
Allah the Most Respectful, reiterated His favor on the Children of Adam when He stated that He mentioned them in the highest of heights before He created them.
The angels said: “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood!”
The angels meant that this type of creature usually commits the atrocities they mentioned. The angels knew of this fact, according to their understanding of human nature, for Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala stated that He would create man from clay. Or, the angels understood this fact from the word Khaleefah, which also means the person who judges disputes that occur between people, forbidding them from injustice and sin, as Al-Qurtubi said.
The statement the angels uttered was not a form of disputing neither with Allah, nor out of envy for the Children of Adam, as some mistakenly thought. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has described them as those who do not precede Him in speaking, meaning that they do not ask Allah anything without His permission.
When Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala informed them that He was going to create a creation on the earth, and they had witnessed Jinns causing mischief on the earth, they raised a question only for the sake of learning. It was as if they said, They wanted to know the wisdom behind such a decision “Our Lord! What is the wisdom of creating such creatures since they will cause trouble in the earth and spill blood? If the wisdom behind this action is that You be worshipped then we already praise and glorify You (meaning we pray to You). We never indulge in mischief, so why create other creatures?”
He (Allah) said: “I know that which you do not know”, meaning, “I know that the benefit of creating this type of creature outweighs the harm that you mentioned, that which you have no knowledge of. I will create among them Prophets and send Messengers. I will also create among them truthful, martyrs, righteous believers, worshippers, the modest, the pious, the scholars who implement their knowledge, humble people and those who love Allah and follow His Messengers.”