A Tale of Two Trees

The differences between Islam and Christianity are innumerable. Some are immediately and obviously profound. Others seem trivial at first, but expose a deeper theological rift. Consider the almost irrelevant detail of what tree Adam and Eve ate from in the Garden of Eden. The Qur’an and the Bible give divergent descriptions of what this tree was. This seemingly inconsequential discrepancy reveals a much richer truth about the God of the Bible and the god of the Qur’an.

In Genesis 2:17 God instructs Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed and did eat of it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the story given in the Qur’an has divergent details. According to the Qur’an, what tree did Adam and Eve eat from? Here is the relevant section,

[20.120] But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not?

Faced with this glaring discrepancy between the two texts, many present day Islamic scholars assert that Muslims don’t really know what the tree was. But early Islamic commentators had no trouble stating which tree it was. Ibn Kathir says in his commentary on the Qur’an:

Iblis did not cease prodding them until they both had eaten from it. It was the Tree of Eternity (Shajarat Al-Khuld). This meant that anyone who ate from it would live forever and always remain [i]

In the Qur’an, they took from of the tree of immortality, or eternity. In the Bible, Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why even bother pointing out such a small difference?

The first theological difference that comes to mind is the direct implications of this action. Within Islam, this transgression is viewed as a mistake relating only to Adam. Islam teaches he repented of it, and was forgiven, thus transmitting no consequences to his descendants. Even the immediate removal from the Garden of Eden is not defined as a punishment.

“Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified.” [ii]

However, the implications within Christianity are monumental. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is what brought sin into the world, and consequently its ramifications. This is especially pertinent in light of the Bible’s discussion of this topic in great detail, culminating in Romans 5:18 and 5:19. The fact that the Qur’an completely ignores these consequences of sin is an area that merits its own exploration. Yet there is something much less obvious happening here. As always, it’s the more subtle avenue of thought that will be pursued here.

In the Garden of Eden, there was another tree mentioned, the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). Nowhere does the Bible say this tree was forbidden from Adam and Eve. In fact, the implication is that the fruit of this tree was given to them, (Gen 2:16) and that Adam and Eve could have lived forever in a perfect and pure state before God had they not disobeyed. This tree of life appears again in Revelation 22:2, and then another time in Rev 22:14, which emphasize the privilege of partaking of that tree for those who are in heaven. Of course God doesn’t need a tree in paradise to grant us eternal life, but for whatever reason, God mentions it again nonetheless. This tree of life was only off-limits to Adam and Eve after they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they then could “live forever” (Gen 3:22) in their unredeemed state.

It is this tree of life, which matches the tree mentioned in the Qur’an, the tree of immortality. In both cases, partaking of this tree gives life in some supernatural way. But look closely at how this tree of immortality, or tree of life, is portrayed in the Bible compared to that of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an portrays the partaking of the tree of immortality as an evil and punishable act that requires repentance. In the Bible, eating from this same tree of life is the reward given to those who through a relationship with Jesus are granted eternity with God. Within Islam, that which gives life is forbidden, and that which brought death and our need for redemption is discounted. With Christianity, that which gives life is our eventual reward and that which brings death was what was originally forbidden. In Islam, the tree of life was off-limits while within Christianity, the tree of life is a gift of life given by God.

Even the minor discrepancies reveal the bizarre depths of theological disagreement.

[i] http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=897&Itemid=74

[i] http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/1196/story-of-adam-part-3/

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3 Responses to A Tale of Two Trees

  1. towfeeqah says:

    Let me knock your socks off here….lol….. look at this conversation :

    Saheeh Bukhari

    Volume 8, Book 77, Number 611:

    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    The Prophet said, “Adam and Moses argued with each other. Moses said to Adam. ‘O Adam! You are our father who disappointed us and turned us out of Paradise.’ Then Adam said to him, ‘O Moses! Allah favored you with His talk (talked to you directly) and He wrote (the Torah) for you with His Own Hand. Do you blame me for action which Allah had written in my fate forty years before my creation?’ So Adam confuted Moses, Adam confuted Moses,” the Prophet added, repeating the Statement three times.

  2. The Quran does not reveal what type of tree it was “…come not near this tree or you both will be of the wrongdoers.” (Quran 2:35 ; we have no details and seeking such knowledge also produces no benefit. What is understood is that Adam and Eve lived a tranquil existence and understood that they were forbidden to eat from the tree. However, Satan was waiting to exploit the weakness of mankind.

    “So he (Satan) misled them with deception.” (Quran 7:22) and this verse show that the claim for the tree of immortality or whatever was only a deception.

    Satan did not say to Adam and Eve “go eat from that tree” nor did he out rightly tell them to disobey God. He whispered into their hearts and planted disquieting thoughts and desires. Satan said to Adam and Eve, “…Your Lord did not forbid you this tree save that you should become Angels or become of the immortals.” (Quran 7:20) Their minds became filled with thoughts of the tree, and one day they decided to eat from it. Adam and Eve behaved as all human beings do; they became preoccupied with their own thoughts and the whisperings of Satan and they forgot the warning from God.

    It is at this point that the Jewish and Christian traditions differ greatly from Islam. At no point do the words of God – the Quran, or the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad – indicate that Satan came to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake or serpent.

    Islam in no way indicates that Eve was the weaker of the two, or that she tempted Adam to disobey God. Eating the fruit of the tree was a mistake committed by both Adam and Eve. They bear equal responsibility. It was not the original sin spoken about in Christian traditions. The descendents of Adam are not being punished for the sins of their original parents. It was a mistake, and God, in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy, forgave them both.

    Islam rejects the Christian concept of original sin and the notion that all humans are born sinners due to the actions of Adam. God says in the Quran:

    “And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden.” (Quran 35:18)

    Every human being is responsible for his or her actions and is born pure and free from sin. Adam and Eve committed a mistake, they repented sincerely and God in His infinite wisdom forgave them.

    “Then they both ate of that tree, and so their private parts appeared to them, and they began to stick on themselves the leaves from Paradise for their covering. Thus did Adam disobey his Lord, so he went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and turned to him with forgiveness and gave him guidance.” (Quran 20:121-122)

    Mankind has a long history of committing mistakes and forgetting. Even so, how was it possible for Adam to have committed such a mistake? The reality was that Adam did not have any experience with the whisperings and ploys of Satan. Adam had seen the arrogance of Satan when he refused to follow the commands of God; he knew that Satan was his enemy but had no familiarity with how to resist Satan’s tricks and schemes. The Prophet Muhammad told us:

    “Knowing something is not the same as seeing it.” (Saheeh Muslim)

    God tested Adam so that he could learn and gain experience. In this way God prepared Adam for his role on earth as a caretaker and a Prophet of God. From this experience, Adam learned the great lesson that Satan is cunning, ungrateful and the avowed enemy of mankind. Adam, Eve and their descendants learned that Satan caused their expulsion from heaven. Obedience to God and enmity towards Satan is the only path back to Heaven.

    • Adam,

      You have stated the Islamic position clearly. Yet, you overlooked the verse in the Qur’an which refers to the tree as the tree of immortality. [20:120]

      The point of the article is that, in Islam, eating from this tree of immortality was viewed as a sin. In Christianity, it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil that was forbidden; the tree of life is our reward.

      Rather than restating Islamic positions regarding peripheral theological concepts, please address the main point of the article.

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