Notable Women Women's Section

Unravelling the Truth About Eve: Her Position in History According to Islam

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Nila Ahmad, USA

The imagery is nearly always the same. A tree stands centred in the middle ground. A serpent figure twists around the tree, its hideous face foreshadowing sinister intent. And nearly always a woman holds an apple. This is the story of when Satan tempted Adam (as) and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, as told in Christian and Judaic traditions. This particular narrative of events has permeated western society and religious traditions to the extent that few question Eve’s role. Born from Adam’s (as) rib, Eve is perceived to have brought ruin upon humankind through her wicked wiles. She is the villain of this account, assigned nearly as much fault as the serpent. However, the truth of the matter is that Eve was no more to blame than Adam (as) was and Islam sheds light upon Eve as a role model for all womenkind. She did not, in fact, lead humans down the path of sin, but rather is the means to lift humankind to the heights of spirituality.  

To break down the notion of Eve in these religious teachings we must go back to the beginning. The Bible states: 

‘And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in its place. 

Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.  

And Adam said: 

“This is now bone of my bones 

And flesh of my flesh; 

She shall be called Woman,  

Because she was taken out of Man.”’ [1]

From the very onset, Christian tradition assigns Eve a secondary position. Adam (as) is fully formed, whereas Eve has been formed from merely his rib. In larger Western culture, Adam (as) has come to symbolize all men and Eve has come to symbolize all women. Unfortunately, throughout time, some have taken Eve’s supposed secondary status as justification to award men superiority over women. Christian theologians, most notably Thomas Aquinas, interpreted the Scriptures to state that because Eve was created afterwards, women were defective males, and were inferior to men in intellect and form. These depictions remained not only within the Christian traditions but within the larger society as well. 

If we fast forward to the incident in the Garden, the site of Original Sin, we see the story unfolds even further. Original Sin is what Christian tradition designates as the first sin ever committed among humans, i.e when Adam (as) and Eve first ate fruit from the tree which God had forbidden them. According to these religious traditions, Adam (as) and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. God allowed them to eat from the fruits thereof, except for the fruit of one tree. A serpent sat in this tree and incited Eve to pluck the fruit and take a bite. Having eaten the fruit, she then lured Adam (as) into partaking of the fruit as well. Once they had eaten, their shame became manifest to them and they both covered themselves.  

The Book of Genesis describes the incident: 

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 

Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 

And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”’ [2]

Both Jewish and Christian religious traditions assign Eve the blame for this incident. In fact, it is widely believed that Eve’s punishment for her crime was to suffer the pain of childbirth. Not only that, but any woman lucky enough to bring a child into this world would also suffer for Eve’s crime i.e labour pains. Throughout known history, this assignation of blame seeped into the larger society and remains still today, a part of the larger cultural rhetoric. If religious traditions portrayed Eve as inferior and the source of sin, the secular society portrayed her as a dangerous woman. Countless portrayals of Eve, from Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo to Albrecht Durer, portray Eve as being the first to sin. On the other hand, popular culture has used Eve to depict danger and wickedness, from DKNY’s (a well-known fashion house) print ad of a woman holding an apple to lure the audience to purchase her perfume to the popular television show, Desperate Housewives, where the ‘housewives’ coyly smile at the camera, apples in hand. These images serve to reinforce the depiction of Eve as luring the guileless to their ruin.  

But what if the narrative is all wrong? What if the concept of ‘Original Sin’ does not exist? What if Eve did not lure Adam (as) to wrongdoing? Does the whole notion of a woman’s qualities and her place in this world change if Eve’s role also changes? Fortunately, Islam upends the whole story of Adam (as) and Eve.  

From the very beginning, Islam clears up the misconception of Eve having been created from Adam’s rib. Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) writes in Our God,  

‘Similarly, a Tradition has it that Eve was born out of Adam’s rib. Now people begin to imagine that Adam’s body was physically torn open and Eve was created out of his rib bone, in keeping with the same incident repeated in all revealed books; the fact is that these statements are metaphors used in all revealed books. What this tradition means is that woman was created to live close to man. She is an integral part of his life.’ [3]

Islam teaches that the notion of Eve being born from Adam’s (as) rib is to signify that they are both of the same species, of the same kind. The clear logic of Islam fells centuries of misinterpretation. If Eve no longer inhabits an inferior status because God created both Adam (as) and Eve of the same kind, then what does Islam say of her responsibility in plucking the forbidden fruit? 

The Holy Qur’an visits the incident of the garden and states: 

But Satan caused them both to slip by means of it and drove them out of the state in which they were. And we said: “Go forth; some of you are enemies of others, and for you there is an abode in the earth and a provision for a time.

Then Adam learnt from his Lord certain words of prayer. So He turned towards him with mercy. Surely, He is Oft-Returning with compassion, and is Merciful.’ [4]

The verse above explicitly states that Satan caused both of them to slip, meaning no one was more to blame than the other. There is no mention of Eve deceiving or luring Adam (as) to the tree. The verse continues to state that Adam (as) turns to Allah and Allah teaches him the words with which to pray for forgiveness. It is erroneous to believe that Adam (as) and Eve’s mistake would cascade down to all men or women to bear. The Holy Qur’an states,  

‘And no burdened soul can bear the burden of another; and if a heavily laden soul call another to bear its load, naught of it shall be carried by the other.’ [5]

Allah is Merciful and does not give us burdens or mistakes of others to bear when most likely we carry enough of our own. In fact, the Holy Qur’an again states, ‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity.’ [6] Thus, Eve is not only innocent of her crime of luring her husband to sin but according to the Islamic perspective, is also innocent of burdening all womenkind with her mistake. 

In fact, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), the Second Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, writes in his commentary of the Holy Qur’an,  

‘Meaning Satan swore before Adam (as) and his companions that surely I am your well-wisher.”  In turn, Adam (as) slipped. The commentary continues to state, “Adam (as) was the first prophet. There were no such examples as lessons present before this. In fact, it is likely that God Almighty tolerated this instance, this lapse to occur as a lesson for future people.’ [7]

Islam fells the notion of Eve as the means of man’s fall to disgrace by revealing to us the truth of what happened. The blight for which so many centuries stained Eve and womenkind in association, is now wiped clean. 

But, if she is not what we thought she was before, then who is she? Does she play a role within the larger society and our religious understanding? Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states,  

‘The word Hawwa is derived from [hawwa yahowi] which means to cover something, to collect something, or to become the owner of something. As such, Hawwa means somebody who gathers children round herself, rules them and is known as the head of the household.’ [8]

In Islam, we believe that the names of Adam (as) and Eve were bestowed upon them by Allah. Hence, these names are not arbitrary, but rather signify each of their roles in society. While Adam’s (as) name means one who works the earth and earns his living by working it, Eve was the steward of the next generation. She was meant to gather her progeny around her, teach them, and rule over them. She was to be the queen of her home. What a drastic change from how western culture and religious traditions have portrayed her. Instead of vilifying her for the demise of humankind, Islam instead lifts Eve up as the model for all womenkind. If we wish to be the queen of our homes, to transform society into one of righteousness, one which is deserving of conversing with God, then we should all become like Eve. 

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) continues on to state that women who,  

‘… do not train their children in such a way that the future generation should become pious, righteous, brave, fearless, ready to offer every sacrifice for the sake of their faith, and acquire religious knowledge, are something else entirely. They are daughters of Hawwa in name only, not in practice. For they did not gather their children around themselves nor did they prove themselves to be the true master of the household.’ [9]

Thus, Islam so beautifully clears up every attempt at besmirching Eve’s character, for both Adam (as) and Eve made a mistake. Upon realizing this mistake, God taught them the prayer for forgiveness. Allah sent both Adam (as) and Eve out into the world and assigned Eve the responsibility of creating a kingdom within her home of which she was the queen. In which she was responsible for raising righteous progeny. Righteous progeny goes on to create righteous societies, essentially creating Gardens of Eden here on Earth.  

The lush garden of paradise which is bemoaned by so many as to have been lost by delicate hands plucking fruit from a tree is no longer relevant. For no garden was lost, no virtue tainted, the fall of man does not exist. Rather this is an opportunity to gain everything if we follow in the footsteps of Eve as we should. Let us leave the apple and serpent to the patriarchal imaginations of old and embrace the queendom of Eve as one who upholds the best a woman has to offer. 

About the Author: Nila Ahmad lives in the southern United States with her family. Having graduated with an art degree, she has participated in the illustration of children’s books, as well as serving on the US Al Hilal team. Her particular interest is in dispelling misconceptions around women’s status in Islam.

ENDNOTES

[1]  Gen. 2: 21-23 New King James Version

[2] Gen. 2: 6, 12, 13 New King James Version

[3]  Our God, p. 89

[4] The Holy Qur’an 2:37, 38

[5] The Holy Qur’an 35:19

[6] The Holy Qur’an 2:287

[7] Tafseer-e-Kabeer, p. 343, 345

[8]  Orhni Waliyon Kei Liye Phul, p. 284

[9] Ibid p. 285

1 Comment

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  • Assalamualaikum,

    This is amazing article removing misconception about status of woman that generally seen as inferior to men. I do not speak Urdu and I was wondering what does Odhni Waliyon Ke Liye Phool mean that Nila baji used as one of her source? I know that it was a compilation speech of Khalifatul Masih II (ra). I just want to know what does that mean? and is it possible RoR team translate the whole speech into English? it will really benefit non Urdu speaker like me and other Ahmadi all around the worlds. Just like RoR done amazing job translating Tafseer Kabeer, please consider translating Odhni Waliyon Ke Liye Phool to English. JazakAllah. Salaam from City of Angeles.