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Last Updated: 2009/12/28
Summary of question
Is man Khalifatullah or Khalifatul-Rabb?
Taking verse 30 of surah Baqarah “و اذقالَ رَبُّکَ لِلْمَلائِکَةِ إِنِّی جاعِلٌ فِی الْأَرْضِ خَلیفَةً قالُوا أَ تَجْعَلُ فیها مَنْ یُفْسِدُ فیها وَیَسْفِکُ الدِّماءَ وَ نَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِکَ وَ نُقَدِّسُ لَکَ قالَ إِنِّی أَعْلَمُ ما لا تَعْلَمُون” into consideration, was Prophet Adam (pbuh) Khalifatullah (Vicegerent of Allah) or Khalifatul-Rabb (Vicegerent of the Lord)?
Concise answer

Since in verse 31 of surah Baqarah, the Quran tells us that the reason why man was chosen to be Allah’s (swt) vicegerent was his knowledge of ‘the divine names’ and goes on to say: “علّم آدم الاسماء کلها”, and the name that encompasses all other divine names in which they are a manifestation of, is the name of “Allah”, man is the vicegerent of Allah (swt) or Khalifatullah, not the vicegerent of the Lord or Khalifatul-Rabb, because ‘Rabb’ (meaning Lord) is one of God’s names and one of the manifestations of “Allah” making it more particular than Allah.

Considering the fact that firstly, what is meant by ‘divine names’ in the abovementioned verse are high and transcendent realities in which all other realities of the universe originate from; these high realities cover all other realities, let them be of the seen (shuhud) or unseen (gheyb), and secondly, teaching the divine names meant that he was endowed with them and thirdly, that god’s reality appears and manifests in them, man is where all of Allah’s (swt) virtues manifest, making him His complete vicegerent.

Detailed Answer

First let us rephrase the question:

Whose vicegerent was Prophet Adam and whose vicegerent is man? And keeping in mind that one who is vicegerent is responsible for all the duties and tasks of whom he is taking the place of, it is necessary for him to bear his same qualities. How much potential has Allah (swt) granted man that will allow him to bear similar qualities to Allah’s (swt) and be responsible for some of His responsibilities? How much can man be a reflection of Allah (swt)?

Whose vicegerent is man[1]?

Considering verses 30 and 31 of surah Baqarah, man is the vicegerent of Allah (swt).

Explanation: In verse 30, the phrase “انی جاعل فی الارض خلیفة” and the single pronoun in it all show that Allah (swt) wants to appoint a vicegerent for Himself on earth, not for anyone else, and in the next verse[2], He discloses that the reason for appointing man to this important rank is because of his knowledge regarding the ‘divine names’ and says: “و علّم آدم الاسماء کلها” and in other words, in the first verse, Allah (swt) announces the appointment of man as vicegerent and in the second, unveils man’s jurisdiction and the scope of his vicegerency and since Allah's (swt) essence manifests in His names, through explaining what these names are and what it means that Allah (swt) taught man these names, it will become clear who exactly man is the vicegerent and how much he can do godly things and bear godly qualities.

The meaning of ‘divine names’

In Arabic, ‘name’ or ism means ‘sign’. Words (verbal names) are signs of concepts and meanings, and these meanings are signs of both seen and unseen realities that are signs of their creator. Now what needs to be determined is which of these categories were the signs man was taught; words, concepts and ideas, or realities?

Knowing mere words and names, or concepts aren't enough to make the angels prostate towards man, because “The most words can do is help us understand what others have inside and want to share, while angels aren't in any need of words, because they understand what others have on the inside without any need of discourse.”[3]

The mere understanding of concepts and having the form of realities and entities in the mind is also something that angels are higher than, because they are connected with some of the realities of this world instead of only having their form with them like we do, and in other words, they have intuitive knowledge (Ilm Hudhuri) of these realities instead of ‘acquired knowledge’ (Ilm Husuli), although this isn't the case for them regarding all realities. Thus, the reason for their prostration can't just be because of man’s knowledge regarding the forms of realities. So, what is meant by the names that man was aware of are those unseen realities and all other concrete and seen realities in which the angels couldn’t bear altogether and don’t have the capacity of reaching the pinnacle of and according to the ensuing verses, those names are the unseen realities of this world, because in verse 33, Allah (swt) says: “الم اقل لکم انی اعلم غیب السموات و الارض”,[4]; according to the interpretation of some tafsirs, what the context of the three verses of 30-33 calls for is that the “غیب” mentioned in verse 33 that Allah (swt) says he knows, is none other than the realities taught and spoken of in the phrase “انی اعلم ما لا تعلمون[5], meaning that Allah (swt) has given man the knowledge of all the things that the angels are unaware of and only He knows of. So the ‘names’ and ‘signs’ are the unseen realities that transcend the comprehension of the angels who themselves are above and higher than the material world and bear some degrees of the unseen world; these realities are the same high realities that other realities originate from and are covered by, let them be of the seen or unseen.[6]

The meaning of ‘teaching’

Considering what was said and Prophet Adam (pbuh) receiving the ‘signs’ directly,[7]one can conclude that what is meant by ‘teaching’ (that the verse has said) is:

1- Endowing him with the intuitive knowledge of these realities, not just the mental awareness of their forms and


2- The knowledge being transmitted is divine, and the transmitter is Allah (swt) Himself, and since knowledge is a type of possession, both in acquired knowledge (where we have the possession of the form and idea of a reality)  and in intuitive knowledge (where we have possession of the reality itself instead of its idea), the two traits just mentioned for ‘divine teaching’ show that Allah (swt) provided Prophet Adam (pbuh) and man with the concrete reality of His qualities and (according to the previous definition we mentioned for Ism which was ‘sign’) made him a complete reflection and sign of His own names and qualities.

Keeping the whole of what explained above in mind and also the fact that the verse says that man was taught all of the names, and the name that encompasses all of the names of God is “Allah”, one can conclude that man is the vicegerent of Allah, not Rabb, because Rabb is one of the names of God and one of the manifestations of “Allah”. In reality, man is the complete manifestation of Allah and all of His qualities and attributes, and is in charge of doing all the things Allah does regarding all of creation other than Himself.

For further information, see:

1- Tafsir Al-Mizan, under verses 30-34 of surah Baqarah.

2- Javadi Amoli, Tafsir Tasnim, vol. 3, pp. 17-321.

[1] It is inferred from other tafsiric evidence regarding this verse that vicegerency isn't allocated to Prophet Adam (pbuh) and all people bear the potential to acquire such a rank and this is why we haven’t limited the discussion to him and have generalized it to cover all people. See: Tasnim, vol. 3, pp. 41 and 293, and also: The instance of Khalifatullah from the Quran’s perspective, Question 1984 (website: 2023).

[2]و علّم آدم الاسماء کلها ثم عرضهم علی المالئکة فقال أنبئونی بأسماء هولاء إن کنتم صادقین”.

[3] Al-Mizan, vol. 1, pp. 116-117.

[4] “Didn’t I tell you that I am aware of the unseen of the heavens and earth?”

[5] “I know what you know not.”

[6] See: Tasnim, vol. 3, pg. 169.

[7] The term “علّم” (He taught) in verse 31 disproves the mediation of the angels in the teaching of Prophet Adam.

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