This is a story about the nature of evil, anger and hostility- as well as-the nature of goodness, forgiveness and peace. These two characteristics are in complete contrast, and result in the first murder that humanity ever experienced. This is the story told in Surah Maidah, verses 27 to 31.
“And (O Muhammad (sa)) recite to them (the Jews) the story of the two sons of Adam in truth…”Allah (swt) narrates the tale of two brothers who are the sons of Adam (as). This story occurs only once in the Quran, and we know that it is the truth. No authentic Hadeeth, or Quran, mentions the names of the main characters – the two sons, nor are we told the time or place where the incident occurs. Ibn Qutb says: “Leaving the story in the general terms in which it is given in the Qurān ensures that the purpose of relating it is fulfilled and its lessons are understood”.
Generally, siblings fight with each other, but they also love and protect one another; this is inherent in our nature as humans. Siblings are essentially the people we are closest to and care about. So, let’s see what happened between the two sons that resulted in a violent crime.
Faith or Fury?
“…when each offered a sacrifice (to Allah), it was accepted from the one but not from the other.”
Each of the sons offered a sacrifice to Allah (swt). This situation in any normal person’s mind is about pleasing and obedience to Allah (swt). However, when they both offered their sacrifices, one was accepted and the other was not. The Quran or Hadeeth does not detail the nature of how an offering was accepted at that time; hence, we deem it as unimportant. What we must focus on is that one son offered the best sacrifice only to please and obey Allah (swt), he proved to be God-fearing; while, the other brother’s sacrifice was not accompanied by Taqwa.
The fire of desire
“The latter said to the former: I will surely kill you.” This statement clearly shows the evil intent of one brother. It makes us shocked and horrified. How can such a severe punishment be given for no crime at all? We all disapprove of this son’s behaviour and thought process. The only reason for such a statement is envy. Envy is a serious disease of the heart; it is what led Iblees towards pride, which resulted in Allah’s (swt) disobedience.
“The former said: Verily, Allah accepts only from those who are Al-Muttaqun. If you do stretch your hand against me to kill me, I shall never stretch my hand against you to kill you, for I fear Allah; the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, Jinns, and all that exists).Verily, I intend to let you draw my sin on yourself as well as yours, then you will be one of the dwellers of the Fire, and that is the recompense of the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers).”
Envy is a serious disease of the heart; it is what led Iblees towards pride, which resulted in Allah’s (swt) disobedience.
The other brother did not react violently; he remained calm and tried to reason with his sibling. He put the entire matter in a proper perspective. This son of Adam said that, “It is not you or I who is better- it is the way we perform our sacrifices for Allah (swt).” This brother after explaining why the sacrifice was not accepted tried to reason with his sibling. He assured his brother, “I shall not lay my hand on you to kill you…” He feared Allah (swt) and would not commit a sin, even though he was being wronged. This was his advice, in a gentle calm manner.
Ibn Qutb describes this as, “What we have here is a case of a peaceful man making clear that his attitude is based on fearing God and implementing His commandments. We must admire the victim’s calmness, reassurance, and the fact that he fears God alone. His gentle words should have been sufficient to quench his brother’s rage, reduce his anger, re-establish the feelings of brotherhood and the reassurance of faith.”
The just brother added a warning- in case his gentle words were not heeded. He said that, “If you murder me, it would only add to all your other sins and you would ultimately be a loser.” The murdering brother would be gaining a double sin. He, the just brother, was staying on the right path at the stake of his life. He was not ready to go against Allah’s (swt) commands.
The narcotic Nafs
“So the Nafs (self) of the other (latter one) encouraged him and made fair-seeming to him the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers. Then Allah sent a crow who scratched the ground to show him to hide the dead body of his brother. He (the murderer) said: Woe to me! Am I not even able to be as this crow and to hide the dead body of my brother? Then he became one of those who regretted.”
After all the peaceful persuasion and gentle warnings, the crime was committed. The murderer’s evil soul was able to overrule his good side. Following only his Nafs, removed all obstacles and drove him towards killing. He lost a sibling, a brother who was a friend, a shoulder to cry on, and a companion. More importantly, he lost his after life, as he added that new sin to his earlier ones. Once the deed was done, the crime then took on a physical shape in the form of his brother’s dead body. It began to rot and he did not know what to do. He felt helpless and weak, not because he was remorseful, but because he did not know what to do.
Allah (swt) sent a crow who scratched the ground to show him how to hide the dead body. Once he had hidden the body, he was regretful; not because he killed- but because he realized how useless the crime was. This son of Adam (as) did not gain anything from murder; the killing of his brother didn’t make his sacrifice more acceptable to Allah (swt). He was helpless and weak, in complete loss due to his actions – a result of envy and pride.
Moral of the story
Transcribed and adapted by Tasneem Vali.