How should we understand the incident of Hz. Adam (pbuh) being taught the names of things, which is a means of superiority to angels? What is meant by those names taught to Hz. Adam?

The Details of the Question
How should we understand the incident of Hz. Adam (pbuh) being taught the names of things, which is a means of superiority to angels? What is meant by those names taught to Hz. Adam?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

When Allah told the angels that he would create a vicegerent on the earth, they were surprised by it and asked Him about the wisdom behind it. Thereupon, Allah Almighty taught Adam all of the names and tested the angels through those names.

That incident is mentioned as follows: in the Quran:

“And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels and said: "Tell Me the names of these if ye are right”(al-Baqara, 2/31)

The phrase “bi asmai” in the verse was interpreted as "the names of" by most of the scholars but Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır interpreted it as "with the names of". Both interpretations (translations) are correct but the latter has a wider meaning. When the phrase "with the names of" is used, it means some other aspects of those things were asked along with their names. As a matter of fact, this phrase was interpreted as follows in Risale-i Nur Collection: “expressing the names, attributes and properties of all of the species existing in the universe.” (İşarât-ül İ’caz) The following is stated in another book of the same collection:

“It describes under the name of 'the teaching of the Names' to the person of Adam, the teaching of all the sciences and branches of knowledge with which the sons of Adam have been inspired.”(Sözler, p. 401)

It is also stated in Risale-i Nur Collection that the names taught to Hz. Adam (pbuh) are concise; that is, they consist of essential knowledge in the form of nucleus and that they are manifested in detail and perfectly in the Prophet (pbuh) of the end of time:

“…who manifested in detail with all their degrees all the Names which were taught in brief to Adam (pbuh)...”(Sözler, p. 263)

There is a branch of science that is more important than knowing the names or physical properties of things: it is to know the divine names manifest in things, to see the art in the works of art, to see the grace and grant in bounties and to reach the divine names from them. 

Then, the knowledge of the Prophet (pbuh) of the end of time has the most knowledge about the divine names. We can also state the following by considering that all names are manifest in man: If we liken the knowledge of Hz. Adam about the names that were manifest in him to a nucleus, this knowledge is in the form of a magnificent tree in the Prophet (pbuh).

All of the names are manifest in the Prophet (pbuh) of the end of time in the perfect sense; He read all of the things as the manifestation place of Allah's names in the perfect sense upon the following order: “Proclaim! (or Read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created”(al-Alaq, 96/1); he ascended to the highest levels in belief, knowledge, love, taqwa and righteous deeds; he succeeded in performing the lofty duties like meditation, admiration, glorification and praise in the best way.  

Is reading the universe and man not for reaching these lofty meanings and fulfilling these holy services? (Prof. Dr. Alaadddin Başar)

Jinn existed before men. Was it not necessary for the angels to know these names due to the jinn?

The names that were taught to Adam were not the names of things only. The knowledge of the reflections of Allah's one thousand and one names and their manifestations in the universe through the mirrors of material and spiritual realms were also in question. The incident of teaching the names is an incident teaching the angels, who were away from being material, that Adam, who was both a spiritual and material being, knew many things that they did not know and that man, whom the angels regarded to be shedding blood and hence questioned his creation, was worth creating.

To give a very simple example, the angels cannot know how the mouth tastes, how the eyes see, how the ears hear, what kind of a mechanism the body is and how the metabolism works as much as man knows. They are also among the names that are taught. As Ibn Abbas also indicates, these names are not only the names of things but also the names of ontological deeds. (Tabari, the interpretation of the relevant verse)...

It is understood from the verse that the angels did not know the names of many beings that they saw. Probably, the divine wisdom did not teach the angels the names of many things taught to Adam, taking into consideration that they would not like the creation of man - as a being that can shed blood.

As Tabari states, through this testing, Allah showed the angels how wrong it was to question the creation of man considering some of his faults while they did not know the names of many things that they always saw. Through this incident, Allah showed everybody that the reason why Adam and his progeny were created is knowledge. (see ibid)

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