Adam’s Fall as An Origin of Social Order: ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha‘rani (d. 973/1565) on Genealogy of Islamic Law, Human Deficiency, and Salvation
The stories of the prophets (qisas al-anbiya’) and the salvation history have been employed by many generations of Islamic scholars to construct and convey variegated narratives and messages. Muslim authors harnessed and recycled stories about prophetic self-sacrifice, repentance, and faithful service to God to offer different interpretations that reflected social contexts and problems of their own era. This paper examines an interesting theory of the sixteenth-century jurist and head of the Sufi institution (zawiya) in Cairo that explains how Adam’s fall and humans’ sinful condition are related to the Islamic rulings that were shaped by the four Sunni schools of law. It shows that the way al-Sha'rani employs the “Quranic myth” on Adam’s fall to rationalize Islamic rituals corroborates several conflicting theories in contemporary ritual studies. Al-Sha‘rani synthesized a variety of exegetical and Sufi materials on Adam and Eve in Islam to create a coherent narrative that explains the telos of the worship rituals (purity rules, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, alms-tax) and the rules of corporal punishments, economic transactions, and political system in the Muslim societies. The importance that al-Sha‘rani assigns to the story of Adam’s fall, the forbidden fruit, and their consequences for humanity suggests that the idea of the “original sin” found its unique way into the Islamic intellectual tradition, especially into the Sufi thought. This paper argues that the “Qur’anic myth” in al-Sha‘rani’s theory of Islamic law responds to the immediate social concerns of his Sufi disciples and readers who lived in a time of political turmoil and crisis in sixteenth-century Egypt. The creative imagination of a mystic and the practical skills of a jurist enabled al-Sha‘rani to transform the pessimism of the exegetical narratives associated with the stories about Adam and Eve into optimistic mystical theology that promised salvation and hope in the context of chaos and disorder. To resolve the problem of Adam’s disobedience, al-Sha‘rani reconciles and synthesizes the dominant Ash‘arite and Sufi concepts of the infallibility of the prophets. Ultimately, he transforms the story of Adam’s fall into the ethical discourse and didactic narrative that instills into his Sufi disciples, such virtuous abilities as “thinking well of others”, “helping the poor”, “humility”, and “redemption”.