Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Did Adam and Eve’s children marry each other? How else did they have offspring?
Answer: In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate
Thank you for your question. May Allah grant you the best of states and guide you to what is pleasing to Him.
QURANIC EXEGESIS (TAFSIR)
The various Quranic commentaries contain of a vast amount of information, consisting of both verified and unverified information. Many of the works contain explanations and stories that are not specifically based in the Islamic scholarly tradition, but rather, gained from literature of the People of the Book or stories passed down from them. Even some of the Companions were in possession of such books, collected through travels and battles, and they would share these with other Muslims. For example, some such narrations were shared by the companion Abdullah bin Salam (may Allah be pleased with him), who was a Jewish rabbi who converted to Islam, as well as Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin ‘Aas, who took possession of a great number of books which belonged to the Christian Byzantine Empire during the battle of Yarmouk, and he would inform people of certain matters of the unseen or share explanations from these books. [Siraj al Din’s Sharh al Mandthumah al Bayqquniyyah]. Therefore, many of explanations referring to events predating the revelation of the Quran cannot be taken as outright fact, and nor do they form an absolute tenant of faith.
With this understanding, we can discuss the explanations offered in the books of Tafsir in regards your question.
THE PROPAGATION OF MANKIND
Allah Most High tells us in the Quran, ‘O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women.’ [al Nisa’ 4:1].
The books of Tafsir offer a viable and coherent explanation to how the children of Adam and Eve procreated and multiplied. Imam al Tabari gives the following background information in his Tafsir, which is reiterated in many other books of Tafsir such as Tafsir Ibn Kathir,
‘It is related from Ibn Abbas, and from Murra al Hamdaani, from Ibn Masoud, who are among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that, ‘Adam did not have children except that a male was born with a [twin] female, so that the male child of one pregnancy would marry the female of another pregnancy, and the female of one pregnancy would marry the male of another pregnancy.’ [Tafsir al Tabari]
The above explanation is supported by the verse we quoted above and certain hadith which mention that Cain (Gabil) killed his brother Able (Habil), which according to the Tafsir books was because Cain wanted to marry his twin sister.
UNDERSTANDING MORAL AND ETHICAL LAW
The question of whether the marrying of Adam’s children to one another commonly brings up the question of whether this amounts to incest or not. The key to understand this is to step out of our own moral and ethical understanding of the law.
We know that God has revealed various laws throughout the ages, and these differed in rulings from one nation to another. What was prohibitive to one nation may have been permissible to another. What was the distinguishing factor for these differences between each nations legal and moral codes? The answer is that the only one that possesses ultimate knowledge of right and wrong, of good and evil, and the only one who has a right to decide when something is right or wrong, moral or immoral, is God.
To make the point clearer, let’s take a more modern, real life example. In the US, marriage between first cousins was widely practised and legal before the civil war. Following the war, various studies were made which showed negative consequences to such marriages, and this lead to some states making first cousin marriages illegal, regarding it as incestuous. Further studies were made which contradicted the claims put forth in the previous studies. Currently, over half the states in the US permit marriage between first cousins, whilst the remaining states prohibit marriage between first cousins. Who is right? What studies do we go by? Are the people who marry their first cousins in countries such as the UK, the Middle east, and the Sub-Continent, guilty of incest?
Likewise, the same can be said of polygamy. Once permitted in both the Christian-Judeo religions, these were outlawed by their own clergymen due to shifting beliefs and reliance on their own human moral ethics. This has been done to such a point, that anyone who inclines towards polygamy is viewed as debauched in some way.
The conclusion is that we cannot merely go by man-made laws and moral codes. Man has been writing moral codes of behaviour from the ancient times, such as the Code of Hammurabi in Babylonia. These have come and gone, have been abandoned, altered, or built upon. It is a case of trial and error. Our own moral beliefs are necessarily moulded by our upbringing, environment, and religion. Therefore, the only absolute and definitive moral and legal code is that which Allah reveals to mankind. Without it, man would continue to stumble and go from one conclusion to another, measuring his moral code with the shifts and changes of time.
In conclusion, we can say that, according to the explanation given in the books of Tafsir, God did permit inter-marrying of siblings during the first generations of man. This was carried out by the female of one pregnancy marrying the male of another pregnancy and vice versa. These couples would procreate and have children, which would mean second cousins would marry each other, then third cousins etc., until mankind multiplied and spread through the land. At some point in the early history of man, God revealed laws prohibiting the marriage of siblings, and revealed further laws for man to observe (we have in our own Qur’an a clear and final instruction of who we can and can’t marry for a confirmation of God’s final law to man). This was the way God, in his infinite Wisdom, had decreed mankind to propagate.
We have seen that it is not possible to use the word ‘incest’ when understanding the propagation of man. The word incest was first noted in western literature around 1200 BC, stemming from the Latin incestum, meaning lewdness and unchasteness [Chambers Dictionary of Etymology]. This negative word cannot be used to describe the initial propagation of mankind because, 1) God is the only one who can decide what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, and 2) God reveals laws according to different times and places, and in the case of Adam and Eve, the law was a different shariah specifically for that time. Sibling marriage was permitted for necessity, and later on, and for forever more, was prohibited as the legal necessity was no longer present.
I hope the above clarifies your questions. And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007 I travelled to Tarim, Yemen, where I spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with my main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, I moved to Amman, Jordan, where I continue advanced study in a range of sciences, as well as teaching. Away from the Islamic sciences, I am a qualified Homeopath, and run a private clinic in Amman.