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وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَٰئِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي ٱلأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُواْ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ ٱلدِّمَآءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّيۤ أَعْلَمُ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
-Al-Baqarah ( البقرة )

Al Qushairi Tafsir

And when your Lord said to the angels, “I am appointing on earth a viceregent,” they said, “What, will You appoint therein one who will do cor- ruption therein and shed blood, while we glorify You with praise and sanctify You?”; He said, “Assuredly, I know what you know not.”
This is the beginning of the disclosure of His secret regarding Adam and his progeny. He commanded that clay be extracted from every patch of ground and then commanded that it be left to ferment for forty mornings. Every one of the angels was full of amazement: “What is the property (ḥukm) of this clay?” When He assembled [Adam's] form, they had never seen anything like it in marvelous craftsmanship and astonishing wisdom. So when He said, “I am appointing on earth. . . ,” conjectures were thrown about, hearts were scattered, and accusations were made. It was just as [the poet] said:
How often I have seen someone beautiful but among mortals my choice has fallen upon you.
It is said that God (سبحانه وتعالى) created all the things He created, but did not say about any of them what He said about Adam, when He said, “I am appoint- ing on earth a viceregent.” The external sense of these words resembles mutual consultation, if it were to be [part of a conversation] among cre- ated beings. The Real (سبحانه وتعالى) created the gardens with what is in them and the throne with what it has in well-ordered parts and perfect forms, but He did not say, “I am creating a throne or a garden or an angel.” Yet He said of Adam, “I am appointing on earth a viceregent,” as a way of conferring honor and distinction.
The words of the angels, “What, will You appoint therein one who will do corruption therein?” were not an objection to the divine decree but rather a way of seeking to understand it. To interpret the expression in such a way as to absolve the angels of any blame is more fitting, since they are sinless. God most high said [in reference to the angels, that they are those], Who do not disobey God in what He commands them [66:6].
Others have said that in this speech the Real (سبحانه) revealed the hidden haughtiness of [the angels'] obedience and the attention they paid to their own acts in their hearts. They spoke openly about the hidden affairs oftheir innermost selves in saying, “While we glorify You with praise.” Then, verily, the Real (سبحانه) informed them that the merit of knowledge is more perfect than the merit of action and that while they have the greater part and superiority in action Adam has the greater and more abundant part of knowledge. Hence his merit and rank were made apparent.
It is said that the Real (سبحانه) did not say, “They will not do corruption therein and will not shed blood” but rather, “Assuredly, I know what you know not regarding my pardon of them.” Its meaning is, “You know their disobedience but I know my pardon of them.”
It is also said that in [the angels' mention of their] glorification, there is the disclosure of their act and the publicizing of their special qualities and merit, whereas in His pardoning of the disobedient among the chil- dren of Adam, there is the disclosure of His (سبحانه) generosity and mercy. The Real (سبحانه) does not need the obedient acts of anyone. Indeed, if [the angels] are deserving of praise, and this is clear because of their glorifica- tion, [then] God, the Real (سبحانه) [is even more] worthy of praise because of [His] pardoning.
It is said, “Assuredly, I know what you know not of the purity of the beliefs of the faithful among them in their love for Us and the maturity of their innermost hearts in preserving Our covenant, even if their outward selves are sullied by disobedience,” just as it is said:
When the lover has committed a single sin, his good qualities produce a thousand intercessors.
It is also said, “Assuredly, I know what you know not of My love for them. You disclose your states while I have hidden My secrets in them from them.” Regarding this [the poets] have recited: Those who defame have not diminished your rank with me, nor has the slander hurt you.
It is as if by criticizing you they have praised you in my sight, but they do not know.
It is also said, “Assuredly, I know what you know not of the breaking of the hearts [of humankind], even though they have done ugly acts, and [I know of] the immoderation of your hearts in disclosing your glorification and sanctification. You [angels] are in the rank of harmony (wifāq), with the sinlessness of your acts, and the adornment of your glorification, while they [humankind] are disavowed by their own witnesses and are lowly in their hearts. Truly, because of the breaking of the hearts of servants there is a powerful protective pact (dhimām) with Us.”
It is said, “What significance is there to your glorification if not for My grace?” And, “What harm is there in their sins when there is My pardon?” It is also said, “I clothed you with your obedience and clothed them with My mercy, so you are in the vest of your obedience and the garb of your sanctification and glorification, while they are enveloped in My pardon and veiled in My mercy. I have clothed them with the robe of My generosity and wrapped them in the cloak of My pardon.”
It is said, “My protection from sin has made you felicitious, yet they have received My mercy. My protection to you from sin is connected to your existence while the relationship of My mercy to them is eternal.”
It is said, “While your virtuous one (muḥsin) may take precedence in sinlessness, their sinner (mujram) is drowned in mercy.”
It is said. “Their reliance on Me purifies their states. It causes them to seek protection in the acknowledgment of ignorance, so [the servants] declare themselves free of different types of knowledge except to the degree granted them by the Real.” They said, “Glory be to you! We know not except what You have taught us” [2:32].