The following passage from the third lecture in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34) offers Iqbal’s comments on the Quranic version of the story of Genesis.
The remarkable points of difference between the Quranic and the Biblical narrations suggest unmistakably the purpose of the Quranic narration.
1. The Quran omits the serpent and the rib-story altogether. The former omission is obviously meant to free the story from its phallic setting and its original suggestion of a pessimistic view of life. The latter omission is meant to suggest that the purpose of the Quranic narration is not historical, as in the case of the Old Testament, which gives us an account of the origin of the first human pair by way of a prelude to the history of Israel. Indeed, in the verses which deal with the origin of man as a living being, the Quran uses the words Bashar or Insan, not Adam, which it reserves for man in his capacity of God's vicegerent on earth. The purpose of the Quran is further secured by the omission of proper names mentioned in the Biblical narration–Adam and Eve. The word Adam is retained and used more as a concept than as the name of a concrete human individual. This use of the word is not without authority in the Quran itself. The following verse is clear on the point:
‘We created you; then fashioned you; then said We to the angels, “prostrate yourself unto Adam”’ (7: ii).
2. The Quran splits up the legend into two distinct episodes–the one relating to what it describes simply as `the tree' and the other relating to the ‘tree of eternity’ and the ‘kingdom that faileth not’. The first episode is mentioned in the 7th and the second in the 20th Surah of the Quran. According to the Quran, Adam and his wife, led astray by Satan whose function is to create doubts in the minds of men, tasted the fruit of both the trees, whereas according to the Old Testament man was driven out of the Garden of Eden immediately after his first act of disobedience, and God placed, at the eastern side of the garden, angels and a flaming sword, turning on all sides, to keep the way to the tree of life.
3. The Old Testament curses the earth for Adam's act of disobedience; the Quran declares the earth to be the ‘dwelling place’ of man and a ‘source of profit’ to him for the possession of which he ought to be grateful to God. ‘And We have established you on the earth and given you therein the supports of life. How little do ye give thanks!’ (7: 10). Nor is there any reason to suppose that the word Jannat (garden) as used here means the supersensual paradise from which man is supposed to have fallen on this earth. According to the Quran, man is not a stranger on this earth. ‘And We have caused you to grow from the earth’, says the Quran. The Jannat, mentioned in the legend, cannot mean the eternal abode of the righteous. In the sense of the eternal abode of the righteous, Jannat is described by the Quran to be the place ‘wherein the righteous will pass to one another the cup which shall engender no light discourse, no motive to sin’. It is further described to be the place ‘wherein no weariness shall reach the righteous, nor forth from it shall they be cast’. In the Jannat mentioned in the legend, however, the very first event that took place was man’s sin of disobedience followed by his expulsion. In fact, the Quran itself explains the meaning of the word as used in its own narration. In the second episode of the legend the garden is described as a place ‘where there is neither hunger, nor thirst, neither heat nor nakedness’. I am, therefore, inclined to think that the Jannat in the Quranic narration is the conception of a primitive state in which man is practically unrelated to his environment and consequently does not feel the sting of human wants the birth of which alone marks the beginning of human culture.
Thus we see that the Quranic legend of the Fall has nothing to do with the first appearance of man on this planet. Its purpose is rather to indicate man's rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience. The Fall does not mean any moral depravity; it is man's transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness, a kind of waking from the dream of nature with a throb of personal causality in one's own being. Nor does the Quran regard the earth as a torture-hall where an elementally wicked humanity is imprisoned for an original act of sin. Man's first act of disobedience was also his first act of free choice; and that is why, according to the Quranic narration, Adam's first transgression was forgiven.