Is Human the Successor (Khalifa) of God?


(The Issue of Successor and Predecessor)

            God the Almighty commands:

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ.

             “When your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a being that will be successor (to one another) on earth.” they said, “Will You place in it someone who will make mischief in it and shed blood? Yet, doing everything right and well belongs to You, so we serve You. You do in the purest way.”[1] God said, “I know what you do not know.”” (Al Baqarah/The Cow; 2:30)

One who replaces someone else is called the successor, in Arabic khalifa. God has created each human being in a way that he or she can replace someone else. Human, first replaces the elders of the family. All through life, just like he or she can take the possessions, positions and opportunities of someone else, can also lose those of his or her own.

All turmoils stem from the fear of losing what one has and from the desire of replacing someone else. The ones that defied the Prophets had also acted upon the fear of losing what they had. In response, each prophet said the following[G1] :

            “And I do not ask you for it any reward. My reward is only from the Lord of the worlds.” (Ash-Shuara’/The Poets; 26:127)

Angels, when they said “Will You place in it someone who will make mischief in it and shed blood?”expressed the worry they had about this system. God did not say that this would not happen, but stated that there were things the angels did not know.

People generally try to replace others by means of their knowledge and skills. The ones who want to replace those people need even more knowledge and skills. This causes a beneficial competition. Developments occur for the individual and for the society. Science and civilization emerge. Without the system of successorship, humans would be such beings like others, unable to form a civilization. Possibly this was the aspect the angels did not know.

Basing their views upon this verse, some argue that there were Adams before the Adam, and that they caused corruption upon the earth and shed blood. They say that the angels, knowing the others, told that the descendants of Adam would also cause corruption. If this claim were true, God the Almighty would not tell the angels“Indeed, I know that which you do not know”.

The fact that successorship, referring to the system where one tries to replace another, causes bloodshed can be seen in the animal kingdom. For example, no rooster can tolerate another rooster in his coop. One of the two roosters either leaves or is killed by the other. If the fight for successorship existed also among the hens, even more blood would be shed. The worry of the angels, who learnt that all humans – both men and women – were created within the system of successorship, may stem from their observations of the animal kingdom.

Based on this verse, it is also claimed that the human is the successor of God. Because a successor is a person who replaces the previous one and takes his position,[2] the former one should either be absent there or be incapable or dead. Concerning God, these are unthinkable. Therefore human can only be another human’s successor, not the God’s. God the Almighty commands:

 يَا دَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَى فَيُضِلَّكَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ.

             “Oh David, We made you a successor to this land, so judge among the people with justice, and do not follow the desires, lest it diverts you from God’s way.” (Sad; 38:26)

This is because David had replaced Talut, who reigned that land. All the verses concerning this issue discuss humans being successors of each other.[3] Four of those are as follows:

 ذَّبُوهُ فَنَجَّيْنَاهُ وَمَنْ مَعَهُ فِي الْفُلْكِ وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ خَلَائِفَ وَأَغْرَقْنَا الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآَيَاتِنَا فَانْظُرْ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الْمُنْذَرِينَ.

             “But they denied him, so We saved him and those with him in the Ark, and We made them successors, and We drowned those who denied Our signs. So consider the end of those who were warned.” (Yunus/Jonah; 10:73)

قَالُوا أُوذِينَا مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ تَأْتِيَنَا وَمِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جِئْتَنَا قَالَ عَسَى رَبُّكُمْ أَنْ يُهْلِكَ عَدُوَّكُمْ وَيَسْتَخْلِفَكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَيَنْظُرَ كَيْفَ تَعْمَلُونَ.

             “They said, “We have been persecuted before you came to us and after you have come to us.” He said, “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.” ” (Al-A’raf/The Elevated Place; 7:129)


 وَلَقَدْ أَهْلَكْنَا الْقُرُونَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَمَّا ظَلَمُواْ وَجَاءتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَمَا كَانُواْ لِيُؤْمِنُواْ كَذٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْقَوْمَ الْمُجْرِمِينَ .ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ خَلاَئِفَ فِي الأَرْضِ مِن بَعْدِهِم لِنَنظُرَ كَيْفَ تَعْمَلُونَ

            “We destroyed generations before you when they did wrong. Their messengers came to them with clear signs, but they would not believe. Thus We requite the guilty people.

Then We made you successors on earth after them, to see how you would do. (Yunus/Jonah; 10:13-14)


وَرَبُّكَ الْغَنِيُّ ذُو الرَّحْمَةِ إِن يَشَأْ يُذْهِبْكُمْ وَيَسْتَخْلِفْ مِن بَعْدِكُم مَّا يَشَاءُ كَمَا أَنشَأَكُم مِّن ذُرِّيَّةِ قَوْمٍ آخَرِينَ

            “And your Lord is the Rich, the possessor of mercy. If He prefers, he can do away with you and give succession after you to whomever He prefers, just as He brought you forth from the descendants of another people.” (Al-An’am/The Cattle; 6:133)


With someone whose knowledge I trust, we had the following talk:[4]

I asked: Can human be the proxy of God?

He said: No, God did not even assign his Prophet as a proxy, would he assign us? He told his Prophet:

            “Nor are you a proxy for them.” (Al-An’am/The Cattle; 6:107)

            “But you are only a warner.” (Hud; 11:12)

I asked: Can human be the successor of God?

He said: Yes, because God told the angels, I am placing a being that will be successor on earth.

            I asked: Is succession or proxy a higher duty?

He said: Succession. Proxy is allowed to represent in some subjects but the authority of the successor is higher.

I asked: Can one, who cannot be God’s proxy, be His successor?

He said: Then how do you understand that verse?

I said: When you see the related verses, it becomes apparent that in Al-Baqarah verse 30 what is discussed is that one person will replace another; that is, sthe system of successorship and predecessorship. Human cannot be the successor of God. This is contradictory to the word’s meaning in the dictionary, as well as its meaning as a term. Moreover, this causes an ugly situation. This is because, in this case, the angels, by saying that someone who will take the place of God will be corrupting and shedding blood, would have implied that the God is corrupting and shedding blood. Both God the Almighty and the angels are clear of such things.

He said: You silenced me.

[1] See the section “Exaltation and Sanctification”

[2] “الخليفةمناستخلفمكانمنقبلهويقوممقامه” al-Halil b. Ahmad (100-175 h.) al-Ayn, Tahqiq; Mehdi al-Mahzoomi, Ibrahim as-Samerai, Iran, 1409, art. خلف, v. IV, p.267.

[3] The words from the root khalaf are mentioned in the following verses: Baqara 2/30,66; Al-e Imran 3/170; Nisa 4/9; An’am 6/133,165; A’raf 7/69,74,129,169;Jonah 10/14,73; Hud 11/57; Ra’d 13/11; Isra 17/76; Maryam 19/59; Noor 24/55; Naml 27/62, Fatir 35/39. Sad 38/26.  20 verses in total.

 [4] This person is Celal Börühan who worked and retired as a Member of Advisory (Fatwa) Board in Istanbul Muftulugu.

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Date: Dec 28, 2015
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