Indeed, we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they declined to bear it and feared it; but man [undertook to] bear it. Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant. (33:72)
This is a very interesting verse. A lot of people claim based on it that everyone chose to be tested.
I will expound some of the different interpretations of this verse.
The first puzzling word is “Trust” or Amānah. What does it mean?
1. The first, most popular, and most correct opinion is that the Trust refers to the obligations and test given to humans. If they pass the test, they get rewarded, and if they fail, they get punished.
Saeed ibn Jubair said about it: “The obligations (faraīdh) Allah has obligated upon His servants.”
Muawiyah ibn Ali quoted from Ibn Abbas about it: “If they fulfill it, Allah would reward them. If they fail it, Allah would punish them.”
So, the trust is general and refers to all the obligations upon humans.
However, a few past scholars tried to limit it without much supporting evidence.
2. Some claimed the trust refers to Adam (AS) trying to find a successor after him. He asked the heavens and earth to be the successors after him, but they refused. Then, he asked his son, and his son accepted.
3. Some claimed Adam (AS) was going for Hajj and he asked the heavens, earth, and mountains to take care of his family. They all refused to take this trust, but his son Qabil agreed to take the trust. Then, Qabil, as is well-known, killed his brother.
These opinions have little to no supporting evidence. The stories they refer to might be from Jewish tradition.
Even if the stories were true, there is no reason to limit a general verse to such specific stories without evidence.
Heavens, Earth, and Mountains
The verse implies the heavens, earth, and mountains are sentient. This is not that much of a difficulty since Allah is capable of making them sentient then returning them to normal.
Allah also mentions in Surah Zalzalah that the earth will testify on the Day of Judgement.
An interesting alternative is to consider “heaven” to be short for “people of the heaven” or “angels of the heaven.” So, Allah could be saying that he offered it to the angels in the heaven, earth, and mountains, but they all refused to take it.
Man Bore the Trust
Allah says: “man [undertook to] bear it.”
In the Quran, the word “man” (insān) is used often to refer to humans in general or to refer to Adam (AS) specifically. What does it mean in this verse?
1. The majority has said “man” refers to Adam (AS). He took on the test of free will for himself and his descendants.
2. People who subscribed to the strange opinions mentioned before said the “man” refers to Adam (AS)’s son Qabil.
3. Some have said “man” refers to humans in general.
In favor of the third opinion, why would we limit a general wording to a specific story without evidence?
In favor of the first opinion, the notion that every human was asked whether he wants to take the test seems strange. What happens to those who do not want to take the test? When are they asked? One might expect some answers if it was true.
We have been assuming that “to bear” means to uphold the trust. Az-Zajjaj has an entirely different take on the word “bear.”
4. Bearing something is when you bear the burden of breaking it. So, “to bear” the trust means to break the trust. In this case, the verse isn’t about being given a choice to be tested at all.
The verse simply means: Allah commanded the heavens, earth, and mountains and they all obeyed him and feared breaking his command. However, humans broke his commands and bore the burden.
Unjust and Ignorant
Allah says: “Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.”
The four mentioned opinions would deal with these descriptors in different ways.
If the man is Adam (AS):
Adam (AS) ate from the tree, and this is being referred to as “injustice.” It is similar to how Adam (AS) and his wife say in dua after they ate from the tree, “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves […]” (7:23)
The word “wronged” and “unjust” have the same root: zalama.
He was ignorant of the fact that he would break the trust and be unable to fulfill it entirely.
If the man is Adam (AS)’s son:
He broke the trust by killing his brother and spreading corruption on earth after Adam (AS) left or died. That is why he is described as unjust and ignorant.
If the man refers to humans in general:
The disbelievers from among humans are unjust and ignorant, and they are the majority. So, the general word can be used to refer to them.
If “to bear” means “to break”:
Those who broke the trust are unjust and ignorant, and they are the disbelievers and hypocrites.
These descriptors seem to provide support for those who say the word “man” does not refer to Adam (AS) specifically, because one might argue it is inappropriate to describe Adam (AS) like that.
However, those who say it is Adam (AS) have their mentioned interpretation of it which they say is appropriate.
It is not possible for me to conclusively determine the most correct opinion.
However, it is evident that two opinions are strongest: 1) Adam (AS) and 2) humans in general.
The first is the opinion of the majority. The second opinion leads to a lot of unanswered questions like what, when, where, and why.
It is possible for someone to favor the second opinion over the first, however, that person must also acknowledge that his opinion is not clear-cut.
Question: Is it unfair not to be given the choice before being tested?
This is the main concern that compels people to adopt the opinion that everyone was asked whether they wanted to be tested. People assume it might be unfair if they weren’t asked.
However, this assumption is false. The test isn’t something evil such that Allah needs to take people’s consent before they are put in it. The test is entirely fair, and Allah can test people without them having agreed to it.
Some people might object and say: How is it fair if I didn’t want to be tested? What if I didn’t want to exist or I wanted to be inanimate?
I would respond with: Inequality is not the same as unfairness. You are not equal to the mountains or other inanimate objects. We already agree to that. But, to prove something unfair, you need to show you are being denied some rights you have. There are no rights being denied here.
You do not have the right to be free from tests. Allah can test you if He wants. Whether you like it or not, you are in the test and will face the consequences of your actions.
The interpretation that everyone was asked before being tested is reasonable, but it is not the only possible interpretation of the verse. In fact, it would appear that the majority did not adopt this position.
Because of that, it is important to be careful when using this verse during dawah to claim that everyone was given a choice to be human. It may be more important to correct the error of assuming it is necessary for people to be asked before they are tested.