The word khalīfatan / خَلِيفَةً occurs twice in the Quran.

[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a khalifa on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.”

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

[38:26] O David, we have made you a khalifa on earth. Therefore, you shall judge among the people equitably, and do not follow your personal opinion, lest it diverts you from the way of GOD. Surely, those who stray off the way of GOD incur severe retribution for forgetting the Day of Reckoning.

 يَادَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَىٰ فَيُضِلَّكَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَضِلُّونَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ بِمَا نَسُوا يَوْمَ الْحِسَابِ

The root for this word is خ ل ف and has the following derivative meanings:

خ ل ف: To follow/come after/succeed another, substitute or supersede, to supply/be a supplier to someone, to restore or replace a thing to someone, smite or strike from behind, yearn towards other than one's spouse (in the spouses absence/behind his or her back), speak of/mention someone behind his or her back, remain behind/not go forth, to be kept back from all good, to not prosper or be successful, to become corrupt or altered for the worse, retire/withdraw/go away, to turn away from/avoid/shun a thing, to become foolish/idiotic/deficient in intellect, contrarious/hard in disposition, to leave behind, to appoint someone as successor, disagree with or differ from someone, contradict or oppose someone, to break/fail to perform a promise, to follow reciprocally/alternate/interchange, repeatedly move to and fro (coming and going), to differ/ be dissimilar

Throughout the Quran we see that this root is used 127 times with one of several meanings:

  • To break or violate an agreement
  • To dispute
  • To alternate
  • To stay behind
  • To come after (e.g. succeed)
  • various
  • successor, inheritor, ruler

But what is the meaning of khalīfatan / خَلِيفَةً in 2:30 and 38:26.

When we read 38:26, it is clear that David is an inheritor/successor of the Earth, and God is making him a ruler by asking him to judge equitably. Therefore, it make sense to translate khalīfatan / خَلِيفَةً as ruler in English.

[38:26] O David, we have made you a ruler on earth. Therefore, you shall judge among the people equitably, and do not follow your personal opinion, lest it diverts you from the way of GOD. Surely, those who stray off the way of GOD incur severe retribution for forgetting the Day of Reckoning.

Additionally, we see this confirmed in the following verse that David was a king and was given authority to judge.

[2:251] They defeated them by GOD’s leave, and David killed Goliath. GOD gave him kingship and wisdom, and taught him as He willed. If it were not for GOD’s support of some people against others, there would be chaos on earth. But GOD showers His grace upon the people.

فَهَزَمُوهُمْ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَقَتَلَ دَاوُودُ جَالُوتَ وَآتَاهُ اللَّهُ الْمُلْكَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَعَلَّمَهُ مِمَّا يَشَاءُ وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَفَسَدَتِ الْأَرْضُ وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ ذُو فَضْلٍ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

But who is the Khalifa in 2:30, and what is the proper way to translate this word in this verse?

Let’s start by looking at the verse in context.

[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a khalifa on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.”

From this exchange between God and the angels we can make the following inferences.

  1. The angels understood the concept of Earth
  2. From this exchange with God, the angels had a reason to believe that the Khalifa of Earth would not be righteous
  3. That despite God placing a Khalifa on Earth, the angels will continue to sing God’s praises
  4. God is letting the angels know that He knows what they do not, meaning there is more to the story than God is letting it be known

[2:31] He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, “Give Me the names of these, if you are right.” [2:32] They said, “Be You glorified, we have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. You are the Omniscient, Most Wise.” [2:33] He said, “O Adam, tell them their names.” When he told them their names, He said, “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know what you declare, and what you conceal.”

Up until this point, it appears that the Khalifa that God is selecting is Adam, but there is a major issue with this assumption: Adam is in Paradise not Earth. Up until this point there is no indication of Adam being placed on Earth, but it told that he will reside in Paradise.

[2:34] When we said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam,” they fell prostrate, except Satan; he refused, was too arrogant, and a disbeliever.

At this point it becomes clear that this creation of Adam, was to expose Satan’s true convictions. This event caused Satan to turn from an angel to a jinn.

[18:50] We said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam.” They fell prostrate, except Satan. He became a jinn, for he disobeyed the order of His Lord.

Additionally, we see in this verse, that in this world we have one of two choices, either God or Satan.

[18:50]…Will you choose him (Satan) and his descendants as lords instead of Me, even though they are your enemies? What a miserable substitute!

This further confirms that Satan is the Khalifa depicted in 2:30, as he is the alternative choice for the Children of Adam. This is significant because one of the meanings of خَلِيفَةً in addition to ruler, as shown in 38:26, is also as an alternate e.g. an alternative option to God.

The Devil is the Other Alternative
[36:60] Did I not covenant with you, O Children of Adam, that you shall not worship the devil? That he is your most ardent enemy? [36:61] And that you shall worship Me alone? This is the right path. [36:62] He has misled multitudes of you. Did you not possess any understanding?

This makes sense because when God told the angels that he is placing a khalifa (alternate option), this was why the angels firstly knew that this entity would be evil as this khalifa would be as an alternate to God, and what is the opposite of God except evil. Secondly this clarifies why the angels opted to singing God’s praises despite this alternative choice.

[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a khalifa (alternative option) on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.”

We see that this was a scheme that God devised to dupe Satan and his constituents, that not even the angels were aware of when God informed them of His decision. The entire time God made it appear that the alternative ruler that He was placing on Earth was going to be Adam, but what the angels and Iblees were not aware of was that the alternative ruler was destined to be Satan.

In this world, we have a choice: to either follow God or to follow Satan. The angels made their choice in heaven without even considering the alternative that they would stick with God and continue to sing His praises. Adam, on the other hand, selected to take his chances in Paradise knowing that if he failed to uphold God’s command that he would be destined to fall. This is in contrast to Satan, who made his stance known when God commanded him to fall prostrate before Adam and he refused. After making this stance, Satan vowed that his mission till the Day of Judgement would be to recruit as many humans as he can away from God as their Lord.

[7:172] Recall that your Lord summoned all the descendants of Adam, and had them bear witness for themselves: “Am I not your Lord?” They all said, “Yes. We bear witness.” Thus, you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were not aware of this.” [7:173] Nor can you say, “It was our parents who practiced idolatry, and we simply followed in their footsteps. Will You punish us because of what others have innovated?” [7:174] We thus explain the revelations, to enable the people to redeem themselves. [7:175] Recite for them the news of one who was given our proofs, but chose to disregard them. Consequently, the devil pursued him, until he became a strayer.

This is the reason that Rashad Khalifa, translated Khalifa in 2:30 as “a representative (temporary god)” since a believer will choose God as their god, while a disbeliever alternatively will choose Satan as their god.

[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a representative (a temporary god) on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.”

****

[16:98] When you read the Quran, you shall seek refuge in GOD from Satan the rejected. [16:99] He has no power over those who believe and trust in their Lord. [16:100] His power is limited to those who choose him as their master; those who choose him as their god.

[7:11] We created you, then we shaped you, then we said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam.” They fell prostrate, except Iblees (Satan); he was not with the prostrators. The Test Begins [7:12] He said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I ordered you?” He said, “I am better than he; You created me from fire, and created him from mud.” [7:13] He said, “Therefore, you must go down, for you are not to be arrogant here. Get out; you are debased.” [7:14] He said, “Grant me a respite, until the Day of Resurrection.” [7:15] He said, “You are granted a respite.” [7:16] He said, “Since You have willed that I go astray,* I will skulk for them on Your straight path. Footnote [7:17] “I will come to them from before them, and from behind them, and from their right, and from their left, and You will find that most of them are unappreciative.” [7:18] He said, “Get out therefrom, despised and defeated. Those among them who follow you, I will fill Hell with you all.

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