One of the wisdoms of the stories in the Qur'an is that the believer, regardless of his situation, will recognize part of his personal circumstances in the Qur'an. The believer will question himself where he is (or rather his nature, characteristics and personality) within the Qur'an. The tale of Habeel and Qabeel describes the first major sin on earth, what led to the events, their implications, and how to avoid taking the same path. We are taught the lessons to be learnt, what Allah is teaching us and what key points Allah emphasizes for our own personal understanding and development.
We travel back to the beginning of Mankind's presence on earth, after Adam AS and his wife were banished from Paradise. Eventually, Adam AS and Hawwa (or Eve) started to bear children, giving the earth its first inhabitants, and from there, earth was filled with mankind. It is believed that Hawwa bore sets of twins, and in each birth there was a male and a female child. In the first generation of mankind, they were commanded that each son would marry the sister of his brother with whom she was born, in other words, no one was allowed to get married with his sister with whom he was born.
Life was simple, with agricultural roots. Adam AS was taught certain basic skills such as grazing, farming, milling flour and baking bread. It was not a life of luxury, and there was no material wealth to be obsessed with, yet before long, jealousy sparked the first crime in humankind.
It was a crime of murder and was motivated by the jealousy of Qabeel, one of the sons of Adam AS, against Habeel, his brother.
Although born of the same womb, Habeel and Qabeel had opposite personalities. Habeel had an energetic and hardworking disposition, and carried on his affairs in a humble manner. He was in constant remembrance and thanks to Allah, and loved to sacrifice in the way of Allah. He had a kind and compassionate personality, and never complained. He lived his life in complete reliance on Allah, and was extremely generous by nature.
Qabeel was the opposite. Apart from being lazy, he had no gratitude towards Allah. He was constantly discontented with whatever Allah had given him and never spared the time to thank Allah for the bounties bestowed on him. There was little, if any, remembrance of Allah in his heart, for he was constantly blaming, complaining and comparing his circumstances to those of others. He looked on life through the eyes of jealousy and envy, blaming everyone – Allah and his parents included – but never himself.
According to some reports from the Companions, the incident was sparked when Qabeel refused to marry the twin sister of Habeel who was designated to him, preferring instead his own twin sister who was younger and more beautiful.
The matter was referred to Adam AS. Being a fair parent, he did not take sides or encourage sibling rivalry by judging in favour of one son, but rather asked Habeel and Qabeel to consign the affair to Allah, where each son was to sacrifice a gift to Allah and let Allah decide the outcome.
In the early days, retribution for sins was swift and obvious. Similarly, when sacrifices were made to Allah, the evidence of whether the sacrifice was accepted was immediately apparent, for a fire would descend from the sky and claim the superior sacrifice.
Due to his generous and God fearing nature, Habeel was keen to offer only the best to Allah. Being a shepherd, he sacrificed the choicest of his lambs. Qabeel, on the other hand, offered a bundle of his most inferior crops. Instead of displaying humbleness and generosity towards Allah, he rationalized that Allah was in no need his offerings, and thus gave seeds and crops of the worst quality. There was no element in sacrifice in Qabeel's behaviour.
The Acceptance of the Sacrifice
Both offerings being presented, a fire devoured the sacrifice of Habeel, leaving Qabeel's meagre offerings untouched.
"And recite upon them the true story of the two sons of Adam. When they offered a sacrifice, it was accepted from one them and not accepted from the other." (5:27)
Invariably, Qabeel was angry and jealous that his offering was not accepted by Allah. True to his nature, he was upset by Allah's decision. Some reports mentioned that he accused Adam AS of supplicating in favour of Habeel for his sacrifice to be accepted.
What was to prevent Qabeel from accepting and being contented with Allah's decree? What stopped him from seeking Allah for the wisdom behind the events? What was to restrain him from making repentance to Allah for his substandard offerings, or from seeking Allah's guidance in why his sacrifice was rejected?
It was jealousy and arrogance. Here we can see how Satan's game repeats itself – Qabeel was discontented, and this discontentment bred envy and jealousy, and from such jealousy, Allah blinded Qabeel and made him arrogant.
Qabeel set out to confront Habeel, whereupon he told his brother: "I will kill you". Habeel, not intimidated, responded, "Allah accepts only from those who are pious." (5:27)
Although Habeel was the stronger of the two, instead of retaliating against Qabeel's threatening behaviour, Habeel continued: "Yet if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand to kill you, for I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds. (Instead) I would prefer that you bear the burden of my sin and your sin, and so become an inhabitant of the Fire, that is the recompense of the transgressors." (5:28- 29)
Habeel's reaction demonstrated his self-restraint, piety and noble character. Qabeel on the other hand, allowed himself to succumb to the whisperings of Iblis instead of seeking Allah's guidance. Enraged by the reply, Qabeel killed his brother with an iron rod (and in some other accounts, hit him on the head with a rock), thus committing the first ever murder in mankind's history.