Is the narrative of Adam (s) in the Quran metaphorical?
This is something that some modernist Muslims claim in their attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the account of the creation of Adam in the Quran and hadith. There is much that is wrong about their claim, but let me focus on one aspect of it.
To understand what is or is not metaphorical in the Quran, one needs to understand the language of the Arabs of the time of the Prophet ﷺ and the language of the Quran itself. This is something that has been explicated at length in the Islamic sciences, tafsir and kalam in particular. In other words, the Quran implicitly and (often) explicitly indicates what is or is not metaphorical. And in some instances, there is room for disagreement.
The modernist claim about the creation of Adam, in contrast, is not based on the language of the Quran itself or any other aspect of Arabic linguistics. Rather, the sole basis of their claim — i.e., their only reason for surmising that the Quranic account is metaphorical at all — is that that account does not accord with modern evolutionary science. That evolutionary science serves as their criterion for understanding the world and its reality. But for the rest of us, Allah’s Book is our criterion. We start from the Words of the Creator and, using them, we judge the claims of others on that basis. Whatever accords with them, we accept. Whatever does not, we reject.
So that needs to be our fundamental orientation. That is our bedrock. When it comes to the narrative of Adam, there is nothing to suggest that Allah was giving us an extended metaphor. And no scholar in our tradition ever even suggested such a possibility, let alone accepted it. And the same goes for many of the other events mentioned in the Quran: the flood of Nuh, Sulayman’s control of the wind and his ability to speak to animals, the virgin birth of `Isa, etc.
But the question arises: What happens when there is conflict between what is clear-cut in the Quran and what seems to be clear-cut in scientific consensus? First of all, we stick to our fundamental orientation. Then we can critique the scientific consensus. Often times, that critique can happen on science’s own terms. But Muslims sometimes are doubtful about this: How are we going to understand something one way when all of the scientific community understands it another way?
In actuality, there is plenty of room for critique for those who take the time to look and are skeptical enough to ask the right questions.