Satan in the Quran
It burdens the hearts of Muslims who believe in the Quran verbatim, to know of a certain school of thought that, in the sway of modern western thinking, tends to be skeptical about supernatural entities and seeks to find empirical equivalents to such entities. For them, in order to remain as believers, the choice is to grant such Quranic entities a metaphorical status, making them not a reality but an attempted explanation of reality. This type of approach toward the Quran is erroneous – in the attempt of reconciling the Quran with so-called science, it reduces the Quran into a mythical dialect that would become obsolete in a modern scientific and empirical age.
The truth about science is that it is humble, from its onset it confesses of being confined in ‘an objective reality, shared by rational observers and governed by observable natural laws’. In this, Science does not defy the numerous other possibilities that do not lie inside the world ‘shared by rational observers’, it simply says they are beyond its jurisdiction – but it is the so-called scientific community that stubbornly insists that other possibilities must not exist. In reality, to negate the existence of possibilities without proof is an unscientific attitude and being certain of an idea without proof changes it from fact to ‘belief’.
True belief lies in the acknowledgement of the Ultimate Reality, the evidence of which is found in rational thought itself, as rationality begs for a conceiver, a designer and an executor of the Universe. And once belief has been vouchsafed unto that Ultimate Reality, truth is what it says is true and false is what it says is false. Belief is such a thing…
When the Prophet retuned from the Night of the Isra and Miraj, in the morning he came out into the Kaaba, telling the people about his journey. Abu Bakr was at his home, unaware of the miracle that had gone past. Mocking at the Prophet’s tale, some men reached Abu Bakr’s doorstep, calling him. As he came out startled at the noise, they mocked, ‘did you hear your friend Muhammad saying, he went to Jerusalem, made Salah there, and returned to Makkah last night’. Abu Bakr, without a moment’s hesitation replied, ‘By Allah, if he said that, he has told the truth. For he has told me to believe in a God without seeing Him and I believed, and that is even stranger that this’.
Now that we believe in Allah, we also believe in all entities He informs us of and need to understand the nature of Satan, our enemy from eternity – to be able to confront and defeat him – and the Quran is the ultimate source that will guide us in our battle against Satan.
The word Shataan comes several times in the Quran giving us sure belief that the entity exists. The Quran is constantly warning us of its presence, in fact, the word Shataan comes 67 times in the Quran, whereas the words Iblees and Shayateen (partners of Shataan) come 11 and 21 times respectively, which make 99 mentions in all. Does the concept of this entity, as given in the Quran make sense in our practical life, does it relate to real issues; that is what we will endeavor to find in this essay.
The root word of Shataan is shattan (sheen,tua,nun), this root word holds the following meanings in the dictionary: 'was or become remote or distant', 'enter or firmly fix in', 'turn in opposition to', 'rope, long rope', 'burn, burnt', 'exeedingly corrupt, unbelieving, rebellious'.
In Islamic exegesis the personal name of Shatan mentioned is Azzazeel. This name comes from the Arabic base word ayn-zay-lam, which means ‘to set aside’, ‘remove from’, ‘a place separate from the rest’, and ‘to separate or remove one self from’ – these meanings go well with someone whom Allah has banished from the heavens for his sinful attitudes. Another common name used for Shataan is Iblees, this name is same as Latin Diabaulus and Greek Diabolos and hence the word diabolic. The word iblees comes from root word balas (ba,lam,seen) which has a variety of meaning such as, ‘despaired’, ‘given up hope’, ‘broken’, ‘split’, ‘mournful’, ‘silent’, ‘no answer of despair and grief’, ‘confounded’, ‘perplexed’, ‘unable to see right course’, ‘become cut short’, ‘stopped’.
It is evident from these meanings that the devil being acquainted to us by these names in the Quran, is an angry, envious, stubborn creature, let loose to do his way till a fixed time. Not only is he far removed from the truth, he is also well aware of his punish-state and is completely void of any good hope. Extremely mournful and assured of his irreversible state, his personality is confounded with perplex introversion. The only source of console he can find in his despair, agony and split personality is to constantly take revenge – on Adam and his generations.
The dark sides of this envious creature are revealed on several occasions in the Quran. To be concise and relevant we will be taking meanings of phrases instead of full ayahs to try to paint a comprehensive picture of Shataan as depicted in the Quran.
Quran tells us that Iblees was a Jinn (18:50). The genus of the Jinn, in conscious form, was created before the genus of the Man. The Angels, this universe, the earth and the Jinn had been created before Adam had been created (7:11); the angels were made out of light (Sahih Muslim), Adam, from petrified rattling clay, the Jinn from a mix of fire (55:14, 15). Before Adam was to be created, Allah had summoned the angels and Iblees, to tell them that they were to bow down onto Adam when he had been created (15:29), (38:71, 72).
Based on some Hadith, it is usually accounted in exegesis that Iblees was such a devout in worship that he had been placed in the ranks of the angels. But if we consider the meanings of the name Azzazeel, we can assume that he had been, as a favor by Allah, set aside in ‘a place separate from the rest’, a special place where his evil was concealed from him and where he could see himself in his goodness. This is the same place which the Quran refers to in the banishment ayahs, wherein he is told to ‘get out of what you are in’ (15:34).
Satan Disobeys Allah
In the glorious kingdom of the Majesty, where everything is absolute in beauty, harmony and power, believing is inevitably the very food and breathe of every soul. When you are in the presence of the Mighty One, so close to the throne, the power and freedom you possess, however magnanimous – are power at His service, and freedom, willfully under His Will. In such heights and in such enlightened states, Iblees had been put in a cursed capsule of vanity and self-conceit, as if in a glass house of beautified imagery and self-esteem; this is confirmed in the ayahs where he will later be asked to ‘get out of what you are in’ (15:34) and ’get down from there, it is not for you to magnify yourself in this…’ (7:13).
This special place where the Satan resided was a condition wherein, even knowing the powers and supremacy of the Lord and being in the great Presence, he could not suppress his envy against Adam. The evil of vanity inside him had grown so large, that he could not but rebel and break out of the Command of the Lord. ‘He refused, made big of himself and was of the concealers (of truth)’ (2:34) – he did not bow down onto Adam.
When after his misdoing, Allah asked him, in front of the grand assembly, why had he not prostrated onto Adam, his ignoble answer was, ‘I am better than him, you made me of fire and him of soil’ (7:12) and said, ‘am I to bow onto man, whom you made out of petrified dried clay’ (15:33).
Immediately, Allah’s wrath befell upon him and he was told to get out of the place he was in (7:13), he was cursed and stoned (15:34), made little (7:15), wretched, banished from the kingdom (7:16) and promised to be filled in hell (7:16).
Being done with the misdeed and sentenced with eternal damnation, he did not plead for forgiveness – for Shataan did not possess the material of repentance and return. Ever vain of the powers he possessed, he stood up to challenge Adam and all his generations; ‘spare me till doomsday’ (15:35) he said, ‘I will sit in Thy straight path…’ (7:14), ‘I will come to them from their fronts, their backs, their left and right...’ (7:15), ‘I will beautify the earth in their eyes and abduct them all...’ (15:39), ‘I will destroy his whole generation except a few... (17:62), ‘I will give them false hopes, order them to cut the ears of animals and to change the creations...’ (4:119).
The answer for Allah was, ‘you are spared till the day of resurrection...’ (15:36), ‘...till the known time…’ (15:37), ‘stray whoever you can, with your voice, and with your horses and men and be part-taker in their wealth and their children…’ (17:64).
So, Shataan has been granted this long time till doomsday; to spread his filth, to harbor his hatred and to whisper into man’s heart the darkest, most heinous, most despicable ideas. His greed for man’s destruction will not stop at any level, the more his initiate complies with him, the more demanding the initiation will become, till he drags us down to the deepest flames of hell.
Satan confronts Adam
The first attempt of Shataan was on our very first, Adam and his pair, ‘he kept whispering onto them, to unveil their bad parts onto them…’ (7:22), ‘…lied to them… (7:21) that the tree was the tree of eternal kingdom and (eating from it) would make them of angels and swore to them…’ (7:21) that he was their truthful friend, ‘conjured them with conceit…’ (7:21), until ‘he slipped them …and had them expelled from what they were in…’ (2:37) and ‘…they ate from the tree…’ (7:22).
The Judaic and Christian story of Satan, coming to Eve in the form of a serpent is rejected in the Quran, nor does the Quran accuse Eve of persuading Adam on eating the fruit. The Quran explicitly says that the two things Satan told Adam and Eve regarding the Tree, to be the Tree of eternal life and that it would turn them into angels was a ‘lie’. While the Tree being the Tree of Knowledge is a fabrication, as Adam had already been vouchsafed with knowledge on the event of his creation. Satan’s work was/is not to guide Adam and his generations towards knowledge of ‘good and evil’, but to blur the difference with his ‘lies’ and ‘conceits’.
His second attempt was on Adam’s son Qabeel (Cain), in whose heart he was able to sow the seed of envy and hate to the extent that Cain killed his brother Habeel (Abel). The Quran does not say that the Satan persuaded Cain unto killing his brother, rather it says, ‘so his soul consented him on the murder of his brother, and he murdered him…’ (5:30), which means that in Earthly life Satan will not come to man directly as he had come to Adam and his pair in the Jannah but will come as an idea, as a part of man’s own thought and man will consent with the idea without realizing where it had come from, unless his has prepared himself against this predator.
The Quran helps us to prepare against this predator by telling us how he is capable of attempting on us.
Satan’s Game Plan
Quran says, ‘he constantly batters on the heart of man (6:121), he tries to culture split personality in us and make us lie (2:14), he makes us laugh upon the pious (2:14), he drags us into sin and vulgarity (2:169), he makes us say false things about Allah without knowledge (2:168), he takes us away from peace (2:208), he makes us wish for trouble and show ungratefulness (34:19), he makes us afraid of poverty so we would not spend in Allah’s way (2:268), he weakens our hearts at time of calamity (3:155), he makes us afraid of his friends (non-believers and their power centers)(3:175). Like this he tries to intimidate us at the personal level – but he is also aware of the ways he will damage us as a whole people.
Shataan, knowing the very keys to our destruction, tries to tear apart the fabric of human society by urging man to, take ‘interest’ on money (2:275), to make us spend money for show-off (4:38), to drink, gamble and draw lots (5:90), to make envy and hatred between (our) fellowmen (5:91), to make up words to purge and make fraud (6:112), to unveil and unclothe us (7:26), to instigate us to make plot against each other (12:5); to overspend (17:26); to make unpleasant speech to create discord (17:53); to whisper in public (58:10); to follow (unnatural deeds of) forefathers (31:21).
Humanity should be aware and awake as to how we are being attacked and how we are falling, day and night, under the sway of the devil, whom we sympathize so fleetingly, when some of us say something paradoxical like ‘Allah made him this way, it wasn’t his fault’ – if Allah is indeed responsible for creating all things, why should we not then take His words for what those things are?
On the same premises that man is responsible for all his deeds, Shataan is too, he is a jinn, and jinn possess free will, that is why they will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. But how is man superior to the jinn, as the Quran tells us that man has been made in the ‘Ahsan e Takween’, is a mystery which will be resolved in the other life.
In fact the Quran says that we humans are responsible for all the things we do – Shataan ‘has no power on us, he just invites’ (14:22). But the invitation is not that simple, he is really after us, possibly he could be instigating the many behavior patterns that are considered abnormal or even psychopathic, as ‘he destroys peace...’ (2:208), ‘he batters on the heart…’ (6:121), ‘he comes from all sides…’ (7:15), ‘he sees you from where you see him not…’ (7:27), ‘he gives false wishes’ (4:119), ‘promises them, gives false hopes’ (4:120), ‘stops from remembering Allah’ (5:91), ‘hardens the heart’ (6:43), ‘makes forget the right’ (6:68), ‘he stalks the man, who has broken away from Allah, everywhere..’ (7:175), ‘casts his impurities in man…’ (8:11), yet ‘makes their doings look good to them…’ (8:48), ‘orders strange (new, deviant) things…’ (24:21), until ‘when man forgets Allah, Allah assigns a devil on that man (as a curse)…’ (43:36) but man stays away from Allah because ‘Shataan makes man unthankful… promising him far off things…’ (47:25).
Alas ‘when man makes him friend, he destroys him completely…’ (4:119).
But all these warning do not mean that Allah ever forsakes man, He away aids him with messages of guidance and forgiveness. Since the beginning of mankind, very civilization, wherever in the world was flooded with messengers from Allah but man kept aloof, until the fixed time of the final and complete message came. Man tends to disbelieve because he cannot see the heavens and Allah with his two bare eyes, he knows Allah from his heart but confuses Him with so many other things that he can see and imagine. Shataan takes advantage of this, not by inciting that ‘there is no God’ but always starting with ‘there are many Gods’, which inevitably leads the way to total disbelief. So what he does to the faculty of religion in the society is that, ‘he makes men slay in the name of idols…’ (4:76), ‘makes men call (names of) women and jinns (including Shataan) instead of Allah…’ (4:117), until ‘men enslave onto him…’ (22:3). In fact he has been quiet successful, almost always, in swaying the religious feelings of man, into some sort of shamanism or magic; ‘men follow the Shayateen… into doing magic’ (2:102)
Allah Warns Against Satan
Allah warns humanity to beware of this predator, ‘Oh believers! Enter into peace totally; and not follow the footsteps of Shaytan…’ (2:208), for he is friend of the peace-hating, warmongering people, to the point that he gathers them for war and ‘he tells them’ that ‘no one will be victorious upon you this day’ and that ‘I am on your side’, but ‘when the two armies confront, turns his back on them..’ (8:48).
‘O believers! Not follow the footsteps of Shaytan, for he will order only the bad things’. (24:21)
No man is free from the sway of the Devil, he is the essential part of the test called life, even the prophets are not exempt from his testing, in fact the prophets will be tested harder and will pass better, ‘he is the enemy of prophets and messengers’ (6:112), ‘he intercedes between the messenger and the people… hardens the hearts.’(22:53), so that the people who have been called by the prophets, turn vain and insolent ‘…people who fight in Allah, without knowledge and follow all rebel shayateen… he will lead them only to the fury of hell…’ (22:3, 4).
‘Doubtlessly, Shaytan is your enemy, so take him as enemy; surely his party invites you to become the people of hell’ (34:6).
So has Allah left us alone in this delusional world to fight an invisible creature, which has an edge upon us – who can see us from where we can’t see it? Is it possible for us to win such a war, wherein we are under constant battering and the deceitful beautification of the vice is widespread? Has He equipped man with any weapon that can be used in this war? Yes! But this weapon is not made of steel or explosives, this weapon is only the ‘heart’ that throbs deep in our chests. What He wants from us is to believe and beware, to love goodness and hate badness in the deep corners of our hearts. He wants us to depend upon His grace against this enemy and to be always trying to recognize the evil when the Shaytan intimidates our thoughts with it and hate it to our fullest and ask Allah to show us the path to deliverance and to bestow us with the power to defeat him.
He wants us to know that goodness is power-centered in Him and that badness is power-centered in a weak creation of His, and its days are numbered. And He wants us to know this without seeing, hearing and without the help of our meter-readings and only by the inner experience – by the vibe that connect the inner strings with the waves that link the heart of man to the heart of the whole – and the whole to the external – and to the Throne. That is the level of sensitivity He seeks in us, recognize Me through and across all the veils, feel the gravity of My love, My presence – seek Me.
Allah does not expect from us that we will defeat Satan decisively at any point in earthly time; all He expects from us is to feel the truth and the falsehood. This is why when Allah will judge us, He will judge us on our hearts and our feelings – ‘the day when wealth and sons avail not. But only one, who comes to Allah with a peace-tilted heart’ 26: 88, 89.
Know Him, admit to Him and seek His help:
‘say; my Lord, give me refuge in You, from the whispers of the Shataan’ (23:97),
‘and when you find a whisper of persuasion from Shataan, take refuge in Allah, He is the hearer, the knower’ (41:36).