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SATAN. The name rendered “Satan” (Ar., shaytan) is derived from the Hebrew word for “adversary.” It has several meanings in the Islamic traditions. When the word is used as a generic, it refers to a class of jinn with exceptional powers; this is the case in stories about Solomon, who uses jinn and satans to do his work. Satans are also like familiar spirits who accompany and inspire poets and other talented people. Someone who is possessed by a jinn or a satan is thought to be psychologically deviant, but in this sense satans are not necessarily evil. Satans are also said to bring diseases and cause mischief. They are said to be powerless during the fasting month of Ramadan except against those who improperly break the fast, and the recitation of the Basmalah will drive them from any room. In the popular culture, prophylactic amulets worn to ward off satans are often fashioned in the shape of a hand with five fingers, five being a powerful magic number. Satans in corporal form are said to be ugly, with hooves for feet, and to dwell in dark places and ruins.

In a more specific sense, a satan is a representative of evil, the chief of the satans being Iblis, the rebel jinn who refused to bow down to Adam when all the angels were commanded to do so by God (Qur’an, 15.30-34, 17.61), for which he was cast out of heaven and said to be cursed (rajim). His real punishment is delayed until the day of judgment. In the interval, he is able to lead astray anyone who is not faithful to God. In the story of Adam and Eve, he climbed into the mouth of the serpent to induce them to disobedience; this resulted in the serpent’s loss of her feathers and legs. Iblis is said to have married the serpent afterward, thus linking serpents and Satan. Some traditions hold that the jinn are offspring of this union. Iblis is not the ruler of hell-a job reserved for an angel named Malik-but he will be thrown into hell along with all his host and the rest of the damned on the day of judgment (26.94-95). In postQur’anic speculation there is much discussion about whether Iblis is an angel or a jinn, and whether a jinn, a

satan, and an angel belong to the same class or are different. Satans and jinn are said to have been created from fire and angels from light, but the story of Ibfs’s rebellion against God seems to classify him with the angels. Some commentators assert that a jinn who is not a Muslim is a satan; if very large and powerful, it is an `ifrit. The `ifrits appear in the Thousand and One Nights and other popular tales and, though often evil, are sometimes helpful to humans. Islamic tradition never really settles the issue of the nature of satans, jinn, angels, and other similar creatures, although they are all regarded as having been created by God and, in the case of the jinn in particular, capable of becoming Muslim and being saved.

In Islamic thought, the satan Iblis represents the power of evil and is an enemy of God and humanity. Ibfs’s disobedience comes from pride, his belief that he was superior to Adam and the other angels. In keeping with Islamic monotheism, however, theologians point out that Iblis has no real power over humans that they do not themselves grant by being deceived by his trickery. He is always whispering in the ears of humans, but each person can resist the temptation. In popular tradition, he is also the one who instills the propensity to sin into humans at birth; some stories say that Jesus was preserved from sin by his mother’s ability to ward off Satan. There is also a popular belief that every human is accompanied by both an angel and a satan offering contradictory inspirations. (Some popular accounts say that Muhammad had a satan to whom he taught passages of the Qur’an.) Muslims on pilgrimage are reminded of the existence of Satan through the ritual act of stoning Satan in the form of a stone column, an act that ritually repels the evil in the world and also recalls Abraham’s stoning of Satan at Mina.

Within the Sufi tradition, Satan or Iblis is presented as a complex figure whose initial sin of rebellion against God was not simply evil or pride. Iblis, according to the mystic al-Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, refused to worship Adam because of his absolute commitment to monotheism. This absolute preference for the unity of God, even at the risk of disobeying God, makes Satan an ambiguous figure for the mystic who must ponder the tension between principle and obedience to divine command. Some Sufis contend that Iblis will be ultimately forgiven by God at the day of judgment because of his staunch unitarian position. Satan has also been identified with the lower appetites of humans, the socalled nafs, and as such has been identified with the serpent. Mystics who have attained spiritual mastery over the nafs can convert the base appetite into something useful, just as Moses’s rod was transformed into a snake and back again. Such spiritual masters have power over snakes, according to the legends, and can control actual as well as spiritual serpents.

Satan is not only the force of evil leading humans astray, but for some Muslims, particularly in modern times, he can appear in the person of a particular ruler or individual. During the Iranian Islamic Revolution, for example, popular rhetoric identified the Shah and subsequently the United States as the “Great Satan”–a usage paralleling both the Islamic and Jewish use of the term “pharaoh” to represent any evil ruler. In this view, Satan represents the personification of evil and loses some of the nuanced character shown in the Sufi tradition.


Kisa’i, Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah al-. The Tales of the Prophets of alKisa’i. Translated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Boston, 1978. Good translation of extra-Qur’anic stories about prophets, angels, devils, etc.

Macdonald, J. “The Creation of Man and Angels in the Eschatological Literature.” Islamic Studies 3 (1964): 285-3o8. Sound discussion of early Muslim ideas about angels.

Newby, Gordon D. The Making of the Last Prophet. Columbia, S.C., 1989. Good translation of some of the tales of the prophets mentioned in the Qur’an.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975. Sensitive treatment of Sufi traditions in Islam. Schwarzbaum, Haim. Biblical and Extra-Biblical Legends in Islamic Folk-Literature. Walldorf-Hessen, 1982. Thorough treatment of Islamic folklore and methodology, with a good bibliography. Welch, Alford T. “Allah and Other Supernatural Beings: The Emergence of the Qur’anic Doctrine of Tawhid.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47.4 (1979): 739, 749, and passim.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/satan/

  • writerPosted On: July 22, 2017
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