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Vocabulary of Islam
Iblīs (Arabic إبليس), is the name given to the primary devil in Islam. He is also referred in the Qur'an (the Islamic scripture) as the Shaitan, a term also used referring to any evil spirit allied with Iblis, but which is often used to refer to Iblis alone. Iblis is mentioned 11 times in the Qur'an, and Shaitan ((الشيطان is mentioned 87 times. Iblis is the same being known as Satan or "the Devil" to Christians, although there are important differences between the Islamic and Christian concepts about his nature.
Iblis was a Jinni, a creature made of "smokeless fire" by God, while like humans are made of "clay." In an outburst rooted in envy, Iblis disobeyed Allah and was expelled from divine grace. He also lured Adam and Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree. He was condemned by Allah (God) to Jahannam, or Hell. He replied by saying that he first wanted to bring the inhabitants of Earth down with him, and Allah, to test mankind, allowed him to roam the Earth to attempt to misguide others.
|“||Then he caused them to fall by deceit; so when they tasted of the tree, their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden; and their Lord called out to them: 'Did I not forbid you both from that tree and say to you that the Shaitan is your open enemy?'—Qur'an 7:20||”|
Iblis tempts humans through his whispering of sinful ideas to them. In the end, it is believed, he will be cast into Jahannam (Hell in Islam) along with those who give in to his temptation and disobey Allah's (God's) message of Islam, while those who successfully follow a righteous path will be rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise).
Although he was rebellious, Islam does not hold the opinion that Iblis operates completely outside of the will of Allah, for Allah is absolutely sovereign over all His creations. Iblis' single enemy is humanity. Thus, humankind is warned to struggle against Shaitan and the temptations he offers.
Non-Muslim scholars generally hold the name Iblis to be a contraction of the Greek word diabolos, meaning "devil." According to this theory, the Christian and Jewish communities of Arabia during the prophet Muhammad's time knew the word from Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels. Muslim scholars, on the other hand, are more inclined to derive the word from the Arabic verbal root balasa (بلس) meaning "the despaired."
After Allah (God) had completed the creation of everything else, He announced that He would create a Khalifa, or viceregent, on Earth. So Allah created Adam and gave him special knowledge that no other creature possesses. Teaching him the names of each creation, God also presented the creatures to the angels, knowing that they would fail where Adam succeeded.
|“||And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam; they made obeisance but Iblis (did it not). He was of the jinn, so he transgressed the commandment of his Lord—Qur'an 2:34||”|
After the angels had admitted that they had no knowledge except that which Allah (God) had given them, God ordered Adam to display his knowledge, (2:33), and when Adam did so, God commanded the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam. They all did so. Iblis, however, refused.
In another telling of the story in the Qur'an, Allah informs the angels that He will create man from clay and that as soon as He has completed his creation they should all prostrate themselves before him. They all do so except for Iblis. When Allah demands an explanation from Iblis of why he refused to bow to Adam, Iblis explains that it is because Adam has been created from clay, while Iblis was created from fire, and as such he was better than Adam.
Jinn and shaitans
Jinn is the plural form of Jinni, from which the English word Genie derives. The pre-Islamic mythology of the Arabs spoke of the a Jinni as a spiritual being with a status lower than that of the angels. The Jinn were of three classes: 1) Ghul (shape-changers), 1) Ifrit (evil spirits), and Silla (spirits of treachery). Jinn were beings of flame. However some of them could take the form of a human or an animal, while others dwelt in trees, stones, under the earth, in the air, etc.
|“||I am better than he; Thou hast created me of fire, and him Thou didst create of dust.—Qur'an 7:12||”|
Unlike angels, Jinn had bodily needs and desires similar to those of human beings and could even be killed. Yet, they were also described as being free from physical constraints. They were held responsible for causing diseases and all kinds of accidents, unless a person took precautions through various prayers or magical rites. Jinn found joy in tormenting humans who had harmed them, even unintentionally.
Tales of the Jinn were widespread from as far to the east as Persia, and to the west, Turkey, and to the south, Egypt and North Africa. The well known Thousand and One Arabian Nights contains many episodes of their exploits. Even the prophet Muhammad himself respected the power of the Jinn and reportedly feared that his revelations might have been influenced by them.
Shaitans (spelled with a small "s" in English while Shaitan/Iblis is spelled with a capital "S") are basically evil spirits in Islam today. However, in pre-Islamic culture, shaitans functioned in a manner similar to Greek daemons, or familiars, providing inspiration and insight to prophets, fortune-tellers, mediums, and poets. In the Arabic tales of King Solomon, the powers of the shaitans were legendary; and they were capable of serving for good as well as evil.
In rabbinical tales and other Jewish folklore of the time, however, the "satans" were clearly evil. The Qur'anic tradition is closer to this pattern. As creations of Allah, they cannot be said to be absolultely "evil," but they constitute the myriads of spirits under the command of Iblis. Like their master, the shaitans whisper evil thoughts into the minds of humans. However, humans are fully capable of resisting this temptation by exercising their own free will. A clever shaitan is more likely to succeed than a less ingenious one in tempting a man, but a true Muslim is always able to overcome such whispering.
Lucifer and Iblis
In Christianity, Iblis is called Lucifer, but the nature of Lucifer is not exactly the same as Iblis. Lucifer was originally an Archangel, while Iblis was one of the Jinn. In Islamic theology, angels such as Lucifer do not have free will and thus did not rebel against Allah. However, a Jinni such as Iblis was capable of taking independent action and refused Allah's command to bow before Adam. In Christian theology, angels apparently do have free will. Lucifer, a fallen angel in most Christian theologies, acted completely outside of God's will when he tempted Adam and Eve. And it was the angels—not other Jinn—who followed Lucifer/Satan in the spiritual world.
|“||O Iblis! What prevents thee from prostrating thyself to one whom I have created with my hands? Art thou haughty? Or art thou one of the high (and mighty) ones?—Quran 38:75||”|
The issue of free will itself is also somewhat different in Islamic thought than in the Judeo-Christian tradition. For Muslims, Allah's sovereignty over His creations is absolute, and this means that nothing happens outside of His will, including Iblis' temptation of Adam and Eve and the whispering of the shaitans in the ears of each human being. Although Calvinist Christians likewise affirm God's absolute sovereignty over history, most Christians tend to admit that in granting mankind free will, God enabled humans to take actions against God's will. In this view, such acts as the rebellion of Lucifer and the sin of Adam and Eve were committed outside of the will of God's, even if not outside of his foreknowledge.
Iblis in Sufi thought
Some Sufi Muslims hold to a view of Iblis which emphasizes his love for Allah as the motivation for his decision not to bow to Adam. Sufi teachers such as Mansur Al-Hallaj present the story of Iblis as a predestined scenario in which Iblis plays the role of tragic and jealous lover of Allah who, unable to perceive the Divine Image in Adam, was compelled to disobey the divine mandate to bow down to him.
The Sufi teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan taught that "Luciferian Light" is light which has become dislocated from the Divine Source and is thus associated with the seductive false light of the lower ego, which lures humankind into self-centered delusion. Here, Lucifer represents what the Sufis term the 'Nafs,' the self-centered ego.
- Accardi, Dean. Iblis, the casting of Satan in Islam. Theosophical Society in America, 2005. OCLC: 70706081
- Awn, P.J. Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis in Sufi Psychology. Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. ISBN 9789004069060
- Burton, Richard (translator). The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights. ISBN 9780812972146
- Davidson, Gustav. Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels. Free Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0029070529
- Hayes, Christopher Sickels. An Ontological Study of Iblis Al-Shaytan. Thesis (M.A.)—University of Texas at Austin, 2002. OCLC: 50923528
- Messadié, Gérald. A History of the Devil. New York: Kodansha International, 1996. ISBN 97815683608128
- Weil, Gustav. The Bible, the Koran and the Talmud. London, 1846.
All links retrieved March 30, 2014.
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