The jinn we know as Satan was created from (some sort of) fire. Before his obedience and sincerity were tested through Adam, he had been in the company of angels. Unlike angels, however, who cannot rebel against God (66:6), Satan (called Iblis prior to his test) was free to choose his own path of conduct. When God tested him and the angels by commanding them to prostrate before Adam, the seeds of his conceit and disobedience blossomed and swallowed him. He replied in his vanity: I am better than him. You created me from fire, while You created him from clay (38:76).
Satan was created for important purposes. Since God has free will, He also gave us free will so that we could know good from evil and choose between them. In addition, God gave us great potentials. It is our development of these potentials and the struggle to choose between good and evil that cause us to experience a constant battle in our inner world. Just as God sends hawks upon sparrows so that the latter will develop their potential to escape, He created Satan and allowed him to tempt us so that our resistance to temptation will raise us spiritually and strengthen our willpower. Just as hunger stimulates human beings and animals to further exertion and discovery of new ways to be satisfied, and fear inspires new defenses, so Satan’s temptations cause us to develop our potentials and guard against sin.
There is an infinitely long line of spiritual evolution between the ranks of the greatest Prophets and saints down to those of people like Pharaoh and Nimrod. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that the creation of Satan is evil. Although Satan is evil and serves various important purposes, God’s creation involves the whole universe and should be understood in relation to the results, not only with respect to the acts themselves. Whatever God does or creates is good and beautiful in itself or in its effects. For example, rain and fire are very useful, but they also can cause great harm when abused. Therefore, one cannot claim that the creation of water and fire is not totally good. It is the same with the creation of Satan. The main purpose for his existence is to cause us to develop our potential, strengthen our willpower by resisting his temptations, and then rise to higher spiritual ranks.
Evil thoughts, fancies, and ideas that occur to us involuntarily are usually the result of Satan’s whispering. Like a battery’s two poles, there are two central points or poles in the human heart (by “heart” we mean the seat or center of spiritual intellect). One receives angelic inspiration, and the other is vulnerable to Satan’s whispering.
Satan attacks humans from their four sides (7:16–17). Especially when believers deepen their belief and devotion, and if they are scrupulous and delicate in feeling, Satan attacks them more. He does not busy himself much with those who follow him voluntarily and indulge in all that is transitory, but usually seeks out those sincere, devout believers trying to rise to higher spiritual ranks. He whispers new, original ideas to sinful unbelievers in the name of unbelief, and teaches them how to struggle against true religion and those who follow it (6:121).
Satan does everything he can to seduce us. He approaches us from the left and tries, working on our animal aspect and our feelings and faculties, to lead us into all sorts of sin and evil. When he approaches us from the front, he causes us to despair of our future, whispers that the Day of Judgment will never come, and that whatever religion says about the Hereafter is mere fiction. He also suggests that religion is outdated and obsolete, and thus of no use for those who are living now or who will live in the future. When he comes upon us from behind, he tries to make us deny Prophethood and other essentials of belief, like God’s Existence and Unity, Divine Scriptures and angels. Through his whispers and suggestions, Satan tries to sever completely our contact with religion and lead us into sin.
Satan approaches devout, practicing believers from their right to tempt them to ego and pride in their virtues and good deeds. He whispers that they are wonderful believers, and gradually causes them to fall through conceit and the desire to be praised for their good deeds. This is a perilous temptation for believers, and so they must be incessantly alert to Satan’s coming upon them from their right.
In fact, Qur’an 4:76 tells us that the guile of Satan is ever feeble. It resembles a cobweb that appears while you are walking between two walls. It does not cause you to stop, and you should not give it any importance. He suggests or whispers and presents sinful acts in a “falsely ornamented wrapper,” so believers must never accept his “gifts.”
To free ourselves from Satan’s evil suggestions, we should remove ourselves from the attractive fields of Satan and sin. Heedlessness and neglect of worship are invitations to Satan’s “arrows.” The Qur’an declares: Whose sight is dim to the remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign unto him a devil who becomes his comrade (43:36). Remembrance of the All-Merciful, noble or sacred phenomena, and a devout religious life protect us from Satan’s attacks. Again, the Qur’an advises:
If a suggestion from Satan occurs to you, seek refuge in God. He is All-Healing, All-Knowing. Those who fear God and ward off (evil), when a passing notion from Satan troubles them, they remember, and behold! they see. (7:200–1)
Satan sometimes tries to tempt us through obscene scenes. He causes us to obsess over illicit pleasures. On such occasions, we should try to persuade ourselves that any illicit pleasure will result in fits of remorse and may endanger our afterlife or even our mortal life. We should not forget that the life of this world is but a passing plaything, a comforting illusion, and that the true life is that of the Hereafter.9
Ünal, Ali. Living in the Shade of Islam. Somerset, NJ: Tughra, 2009.
- September 19, 2013
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