The Angels meet Adam, the prototypical human being. They share, albeit to a lesser degree, the defiant reaction of Iblis, who haughtily turns his head away. Painting from a manuscript of the Manṭiq al-ṭayr (The Conference of the Birds) of Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār. Iran, Shiraz, 899/1494.[1]

Iblis (Arabic: إِبْلِيسْ, romanizedIblīs),[2] alternatively known as Eblīs,[3] is the leader of the devils (shayāṭīn) in Islam. According to the Quran, Iblis was thrown out of heaven, after he refused to prostrate himself before Adam. Regarding the origin and nature of Iblis, there are two different viewpoints.[4][5]

In the first version, before Iblis was cast down from heaven, he used to be a leading angel called ʿAzāzīl, appointed by God to obliterate the preceding inhabitants of the Earth (usually jinn), who became disobedient and destructive, to replace them with humans.[4] After Iblis objected to God's decision to create Adam as a successor to the previous generation of sentient life, he was punished by being relegated and cast down to Earth as a shayṭān (devil).[4] In the alternative account, Iblis has not been an angel but the ancestor of the jinn. Created from the fires beneath the seventh earth, he worshipped God for thousands of years, until he was elevated to the company of angels in the seventh heaven.[4] In this account, Iblis, being a jinn, refused to obey when Adam was created, leading to his downfall.[4]

In the Islamic tradition, Iblis is often identified with ash-Shayṭān ("the Devil"), often known by the epithet ar-Rajim (Arabic: ٱلرَّجِيْم, lit.'the Accursed').[6] Shayṭān is usually applied to Iblis in order to denote his role as the tempter, while Iblīs is his proper name. Some Muslim scholars uphold a more ambivalent role for Iblis, considering him not simply the Devil but "the truest monotheist" (Tawḥīd-i Iblīs), because he would worship only the Creator, and not his creations, while preserving the term shayṭān exclusively for evil forces.[7][8][9]

Naming and etymology

In Islamic traditions, Iblīs is known by many alternative names or titles, such as Abū Murrah (Arabic: أَبُو مُرَّة, "Father of Bitterness") as the name stems from the word "murr" – meaning "bitter", ‘aduww Allāh or ‘aduwallah (Arabic: عُدُوّ الله, "enemy or foe" of God)[10] and Abū Al-Harith (Arabic: أَبُو الْحَارِث, "the father of the plowmen").[11] He is also known by the nickname "Abū Kardūs" (Arabic: أَبُو كَرْدُوس), which may mean "Father who piles up, crams or crowds together".

The designation Iblīs (Arabic: إِبْلِيس) may be an epithet referencing an attribute, deriving from the Arabic verbal root BLS ب-ل-س (with the broad meaning of "remain in grief")[12] or بَلَسَ (balasa, "he despaired").[13] This is the major opinion among Arab scholars, who maintain the tradition that the personal name of this being was ʿAzāzīl.[14]

Some Muslim teachers, such as al-Jili,[15] relate this name to talbis meaning confusion,[16] because God's command confused him.

Another possibility is that it is derived from Ancient Greek διάβολος (diábolos) (which is also the source of the English word 'devil') via a Syriac intermediary.[17][18] The name itself could not be found before the Quran in Arab literature, suggesting it is not of pre-Islamic Arabian origin.[19] The name could be found in the Kitab al Magall, a Christian apocryphal work written in Arabic.[20]



Iblis is mentioned 11 times in the Quran by name, nine times related to his refusal against God's Command to prostrate himself before Adam. The term šayṭān is more prevalent, although Iblis is sometimes referred to as šayṭān; the terms are not interchangeable. The different fragments of Iblis's story are scattered across the Quran. In the aggregate, the story can be summarised as follows:[21]

When God created Adam, He ordered the angels to bow before the new creation. All of the angels bowed down, but Iblis refused to do so. He argued that since he was created from fire, he is superior to humans, who were made from clay-mud, and that he should not prostrate himself before Adam.[22] As punishment for his haughtiness, God banished Iblis from heaven and condemned him to hell. Later, Iblis requested the ability to try to mislead Adam and his descendants. God granted his request but also warned him that he would have no power over God's servants.[23]

Surah al-Kahf states in reference to Iblis:

(...) except Iblis, he was one of the jinni (...) (Arabic: إِلَّاۤ إِبۡلِیسَ كَانَ مِنَ ٱلۡجِنِّ "illā iblīsa kāna mina l-jinni") (18:50)

This led to a dispute among the mufassirūn (exegetes), who disagree on whether Iblis belongs to a group of angels called jinni due to their origin from paradise, or if he was distinct from the angels, the progenitor of the jinn.[24][25] This dispute goes back to the formative stage of Islam. These two conflicting opinions are based on the interpretations of ibn Abbas and Hasan al-Basri respectively.[26] Muslim scholars then followed one of these two interpretations.[26]

Those scholars who agree on an angelic nature of Iblis, regard further verses of the Quran as allusions to Iblis. Surah 21:29 (al-’anbiyā) states:

Whoever of them were to say, “I am a god besides Him,” they would be rewarded with Hell by Us (...)

According to multiple scholars (Tabari, Suyuti, al-Nasafi,[27] al-Māturīdī,[28] al-Samarqandī,[29] etc.), this verse was meant to be a revelation about Iblis since only he was claiming divine authority for himself, and does so by inviting to follow egoistic desires (nafs).[26] The term sijjin, mentioned in Surah 83:7, is regarded by several scholars (Tabari, Tha'labi, Nasafi etc.) as a prison in hell for Iblis. From this place, he would send his demons to the surface.[26]


Art from an Arabic manuscript of the Annals of al-Tabari showing Iblis refusing to prostrate before the newly created Adam.
Painting from a Herat manuscript of the Persian rendition by Bal'ami of the Annals/Tarikh (universal chronicle) of al-Tabari, depicting angels honoring Adam, except Iblis, who refuses. Held at the Topkapi Palace Museum Library.

There are different opinions regarding the origin of Iblis. This dispute is closely related to doctrinal differences regarding free-will. Like humans, jinn are created on earth to "worship" ('abada) God (51:56), and are capable of righteous and evil acts (11:119).[30] If angels can sin or not is disputed in Islam. Those who say that Iblis was not an angel, but a jinni, argue that only jinn (and humans), but not angels are capable of disobedience.[17] This is the generally opinion among the Qadariyah and most Mu'tazilites.[17] This view is also found to be prominent among many Salafis.[31]

On the other hand, the term for celestial beings is usually malāk (angel) in early Islam.[32] Tabarsi notes that if Iblis were a jinni, he couldn't have been one of the custodians of paradise.[17] Many among those who say that Iblis was an angel read Surah 18:50 as a nisba for the term jannāt, thus referring to Iblis' heavenly origin (this reading is preferred by – among others – Ash'ari,[33] Suyuti, and Al-Tha`labi[34]). Most mutakallimūn (theologians) do not consider angels to be infallable, al-Razi being an exception.[35]

Nontheless, if faith (ʾīmān) in God is proportional to obedience and knowledge of God,[17] theologians still need to explain the cause for Iblis' fall. The Hanābila and Ash'arites would argue that Iblis was ignorant (jahl) and didn't understand God's will (irāda).[17] However, Iblis' unbelief (kufr) would be ultimately caused by God.[17] Al-Maghrībī states that, when the angels questioned the creation of Adam, God opened the angels' eyes for the characteristics of Adam, but closed the eyes' of Iblis, so he would remain in resistance (iḥtijāj).[17] Therefore, Iblis would have been created as a disobedient angel and function as God's tempter.[36]

The eponymous founder of Māturīdī theology al-Māturīdī, considers some sort of middle ground, arguing that angels have been put to a test in the heavens, just as humans and jinn are tested on earth.[37] If they were not tested, the Quran wouldn't compliment angels for obedience.[38]


Depiction of Iblis in the epic poem Shahnameh

Within Muslim thought, Iblis is generally not considered to be the originator of evil. However, there are a few exceptions among Muslim scholars. The Qadariyya asserted that evil was introduced by disobedience to God, and Iblis was the first who disobeyed. This view is sometimes attributed to Hasan al-Basri.[39] An extreme position among the Qadariyya asserts that Iblis was not even created by God, but this view is generally rejected as beliefs of the Manichaeans (majūs).[17] Al-Māturīdī argued that such dualistic worldviews are irreconcilable with the Islamic doctrine of tawḥīd.[40] Likewise, the jinn would have sinned prior to Iblis.[41]

Iblis' disobedience is seen as an example and warning for the thaqalān (those who are accountable for their deeds).[42] Those who say that Iblis was predestined to fall, say that he was created in such a way that God can demonstrate his entire spectrum of attributes (for example; jalal (majesty)) in his eternal speech (i.e. the Quran), and teaching the consequences of sin.[43]

Three things to avoid are marked by the fall of Iblis: Transgression (ma'siyah), arrogance (istikbār), and comparison (qiyās) to another creature of God.[17] Disobedience alone is not considered to be the cause of Iblis' damnation, but the reason behind his action and the implied underlying unbelief.[44]

Although not the cause of evil, Iblis is known as the progenitor of tempters, known as the "father of the devils" (Abū ash-Shayāṭīn).[45](p129) Ḥādīth literature emphasizes their evil influences over humans rather than treating them as proper personalities.[46](p46) Muslims are advised to "seek refuge" from such influences and are recommanded to recite duʿāʾ (prayers) for protection.[47]

Tawḥīd-i Iblīs

Adam honoured by Angels – Persian miniature. Iblis, black-faced and without hair (top-right of the picture). He refuses to prostrate himself with the other Angels.

The predestinarians approach was attractive for many Muslim thinkers to avoid dualistic tendencies. Some extreme positions went as far as to consider the belief that evil derives from an individual's own responsibility without God's interference, as a form of attributing a second power to God, thus falling into širk (polytheism).[48] From this idea of absolute predeterminism, some scholars and ṣūfis developed sympathy for Iblis. They began to consider Iblis to be a "true monotheist" only bested by Muhammed, who would accept punishment and suffering over bowing before something else but God, an idea later known as "Satan's monotheism" (tawḥīd-i Iblīs).[49]

This idea is reflected in a transmission by Wahb ibn Munabbih, an eminent teller of Israʼiliyyat, stating that Iblis met Moses on the slopes of Sinai. When Moses asks Iblis why he refused God's order, he replies that the command was actually a test.[50] This story inspired people, such as Mansur al-Hallaj and Ahmad Ghazali. The latter depicted Iblis as a paragon of self-sacrifice and stated at some point: "Whoever doesn't learn monotheism from Satan is a heretic (zindīq )."[51][52] His student, Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, asserted that Iblis' disobedience was wanted by God, or God would be powerless and a powerless being can't be attributed to God.[53]

Such positive depictions are, however, by no means universal among the predestinarians. Ibn Ghanim refers to the report of the meeting between Iblis and Moses, and argues that Iblis is just using predeterminism as an excuse to cover his unbelief and use a subtle deception by evoking sympathies.[54] Ruzbihan Baqli calls Iblis' apology a form of deception.[55]

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (1207–1273) argues that it is pointless to use predeterminism as an excuse for one's own demise.[17] He invokes the analogy between Adam and Iblis: While both were destined to fall, Iblis and his offspring blamed God, while Adam pleaded for forgiveness nontheless. He advises humans to do the same.[56][17] In this context, Rumi declares that love is more important than intelligence and states: "(Cunning) intelligence is from Iblis, and love from Adam."[57]

In his Masnavi (Book 2), he refers to several attempts to excuse Iblis, when he wakens Mu'awiya for the morning prayer (ṣalāt al-fajr). Mu'awiya is sceptical towards Iblis' alleged good intentions, so he begins to question him. Iblis argues that an original angel, who was predestined to fall, could never be truly evil.[58][59] Mu'awiya realizes he cannot outsmart Iblis and seeks refuge in God instead. When Iblis sees that he can't win Mu'awiya over, he confesses that he never had good intentions in the first place and used these arguements just to trick people. Instead, he woke him up because missing a prayer and consequent repentance (tawbah), would bring him closer to God than performing the prayer. Rumi makes clear that there is no reason to have sympathies for the fallen angel, as he is still the enemy of humans.[60]

Haggāḏic exegesis

Painting of the expulsion from "The Garden" by Al-Hakim Nishapuri. The main actors of the narration about Adam's fall are drawn: Adam, Hawwa (Eve), Iblis, the serpent, the peacock and an Angel, probably Ridwan, who guards paradise.
This painting is from a copy of the Fālnāmeh (Book of Omens) ascribed to Ja´far al-Sādiq. It shows Adam, Eve, the serpent, the peacock, and Iblis, after their expulsion from Garden Eden. Iblis characteristically depicted black-faced is bottom-left in picture above the angels.

The term haggadic is used for Quranic exegesis (tafsīr) by Muslims focusing on establishing a coherent story from material of Islamic scripture (Quran, ḥadīṯ, etc.), often by qussās (narrators).[61] In Islamic terminology, they are called qiṣaṣ.

In reference to the interpretation of the events in Surah 2:30-34, when the angels complain over mankinds' potential to shed blood and cause injustice, Islamic haggadic traditions elaborate a legendary battle between the angels and jinn.[62] Tabari and al-Thaʿlabi explain that the angels feared that humanity will become as corrupt as the jinn. Before Adam was created, the jinn, offspring of al-Jānn (الجان), lived on earth. When they became infidels, God sent an army of angels called "al-Jinn" (named after paradise, not the genus) to defeat them.[63] They explain that most angels were created from light, but Iblis and his angels from nār as-samūm, and the genus of jinn from mārijin min nār (smokeless fire).[64]

Some later traditions place Iblis among the genus of the jinn instead. In one narration of the Tarikh Khamis, among the masses of infidel jinn only Iblis dedicated his life to worship of God, withdrawing to a high mountain. The angels soon notice him and elavate him to the heavens, where he becomes one like them in worship.[65]

With reference to Surah 76:1, Islamic haggadic tradition considers Adam to be created step by step, beginning as an inanimate body.[66] The story is mentioned by various scholars of the Sunni tradition, including Muqatil, Tabari, Mas'udi, Kisa'i, and Tha'labi.[67] The angels passing by him were scared. Most afraid was Iblis. To overcome his anxiety, he enters Adam and moves through the body.[68] He concludes that "this is hollow clay", whereas he is "fire". Since fire overcomes clay, he owes to destroy Adam like fire destroys clay:

"You are nothing - because of his ringing - and you were made for nothing! If I am to rule over you, I will kill you, and if you are to rule over me, I will rebel against you."[69]

Some scholars (among them Thala'bi, Tabarsi,[70] Diyarbakri[71]) explain, with slightly variations, Iblis' entry to the Garden of Eden by the aid of a serpent and a peacock. Some traditions have the Garden of Eden being warded by an angelic guardian. Thus, Iblis persuades a peacock to get help, by promising him that, if he enters the Garden, the beauty of the peacock will never decay thanks to the fruit of immortality. The peacock, unable to carry Iblis, persuades the serpent, who decides to slip Iblis by carrying him in his mouth. From the mouth of the serpent, Iblis speaks to Adam and Ḥawwāʾ.[72]

In culture

In arts

Further information: Angels in art § Islamic art

Another painting of angels prostrating before Adam with Iblis refusing, here depicted with a headcover
Portrayal of Islamic devils in the form of wild monsters. Siyah Qalem - Hazine 2153, s.31b

Iblis is perhaps one of the most well-known individual supernatural entities in Islamic tradition and was depicted in multiple visual representations like the Quran and Manuscripts of Bal‘ami’s ‘Tarjamah-i Tarikh-i Tabari.[73] Iblis was a unique individual, described as both a pious jinni and an angel before he fell from God's grace when he refused to bow before the prophet Adam. After this incident, Iblis turned into a shaytan.[74] In visual appearance, Iblis' depiction was described in On the Monstrous in the Islamic Visual Tradition by Francesca Leoni as a being with a human-like body with flaming eyes, a tail, claws, and large horns on a grossly disproportionate large head.[75]

Illustrations of Iblis in Islamic paintings often depict him black-faced, a feature which would later symbolize any satanic figure or heretic, and with a black body, to symbolize his corrupted nature. Another common depiction of Iblis shows him in human form wearing a special head covering, clearly different from the traditional Islamic turban and long sleeves, signifying long lasting devotion to God.[76] Only in one, he wears traditional Islamic head covering.[77]

Most pictures show and describe Iblis at the moment, when the angels prostrate themselves before Adam. In the manuscripts of Bal‘ami’s ‘Tarjamah-i Tarikh-i Tabari he is usually seen beyond the outcrop, his face transformed with his wings burned, to the envious countenance of a devil.[78] In his demonic form, Iblis is portrayed similar to his cohorts (shayatin) in Turko-Persian art as Asian demons (div).[79] They are bangled creatures with flaming eyes, only covered by a short skirt. Similar to European arts depicting devils by traits of pagan deities, Islamic arts portray the devils with features often similar to that of Hindu deities.[80]

In literature

The complexity of Iblis' character from the Quranic story had long lasting influences on Islamic cultural literature. It elaborates on the necessity of evil and Iblis' disobedience in creative retelling of the exegetical tradition.[81]

Iblis and the angels feature in Hafez's poetry (1325–1390), collected in The Divān of Hafez. Hafez iterates that angels are incapable of love. They can merely praise the creator but without the passion of a human-being.[82]: 117  When Iblis protests, either because he considers Adam's offspring unworthy or himself devoted to God alone, he is described as an imposter (mudda'ī).[83]: 118  He claims to act for the sake of God's love, but is actually envious of mankinds' exalted position. Hafez advises his audience not to reveal the secrets of love towards God to the imposter.[84]: 118 

Vathek, first composed in French (1782) by the English novelist William Beckford, in which the protagonists travel through, what he conceives as the supernatural world of the Orient. In their travels, they meet jinn, angels, peri, and prophets. The underworld is the domain of Iblis, however, they meet him only in person at the end of the journey. Although there are similarities to Dante's Satan in the Halls of Iblis, Beckford's Satan, clearly inspired by the figure of Iblis, is that of a young man with mixed traits of pride and despair, and not that of a monstrous being.[85][86]

In Muhammad Iqbal's poetry, Iblis is critical about overstressed obedience, which caused his downfall. But Iblis is not happy about humanity's obedience towards himself either; rather he longs for humans who resist him. Before a human who resisted him, he would be willing to prostrate himself, and he could finally achieve salvation.[87]

Egyptian novelist Tawfiq al-Hakim's ash-Shahid (1953) describes the necessity of Iblis' evil for the world. As a reference to Iblis' predetermined fall, his protagonist Iblis consulsts religious authorities to embrace salvation, but is rejected each time, because the world would require him to be sinful. He consults the Pope, the Rabbi, and the Al-Azhar Mosque, each of them explain the necessity of Iblis' unbelief. Without Iblis' evil deeds, a large portion of revelation would become obsolete. Afterwards, Iblis visits the angel Gabriel, but is rejected again. Realizing that Iblis is both doomed as well as appointed by God, he descends from heaven shouting out: "I am a martyr!".[88]

The novel received negative reception in Salafi circles. The Salafi scholar Abu Ishaq al-Heweny stated: "I swear by God it would never cross the mind, at all, that this absolute kufr reaches this level, and that it gets published as a novel".[89]

See also


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